Changing media landscape
Despite the fact that things looked quiet on here, I haven’t been sitting still at all. Most of the work has been happening over at the Constructive Journalism Project in the past few months. We’ve been touring the country delivering workshops at journalism schools from Scotland to North Wales and many places in between.
I have also been busy writing on Contributoria, where I successfully crowdfunded 22 articles in 9 months. The platform’s co-founder Sarah Hartley recently interviewed me about the tools and tricks of this new trade within freelance journalism.
I had another digital detox and travelled from Louisiana to Mexico and Brussels to report. Earlier this month I found myself on a remote island in the Stockholm peninsula to interview innovators in education. There was just one house and one wood fired sauna (hence my axe picture on this blog!): a nice change from buzzing London.
Next week, I’ll be speaking at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. If I get any time between the many intriguing talks, workshops and meetings, I’ll post my dispatches here.
Following a great start of the Constructive Journalism Project in 2014, we’re gearing up for the new year!
For all of you who have inquired about new London workshop dates, we have just announced the next one:
Friday 20 March 2015, 9.30am – 5pm
We’re keeping numbers down to allow for plenty of one-to-one interaction, so early booking is advised to secure your place. You can head over here to book directly.
New dates for the regular Journopreneur Workshops will be announced in early January.
For now, I’d like to thank you all for being part of the Journopreneur journey in 2014. It has been truly great to work with so many of you and I am humbled by the support, encouragement and enthusiasm I have received. Have a wonderful and relaxing Christmas and an adventurous, productive and inspiring New Year!
Many of us went into journalism with a desire to help change the world. And yet, working in traditional media often leaves us feeling frustrated. The emerging field of constructive journalism offers hope – and a different picture.
The lack of editorial interest in genuine solutions to the problems facing society makes it hard for journalists to break the negative news cycle. We often know that there is another side to a story we report on: examples of positive change, of resilience and transformation, and of exciting possibilities. And we know that our audiences love to hear about it. But how do we go about telling these stories effectively and using our journalism as a force for good?
Increasingly, media globally are starting to realise that they can report in a more inspiring way, while not just upholding but in fact strengthening all the standards of quality reporting. Some call it ‘solutions journalism’, others ‘positive reporting’, but it is about more than just focusing on what works. It is a way of presenting a fuller picture within conventional reporting, which is more empowering and engaging for audiences and more beneficial to society. Ultimately, it is about constructive journalism.
Together with Seán Dagan Wood, editor of Positive News, the world’s first positive newspaper, and co-founder of the Transformational Media Initiative, I have spent the past couple of months developing a brand new course. The one-day workshop is especially designed for freelancers wanting to dive deeper into the up-and-coming field of constructive journalism, and learn how to use this innovative and pioneering new approach within their freelance career.
The subject matter is close to my heart, as I have been covering social problems as well as solutions for many years. Over time my focus shifted to constructive journalism. As an independent journalist, I had to learn how to get editors on board, find outlets for my work and – let’s be realistic here – somehow make sure that what I believed in also generated a stable income. I found ways through trial and error and I continue to adapt to the changing media landscape. Now, I want to share what I learned with you.
I am happy to announce that the course officially launched today! The modules we will cover are a mixture of solid academic research into constructive journalism and practical applications for freelancers. You can check out all the details on constructivejournalism.org. The first of its kind in the UK, this exclusive course will take place on Thursday 27 November in London and spaces are limited.
This is a stand-alone course and previous participation in a Journopreneur workshop is not required. This workshop will cover 100% different materials, focused on constructive journalism within freelancing. If you have got any questions or would like to have a chat about whether the course is right for you, do feel free to contact me, as always.
Meanwhile, you can watch my fellow course leader Seán Dagan Wood explain the concept of constructive journalism -and why we need it- at TEDx:
As you read this, I have gone into hiding. Really. Try to ring me: you won’t get an answer. Try to email me: you’ll get an out-of-office without a promise that I’ll check for urgent messages once a day. Try to reach me on social media: you won’t get a tweet out of me and there’s nothing to like. Try to app me: those two delivery ticks you’re waiting on won’t appear. Not for two weeks. Not until I’m digitally detoxed.
Sometimes, I think back of the days when I started out as a freelancer. I barely used email and mobile phones were the size of fridges. My newspaper and journalism school both still used the good old hot waxer machine and I physically pasted my own first stories on the pages. If someone needed me for an assignment, they rang my parents’ landline and I checked my paper diary to see if I was free. The phone book was my bible, I spent a small fortune on magazine and newspaper subscriptions and accessed the rest in libraries and archives.
I didn’t have Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Google Calendar, LinkedIn, Instagram, Youtube, WordPress, Hootsuite, Mailchimp, Flipboard, Kindle, Paypal and Skype to run my business. But I did have one thing that has become increasingly scarce with the introduction of new technologies: focus.
Every time I read statistics about digital technology usage, I am torn between thinking it is both efficient and highly distracting. The average person checks their phone ever six and a half minutes. Three quarters of people say they absolutely could not spend a day without their smartphone or computer. In the UK, independent regulator Ofcom says that the average mobile phone subscriber sends 200 text messages per month, but that figure is heavily distorted since the introduction of Whatsapp. And we somehow still find time to watch 241 minutes of TV per day, too.
Creative freelancers in particular have had a lot to thank the digital revolution for when it comes to the running of their business. Without the Internet I certainly wouldn’t have been able to build and sustain my business as quickly, cheaply and efficiently as I have. More so, I would never have been able to do it all largely by myself, without the need for web developers, coders, personal assistants, administrators, PR agents and –to some extent- even publishers. The stuff I’ve been able to teach myself by simply watching YouTube tutorials, attending webinars and browsing user forums is pretty amazing. And at a fraction of the cost of a college degree.
My office is anywhere, as long as there’s wifi or 3G-signal for my laptop or phone. I plan everything on the go. No bus, tube and train journey is left unused to reply to emails, update to-do-lists, research stories, engage on social media, check newsletter reports and website stats, schedule appointments and plan interviews. But it is not just travel that has been transformed since I have a mini computer connected to the internet in my pocket at all times. Breakfast, supermarket queues, a friend who turns up late in the pub, ad breaks on TV and even episodes of writer’s block have all been given a new use.
But people who understand our brains better than we do ourselves say that it isn’t all that helpful. Even before our lives were interrupted by tweets, status updates and app notifications every three seconds, researchers found that doing more than one task at a time takes a toll on productivity. Psychologists studying cognition say that “mind and brain are not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”
Despite everything we’ve gained, we are losing our ability to concentrate. To focus on one task. To switch off and make room for new thoughts that we can actually think through. We are more switched-on than ever, but we have lost the ‘off’ button.
There is a counter-movement appearing, ironically spreading through the web. There are ‘disconnect to connect’ ads, screenless weeks, digital detox camps and even a National Day of Unplugging on March 6 next year. But I’m not waiting until 2015.
I’m starting today.
During the one-day Journopreneur Workshop on Friday 5 September, I’ll share my digital detox experience so you can hopefully benefit from it, too. Info here.
Photo: Flickr/Rusty Blazenhoff, under Creative Commons License
With all the focus on learning new tech skills like coding and data mining, it is easy to neglect the one skill that tends to make or break most freelance journalism careers. Without it, we wouldn’t stay in business nor create a healthy balance in work, life and bank account. Self-discipline.
With the most awesome forms of digital distraction at our fingertips pretty much 24/7, a rigorous work regime is the only way to keep your business going in the long run. Freelance journalists, more than most, always have valid excuses for having to be online. Research is mostly done on the web and carries on well into the production stage and the next commission might just come in via Twitter or Facebook, needing an immediate reply.
And yet, I would argue that on production days, regardless of whether you work from home, an office or on the go, it is often best to switch off. These five measures help me to focus and get the hard graft done:
Switch off notifications. Keep a record for one day of every popup message that you get on your phone, tablet and desktop computer: everything from emails to Skype, Facebook and Outlook calendar invites. Then go into the settings of each programme or app and switch them off.
Set a weekly hour to schedule all your social media posts. Tools like Hootsuite let you do this for free via a dashboard which can connect all your channels in one place. For the rest of the week, just allow two or three five minute slots per day maximum for replies.
Install an email/social media blocker. This is a bit of software which voluntarily censors your PC at certain hours. The most used ones tend to be the most ‘strict’ ones that don’t have a switch off button. Try ‘Anti-Social’: it’s all in the name, really.
Use a distraction-free writing interface. There are many different tools for this, including the full-screen Omm Writer and FocusWriter. Find one that works for you by test-writing a few paragraphs and stick with it.
Take your laptop somewhere with no internet and switch your smart phone off completely. It took me a while to realise why I always seemed to write much quicker on the London to Glasgow express train. I’d suspected it was because there’s no proper phone signal on half the journey, but I connected the dots after Virgin installed wifi on board and my productivity dwindled. If there is public wifi in a place (increasingly unavoidable), refrain from finding out the password.
Do you still not see the need for any of it? Then at least take a minute to work out how much time you’ve wasted on Facebook over the years. Or –even more scary- install the recently launched Menthal app. This German invention by researchers from the University of Bonn is like Big Brother in your pocket, but for all the right reasons.
Menthal tracks how much time you spend on the phone and sees which apps consume most of your attention. If the beta stage is successful, it will be able to observe how events in your life affect your phone usage. All with the goal of maintaining a sustainable digital lifestyle. It might just help you to make your freelance business sustainable too.
The realities of life as a freelance journalist are tackled hands on during the Journopreneur Workshop on 31 May 2014. For more info and booking, have a look here.
With commissioning budgets slashed, content freely available, delivery models changing and pay models constantly reinvented, journalistic skills alone are no longer enough. In order to be successful and sustainable, independent journalists need to be equally equipped as business entrepreneurs. They need to become journopreneurs. Here’s why:
Technology is creating a level playing field for publishers of all kinds of media: from crazy cat blogs to investigative reporting published in e-book format. Mighty media conglomerates, broadcasters and publishing houses still have power, but they now have to share it. There is an opportunity for independent journalists to build their career on both sides of the fence, benefiting from the name and reach of traditional media outlets and simultaneously enjoying the freedoms of going it alone.
For every disappearing advertiser, there is a crowdfunder ready to invest, donate, sponsor or pay a dollar. Or ten. Or a thousand. Paypal accounts to receive online payments take minutes to set up and web shops can be built for free in a few hours by anyone who has used a basic CMS before. Levels of experience and contacts within the traditional media establishment become less relevant as entrepreneurial journalists find other ways to fund their work, reach their audiences, sell their work and generate income.
Staff jobs are vanishing almost as fast as print readers and paid subscribers. Despite the industry’s transformation, media remains a popular field of study with tens of thousands of talented graduates joining the field each year. Like those affected by the ongoing redundancies in traditional media, most of them will – by choice or out of necessity – become freelancers. In a crowded market space, journalists who create their own projects and products are more likely to stand out from the crowd.
Newspapers become less about news and less about paper. Audiences become less about reading, listening and viewing and more about participating and experiencing. A different approach is needed to constantly find out what different audiences want and how to give it to them. Using social media, analytics data and other free web tools, innovative freelance journalists can react quicker to changes than big media organisations. Moreover, they can use the same tools to proactively try out different things in order to fine-tune products and deliver them to a more engaged audience.