Journalist @ 23

Thoughts about journalism, news and life

I’m a Yr 11 math drop out… and now I’m a ‘data journalist’

I still struggle with counting problems. Source: Flickr, Jinx!

I still struggle with counting problems. Source: Flickr, Jinx!

I was never good at math. And by the end of Year 11, I’d had enough.

By then I knew that I wanted to be a journalist. I honestly thought numbers would be irrelevant to my career.

So, I traded Math for a course in Religion and Society thinking that would be a smart move before embarking on my journalistic pursuits.

Turns out I was wrong.

Fast forward six years, and now I’m staring at a data ridden excel sheet wondering: what do all of these numbers mean and how the hell am I supposed to turn them a graph?

By now it’s no secret. I’m trialling a data journalism role at Business Spectator. But I wouldn’t let myself be known as a ‘data journalist’, so I renamed the role. Till the end of February (and possibly onwards) I’m Business Spectator’s ‘Social Content Editor’.

Why did I do this? And why did I label myself the site’s ‘Social Content Editor’?

I’ll go into that second point in a later post. But here’s why I renamed the role in the first place.

The explanation begins with a trip down memory lane to my Uni course in investigative journalism (yes, such a subject exists at Monash).

In one of my tutorials one of my colleagues asked: “what’s the difference between normal journalism and investigative journalism”. The tutor replied that it’s all about the level of “digging” a journalist must undertake to unearth a story. A shallow story is still journalism, but a multifaceted, revealing yarn is ‘investigative journalism’.

That’s all well and good, but hold on, isn’t that also the difference between good and bad journalism? Given this, I think can safely say that data journalism is simply another form of good journalism*.

The best examples of it use hard facts and evidence to provide insight into an issue. They’re formatted so that they are easy to understand, and they should always reveal something new to the audience.

It ticks all the ‘good journalism’ boxes, doesn’t it?

Yet, just like investigative journalism, it has been pigeonholed as some sort of specialist role by many newsrooms. One where a ‘data journalist’ still needs to partner with a ‘real’ journalist in order to break a story.

Luckily, this trend is dying down. But this is why I refuse to myself be known as a data journalist.

I’m not just fiddling around with numbers for other to write about. Nor am I an analyst. I’m using statistics, analysis and visualisation to enhance my storytelling. Just like I would with a picture, a podcast, a Storify, or some embedded tweets.

Better yet, I’m not just sending a spreadsheet off to the graphics desk either, I’m building my own graphs and charts.

To be honest, this idea that data journalism is good journalism isn’t an original concept. It was inspired by a US publication called Quartz.

Their journalists embed graphs and charts in almost all of their stories, all the time. They even created a tool to help other journalists build better visualisations for their work. Building charts and using data to tell a story is the norm at Quartz, not the exception.

Digital newsrooms need to catch on to this trend. Bloggers have been doing it for years. 

All of this isn’t to say that there hasn’t been a rather steep learning curve. Learning excel is a challenge, and now after almost a week of going home beaten and demoralised by my lack of skills am I starting to pick it up.

Like all things, you get better at it over time. And seeing trends in the data, that’s almost like news-sense; it’s a trainable skill and you hone it over time. If you get it right, the pay-off can be amazing. The clicks and engagement I’ve seen with my stories over the past couple of weeks are proof of this.

The best part: thanks to excel and a quick Google every now and again, you don’t even have to be that great at math to do it.

Some of my work:

*To clear this up; just because I’m doing data journalism now doesn’t mean I’m doing good journalism. That’s up to the reader to decide. I’m happy with what I’m doing now, but I know I can do better once I’ve gotten a better hang of the role.

Aspiring journalist? You need watch this video

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Have you watched the video yet? Watch it. It’s not much to look at, but if you’re a young or aspiring journalist, it will make your day. Possibly, your year.

So you’ve watched it? Wise words eh? It’s so true of journalism.

OK, confession time. So before this video, I didn’t really know who Ira Glass was.  Recognised the name, but couldn’t place it.

After Googling him, I know why. He works for a US radio show called This American Life – it’s on the Chicago based public radio network WBEZ. I’ve heard amazing things about the show, but never listened to it… I’ll add it to the 2014 resolutions list.

As this article by the Oz explains, he’s a legend in radio. He’s credited with redefining radio, possibly even saving it. If this is all to be believed, he likely killed the video star (boom, tish!).

But seriously, it’s humbling to hear him say that it took him time to hone his craft. It’s something we all forget, talent – real talent – takes time.

I still look at my own work, and despite how far I’ve come from my first rather worthless article offering obvious tips on cyber security (it’s so old I can’t find it on Tech Spec anymore…), I still feel there’s something a little off about it. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not quite as punchy or as eloquent as I want it to be.

You know, there’s the odd unintentional repeated word. Or the rhythm of it feels a little off.

Glass may be a radio star, but his words apply to all art. And all journalism. I’ll likely be telling people about this video for years to come.

So kudos to @elizabethredman for showing it to me.

PS. So, I’m restarting this blog. Didn’t want to write one of those awkward ‘oh guess what I’m blogging again post’, so I wrote this instead. I’m 23 now, that’s why the blog title has changed. Terrible for SEO, I know, but this blog isn’t about traffic, it’s an outlet for my thoughts (rants). 

FYI – I started when I got a job in journalism at 21. Hence, I called it Journalist@21. 

The bittersweet news that Microsoft’s creating news

Microsoft is putting together its own team of journalists to create news content for devices running off its Windows 8 operating system.

My first thought on the topic: ‘wow, more jobs in journalism’

This was quickly followed by the thought: ‘wow, is Microsoft actually producing journalism?’

Veteran journalists – and even newbies like me – are soon going to have to wise up to the fact that news companies are no longer the only producers of news.

In a new form of marketing strategy, corporate heavyweights are employing journalists and are creating content that will rival traditional newsrooms.

The AFL made the leap earlier this year, announcing its own digital journalism team that is set to create content to rival that of The Age and The Herald Sun’s sports coverage.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Google, Facebook or even Apple move into this space by forming their own newsrooms in the next year or two. It seems like a logical move, given that Microsoft’s already made the leap. Microsoft’s news is bittersweet, and here’s why:

The good

Any announcement which indicates the possibility of more jobs in journalism is always a plus; especially given all of the reports of job cuts over the past couple of months.

Given that only particularly rich companies are funding these newsrooms, you can almost guarantee that they will be well resourced.  This could mean that the journalists working in these newsrooms could get more time to source and create quality content, rather than having to churn out the workload of two reporters like their traditional media counterparts.

Finally, more voices in a democratic society is never a bad thing. A weak argument, I know, but my old journalism lecturers would never forgive me if I didn’t throw it in.

The bad

The most obvious question around Microsoft’s new newsroom is how it’s going to cover its own issues or other issues in the tech space. It would be highly foolish to assume that these companies are interested in journalistic ethical terms like ‘fairness’ or ‘balance’. One can only assume that Microsoft’s tech news will be anti-Apple and pro-Microsoft.

There’s also the risk that by creating a newsrooms, Microsoft will avoid giving any stories to the mainstream media and instead give ‘exclusive’ coverage of its products and events to its own journalists in a bid to control its coverage.

Finally, Microsoft’s move into news is a play at the digital advertising space. Meaning, that it’s attempting to gain some access to what little advertising dollars traditional newsrooms are clambering over in the page-impression ad space. It’s also got the added advantage of having its stories promoted to readers via their Windows device.

Indifference?

I like to think that online readers are pretty smart, and can tell a corporate ploy from real news. I’m also assuming that they will avoid it – but that may be going a bit far…

On the bias front, you can’t exactly label either Fairfax or News Ltd as being completely transparent in the coverage of their own affairs. I’m sure that they both try to be, but the public still needs convincing after their respective coverage of the London hacking saga and Gina-gate affair.

And… I haven’t read any news from inside the ABC about its newsroom restructure.

Perhaps there isn’t really a difference between corporate-run newsrooms and traditional newsrooms? Perhaps the only difference is the company’s primary revenue source? Be it advertising, or a product line.

Anyway, let me know what you think about corporate run newsrooms in the comments below.  Keen to hear what some younger jounros or students may have to say, as these soon may be the only jobs available.

(On a side note, I’m getting much faster at writing these posts… this one only took 30 mins! I bet it shows though!)

Advertisers and editorial influence. Are smaller, independent publications at risk too?

Legendary journalist and UTS head of journalism, Wendy Bacon made a good point today in her piece highlighting her appointment as New Matilda’s contributing editor.

She wrote:

“There has always been a need for more independent media in Australia but never has that need been more critical than now. The advertising that supported the editorial content in corporate print media largely evaporated with the growth of the internet. Mainstream editors confront the tricky task of using the remaining advertising to shore up as much journalism as possible. Inevitably this means that advertising will shape the broad contours of editorial content even more than before.”

I couldn’t agree with her more. You only need to look to Media Watch’s piece of A Current Affiair’s promotion (masquerading as journalism) of start-ups owned by the Nine Network to see that this is the case.

But I didn’t write this post to just agree with everything Bacon says. I could do that in a Tweet.

What I’m trying to say is that there are dangers in independent or start-up publications being affected by advertising dollars as well. What Bacon raises isn’t just a ‘mainstream journalism’ problem.

I’m not inferring that any independent publications alter their editorial content based on their revenue source. I have no evidence to back it up. What I am saying is that it is possible. As with the major mastheads, smaller online independent publications are also clambering for money. Competing for advertising dollars.

I’m not old enough to know, so I can only assume that prior to the internet, traditional media companies have enough sources of revenue that they could afford to bite the hand that fed them and keep a stark line between advertising and editorial.

Nowdays, I’d guess that media companies must be so keen to grapple onto whatever revenue the can find that it becomes an issue if a journalist decides to do an exposé on an advertiser.

Anyway, the point is that until we find a sustainable source of revenue – whether it’s through subscriptions or a new form of flashy advertising – all media outlets are open to influence from the almighty dollar.

As with most of the doom and gloom posts, I hope I’m wrong. But I thought it would be worthwhile raising the point.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Searching for what we cannot define: ‘quality journalism’

There’s a buzz word that has swept back into the media spotlight and it’s known as ‘quality journalism’.

Fairfax just announced a huge restructure – its going digital, tabloid-sized and is cutting up to 380 editorial jobs – and so now the ‘quality journalism’ buzz word is being rolled out by both Fairfax’s management or the Media Union to both justify and condemn the move.

But with all this bickering over ‘quality journalism’, I just wish someone would come out define what the phrase actually means!

Does it mean journalism that wins awards?

Challenges readers?

Gets heaps of clicks online?

In my four months as a journalist I’ve learned that there appears to be no such clear-cut definition for ‘quality journalism’.

At university, ‘quality journalism’ was an easy enough concept to fathom. Good sources, clever writing and an innovative story idea usually equals quality reporting – or so I was taught. It’s what got me good grades.

Yet, what seemed so clear at university has become incredibly blurred in the workplace. I wrote an article using two journalists as sources (a journalistic misstep, you should talk to real people not journalists) yet click-wise, the article was by far my most popular. Does that make it ‘quality’? Some might think so.

Perhaps what I was taught was the ‘old school’ definition for quality journalism, and perhaps its evolved in the modern online newsroom? But what would I know, I’ve only been reporting for four months.

So general public (or more than likely media students and PR professionals – I know who reads my blog) what do you think constitutes ‘quality’ journalism?

Sound off in the comments below.

Searching for the real news: how the journalistic use of Google News is broken

My editor was recently praised by the high ups within our company for her “ability to get article on Google News”. She’s capable of much more, but ‘Google News rigging’ seems to be the journalism skill of choice at the moment.

It’s an age old fact among online journalists that if you get your article ranking highly in Google News it’s bound to do well. For those with a commercial mind, Google News is the litmus test of an article’s success.

It’s fair to clarify what people are playing for here; anytime an article ‘gets on Google’, it receives a huge boost to its clicks. And that’s how online journalism is really measured – by the amount of people reading an article.

When it comes to Google News, it’s not about the calibre of the writing or the amount of people the journalist spoke to. Hell, sometimes even the story topic is irrelevant. What matters how high up on the Google newsreel it features – if it features at all.

What’s absurd about this is that Google News wasn’t programmed to be used this way. It was designed to give the average reader an overview of what issues are trending at the moment – not a directive for editors to follow.

Journalists and editors have always had to rely on their gut – and their humanity – to determine public interest. But now, with Google News, that’s being decided for them. With the pressure to get clicks ever-present, it’s no wonder that online editor are clinging to Google News for dear life hoping it will save them from management’s scrutiny.

So to break it down, here is why Google News is damaging journalism:

Google doesn’t reward leaders, it rewards followers.

If you break a story, it will not trend on Google News. In fact, from what I understand, it won’t trend until someone – anywhere around the world – files a similar story.

If you file a story, and someone else files something similar with a picture, links or more words the following story is more likely to feature on Google News, while your story is slotted into the hidden ‘additional sources’ tab.

Google also rewards journalists that file incomplete stories. If you continually change or add content to a story, it’s also more likely to rank ahead of its competing stories.

And finally to some websites sub-editors dismay, Google favours certain topic-relevant keywords in headlines. For instance, names and company titles trend well. So in most cases you can forget about being creative with a headline as well.

The game is already rigged

Google favours websites that have both a strong search presence and that frequently post any type of article online.

If you think about it, that law gives the ABC, News Ltd and Fairfax a distinct advantage, as they have the resources to post at least one article every 10 minutes.

So as you can imagine, most of the top ranking Google stories come from those three news agencies.

If you write to Google News you will end up with a site that’s worse than a tabloid magazine.

Today, the story, ‘Priscilla, the Facebook Bride’ featured on the top of Google’s technology news. It wasn’t a tech story. But it rated in technology, because Facebook is considered by Google to be a technology related term.

It’s the same reason why ‘Man caught speeding while on Mobile Phone’ is also a tech story. Not to mention ‘Animal planet TV crew captures audio which they believes proves the existence of Yowies’.

Yes, these stories were displayed proudly on the same system that editors are striving to be on.

The thing is, Google News uses key words to file articles into categories, and then search click-through rates to rank them. What you ultimately end up with is a popularity contest that’s been filtered using keywords and phrases.

Believe it or not, I actually like Google News

Despite this rant, I don’t have a vendetta against Google News as a tool. I actually like it; it’s a useful system for getting a (very) rough understanding of where the news is at on a number of topics. What I do have a problem with, is editors (and those above editors) using it to gauge public interest and influence editorial.

No offence to the ‘do no evil’ internet company, Google, but Google News is a system that rewards ‘clickbait’ and shoddy journalism. And honestly, the public doesn’t know any better.

What’s worse is that editors are now developing way to ‘trick’ the algorithm to keep their articles on Google news for longer. As I mentioned before, some journalists will now file half-cooked story, wait for their competitors to catch up, and then update their story to reach the peak of the ladder. Or even worse, editors follow Google News; see what’s trending, and use that to decide whether a story is worth writing!

I never used to use Google News before I started working as a journalist – and I now cringe every time I hear the phrase in our newsroom. From my travels around newsrooms across Melbourne, I know it’s the same elsewhere; if not worse.

When PR masquerades as journalism

Wanted: one journalist to work for the Police. Confused? Well take a look at the exert of the ad below:

“The Media and Corporate Communications Department of Victoria Police is looking for a Journalist to join its Publications team”

“As the successful Journalist your responsibilities will include producing the fortnightly online publication The Gazette where you will source stories, organise photographs, write and sub-edit copy and produce the layout in InDesign. You will also research and produce articles for Police Life magazine and the Victoria Police website.”

It sounds like a good job. It’s parcelled with a $60,000 per annum salary and a free gym membership – more than what would come with most reporting gigs.

But there is a question sticking in the side of this job application: is it journalism?

If the police are crying foul over their work conditions, is this ‘Gazette’ going to report it? Or will it simply echo the line from the bosses in an attempt to quell the masses.

Even scarier: will the police stop giving statements to the press and instead start giving articles from their own media team to put in the paper? Will they boycott dealing with a media outlet at all if they fail to comply?

Will media mealy become a conduit for the republishing of corporate communications? They’re already overly dependant on issued statements, videos and press releases.

Perhaps the past couple of pars seem a tad alarmist, but this job advertisement resonated to me to be the tip of a very deep, cataclysmic iceberg.

Contorting the facts

Last month Media Watch pointed out that the AFL was planning to report on itself.

Media watch host, Jonathan Holmes asked the tough question: how will you report negative stories?

AFL media’s Matthew Pinkey replied saying that AFL Media had negatively reported on itself in the past.

“Well we’ve dealt with a lot of negative stories so far… We’ve reported on Andrew Demtriou’s salary cut, we’ve reported on the AFL’s annual results, which were a loss,” Pinkey said.

For the record, Pinkey knows his news. He was the former digital editor of the Herald Sun. Yet, this is how AFL Media chose to lead its ‘negative’ coverage of itself:

“A leading financial analyst says Andrew Demetriou is ‘pretty well paid’ but would be hard to replace for less,” the report says.

It went on to outline Ross Greenwood’s comments on the whole AFL saga, before finally getting to the actual news three quarters down the copy.

To give you a comparison, here’s how the Herald Sun started the story:

“The AFL has suffered its first financial loss in a decade – a $23.6 million deficit it blames on the start-up costs for Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney,” Michael Warner of the Herald Sun wrote.

Second par: “The pay cut means Gold Coast superstar Gary Ablett may have surpassed Demetriou as the game’s highest paid figure,”

Forgive my blatant editorial here, but the Herald Sun’s copy is much more impartial and worded like a news story. It’s not quoting other people’s opinion as news and leading with the facts.

What’s perhaps worse is that AFL media’s copy was updated after Ross Greenwood’s comments – meaning the journalist involved was looking for some kind of positive angle.

You can’t claim to be doing journalism if you’re going to report good news and then distort the bad. It’s just PR masquerading as reporting.

When the media accepts PR and brands it as journalism

Talking about PR, media reps are taking on more of a journalist’s role nowadays. I’ve seen Melbourne University’s PRs shoot videos for their website and it seems that ANZ bank may be heading down a similar path.

When ANZ decided to raise the interest rate on its variable mortgage rate in February it produced a video interview with its CEO, Philip Chronican explaining the move.

ANZ offered the video response instead of putting up a spokesperson to front the media. By creating their own video and distributing out to the press, ANZ basically avoided an immediate media backlash against the move.

I can only guess that a PR rep would have conducted the interview with Chronican and asked pre-determined questions.

How do I know that this was the case? A college told me that “the lighting was too good for a TV news interview”. In addition, the same video was shown on all the stations and was released too soon for all the networks to get together and designate a camera crew to shoot a shared interview. So I can only reason that this was an internally produced video and handed to the media.

Again, this is not journalism – but it was passed off as journalism by the TV newsrooms across Australia on February 10. If they didn’t use ANZ’s video interview, they wouldn’t have any vision for the story.

When the line blurs…

All this being said, all newsrooms and companies have a right to defend themselves publicly. Lets be frank, News Ltd hasn’t exactly been imperial in the reporting of the UK hacking saga, as it has ties to its sister organisation (News International) overseas.

Yet, there was a counterbalance – where all other media organisations reported the facts straight (or straight-ish depending on the newsroom).

If proper newsrooms die out and they instead turn into ‘corporate communication copyrooms’ then we’ll probably lose this counterbalance and the scepticism that makes journalism stand out from just plain regurgitation of a corporate or government message. I would hope the public would boycott such reporting – but that’s assuming they could tell the difference. A lot of news – and even feature stories – are already based off press releases and I think the general public wouldn’t be able to pick it. I hope I’m wrong.

Ultimately, this whole argument is just one to consider in the wider debate around the future of journalism. However the line between PR and journalism needs to be reaffirmed, because at the moment, it’s starting to blur.

————-

I actually wrote this post ages ago, but then got sick, and became too tired to blog after work! Please forgive the fact that the Job ad is now gone. I’m better now, so I’m going to try and get back into it! Stay posted. Thanks!

Is the key back to the ‘golden age’ of journalism through a paywall?

Hang around senior journalists enough and you’ll more than likely hear them bring up something about the ‘golden age’ of journalism.

It was an era where the media thrived off the so-called ‘rivers of gold’ – also known as classified advertising and rising broadcast advertising costs.

Deadlines were tight, but journalists were abundant in the newsroom.  This meant that reporters were given more freedom and time to delve into stories. After all, further analysis and research in print stories is what stopped television from destroying the newspaper industry back in the 1950s.

It was also an era where journalists were twice as likely to contract lung cancer from second-hand smoke and according to the accounts of other journalists, editors were quite cranky and unforgiving.

Fast-forward to now and smoking is banned indoors plus there are laws in place to stop editors from totally blowing a fuse at anyone. Not to mention that journalists are a dying breed in newsrooms.

But more importantly, the media’s river of revenue is being slowly but surely dammed up by the internet.

We’ve found that there is no point trying to break the dam – its indestructible. Now the strategy is to channel around it and get that river flowing again.

And that’s where paywalls come in – the industry’s latest attempt to return back to the media’s mega-profits of yesteryear.

The Herald Sun’s paywall efforts are the latest flashpoint in this ‘future of the media’ debate.

What makes it so significant is that the Herald Sun has the largest readership of all Australian daily metropolitan papers. If any Australian publication could tempt its users to pay for content, it will be the Sun.

But the whole situation has got me questioning what people will actually pay for online. Editors now know what will entice readers to click on stories, but they still appear to be working out what will get their audience to pull out their credit cards.

Case in point, the Herald Sun’s homepage (7pm, April 11 – I edited the headlines into the photo for space reasons)

The Sun’s editors know that people will click on its top stories – sex, cops, fashion and an elderly woman bashing, it’s a winning combination.

People may click on these stories, but will they pay for such tales? I wouldn’t, they’re somewhat entertaining but not essential.

To be fair however, the Herald Sun is probably banking on its football and crime sub-sites to drive subscriptions, not its tabloid articles. Yet as the paywall just went up, the success of these human interest based sub-sites in nailing down subscriptions is yet to be seen.

Then there is this other enigma: serious news doesn’t seem tempt readers either.

Here’s a shot of The Australian’s homepage (7.05pm, April 11 – no editing)

More serious stories, yet we know that a paywall hasn’t really been doing The Australian any favours – it’s common knowledge that you can bypass the mechanism by clicking on articles straight from Google News.

One can only assume this so called ‘trick’ was put in place by The Australian to ensure it got some hits for its online stories.  It’s still trying to make money off of its online advertising after all.

While the Australian media is floundering in getting consumers to pay for its reporting, the New York Times appears determined to push ahead with its freemium model.

The Times allows users to view a certain amount of articles for free each month before blocking readers and asking them to subscribe to continue to use the site.

The world-renowned paper recently revised that amount down from 20 articles a month to 10 per month, perhaps indicating that it is having some success with its model.

Whatever the Australian media tries next, it needs to be aware that there is no ‘magic bullet’ to the media revenue epidemic – profits will take time.

A recent report by The Boston Group warned that Australia’s media companies would still derive most of their revenue from traditional media (IE: newspaper advertising) up until 2015.

This report spites the fact that news companies are literally spitting money at the online medium like there’s no tomorrow, hoping that it will yield a return sooner rather than later.

Regardless of the glum facts, I am quietly hoping that the paywall solution will work. Or at least some other successful solution will take its place soon.

I want to report during the next ‘golden age’ of journalism, and break stories in new and innovative ways.

You can only do this when there are enough journalists in the room that someone can take a sick day without having to worry that their absence will cause their publication to collapse from a lack of content. From doing the intern rounds, that scenario is more common around Australia’s newsrooms than you would think.

But newsrooms will only be staffed to the brim when media companies are rolling in money.

Writing about technology day in day out and my pesmistic nature has got me thinking:

How long will it take after we make the internet journalism sustainable before another technology challenges the way we work?

With technology moving at an exponential rate, the next ‘golden age’ in journalism may ultimately be short lived.

——–

Again, in fairness to the Herald Sun it updated its page at 7.25pm, leading with a story on the Indonesian tsunami warning. It does a good job with serious news as well.

Also to clarify this often-misconceived point. By ‘media revenue epidemic’, I mean declining profits not debt. For example, Fairfax recently reported a net profit after tax of $96.7 million in its half yearly results, but that was down 41 per cent on the prior year’s profits.

 

Quills at 21

I don’t usually get nervous over attending media events, but when I was walking from Flinders Street station to the Crown Palladium for my first Quills journalism awards, my brain was ticking into overdrive.

I was thinking of whom I would meet and how not to make an idiot of myself at the event. I’m only eight weeks into my journalism career and I felt as if I barely deserved to be in the same room as all of these journalists. But I was invited along by Telstra and I’ve never been one to turn opportunities down.

When I arrived, I unknowingly broke a cardinal rule of the Quills – I turned down the first drink I was offered. I wanted to have a clear head if I was going to be talking to some of the people that I aspire to.

I later learned that the Quills are as much about journalists getting drunk as they are about winning awards. They’re also about networking I’m told.

And networking is what I attempted to do.

Rather than outline the entire night, which from a storytelling standpoint isn’t really that interesting, I just wanted to share a couple of choice thoughts and encounters I had throughout the night.

A chance encounter

To my surprise, I ended up sitting on the Telstra table with my former video journalism tutor and current Channel 10 chief of staff, Alicia McMillan. She was surprised to see me, and asked:

“Hey Harry, so are you working with Telstra now?”

Yet another testament as to how hard it is to find a job in journalism. Weighing up the logic, it was smarter for Alicia to ask if I was working for Telstra rather than as a journalist. The likelihood of me being Telstra flak was a lot higher.

That awkward moment…

You know that awkward moment when someone makes you admit something in front of your boss?

Well one of my former lecturers, Andrea Baker asked me – in front of my boss, Charis Palmer – what my ideal starting point in journalism would have been.

I couldn’t say tech reporting, because nobody comes straight out of uni and willingly works in tech – they fall into it.

(Charis, I know you read my blog. I truly do love my job; otherwise I would not brave early mornings and Melbourne’s public transport system for it!)

So I answered truthfully. During university I was really into the idea of becoming a radio journalist. Something about the radio medium just captures me – even though I have a voice that sounds like it’s on helium half the time.

More dedicated than me!

I ran into two young editorial assistants who I initially met during my placement at the Herald Sun.

In my opinion they embody what the next generation of journalists are capable of: we’re not all bludgers some of us are really committed to our careers.

They paid for their own tickets ($175 a pop on an EA’s wage… ouch) to be granted the opportunity to mingle and mix with the paper’s journos and their future bosses.

That, there is dedication.

Awards aren’t everything

I was surprised to hear that recent RMIT grads, Jane Vasti Ryan and Harrison Tippet were also at the awards.

I don’t know why I’m surprised, they won the Melbourne Press Club student award and tickets to the event were part of the prize!

I was even more surprised to hear how neither of them had found jobs in the industry.

There is a longstanding belief in the journalism student community that if you win a student award it’s a gives you a huge leg up in getting employed.

If Twitter is anything to go by their both jobless. It goes to show that awards aren’t everything.

I hope they find jobs soon! I’ve met Jane before and she would make an amazing journalist if given the opportunity.

I think I’m in the wrong round to win anything

I’m a tiny bit of a data geek, so I analyse trends. I noticed two patterns in the awards being handed out on the night.

First, if you want to win, get into the police or crime round. That section of reporting took out most of the awards across all of the categories. Both the Graham Perkin Quill and the Gold Quill went to crime related stories.

In a side note, well done to Maris Beck. One year out of an Age cadetship and she picks up a Gold Quill working on the crime beat (which at The Age is also general news). What an effort!

Second, most of the awards went to the same journalists. I have met both of these journalists – Nick McKensie and Amelia Harris – through my placements and I know for a fact that they put 200 per cent into their jobs.

When Nick McKensie lectured my investigative journalism class on interviewing last year, you could just tell he poured his heart into his work. I mean at times he works for both The Age and Four Corners! Talk about an epic workload!

As for the RMIT graduate, Amelia Harris, one Herald Sun journo told me on the night:

“Amelia is working in police round with two other senior police reporters and she still manages to pull fantastic scoops.”

You don’t get that without dedication, hard work and – by the looks of her articles – heaps of research and data work.

Perhaps everyone else has to lift their game?

The Quill factory

The way in which the awards were handed out on the night could be best described as a factory line.

MC Helen Kapalos – that hilarious Channel 10 news anchor – would read the name, the person would sprint onto the stage, take the quill, quickly walk off the stage and that was it.

The applause for each award gradually became shorter and shorter, because people appeared to getting fatigued from clapping.

I know if it was done any other way it would have taken all night, but I couldn’t help but feel its current format the whole process seemed a little sterile.

I think I fit in?

Overall, the night left me feeling more confident about being a journalist. I may have been the youngest in the room, but I didn’t feel as if I stood out.

In terms of networking, the event proved to me that all of those placements I had undertaken weren’t a waste, I made some good contacts in the industry.

Going to the Quills made me feel as if I have a place in the media and given some time I’m sure I will make some kind of mark on it.

You want to see the future of online journalism – look to gaming websites

The phrase ‘future of journalism’ is very much a buzzword in the industry.

But let’s be frank, nobody knows what’s going on.

Some believe Twitter will reign supreme, with microblogging taking over a need for newswires.

Others say that bloggers will whittle away traditional news sources.

Then there is the question of advertising and paywalls, which I think I will talk about in another post. Perhaps when the Herald Sun’s wall goes up? I swear that was supposed to be up already?

But what I wanted to mention in this post is the video game journalism. I know what you’re thinking – you’re into video games, of course you’re going to say their websites are amazing.

But take a look at IGN’s Mass Effect 3 review and tell me I’m wrong.

It’s digital artwork. A neatly crafted synthesis of design, multimedia and prose weaved into one faultless post.

This is the first time I have seen IGN do this, and it is incredible. It’s obviously been in the pipeline for a while and has finally come to fruition.

While the post is remarkable, the reason why I’m raising the video game websites is because they have been innovating this way for years.

In fact, most games websites has seamlessly integrated multimedia into their posts and stories long before traditional newsrooms even knew it was possible.

With the right people and skill sets, work like this is achievable in any newsroom. In fact most established newsrooms already employ the staff and the skills needed to pull something like this together.

It all boils down to a question of risk. Video game websites turnover a massive amount of views per day (just look at the comments and likes) and therefore generate enough revenue to experiment and employ the extra man power to make these kind of projects possible.

With traditional news media, they need somebody else to prove it works before investing. Hence they are inching forward with technology but not taking as greater leaps as others.

I will be sure to point this out again when I see another website do something amazing. But in all seriousness, it doesn’t matter if you dislike video games, put your hatred aside and take a look at their sites. They do an amazing job at pioneering a highly profitable advertising model of online journalism.

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