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Journalism, Life in general, Media, Online journalism, Serious stuff, work

To what degree do you need a degree? My next challenge…

It’s not like I don’t have anything else to fill my spare time but last year was pretty monumental… got engaged, moved house, got a dog, celebrated someone special’s 30th birthday, got married, honeymooned and spent my first Christmas as a wife surrounded by a lot of snow after only just making it home from New York in time thanks to an icy runway at Heathrow.

So this year, apart from another house move, has been pretty tame in comparison and I do like a challenge. And this one’s pretty huge too – in a couple of weeks I start an MA in Online Journalism with Birmingham City University (distance learning).

What’s so big about that I hear you cry? Well, I work full time in a busy job as it is, have a pretty active social life, sporting commitments and a family who occasionally like to see me (go figure) so there’s the time angle. This MA will take up around 18 hours of my week and when you factor in everything else in my diary, that’s not going to leave a lot of time for lazing around reading crime novels, watching my Murder She Wrote boxsets or scoffing curries after work with my colleagues.

But there’s anther angle too… I don’t have a degree and a Masters is what you’re supposed to do after the degree. Luckily for me my experience ‘in the field’ has made up for my lack of degree and not only did they let me in, they also gave me an advanced scholarship. So I don’t want to let them, or me, down.

Journo Nest logoI say lack of a degree like it’s a bad thing but I have to say that not having one has never ever held me back. I’ve always applied for jobs which are for graduates and got interviews; and, of course, got my current job that way. Yes, my current employer – a university – questioned my lack of degree but I answered with: “I have three years experience working full time in the industry instead of a degree. That makes me three years ahead of anyone else my age with a degree, it would be impossible for them to have as much work experience as I do.” And that did the trick.

And in newspapers, the industry I worked in before my current job, it was never about qualifications, it was about experience, ability and enthusiasm. That’s not to say qualifications aren’t necessary, they often are and I’ve endeavored to do any qualification offered to me while also working – some NVQ Levels 4s, a CIPR Diploma in Public Relations etc – so on top of experience, so far, that’s stood me pretty well. If you can gain experience AND work towards a qualification, grab the opportunity with both hands. It’s one of the reasons The Open University works so well, it offers people of any age and background the chance to do both. But don’t underestimate the power of experience, it’s what says you can actually do the job.

When I did my journalism training at just 18, my mentor confessed to preferring to take on 18-year-olds than 21-year-olds grads – we were youger, keener, easier to shape and the full-time college experience was much more a replica of a working day than the traditional university lifestyle which made graduates a bit lazy. His words, not mine.

So, not only am I worried about the time it will take me to complete the MA – which is over three years and done from home – I’m also worried about the academic side of it. Am I up to it? I screeched and moaned my way through the CIPR Diploma because it was tough (perhaps because I was a journo sitting in a room of PRs?) but if I had my time again I’d still do it.

And this is a small worry but my peers are likely to be a decade younger than me, probably a lot cooler and grew up with online tools where as I’ve had to actively learn them. But this is minor league, I’m down with the kids and looking forward to swapping knowledge and views and experience.

But all of those worries sit beneath a bubble of excitement that I get to study the subject I love under the guidance of a well respected and talented tutor (see Online Journalism Blog), and that will boost my career and my qualifications. I’ve reached the point where I’d like to be academically more able and have some theory behind what it is I’ve been working at for more than a decade.

So, it starts in a couple of weeks and I’m desperately trying to get ahead by preparing, doing some background reading and trying to conjure up some kind of study plan. And seeing my friends because I won’t have so much time to do that when the MA kicks in.

And until it does start, I am full of excitement, nerves and questions. I’ll keep you posted. Oh, and the plan is to blog as I go at Journo Nest, the sister blog of Robyn’s Nest.

friends, Journalism, Just stuff, Life in general, Marriage, Media, Online journalism, Random, work

No silly season here

Gah, it’s been manic. Here’s why:

1) Silly season becomes serious season

In the world of journalism and universities (my job kinda straddles both) August is supposed to be ‘silly season’, where nothing much happens and you can glide through the days, working on the stuff you haven’t had time for during the other 11 months of the year. Not so this year, in either respect. Work has been crazy busy with not a second to spare, lots of projects starting or finishing and lots of deadlines to be met. And LOTS of emails. I mean, who actually did any work before email was invented? We’ve also been hearing about the goings on in Libya, the endless ins and outs of the phone hacking scandal and about the riots in London, Birmingham and oop north (and in MK where watermelons were the weapon of choice – hardcore youths or what?) which turned silly season into a very serious season.

2) Mastering a Masters

I’m starting an MA in Online Journalism with Birmingham City University in September. This is the first mention of this on my blog but it won’t be the last and I’ve been planning an offshoot of Robyn’s Nest to pour my MA ramblings into. So keep an eye out for Journo Nest, coming soon. Why am I doing it? Because it’s time for the next challenge; I’ve realised journalism will always be my passion and I want to turn the online skills I’ve learned through trial and error into something more tangible and useful to my future career, whatever that may be. Plus there’s so much cool stuff happening out there in online journalism and I want to be part of it. Oh, and I don’t have a degree – which has never been a problem for me but warrants a whole separate blog post – and I’d quite like to boast some letters after my name, just for the craic. And so, registering, references, getting accepted – I have a scholarship! – and sorting my pre-course reading list, attempted timetable, doing plenty of online research and applying to blog elsewhere (as a project for my MA) has kept me pretty darn busy.

3) Hell yeah, I have a social life

My social life has been busy too. Given that the MA is likely to wipe away a lot of my social activity, I’m cramming it in now. So that’s meant trips to the shire to see friends and family and catch up with newly engaged friends; a trip to Liverpool to see my mate’s pregnancy bump for the first time; arranging another mate’s hen weekend which is approaching quicker than I dare to think about; hosting friends and their children (which serves as a reminder that I’m not quite ready to trade lie ins for screaming babies just yet); catching up with the in-laws at barbecues, dinners and tours of our new house; brunch with my Leicester buddies and their children who squeal every time Ralphie draws near and the puzzlement on his face because most people melt at the site of him; the last of the summer season of netball matches and the odd training session; dinner with the MK posse to celebrate some fabulous news, and a Mexican-themed Come Dine With Me, MK style, which takes place this weekend at Chez Robyn. Hmmm, not sure I have time to grow a curly moustache by then.

4)  Growing a plan

Me and hubbles wanted to set some milestones and try and suss out our five-year plan. So many of my friends have one of these (cripes, does that mean we’re all growing up? At last!) and we kinda felt left out. We actually have no idea what we want in the next five years (apart from being filthy rich and living in bliss in a spacious Manhattan apartment with huge roof garden for Ralphie) other than we’d like to re-turf the garden, grow vegetables, dig a nice border and fill it with shrubs. So, no idea what the future holds for us but if that doesn’t look rosy the garden certainly will do.

5)  Walkies!

I spend a lot of time with Ralphie. He gets a 6am walkies, I dash from work to do the lunch time shift and he gets one most evenings too. It’s not for my love of walking, it’s for love of Ralphie. I’d feel guilty if I didn’t walk him, one of the things he loves most. He gets ridiculously excited just if I go to the cupboard where his lead’s kept or if I slip my shoes on. He’s had a sore paw of late too and not been his usual perky, bouncy self. I can only describe it as a pink slug attached to the top of his paw which he’s obsessed with licking. Antibiotics have been prescribed but it’s reminded me and hubbles how protective we are of him and how we’d do anything to make him happy and comfortable. No wonder we’re not ready for kids – Ralphie has our full focus at the mo. I do love that little bow wow.

6) Stoopid chores

It seems to be the time of year when I need an eye test; car needs a service and MOT; savings accounts need setting up; the boiler needs checking; I need to restock my make-up bag, ongoing battle with scummy ex landlord involving lots of letter writing; and I could do with registering at the doctors sooner rather than later. And loads of other trivial stuff which mounts up and means free time is never all that free. Oh, and HSBC have gone and made it nigh on impossible to access my bank account online unless I want to carry a small calculator around with me. Grrr. I feel a strongly worded letter coming on.

So, apols for the lameness of this blog post; much more meaty stuff is to come, I promise.

Journalism, Media, social media, Technology, what I think, work

Can you successfully split your online identity in two?

Split personalitiesI’m not a particularly private person but neither do I hang my dirty washing out to dry online. I’m happy to share snapshots of my life with those people I brush shoulders with professionally but I won’t be letting any skeletons fall from the cupboards and into the internet. But equally, I’m not two people. So I can’t separate the ‘at home’ me from the ‘at work’ me because where does one end and the other begin?

I recently conducted a little experiment to see if I could split my professional and personal online personas into two – so one for work stuff and one for the out of hours stuff. I didn’t even realise that it was an experiment until it completely and utterly failed; I was somehow expecting it to be a simple step. Uh uh. So while it took me ages to create a new Twitter account, it didn’t take long to find out that I can’t split my personality in two.

Maybe, in part, it’s because of my job. From the day my career began, just because I left the office at 5pm that wasn’t to say I was off duty. I had to live on the patch of the newspaper I worked for (twas in the contract, so it was) and I’d get shot if I walked past an arson attack and failed to call it in just because it was Sunday. Now things have moved on… smartphones, for example, mean I can check email before tea, after tea, before the 10 o’clock news and just before bed, and swap tweets with stakeholders, so I’m never really off duty.

So, back to this experiment. A couple of discussions had led me to believe that maybe, just maybe, there should be a clearer divide between my personal and professional identities online.

Facebook isn’t an issue, for me it’s for friends only – and that does include colleagues I like – but it’s not for people I barely talked to at school, people I meet in bars or those who feel the need to friend request me because we share the same surname. Nope.

Talk a bit of shit

My main issue was with Twitter… should I have a professional account AND a personal one? So, let the experiment begin… I decided to use my established account as the pro one and set up another for spouting utter bollocks. Yes, tis true, I like to talk a bit of shit every now and then, who doesn’t?

But I hit an immediate problem: the people I follow and who follow me under @robynbateman didn’t automatically follow me back on my new personal account. And why should they? They already got what they needed from my initial account, the personal/professional issue was mine, not theirs.

And I found it pointless tweeting from my personal account when not very many people were listening. It was harder to start conversations because people didn’t know me as @personalusername they knew me as @robynbateman. Networks take time to grow and become of value and by hopping over to a second account I’d given up an established network of followers I know (although not necessarily in person).

And managing two Twitter accounts needs a bigger investment of time. I found myself wondering which to tweet from. If I only tweeted work stuff from my pro account, wouldn’t it get a bit boring? And if I only tweeted personal stuff from the personal account where would  the context be? The who I am, the what I do? It really would be just me spouting bollocks. And what about my writing and journalism and book reviewing stuff, which strays into both personal and professional territory? Could I tweet the same from both accounts? Not really. So which one should miss out? Tweeting was becoming a process I had to think about. less organic. And so it became a chore.

Stand by your tweets

Friends also struggled to know which account to contact me on. Conversations I wanted in the professional arena came to the personal one and vice-versa (some followed me on both) so I missed stuff. So soon – and without really realising – I found myself only using my original Twitter account. And that realisation prompted me to hold my hands up, say ‘I tried this folks and it didn’t work’ and stop using the account I’d labelled as personal.

It just didn’t work. I tried it and it didn’t. It really didn’t.

I cannot split myself into two people. And while I know when to be professional and when I can let loose, for me, Twitter is about networking and two accounts, two personas, makes it tricky for those networks to deal with you and know who you really are.

As BBC’s Andy Cunningham once said, stand by your tweets. And I do. I am more than capable of talking crap, tweeting jokes in semi poor taste and winding up friends and colleagues. But that’s me and nothing I tweet (or at least I don’t think) would reflect on me in a super bad way (er… I may need to take back that tweet about Harry Potter having a big wand). I’m just me, one person, doing a job, enjoying what I enjoy, and sharing it with the people I love and (occasionally) loathe on Twitter.

What about you? Have you tried to split yourself in two? Please share…

PS Oddly, even though the account is inactive and my last tweet says something along the lines of “this didn’t work, follow me at @robynbateman) I still get new followers on what was my personal Twitter. Pay attention peoples!

Picture by Lisa Brewster via Flickr under Creative Commons licence

Journalism, Media, social media, Technology, work

Journalism in a Social Media World #journoconf

I was perhaps a bit surprised to see just half the people raise their hands when Martin Thomas, author of Loose and co-author of Crowd Surfing – and chair of the Journalism in a Social Media World Conference – asked a room filled with 150 (ish) journalists who’s on Twitter. I don’t have anything to compare this to but I was expecting more hands to hit the air.

The conference, held last week in the trendy Broadgate Tower in London (one chap said: “I work in Canary Whaf and this place makes it look like an old barn”) was organised by the Social Media Academy and proved enjoyable, informative and inspiring. A good range of competent and interesting speakers filling half-hour slots worked well for my limited attention span and Martin Thomas got full marks for chairing – asking informed questions on behalf of the audience and encouraging intelligent discussion. I also followed – and contributed – to the conference’s Twitter commentary too – check out #journoconf if you’re interested (here’s a preview…)

Okay, so here’s the science… a round of up of what I learned and in no particular order…

“Turn your readers into collaborators… involve them with your research and trends. How to survive in a social media world? Be loose… trust your employees.”                                                              Martin Thomas


Twitter is the fastest place to get breaking news – but is it all true?

“If you want to be a good journalist you need to start using Google properly,” says Matthew Elthringham, Assistant Editor, Interactivity and Social Media Development, BBC.  We all start nodding our heads – of course we use Google properly! Or so we thought.

“Who uses Google?” Hands launch into the air, as expected. “Who uses Google realtime or Google advanced search?” A few hands go up, watched by lots of blank faces. “Then you really need to be using Google properly,” he adds.

Google advanced search and realtime are invaluable research tools, incredible useful and worthwhile, as are blog search and Google reader. “Journalists who can’t use Google properly are missing a big trick,” he adds, as most of our cheeks (those of us at the conference, that is) turn red. How could so many of us have missed this?

Journalism doesn’t change! The platforms do, but don’t lose sight of the journalism. What’s important is making sure a story is accurate before you go telling the world about it. And how many hacks get so excited by a story they forget to check it’s true? Classic examples – the polar bear on Bude beach and the Daily Mail iPhone recall story. Says Matt: “If there’s no truth in what you’re saying, what are you giving your followers?” Er… nowt?

Twitter is the fastest place to get breaking news and is superb for gathering intelligence but don’t forget the basic journalism. Twitter is a source, just like another other, and info needs authenticating. Just because it’s on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s true.

“The principles of journalism remain the same, it’s just a different landscape now,” he adds.

Matt’s top tips:

  • Engagement, comment and opinion is key
  • Check out Netvibes – a sharing source, pulling info into one place that you can share with others. Handy for my media relations colleagues me thinks
  • Check your facts and check them twice – it’s great to break news but even better to get it right

Blurred lines between personal and professional lives

What about the personal versus private thing in social media? While, as a rule, Facebook tends to be kept out of work, Twitter is very much a part of it. “I don’t bring the BBC into disrepute in my tweets. Would I say it on air? If I would then I’ll tweet it,” says Matt from the BBC.

Some BBC bods have corporate Twitter accounts – you’ll spot them as they’ll have BBC before their names, eg BBCjoebloggs, but others combine the two – personal and work tweeting – but with a careful eye on what they’re prepared to say in a public forum.

Charlote Dingle, Editor of G3 magazine, is heavily involved in the lives of her readers and has them as Facebook friends and Twitter followers. “I haven’t had a problem with it so far. I work for a community magazine, I love my job so it’s a part of what I do and I think it’s essential.”

To engage best with the community in a work capacity, do/should the lines blur?

Granualarity – what a great word

Joel Gunter, of journalism.co.uk, introduces us to the word “granularity” – a trait of social media, the ability to pull in coverage/information/pictures etc from different sources and paint a full picture; it’s a great curating/aggregating tool. He says Twitter is a superb customer service tool – engaging with and helping the users in your community, it gives them added value and lets people know your organisation is working to help them.

Interesting case studies/people:

Joel says Quora – the next big social media thang maybe? – is a really useful question and answers tool. But that’s about as far as he got with his talk. The poor chap ran out of time and both he and we were gutted not to hear the rest of his talk – an excellent speaker and I’d like to hear more from him.

If content is king, context is key

I’ve heard Meg Pickard, Head of Digital Engagement, Guardian News and Media, speak before, at the Guardian Media Summit a few years back and she repeated a line from her talk back then – and it’s one I now use regularly: “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” There’s no point recreating the wheel, if it’s already out there, link to it and spend your time on another angle.

A great speaker, Meg is not a journalist but confesses to blogging “since the word began with a w” and she knows her stuff when it comes to communities. And it’s communities we’re all trying to reach after all, with our products, our services and our journalism.

Communities have been engaging with newspapers since they first started rolling off the presses, when readers penned letters to the editor. Today is no different, says Meg, except that the landscape is changing and opens up more ways for the community to interact and engage with media outlets; there are so many more platforms. It’s all too easy for us to sit back and think “hey, wake up community, why aren’t you engaging with us?” even when the content is top notch.

Meg says communities need a helping hand. We need to ask what are the communities doing, what do they want and how can we help them? Creating is hard for many people, even if they do want to engage, so user-generated-content  – a phrase Megs hates for the robotic image it conjures up – can be sparse. We need to help people engage, encourage them to get involved and make it easier for them to do so – see the audit your own MP campaign. Is this getting the people to do your work for you? Yes. But does it matter when the content’s interesting and generated by the masses? Not one bit.

“Social media isn’t always social,” says Meg. It’s about leveraging other people’s experience to create a better experience for yourself… and it’s about engagement and visitor loyalty, not about page views and unique visitors.”

Meg’s top tips:

  • Reward positive users, don’t give too much attention to the naughty ones
  • Moderation – a journalist commenting within the first 25 comments can change the tone of the debate significantly
  • Community needs to take collective responsibility. What’s the point in moaning that a post has taken ages to remove when they didn’t report it themselves
  • Content used to be king, but now it’s all about context

More than just words

I’m not a stats gal, I’m more about the words than the numbers, but I’m really interested in finding out who reads what and the impact we have when we put our news stories out there. What’s the use in shouting about it if no one is listening?

Alberto Nardelli, Co-Founder of Tweetminster says it’s all about share of attention; lots of people reporting the same story in different ways, but which angle works best? Twitter’s great for finding out. He’s given me lots of inspiration to create more social media projects for work which involve easily tracking and documenting feedback – pouring data into Google maps, for example, is simples.

Handy hints include putting a + after any bit-ly URL to see the data behind it – a timeline of click throughs, where they came from, how many shares, Facebook likes and retweets. Clever!

He sings the praises of using hashtags and encouraging people to tweet information which can be piled into a Google map, for example, just like the campaign to help map the #UKvote

Influence was mentioned too, but what is influence? Stephen Fry on Twitter has a bigger following that all our national newspapers put together. That’s a huge audience. But, as Paul Bradshaw points out in a tweet…

How to check influence? Well, it all depends how and who you want influencing but check out Listorious – it’s not so much about followers these days than lists. If you’re listed, that’s a good thing.

Words of advice on Twitter? Don’t just share yourt own content, says Alberto, but share others’ too. Share stuff you think your followers will be interested in, build an audience so you have a bigger network when you do want to share your own messages. Grow your network!

Blogging, citizen journalism, whatever you want to call it

Apart from thinking, gosh, she’s young and I wouldn’t mind her borrowing her uber trendy wardrobe, I was interested to hear the views of Jess Markwood, Editorial Director of Aigua Media, on the slowing down in the growth of blogs. Is the blog dead? Hell no! Jess attributes it to the number of hobby bloggers realising it’s a time consuming activity – blogs need to be updated regularly with interesting content to attract and retain readers. Hear hear.

And she mentioned a great blogging success story – that of  ihateryanair.org following the shutting down of ihateryanair.co.uk.

But it’s not about a single destination anymore; to send your messages you need to be using multiple platforms and collaborate,” says Jess. Aigua Media owns and runs several fashion blogs and websites – here’s one of them – and makes its money through advertising as well as utilising Twitter and Facebook as communication tools.

I don’t agree with Jess’s comment that good blogs are updated five or six times a day, that’s just not possible if you’re not a full time blogger and – shocker – there sometimes just aren’t that many things of interest to blog about. But I do agree that content is king, blogging style needs to be punchier than formal news reporting and the best blogs work because the bloggers’ personalities are injected into them.

How inflentual are bloggers? Jess pulls out a picture of a 13-year-old fashion blogger sitting next to the New York editor of Vogue Magazine at a catwalk show. Pretty influential, huh?

But is there a code of ethics for bloggers as there is for journalists? Hmmm, not really. Should there be?

Okay folks, my brain hurts with all that info. Some of it brand new to me, other stuff I knew but needed a reminder of and some stuff I’m trying and testing at work and home. Hope this post proves useful. A post on how my own work ties into all this social media gubbins may well follow…

Media, Technology, work

An Olympic effort…

The last couple of months have been frantic at work and partly to blame for my lack of blogging prowess. But it’s all been worth it as this week we launched the new version of Platform, the Open University’s community website, which is a monumental improvement on the old site and a much more user-focused tool. I won’t bore you with the science of it all here, but instead ask you to check it out. Or, in the name of fun, take a leaf out of our book and give the After Eight game a go. London 2012 is on its way and this is something we can all put some Olympic effort into. Enjoy.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Emjcwh1Q82w&feature=youtu.be]

Huge thanks to @Documentally, @rachel_james and @AnneWalton for taking part.