Tag Archives: Journalism

Mobile Reporting exercise using Soundcloud, smartphones and Storify

Digital Journalism is fun in the sunshine!

Digital Journalism is fun in the sunshine!

This is a class project I worked on with first year Journalism undergraduates at Salford University, MediaCityUK. It was part of their Digital Journalism module. There are four groups each with about 15-20 students. My aim was to get them to explore audio recording on their smartphones/iPads and to create digital stories using curation techniques.

Choosing a storyBEhgHIXCEAAhATP.jpg-large

Every week, students complain about the bus service which goes from the main university campus to our MediaCityUK building. It’s free to students on the stretch between the two campuses but it’s unreliable, they tell me. It’s a frequent reason they give me for being late to class! So let’s turn a negative into a positive and use this as the basis for our mobile reporting class.

The Tools

Most students in the class have smartphones or iPads – certainly enough to make this exercise work. Not many have done any serious audio work with them though so there are plenty of learning opportunities here. I’m indebted to Mark Settle at the BBC College of Journalism who specialises in smartphone reporting. His video tutorial on recording audio came out the day after this exercise so it was pretty timely! But my favourite tip came from Nick Garnett, a BBC 5Live reporter. He’s a bit of a pioneer when it comes to iPhone reporting and has pretty much ditched other recording equipment. His blog about his experiments and discoveries is incredibly useful. I’ve always been worried about using the internal mic on the iPhone for serious audio recording because it’s so prone to wind noise but I’m yet to find the perfect external mic solution. His tip is simple –  an ordinary windshield on the microphone end of the iPhone!

Windshield on iPhoneSee my twitter conversation with him about this. So I bought one the day before my first session with the students so I could get them to experiment for me. £4.49 in Maplins!

Most students already use Soundcloud for sharing and searching music so this seemed like a good place to start. I set up an account for all our students to use and gave them a quick demo in class, including the simple “top and tail” editing facility. I told them to save their audio as private. Not everybody had devices or 3G but so long as 5 or 6 in the class had it, we were OK. I also showed them Voddio in case some of them were feeling ambitious and wanted to do some proper editing and mixing on the go. Nobody did but that’s probably because you need to pay £6.99 to get the sharing/sending facility on Voddio.

The final element was Storify. I love Storify and was really keen to introduce it to my students! Again, I set up an account for the class to use and gave a quick demo. Storify is not perfect and sometimes it doesn’t hook up to Twitter as it should. We had some issues with it in the first two sessions but found a workaround. It was fine the following day with the other two groups. I know some people have given up with Storify completely because of its problems. I’m sticking with it because, when it does all work, it opens up so many creative opportunities for storytelling and engaging. Great teaching tool too.

The Task

I asked three students in each group to volunteer to man our digital newsroom (an ordinary classroom with PCs). There was no shortage of volunteers, I’m pleased to report! Everybody else teamed up into reporting teams – mostly pairs but some slightly bigger groups. We decided which aspects of the story we were interested in and what kind of audio material we wanted.

The newsroom team then took charge of deploying their reporters with additional instructions to take photos and tweet information.

Once the reporters were despatched, I briefed the newsroom team in more detail. I gave more instruction on Storify but, to be honest, they didn’t really need it. We talked about what makes good curation. Again, credit here to Mu Lin at Georgian Court University, New Jersey for putting together some guidelines. Basically, don’t drag and dump; provide context and background; have a structure; be selective.

One student specifically looked after the Soundcloud material once that started coming through. They listened through to all the material and made public the ones which were good enough for our story. They then alerted the Storify editor to the availability of the material.

I also wanted the newsroom team to use social media to engage the broader student community which also relies on this bus service. Could they get people outside this exercise to contribute to the debate? They came up with the hashtag #50busprobs.

Once the exercise was over and everybody was back in the classroom, the newsroom team briefed the reporters on what they’d been doing. we published the stories and explained the “notify” option on Storify.

I encouraged students to embed/export the Storify to their personal blogs and add a paragraph about their own contribution and analysis of the task. This was not assessed.

The Outcome

You can see an example of the stories created by students here just to give you a flavour of what they were able to do in the limited time (about 75 minutes).

The newsroom team worked really hard to engage with the broader community with some success. Maybe we should have started doing this in the week before the exercise to build momentum.

Working with Storify was great. It’s a really intuitive tool for building digital stories quickly. The students picked up the concept of curation v drag ‘n’ dump really well. They worked together to find relevant background context and structure whilst they waited for the audio material to come in from the field.BEhd7oUCcAAha7E.jpg-large

The students assigned to editing the Soundcloud material quickly worked out what kind of material would work best in a digital story. They also made sure to add titles and, in most cases, relevant photos to each Soundcloud to maximise their visual impact on the final story.

The reporters in the field all managed to find interesting audio material and get it back to the newsroom. We also got lots of really useful photographic evidence of buses standing idle round the corner rather then en route! All students reported finding Soundcloud easy and fun to use.

Some students has borrowed my windshield to experiment with. Apart from one group which had put it on the wrong end (!! my fault. I should have showed them), they reported good results


The students loved Storify and several of them went away and experimented with it on their own. Really pleased about this!

One student said she’d have liked longer for the exercise so that we could have rotated roles. I agree but on the plus side, she said she’d go and experiment with Storify on her own which is a good outcome!

Overall, the audio quality needed some work. That was mainly down to lack of editing. They needed to be ruthless with their material! This is largely my fault for not emphasising enough the need to edit BEFORE uploading the material. But on the plus side there was a great range of material and creative use of the medium. They definitely used audio to enhance our appreciation of the story.

Interestingly, the students doubted they’d be taken seriously with an iPhone as opposed to a “professional” recording device. That’s at odds with the professionals’ view. I suspect it will change as iPhones become a more acceptable part of the broadcast industry. Watch this space!


This was a fun exercise and I would definitely do it again. There is so much learning and thinking involved. The tools worked well. They’re free and easy to learn and use straightaway so everyone benefits.

We were lucky with the weather on both days – bright and sunny with minimal wind. I’m not sure how much we would have got done in more typical MediacityUK weather (howling wind, rain, cold)

Should journalism students ditch shorthand and learn to code instead?

That was the slightly provocative question I posed in an article for the website WannabeHacks.  

“Coding is the new Latin”, says Alex Hope, the co-author of a report last year which urged the government to get British school children learning how to program.

But should coding become the new shorthand for journalism students? Most are currently required to spend hours practicing their shorthand to get up to the NCTJ-required 100 wpm. Would their time be better spent learning the basic logic of computer code?

It’s a hot debate at the moment, especially in the US, where several colleges are already offering a joint MSc in Journalism and Computer Science.  It makes sense to me because so much journalism these days relies on complex search engines and so much news is consumed on phones and tablets.  Surely new journalists should have some idea about the programming that goes into this in the same way that I had to answer questions about Ohms Law for my first radio traineeship at the BBC.

But most of the debate is amongst the academic community and experienced professionals.  I wanted to find out what new and aspiring journalists thought.  Do they want to be part of the new generation of journo-programmers?

Perhaps you’re already coding ninjas? Perhaps you think it’s a dangerous fad which will only create journalists who can’t write and computer scientists who can’t code. 

So, I’ve set up a quick survey to find out what journalism students and those just starting out think.  If you fall into that category, please take part!  If you don’t, perhaps you’d care to pass it on to someone who does.

Click here to take part in the survey.  Thank you!


World Service celebrates 80 years – my box of memories

I don’t do scrapbooking and I don’t like hoarding mementos so I’ve been trawling the internet for my favourite images and sounds from the World Service’s 80th Birthday celebrations.  It’s a very personal selection – the people, places and sounds I want to remember.  I was at Bush House for the 70th celebrations but didn’t quite make it to the 80th so I’m very grateful to all the people who shared moments from the special day 29.02.12.


This slideshow reminds me of the role BBC World Service has played during the great moments of history.  I don’t think those of us working at Bush House ever forgot the sense of responsibility that came with the knowledge that millions of people around the world counted on us as their only source of reliable information.  It meant that we could argue at length about the precise meaning of a single, seemingly innocuous word in a news bulletin – would it be perceived as biased by one side or the other?

Times changed, of course, and audiences came and went but there was always somewhere in the world that needed to hear an independent voice from beyond.

The technology changed too and fewer and fewer of our listeners tuned in using shortwave as the BBC relied more heavily on FM rebroadcasts by partner stations.   But there are still people around the world who need to tune in using short wave, as Bethan Jinkinson found out for this lovely feature.

But if that history lesson was too much for you, try this.  This is Adam Long of the Reduced Shakespeare Company with his Reduced History of the BBC World Service. It was a special commission for the BBC Newshour debate on the future of global broadcasting.

Fortunately, the programmes on the 80th anniversary didn’t dwell too much on the past.  Instead, they came up with this nice concept of Inside Out whereby listeners got a sense of what happens behind the scenes.  How does the World Service decide which stories get on air, which voices are heard and how (limited) resources are deployed?  Well, most of those decisions start here, at the 9 o’clock editorial meeting….

The guy at the head of the table chairing proceedings on this occasion is Olexiy Solohubenko,multimedia editor of World Service Languages (he’s had many very important titles over the years!)  But I knew him as head of the newly-formed Ukrainian Service back in 1992 when I studio managed their first live broadcast.  Sitting on his right is Liliane Landor, controller of Languages for BBC Global News,  She joined Bush House at around the same time as me and I remember her as a presenter on the French Service, which even broadcast to Europe back then (who listened??).  I’ve had to attend and even contribute and argue my case at these meetings on many occasions over the years and never enjoyed it.  But I loved it as a spectator!  It was always deeply intimidating being in the presence of such Big Brains.

The Outlook programme (another one that I worked on many times as Studio Manager, Producer and Reporter) finally realised that the best people stories are in Bush House itself.

This programme is how I’ll remember Bush House – a place full of amazing people with incredible stories but who all share the same lifts, canteen, toilets and passion for what we do.  It’s a very humbling experience and I probably took it for granted whilst I was working there.  When I started out as a Studio Manager at Bush, I worked on programmes in all the languages so there are many familiar faces and voices in these photos and recordings.

Here are the people taking part in that special Outlook programme.  Originally from Sierra Leone, Josephine Hazeley is now the Deputy Editor of the BBC’s Africa Service – and she used to host legendary Christmas parties for the Africa Service staff and their families right in Bush House.  I went to one!  She has an unforgettable voice and you certainly made sure you got things right when she was in charge!

Seva Novgorodsev is a presenter on the BBC Russian Service – but he started out as a clarinet and saxophone player in a jazz band that toured the Soviet Union.  I worked on Sevaoborot many, many times as a Studio Manager and enjoyed sipping a glass of red wine as I did so!

This is Shaima Khalil, an Egyptian journalist currently working for BBC World News TV.

Priyath Liyanage is the Editor of the BBC Sinhala Service which broadcasts to Sri Lanka. When he first arrived in the UK he worked as a nurse, an aromatherapist and a night porter in a London hotel.  He was a great contributor to World Briefing.

This is Najiba Kasraee, a former Senior Producer at the Afghan Stream of the BBC Persian/Pashto Service, now working at the BBC’s College of Journalism.  She has an amazing story to tell.

The anniversary was, of course, part celebration, part wake.  It coincides with the BBC leaving Bush House for a new home in Broadcasting House.  So I guess I’ll never enter Bush House on The Aldwych ever again and my link with that hugely important part of my life will be lost.  Fortunately, some very clever people put together this beautiful film which will be my favourite souvenir.

And this is a Russian version which appeals to me, at least!  Some VERY familiar voices and faces here.

So Wednesday 29th February turned into a pretty emotional day for me.  In the end, I called Lars bevanger who was colleague many years ago on the World Today.  He’s now a freelance journalist and happens to live down the road.  We met up in Libby’s to reminisce ….

But as night fell on Bush House, the REAL party started – a bittersweet affair of celebration, reminiscing and uncertainty about the future.
Jeremy Morgan and Mike Cooper-DiFrancia.

Jerry Sullivan, Clare Bolderson and Rebecca Kesby
And for my final image……
Yes, I did actually operate this B-type mixing desk, with rotary, Bakelite faders.  It’s how I will always remember Bush House – totally unique, hilariously eccentric, a little old-fashioned and very, very loveable.

Talking Coding on Norwegian radio

The interview I did about learning to code went out on Norwegian Public Radio this morning at about 8am.  It was part of a 9 minute package by Lars Bevanger who writes about the UK for various European audiences.  You can listen to it!  I’m towards the end.  Even though it’s Norwegian, all the interviews are in English so you won’t get too lost.  It also features Dr Lucie Green and Manchester GirlGeeks.

Journalism nerds

  1. So we all know that journalists of the future will be flying round MediaCity on their jetpacks whilst wearing their silver space suits.  But what will they actually be learning on journalism courses?  
  2. The New Year seems to encourage people to gaze into their non-existent crystal balls.  I shan’t be doing that but I am interested in the recent trend to encourage journalists to be programmers – or vice versa.  Is it the future?  More to the point, I’m wondering whether I should learn some basic coding.  It’s hovering in the vicinity of my “2012 To Do” list.  Apparently, coding is the new Latin.  I quite liked Latin at school.  (It’s not quite on the 2012 To Do list yet.  Should it be?  What do you think?  Codecademy looks like it’s the in thing at the moment.)  So what do the clever people say about “hacker journalists?”
    5. The Rise of the Journo-Programmer. An ambitious hybrid of journalist and computer scientist is what some have in mind as part of the future of journalism. As Columbia was launching its dual-degree masters in journalism and computer science (more), Northwestern last winter announced a $4.2 million Knight News Innovation Lab run by the journalism and engineering schools (more). Other schools are focusing on just making student journalists smarter about doing data within their journalism courses, becoming adept at everything from simple programs like spreadsheets and web-based visualization tools to more sophisticated software like Flash. Influential online journalism educator Mindy McAdams proposes all J-schools have a full-fledged data journalism course, something a few schools appear to be doing (Columbia is one; CUNY is another). Meanwhile, the explosion of smartphones and tablets – the latter are starting to show up more in classrooms, though not without debate over best practices – has encouraged some schools to explore app development, whether through simple thought exercises or by actually building apps from the ground up in dedicated courses.
  4. Columbia University in the States is one of the first to offer a dual degree in journalism and computer science.  “Embrace the digital revolution,” prospective students are urged.
  5. Dual-Degree: Journalism & Computer Science – Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

    Columbia Journalism School and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science have created a dual-degree Master of Science in Journalism and Computer Science. Students will receive highly specialized training in the digital environment, enabling them to develop technical and editorial skills in all aspects of computer-supported news gathering and digital media production. The goal of the program is for its graduates to help redefine journalism in a fast-changing digital media environment. The program will offer the highest caliber of computer science and journalism training at Columbia University.

  6. Bill Grueskin, the Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia, envisages creating journalists who can create “a lot of their own tools.”  That’s quite a sophisticated level of programming, isn’t it?  Can it be done on a master’s course alongside all the journalism stuff?  I thought programmers had to do hundreds of hours of programming to master their art.
  7. So how do you go about creating journalists who can program or programmers who can do journalism?  Dave Winer is a bit of a pioneer in this field and is now a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.  That’s the home of Studio 20 which offers “master’s level instruction with a focus on innovation and adapting journalism to the web.”  
  8. In most university departments, there’s a permanent paid staff that manages the websites for students and faculty. It seems to me that if your goal is to boot a new class of journo-programmers, this activity should be brought into the curriculum, and every student should participate in managing and developing his or her own publishing infrastructure.
  9. We’re not ready yet to teach how to do this, but a few semesters after the students start, we will have a very good idea of how to accelerate the process and produce more reliable results. And eventually we will be able to teach it alongside the other skills that make a programmer a programmer and a journalist a journalist.

    We will also have a much better idea where existing tools are insufficient, which will lead us to the next phase where the students not only manage the infrastructure, they develop key parts of it. At NYU, we learned we have students that are this ambitious with the Diaspora project.

  10. Sounds kinda scary to me but the staff and students in this NYU video look like they’re up for it. 
  11. Studio 20 – New York University
  12. OK, so I’m feeling seriously inadequate now and a sad old dinosaur.  But it turns out not everyone out there thinks this kind of dual degree or emphasis on hacker journalists is the way forward.  John Hillman wrote on Journalism.co.uk about his concerns.
  13. The digital trinity
    Good digital publishing requires expertise in three completely separate disciplines, all of which are callings in their own right.
    As journalists we’re all here because we want to tell a good story, so we apply our presentation skills, written, audio or visual, along with our ability to make an intelligent overview.
    To ensure that our work then reaches the largest possible online audience we work with designers, who are highly artistic, and web developers who tend to be mathematically astute computer scientists. When it all works together the result can be great, interactive, accessible and attractive online content. Victory.
    So much as any attempt to bring journalists closer to technology should be warmly embraced, there has to be an understanding that shoehorning a journalist into a programmer’s role, and vice-versa, probably isn’t going to produce the best results. These are much more likely to come from having a good team around you, by understanding each other’s limitations and, above all, by working well together.
  14.  I guess the risk is that you dilute the amount of time given to journalism itself.  Are journalism schools going to be turning out jack of all trade/master of none journalists?  Will these journalists be more interested in creating new toys rather than developing the skills and ethics of investigative journalism?  Or will they be creating a new generation of hacker journalists who will have the design skills to match the tool to the story?  Or at least convey these ideas to a “specialist.”  
    As an aside, I was speaking to a senior editor at C4 News recently (as part of an academic paper I’m working on) who said that modern news organisations need people with adaptability, an aptitude for learning and technical (i.e. IT) aptitude.  I guess if you’ve got those skills – and the original journalistic mind and skills to go with it – then you’re reasonably well-equipped.  Similarly, part of being a journalist is having the skills to go out and acquire the knowledge you need using your research instinct – albeit on a fairly basic level at times – to keep up to date.
    But if any UK university should be looking at bringing in some level of computer science into its journalism courses then surely it has to be Salford given its location and research interests.  
    And maybe 2012 is the year when I should add coding to my To Do list.