The rewiring of news one tool at a time

This week I attended the news:rewired conference organised by and held at Microsoft headquarters in London.

The event had grown immensely since I last attended four years ago and is now a Mecca for freelance and tech-savvy journalists, rather than laden with curious hackademics as had previously been the case.

The rich, packed programme featured sessions on visualisation, engaging younger audiences, covering the elections, mobile video journalism podcasting skills, web analytics, online investigation techniques, Twitter advanced search operations and the use of wearables and drones.

The impressive speaker list included editors, trainers, designers, consultants, analysts, technologists and futurologists (???) from the likes of Sky News, the Guardian, BBC, Buzzfeed, Mashable, NPR, News Association, The Telegraph, Manchester Evening News, The Times, The Economist and Twitter UK.

As expected, running alongside the conference was an invaluable barrage of tweets from delegates and speakers, using the hashtag #newrw which live reported key tips, quotes and links from the event. The reporting team also created a series of blogs based on the keynote speakers making for a fully interactive experience.

One recurring theme at the event was the importance of online visuals and the use of infographics, visual storytelling, photographs and video to engage users in online content – even to the extent of turning audio in animation or a series of photos, as illustrated by BBC News Beat’s assistant editor Anna Doble.

One of the best ways to absorb all the ideas and information from the conference is to look through the #newsrw tweets by doing a search on Twitter.

I was not able to attend all of the sessions, as sometimes there were three running parallel, but here are some general pointers from the ones I was able to catch.


  • Always think first: what does your reader want from this?
  • To see if an infographic really works remove the words and see if you can understand the sense of the story without them – you should be able to
  • An infographic is not a visual aid to support the words it should stand alone in itself
  • Useful services are or Datawrapper
  • Vines work well but sometimes a well selected screengrab will be even more effective
  • Remember that pictures convey emotions but not context
  • Handy App to create visuals is ThingLink


  • The jury is still out on what works effectively as online audio (aside from podcasts) and what is potential viral material
  • Audio should be kept to under 90 seconds
  • Audio needs a strong headline that captures the promise of a great listening experience when you click
  • It is helpful to have strong visuals with an audio link
  • The best types of online audio are: Explainers, Whoa, Storytellers and Snappy Reviews
  • Lots more advice from Eric Athas, senior digital news specialist, NPR Digital Services here
  • Podcast users are a niche audience but they are heavy users that listen regularly and for long periods of time (to The Economist podcasts at least)


  • Always shoot in landscape
  • Be aware of your phone settings and use them to adjust the phone’s camera
  • Useful Apps: Video Pro, FilmMic Pro (for shooting video), Video 2 Photo (for easily capturing good quality stills), iMovie, Pinnacle Studio (for editing), 8MM (for special effects) Compress Video (for compression).
  • Useful accessories are an external mic, a battery pack and an external flash
  • Lots more advice here


  • Remember that tweets are reactive passions and interests not necessarily a true indication/representation/public gauge of something
  • To find out what young people are talking about start a search with ‘my mum doesn’t…’
  • Use Followerwonk to search Twitter profiles
  • Twitter Curator is a new search system that allows journalists to monitor keywords and profiles and keep abreast of topics and how popular they are
  • Curator can then be used for data visualisation

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“Tenacity” remains core journalism skill


The annual NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference was held in Sheffield last week and featured discussions from a range of journalists representing broadcast, print and online.

The two-day event hosted panels on digital literacy, investigative journalism, regulation, photojournalism and diversity at The University of Sheffield and Sheffield College, which both run accredited journalism courses.

Highlights of the event included a deeply moving talk by The Times reporter Andrew Norfolk who spent four years off diary undercovering the Rotherham child grooming sex scandal which in his words was “all consuming” and left him “dysfunctional”.

And one controversial conference moment was the question from panellist, BBC Sport reporter Sonali Shah, about whether every journalist needed shorthand in the age of mobile phone audio recorders which led to sharp intakes of breath from the audience.

Although some mention was made of the core NCTJ skills of shorthand, media law and to a certain extent public affairs and structuring a news story, the emphasis of the conference was on new digital skills and adaptability.

Key attributes raised by multiple speakers included:

  • Tenacity
  • Curiosity
  • Story finding
  • Story telling

Journalists are now expected to be adept at:

  • Social media for sourcing, gathering, breaking and disseminating news
  • Uploading multimedia content to content management systems
  • Basic online video and audio skills (particularly using a mobile phone)
  • Photography skills (including shooting, cropping, captioning and editing)
  • Analytics and SEO
  • Visualising data
  • Knowing how to compete against public bodies, businesses and charities in the online sphere

And is it advantageous for new recruits to have:

  • A basic understanding of html and coding
  • Knowledge of Photoshop, Googledrive, Excel
  • Strong editing skills

This ever-expanding digital skill set, underpinned by strong communication and investigation skills, poses many challenges to journalism educators who must add increasing components to their courses whilst maintaining some sense of what it means to be a journalist and to produce journalism.

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Making the most of conferences

Each year academics make a plea to their head of department or head of research for funding to attend conferences at home or abroad. These can be events run by universities, research networks, industry, training providers or accreditation bodies and they often have a mixture of academics and practitioners attending.

Many Higher Education institutions will only fund staff to attend an academic conference if they are presenting a paper and individuals will only get funding for a skills based conference if they identify the particular need in their annual appraisal or it is a requirement of continuing accreditation.

Therefore when permission (and funding) to attend a conference is granted, it is an opportunity to be seized.

Here are some tips on making the most of conference attendance from my post on

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Lecturer published in two media textbooks


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Two journalism and media textbooks featuring work by SHU journalism lecturer Dr Lily Canter have gone on sale.

The Routledge Companion to British Media History and Ethics for Digital Journalists: Emerging Best Practices contain chapters written Dr Canter, who is one of many international academics who worked together to produce the books.

Lily’s chapter in the British Media History textbook explores how the political economy and consumption of local news has remained the same for hundreds of years whilst the chapter in Digital Journalists looks at how journalists and the public can work collaboratively.

She said: “These are both excellent, comprehensive textbooks which I am honoured to have been a part of. They will be essential reading for all PR, media and journalism students.”

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SHU lecturer and student collaborate at film awards


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Journalism student Danielle Hayden played a key role in the Film Northants festival this year, which is run by journalism lecturer Lily Canter.

Danielle was part of the reporting team at the two award ceremonies held at the Errol Flynn Filmhouse in Northampton on September 1 and 2.

The ceremonies included the screening of 20 short films, Q&As with film-makers, the presentation of awards and a champagne reception.

Danielle worked as a multimedia reporter and tweeted from both events, filmed video and audio clips, interviewed film-makers and judges and wrote two blog posts.

She also saved the day at the Under 16s event when a major technical glitch meant her Macbook had to used to play the film files as the cinema system was not working.

Danielle said: “I feel proud to have been a part of Film Northants. I had such a great time and I hope…

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On the receiving end: getting caught out by my own profession(s)

One website article was all it took to take a positive, learning experience and turn it into a poisoned chalice. And yet I should have known better.

A month ago I visited the Derbyshire Times as part of my personal development and as part of my role as Subject Group Leader for Journalism, to make sure  the course at Sheffield Hallam University was up to date and in line with industry.

I could only spare two days but I found it a valuable experience which reaffirmed many of the things we were already teaching and reinforced the importance of elements such as multimedia skills, old fashioned news reporting skills and media law.

I then wrote a blog post outlining the changes in the industry as I saw them. Much of the content in this post was stating the obvious and indeed that was the point. It was a simple outline that I thought would be of interest to other academics and journalists (as it isn’t always obvious to everyone), and it was based on my personal viewpoint.

The Derbyshire Times were happy with the blog and it received a couple of positive comments which described it as “fascinating” and”timely”. It was not earth-shattering news or groundbreaking observation  but I felt it had served its purpose and been of sufficient interest to a handful of people.

The blog post then began to circulate on Twitter and was retweeted by academics, journalists and Johnston Press who own the Derbyshire Times – all in a positive manner.

This brought it to the attention of the trade news website Hold the Front Page and then things took a different turn.

Whilst I was on a family holiday I was contacted by a reporter from Hold the Front Page who wanted to know more about my work shadowing at the Derbyshire Times.

In my naivety I thought they were simply following up my blog post and looking to write a piece about how things had changed in regional newspapers (indeed I had written a column about this for the Derbyshire Times). I was asked to pick one thing that stood out from my work shadowing and since my blog largely talked about the use of multimedia and this was a pretty obvious thing to point out, I decided not to repeat myself and said one of the biggest changes was reporters uploading content straight to the web without any secondary checks.

This information had come from senior staff at the newspaper, from my own observation in the news room and also from my own experience as I had to upload my own stories and footage straight to the website whilst I was there. It was also reaffirmed by friends of mine who still work at regional newspapers who follow this same practice on a daily basis (some have no problems with it and others are anxious about it).

For some journalists this is not an issue, as they are excellent at media law and discuss any potentially problematic stories with their editor – but not all journalists are the same.

However this is not an exclusive Derbyshire Times or Johnston Press or even weekly newspaper issue. It happens in virtually all newspapers whether they are weekly, daily, national, Johnston Press, Local World, Newsquest and so on. 

I was therefore surprised to see that the line taken by Hold the Front Page was ‘Weeklies cutting corners in rush to publish on web’ and the wording of the article appeared to single out the Derbyshire Times.

The journalist in question, had done what I have admittedly done in my time as a journalist – he had taken my quotes and fashioned them into the story that he felt had the strongest angle, but without the broader context.

Many of the comments I made to the journalist were based on my PhD research which took place at Newsquest and Local World newspapers and were my generic thoughts about the industry rather than criticism of the Derbyshire Times.

Yet the journalist had decided that was the angle he wanted to follow and and failed to acknowledge that my original blog was actually praising the reporting team who are under resourced and yet still manage to put out a great multimedia, printed and online product without any legal problems.

Indeed my comment about writing straight to the web was largely to make the point that our journalism students need to be extremely hot on their media law.

However I do think there are concerns about what is happening in the industry and I was relieved to see that the comments under the Hold the Front Page story were in agreement on this. I also received a congratulatory email from a Johnston Press employee saying ‘thank you, this needed to be pointed out by someone outside the company’.

Unfortunately some of the comments under the story took the personal attack approach rather than reflecting on the issue raised in the story and felt it was necessary to criticise me (yes I do have a PhD) and the journalism course at Sheffield Hallam University (which has 93% student satisfaction). Again – something I should have expected as this is increasingly common with the anonymous comment brigade.

I have no problem with constructive criticism and I am glad that the comment thread raised some healthy debate, although I regret that the article appeared to be a personal attack on the Derbyshire Times.

However what I did find particularly bizarre about the comment thread criticism was that I was accused of being out of touch even though I had made the effort to get back into the news room to make sure I wasn’t out of touch and indeed the experience had reaffirmed what we have been teaching at Sheffield Hallam University for several years.

Academics should know what is happening in the news room but for me personally, the best way of knowing, is experiencing.

The whole journey from work shadowing to blog post to journalism article through to comment thread has been an interesting, frustrating and illuminating one which will definitely shape my teaching going into the next academic year. 


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The summer research To Do list

Let’s face it. Academics have a long summer break. Once the exam boards are over and modules are planned for the year ahead there is a good wedge of time to finally catch up on all those things on your to do list (and hopefully take some annual leave as well).

Used effectively, this period can be an excellent opportunity to get your research house in order and do all the little fiddly things that will help to build networks, forge relationships and raise your academic profile.

Read my blog on to get some suggestions on what to include on your To Do list.

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