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Home » Reviews

We Publish: a review (?)

Submitted by on May 16, 2011 – 7:44 pm3 Comments

From Blue Mountains Library collection (Creative Commons)

What did the digital revolution ever do for journalism?

It’s a big topic, not only because first of all, you have to start defining words like ‘revolution’, ‘digital’, and ‘journalism’. As a Leeds-based writer – and predominantly online too – I found the recent WePublish event interesting, and in some ways educational, although it didn’t (couldn’t?) answer this question in its entirety. Chaired by Adam Westbrook, the event focused on a panel of Northern-based digital media providers: Emma Bearman (from The Culture Vulture, you might have heard of her), Nigel Barlow from Inside the M60, and Sarah Hartley, editor of The Guardian Local, exploring their experiences, ideas, and opening it up to the floor for comments and questions.

Firstly, what or who is a journalist? I wouldn’t even start to define myself in those terms, and it seemed as though maybe we ourselves, involved with the business, didn’t know for sure. The digital world seems to have blurred the boundaries of concrete descriptions like these that had previously been reserved for news desks and print rooms. Is it that a ‘journalist’ is investigative, curious, confident and stubbornly determined? Or it is that ‘journalism’ is prescribed by education, qualifications and experience?

And what about the digital revolution? While discussing what goodies it had brought – openness, accessibility, opportunity – there was a distinct feeling that with this it had brought the ‘business model’ of journalism crashing down round its ankles. How do these new forms of journalism and especially digital news media make any money? How do people get paid? With the demise of Guardian Local at the back of everyone’s minds, the discussion of ‘the dirty stuff’ seems to have become ever-so-slightly necessary.

The conversation at points veered into the traditional bemoaning of education establishments not providing for their students, which, frankly, seemed very dull. Since when have schools, colleges or universities equipped individuals with wisdom, initiative, ‘entrepreneurialism’ (used a lot that evening) or anything actually decent? That’s why people say they went to the School of Hard Knocks and the University of Life! Yes, maybe traditional education should be providing that. But when you’ve written a curriculum that’s affordable, teachable, and somehow fits in the ‘life skills’ that are needed for good journalists, you better let higher education know.

A good point was made that wasn’t really answered too: what has digital done for journalism as a genre, a skill set, a qualitative product? How has it altered ‘journalism’ as a concept? Has it really just replicated those narrowed newsrooms in mentality, but provided a slightly different job title? I think the desire here is to say it hasn’t – but I can’t be sure. Was the point of the ‘digital revolution’ to throw off the shackles of the printed oppressors and somehow move to an open, accessible platform, a complete free-for-all in the opinion stakes? Or was it to provide quality journalism that didn’t come with all the bollocks that print media has: like sponsorship, advertorial, bigotry, high running costs and censorship? Has it even done that?

Turns out this review is full of questions, rather than answers. I hope the next We Publish event will provide, if not the final say, then maybe the next step along this line of enquiry.

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  • Penny Coles says:

    Hi Elly,

    Lovely piece from you as normal and much appreciated because I didn’t make it down to the event myself (too tight to pay the £10), but I was very keen to know what went on.

    It’s interesting to hear that there were more questions than answers. I guess that’s the case with all these sort of crystal ball gazing exercises. Not that I’m disparaging the event or the esteemed panal, all of whom are highly experienced in recent developments on the journalistic/digital/blogging scene.

    I too want the answers. Wandering through town again yesterday I found myself drawn to Waterstones and that mysterious book which surely must exist, and will give me all the answers to this exciting new world in which it seems we are all free to publish what the hell we want, or are we?

    And therin lies my innermost professinal fear, today brought to the surface again over the case of the blogger whose details have been handed over by twitter for potential libel accusations by South Tyneside Council. For myself, the result of a difficult print journalist background, where I had my share of public beatings for getting anything from an apostrophe wrong (wasn’t that the sub-editors job), all while I was publishing six, fresh (non PR) articles a day, which one of which, for a particularly memorable three week period, each day made it to the front page, Im finding it difficult to embrace this new digital world where apparently anything goes. Or does it?

    I was brought up, following my law and politics degree, not that it really counts as I was addled most of the time, but brought up nonetheless on a very strict code of what one can and cannot publish – legally. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions for sure, but I still think those opinions should be reasonable and responsble and I hope that in this new climate when it is as easy to publish as it is to have a flippant conversation with a friend, that everyone is armed with the right facts and training to cope with what the arms of the law might throw at them. Obviously i do have the benefit of some professional training but I still feel the need to dig out my law books again, which I will do, so I wonder what on earth those less professionally trained on the matter are really feeling?

  • Imran Ali says:

    Thanks Ellie, glad you enjoyed the event and thanks for a great review – our intention was to provoke some debate, so I’m glad Jon and I managed to host some characters that stirred things up!

    Insights into possible futures always flow from asking the right questions rather than seeking answers, so glad to know you’re coming away bursting with Qs :)

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