Learn how to run an online newsroom

The flyer for the course

The flyer for the course

To non-journalists, the word newsroom is probably only mildly meaningful. A room where news is written about and edited is the thought that probably comes to mind.
To journalists, a newsroom is the centre of life. It is where your desk is, where your computer is, where your friends are – the place you spend many, many hours of your working life.
Traditionally a newsroom comprises the reporters (people who write articles) and their management team, headed by a news editor. Then there is the subs room, where there is another team of people who edit those articles and turn them into a laid-out newspaper.
There are still newsrooms produced in the traditional way – but there are also now online newsrooms, in which many things are done differently.
And those different ways of doing things require some new ways of managing the production of content.
I’ve spent years working in such an online newsroom, and in thinking about ways to do things.
And I’m running a course on the subject, under the auspices of the Institute of the Advancement of Journalism. The course runs from May 22 to 25 in Johannesburg, South Africa. If you are interested, please contact the IAJ (email gugun@iaj.org.za or dimakatsom@iaj.org.za).

A tip for writing better captions

Captions are everywhere. And so many of them could do with more thought.

For example, I saw this on Twitter:

camel caption

A screenshot from Twitter, with author deliberately hidden.









The fundamental thing about a caption is that it goes together with a picture! So the caption only needs to contain details that the reader cannot see, or infer. No need then to say that so-and-so laughs as she meets her friends. If she is visibly laughing, the picture is doing its job. In the case of the camel, the offending word is “seen”. It’s just not needed. My suggestion for a better caption (and note – you don’t need to repeat Dubai):

A camel is readied for foot surgery at the Dubai Camel Hospital.

Journalism “legals”: when is something in the public interest?

keys on keyboard

Picture: Pixabay

A Mediaonline article published this week does an excellent job of laying out some of the legal considerations governing the publication of sensitive material in South Africa.
The article carries interviews with the people involved in looking at the legal ramifications of Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keeper, (one of whom is my sister Gill Moodie) and notes that while something may ordinarily be dangerous to publish, the factor of “public interest” can come into play and make publication justifiable:

The next step is to ensure that what the journalist/author intends to publish is of public interest. This is vital because it can be used as a defence in a number of instances. De Klerk explains, “The law protects privacy for example, but privacy can be overridden if there is an overriding public interest present”.

In other words, you could argue that you published something defamatory or illegal because you believed it was in the public interest.

But what is “public interest”? Continue reading

Things I learned at Media Indaba Africa 2017

view from media indaba

Media Indaba organisers added their own twist to the view.

Earlier this year, I attended a South African Freelancers’ Association event addressed by Chris Roper from Code for Africa, where he mentioned the upcoming Media Indaba Africa conference (called Media Party Africa in 2016). I duly filled in the online form for the event and forgot about it.
When an email alerted me to the fact that the indaba was to be held in Cape Town in late November, and that it would be free, I leapt at the opportunity.
I spent the best part of two days at Media Indaba, chatting to people, attending interesting talks and taking in the beauty of Cape Town from the 28th floor of the Portside building.

Here are my impressions: Continue reading

Why some tragedies get a lot of coverage and others don’t

More than 350 people died in a truck bomb in Somalia on October 14.

Earlier in October almost 60 people died in a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Media coverage of the two events followed a long-established and regrettable pattern in journalism: wall-to-wall coverage of the Las Vegas shootings, patchy and incomplete reports from Mogadishu.

Al-Jazeera noticed what its headline called “double standards”:

Commentator and law professor Khaled Beydoun noted that a bomb attack in Manchester, a northern British city, was covered more widely. “The # of people killed in Somalia yesterday was 10x more than the # killed in Manchester in May (230 to 22). But it got 100x less coverage,” he tweeted.

In simple terms: Western city, big response. African city: small response.

I (and many other journalists) have pondered the reasons for these imbalances for many years. Continue reading

Why people (even journalists) don’t pay for news – and what to do about it

A newsstand in London

A newsstand in London. Picture by Duncan Harris, Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret that journalism is going through cataclysmic change.

It’s as if we are trying to sell horse-and-cart combos at the same time that Henry Ford is rolling the Model-T off the production line. As pointed out here by Eric Beecher, the “unconventional business model” which saw public interest, independent journalism being subsidised by the sale of cars, jobs and furniture (classifieds – remember them?) is deader than the dodo.

In the place of classifieds are a variety of “business models” where news organisations try to figure out how to make money when people won’t actually pay for the pure product (journalism) and have gone elsewhere for the cars, jobs and furniture.

I have sat around over many a glass of wine with journalist friends, bemoaning this state of affairs. But I don’t think any of us have ever spent much time on really thinking through WHY it is that people won’t pay for news (assuming they were ever willing to pay, of course – many saw the news as a wrapper to the real stuff: horse racing results, crosswords, horoscopes and classifieds). And here’s another question to ponder: Do journalists themselves pay for news? Do I pay for news? Continue reading