Great idea for editors wanting innovative journalism

Here’s a great idea from Michelle Rogers. A box in the newsroom with coloured strips naming technology tools. Each Friday journalists draw a strip from the box and have to use one of the tools in their work.

This includes ideas like crowd sourcing stories on Twitter or using Storify.

If I was still editing, I’d have my reporters doing this.

Reporters using technology for journalism « ideaLab Heritage’s Blog.

Spending time with younger journalists

My last spell as an editor was running a trade publication: New Zealand Reseller News.

There, I made it my business to spend time with younger journalists. Most days we had morning coffee in a café. We took 30 minutes away from the office, computers and phones in an informal editorial meeting.

Each day I would discuss the journalists’ story lists. We would talk about how to tackle stories, who to talk to and share inside knowledge to help each other write better material. I would assign jobs, and encourage the journalists to talk openly about what they knew and what they picked up in the course of their work – often this would generate fresh story ideas.

Our paper was never better than when we did this. We were better informed, motivated and worked as a team. It showed to other publications in our group and to the computer industry people we dealt with .

At the meeting I took time to go over editorial issues, media law and grammar or style points. It was a mini-training seminar.

In my experience informal on-the-job training is more powerful than 12 months or three years in a classroom. I learned that way as a junior reporter and hope the people I worked with learnt something valuable from me.

It wasn’t a one-way flow. I encouraged criticism or discussion. At times I learnt new ideas. Moreover, by teaching others I refined and improved my own skills. In some cases I had to give reasons to explain why we had this or that rule. It kept me on my toes.

If you were to ask me then which part of working in an editorial office I would miss the most, I would have named many things, but in hindsight, I missing teaching younger journalists more than anything else.

When news goes molecular

I’m excited by South China Morning Post editor-in-chief Reg Chua’s efforts to find the new basic building blocks of journalism.

In the print era, the news story was the basic block. Chua points out stories are less valuable in a digital age and daily news stories have even less worth when readers come back to them at a later date. Returning to old stories is now easier thanks to online newspaper archives and search engines.

Chua describes how software tools cleverly pull atoms of news (facts) from various sources then knits them back together to form Molecules of News. In effect this means mining raw data for useful information.

In some ways this isn’t too different from the way journalists research sources when writing news.

As every journalist knows, much of the raw data collected in daily news gathering never makes it into news stories.

Chua says the news industry misses the value locked in that data. He thinks the challenge is for news organisations to find ways to turn this into money.

Clearly one approach is to chain atoms and molecules of news together in ways that make it easier to extract information. This means thinking about data structures, not news stories. This could involve writing reports (or atoms, or molecules) directly in to a pre-built data structure.

Chua’s last idea – suggested in a reply to my comment on his post – is the part I find really exciting. I’m going to make developing a working news data structure my background project for the year.

I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on how this can work for a freelance journalist.

Why I don’t sign non-disclosure agreements

Ex-journalist Alan Jones doesn’t sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) – story no longer online.

Jones works as a consultant helping tech start-ups with product strategies and marketing communications. He says asking people to sign a legal document which says “we don’t trust you” isn’t a great way to start a business relationship.

Like Jones, I don’t sign NDAs, but for different reasons:

  • I’m a journalist. I write news. NDAs stop me from doing that. My job is to get past corporate gatekeepers to tell readers what’s going on.
  • Early in my career I was burnt when a company asked me to sign a non-disclosure. It then gave the story as an exclusive to a rival. I never trusted that company or the people involved again. I haven’t trusted NDAs since either.
  • I’ve often worked as an editor for titles which use wire services. NDAs are written so I can’t run overseas-written leaks about the secret squirrel stuff.
  • Journalists have no business conspiring with public relations or marketing executives to mislead or misinform readers.

There are times when journalists are justified signing NDAs:

  • Product journalists and reviewers need to sign NDAs to get products before an official launch.
  • When an NDA is effectively a short term news embargo. For example, you’ve an exclusive interview with a top expert the day before a major announcement.

There could be other times, let me know in the comments if you think of any.

Lastly, nothing annoys me more than turning up to an interview or an event and having a previously unmentioned NDA shoved under my nose. The last time this happened I turned around and walked away.

How to write a good technology case study

Read all about it -

Read all about it -

Case studies help technology companies sell by showing customers what to expect. Buying technology is less risky when you can see others have successfully been there before.

Writing case studies is an important part of my work. I’ve written hundreds.

Editorial case studies, marketing case studies

Most of the case studies I’ve written are editorially independent. They were published in newspapers like The Australian Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald. Other appeared in specialist magazines.

I’ve also been paid by companies to write case studies for their marketing.

There’s a difference between writing a case study for a newspaper and marketing.

The best editorially independent case studies are warts and all war stories. The company concerned goes on the record talking frankly about the problems it faced before starting the project.

Include the negatives

Editorial case studies often discuss other technology companies who failed to deliver hoped-for benefits or couldn’t keep up with the play. The best editorial case studies also contain valid criticisms of the project and the chosen technology partners.

A good hard-hitting independent case study includes at least two low points along with the high points. Extra tension and interest can come from talking to customers of the company at the heart of the project who may or may not be impressed by the changes they see.

Newspaper editors work on the principle there’s no real story if the project went like clockwork.

Although there will be parts of the story which will make technology marketing managers wince and possibly upset their bosses, the smartest operators view a good independent case study as priceless publicity. It is credible and realistic. This is more valuable than a story that reads like advertising.

Maybe that’s why sophisticated companies ask writers like me to emulate the newspaper style when they want case studies written for marketing purposes.

Typically the story – and case studies are stories – still involves ups and downs, but without some of the sharp edges which might affect relations with other business partners.

No copyright in newspaper headlines

Australia’s federal court decided copyright doesn’t apply to newspaper headlines.

The decision strikes a blow against publishers wanting to hide content from non-paying online readers behind paywalls.

It came in a copyright claim made by Fairfax Media over headlines in its flagship business newspaper, The Australian Financial Review (AFR).  Disclosure: I spent seven years working as a freelance journalist for the AFR and a further two years as an associate publisher for its parent company.


Fairfax was looking to halt Reed International reproducing AFR headlines on news abstracts in its LexisNexis service – which incidentally, like the AFR, is also behind a paywall.

The AFR has operated a newspaper paywall long before the strategy became popular with newspaper publishers. For many years the AFR was derided for being out of touch with its paywall. Now everyone is in on the act, the case takes on more importance for the publishing industry.

Summaries substitute for articles

My old boss, chief executive Michael Gill went in to bat for the copyright claim. He said Reed intended its summaries to substitute for the articles and breached copyright by reproducing AFR headlines and by-lines.

The judge ruled otherwise saying Fairfax’s sample headlines were not literary works “in which copyright can subsist”.

She said Reed’s conduct was fair dealing and not copyright infringement.

Gill said Fairfax was considering appealing the decision.

Torn over copyright decision

As a journalist who has received an annual income from Australia’s Copyright Agency, I’m torn over the decision.

On the one hand, I feel publishers need protection from copyists who simply scrape data from the web, then repackage and sell it. Many of my stories from this site appear on other people’s sites – that makes me angry.

And well written headlines – the AFR employs some of the best sub-editors and many headlines are first-rate – provide readers with part of a story.

On the other hand, there’s always been an acceptance small works such as headlines, titles and advertising slogans are not protected. Now would not be a good time to start.