04 November 2013

How to be an investigative journalist

How can a journalist get attention these days? Bloggers and the general public are swamping the breaking news cycle with tweets and photos from their mobile phones; companies are developing their own media content; and public relations practitioners outnumber reporters. It can be hard for a news reporter to get their head above the hype.
For the lucky few with the time, money and requisite skills, investigative journalism promises not only headlines but also infamy. But even if you have the time and inclination, how can you become an investigative journalist? UK newspaper The Guardian has put together a masterclass seminar with award-winning writers and professional snoops. They will explain how to find information and outfox the powers that want it hidden. This event occurs on November 30 in London and will cost £139, or £109 if you book early.

The Guardian hosts a series of other learning opportunities through the year. If you cannot make the introduction to investigative journalism, how about the digital journalism bootcamp? This costs a bit more, at £299, but is being held after work over four weeks in November (5, 12, 19 and 26 Nov.).

You can keep in touch with forthcoming learning opportunities by email, or follow @guardianclasses on Twitter.

The image above is from the London Journalism Centre, which offers a number of courses including politics, fashion and travel writing, among others.

27 October 2013

8 things every journalist should learn

There are so many different types of journalists that defining the curricula for journalism students can be a hot topic. Journalism includes small-town, all-purpose reporters; multi-purpose, multi-media workers; interactive data journalists and researchers; and specialists in many subjects.

Olga Khazan, writing in The Atlantic, proposes several common-sense core topics that should be in the toolbox of any journalist. Here are the headlines, with some thoughts of my own
  1. Statistics
  2. Data
  3. Experiments and sampling (i.e. how to interpret studies)
  4. Marketing (not only pitching stories and understanding public interest and e.g. viral media, but also handling pushy PR people and separating story angles from spin)
  5. Civic issues (human and civil rights and media law should also be part of this)
  6. Online writing (add broadcasting, video, audio and photography) 
  7. The internet - how it works and why (include privacy and research techniques)
  8. Plus: how about some basics, like story construction (5Ws+H, story pyramid, human interest), note-taking, writing techniques, hygiene (spelling, grammar, house style) and maybe even basic computer skills (keyboard, software etc.); plus some broader issues such as how to build rapport with readers, an understanding of human rights and journalistic rights, and a sense of ethics and obligation to match with your potential impact as an authority figure, commentator, critic and - perhaps - advocate (for a recent debate on the difference and merits of each, read this piece in The Guardian).
What do you think should be in every journalist's toolkit?

07 June 2013

Advocating with mobile apps

Apps are highly popular with users of mobile phones and tablets, especially when they are free, entertaining and informative. Many companies and non-profit institutions attempt to tap into this. Few capture the popular imagination by developing something that is both fun and meaningful.

Environmental advocacy group WWF has struck on a clever formula of charging a small sum for a game that has clear entertainment value, while informing users and raising funds for the cause that it is talking about.

As a measure of success, 500,000 people have already downloaded Rhino Raid. The game puts players in the shoes of an angry black rhinoceros in southern Africa, chasing poachers and avoiding traps. Proceeds from the $1.99 game support WWF rhino projects and the game also educates players about illegal poaching and the myths surrounding the use of rhino horn.

The app is available on Apple and Android.

Taking a very different approach to a very different issue, UN Women, UNICEF and UN-Habitat have launched a website that also works as a smartphone app. This is designed to provide information on support services for women and girls who are survivors of violence in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

The needs, benefits and inspiration behind the service are described on the UN Women website.

Creating a website in a mobile-friendly format helps to make the information as widely available as possible with minimal complications. The women and girls using the site are highly likely to be stressed and impatient. They could be using one of hundreds of different models of phones or accessing the site from a computer or other device. There is no need to visit an app store to download anything, which makes it faster and less of a burden on users who might have limited data allowances or minimal storage space available on their device. It also helps the developers by overcoming the guessing game of which mobile devices or operating systems to cater to: Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows or even Firefox.

These recent examples provide a good indication of the diverse options for making information available on mobile devices.

22 April 2013

Learn more, spend less

Free online education is a tempting offer, especially when it can earn you real credit towards a university degree. For anybody motivated and curious - with time available - there are now many options for free courses from top universities. Some attract thousands of students and cover a wide spectrum of subjects.

Students enrol in these courses from all parts of the world. The fact that they can easily share their experiences and thoughts online, adds depth and enriches these courses in a way I have not seen before. It has been a long time since I studied on campus and many years since I studied for my masters degree by distance learning, using printed books and study notes delivered by post. These Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are a very different experience, with tools and features that make great use of modern web browsers, video, digital publications and discussion forums.

But be warned: these courses demand as much effort as a regular campus course. Anyone studying online also needs an extra helping of motivation and they need to be sure they have the time available to study, think, research and write. Watching videos and clicking a quiz sounds easy, but composing a quality essay and scoring the work of your peers can take many hours.

They are also not for everyone. Some students struggle with the language requirements (many courses are in English) and some complain about having limited internet access - not surprising, when students enrol from the remotest parts of Africa. Others express concerns about the focus of the courses (many of them are provided by universities in the USA, and the data and examples used can betray a lack of global focus).

Yet, if you have the energy and determination, these courses might be just what you need to keep your mind ticking over, follow your passion or develop your knowledge for a career move.

I recently completed a course on public health provided by the University of California, Irvine through the online platform Coursera.com. Among my fellow students was Larry Gordon, a journalist who recorded his experiences in this LA Times article. As many as 15,000 people enrolled in the course initially - it takes only a click - but fewer than 2000 got a passing grade, with many dropping out on the way. But that is no cause for shame: there was no penalty for failure and everyone is welcome to repeat the course... perhaps when they have more time available.

Coursera has already come a long way since the TED video above by the co-founder Daphne Koller in August 2012. For many of the reasons she lays out, online education has a lot of potential but also a long way yet to go. 

Take a course today!
These platforms offer many options:
UK Futurelearn: http://futurelearn.com/
Stanford Class2go: http://class.stanford.edu/
Standford venture lab: http://venture-lab.org/
MIT OpenCourseware http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Open University OpenLearn http://www.open.edu/openlearn/

15 March 2013

Apply soon for UN journalism fellowships

The Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists is inviting applications for fellowships in 2013, from professional journalists in developing countries. The successful fellows get to join the reporters covering United Nations affairs. They will be flown to New York to report on the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September. This will include the High Level Meeting on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, which should be a particular interest to audiences back home.

Applicants should be quick: the deadline is April 5

Rread more here: http://bit.ly/ADuXHZ

26 February 2013

Simple data journalism tools

The Guardian's Datablog continues to serve as a beacon to data-focused journalists and others trying to use numbers to help tell stories.

This interview by O'Reilly's Strata blog includes reference to several of the key tools that the Datablog uses; some of them disarmingly simple: ExcelTextEditGoogle Fusion TablesGoogle Spreadsheets,TimetricMany EyesAdobe Illustrator, and Tableau.