Blogs should follow the many newspapers and magazines who modify their content to ensure greater traffic from search engines.

Too many bloggers are selling themselves short by failing to understand how to make the internet work for them.

We must consider how every word we write relates to the wider structure of the net and take into account how people navigate cyberspace.

This ties in well with good journalistic writing because text which is short, concise and accurate will almost always be more optimised than that which is not.

The most obvious example of this can be found in the headline as you’ve only got 10 words in which to grab an audience with the essence of the story

…so why go with headlines such as these:

A Tribute to George Costanza

Palavers with a community of ghosts

Last Tango in Hamburg

Do you remember the first time?

As you can see, optimised headlines has not been a strength of mine.
But I’m turning over a new leaf, I can see the error of my ways.

There’s a number of things wrong with these headlines.

  1. they’re practically unsearchable
  2. they’re trying to be something they’re not: funny, clever, cool…
  3. they assume to much from the reader.

That’s not to be patronising, it’s just all four of them are references which may well leave a reader totally cold.

On the internet it is wrong to rely too greatly on a prior knowledge because the potential audience is to large to assume a basis of common understanding.

Instead we pick up a scattered knowledge, based on pieces of information we stumble across or are directed to, often via social networking sites.

I say this not as criticism but rather to share a consideration which I hope will shape my writing in the future.

Because I see the real challenge as trying to draw together scattered knowledge and bridge the gaps in understanding so as to provide a comprehensive and authoritative voice.

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george

“Anywhere in the city—I’ll tell you the best public toilet.”

Here is my George Costanza style run down of toilets in Cardiff which can be used for free.
Now if this isn’t in the public interest I don’t know what is.
I’ve tried my best to find all the toilets available.
Some of those included are technically “for customer use only”, although I think if you’re feeling bold you should be able to use them without losing too much face.

In my experience of blogging the ability to use the internet to gather information can make you a little lazy so I decided – at the risk of looking like a degenerate – to go out and see some of the toilets for myself.

Initially I’d had some skepticism about data-mapping, along the lines of “writing is what I want to do” but these soon dispelled once I’d spent the afternoon of walking around and talking to people.
Regardless of how you intend to publish your findings, the process of information gathering is not only important but also exciting. 
When it comes to presentation your responsibility is to display the information in a way that conveys the energy that was used in find it.

about the map:

  • I’ve tried to include toilets which I was certain about, if I have made any mistakes please let me know, also if you have a favourite toilet which I have missed then please let me know.
  • In terms of development there are a number of areas I’d like to improve upon.
  • Most of the sites so far are in the city centre, however I would love to cover the whole of Cardiff.
  • I would also like to enhance the accessibility information, providing more comprehensive information for disabled people and expanding to cover baby changing facilities.
  • In keeping with this I would also like to include opening times and potentially some kind of night and day distinction, for if this worked it could be useful in curbing anti-social behavior.
  • Finally I’d like to have some kind of grading scheme, probably based around the coloured markers, this could be used to rate cleanliness and safety of the toilets.

Photo by Possan Extra information from Guardian local.

There’s a radical energy underpinning what Daniel Meadows does.
From the irrepressible delivery of his presentation to the democraticising intentions of his digital story telling, it all fizzes with the same undeniable passion.
He believes the old adage that history is written by the victor.
But new media technologies gives us a way of taking part in this process.
Drawing on the work of Greil Marcus, Meadows shows the importance of documenting a history of unheard voices which differ from those heard in the mainstream.
Meadows quotes Ivan Illich to show how we are powerless in the face of media if we cannot produce our own information.
Meadows said:

“Every time there’s a new piece of technology, a new way of talking to the people, someone goes out and risks everything to do it.”

Although Meadows believes Digital Story Telling to be a recent example of this he concedes that it is less about the technology itself but about a mind set of listening not telling, of facilitating the audience’s voice. And, considering the new technologies I encounter everyday I think the potential of the latest wave of new media to empower and liberate is very high indeed.

I’m starting to worry this sport writing business might be contagious.
Earlier as I was flicking through the daily papers an intro line caught my eye.
This intro line wasn’t in the News section, nor Arts and Culture or even Politics, but in the Sports section.
In The Times no less…so at a moment where everyone is talking about the relaunch of T2 attracting female readers, I was being unconsciously drawn to a story about boxing; Perhaps the most viciously masculine of all professional sports.
But who was I to deny Ron Lewis’ jaw breaking first paragraph:

“They say that the health of boxing can be measured by its biggest division. Anyone watching Vitali Klitschko’s one-sided WBC heavyweight title defence that left Shannon Briggs in hospital on Saturday may conclude that boxing is very sick indeed.”

In my mind that is some fine writing, Lewis turns the six honest serving men into a menacing gang, wielding the details like a weapon and directing them in a focused attack on your attention.

“What Briggs brought to the ring was a capacity for taking punishment… at 38 he is five months younger than Litschko, but as a prototype heavyweight, he is a generation older.”

Over the course of an article about one of the most violent bouts in recent memory, Lewis drew on the facts to animate a narrative which captures the dark questions raised by Saturday’s fight.

“Boxing does not need many more nights like Saturday and a repeat will only damage the sport and the Klitschko brother’s precious legacy.”

Perhaps I’m just over excited at having finally found both a reason to read the sports section and a grounds to contemplate going behind Murdoch’s pay wall (subscribe to site or check out today’s paper (p.60) for the full article). But Lewis’ article did raise some questions which go beyond boxing.

Richard Welbirg had previously tried to convince me that there is a far greater lack of intelligent insight in sports journalism than there was in something like music writing.
I disagreed, but only on the grounds that much music writing is as stodgy and lifeless as the worst of prose.

I never really thought about the potential of sports writing to be anything much besides bombastic nonsense.
Figuring that sport writing in some way precluded intellectual debate because of some inbuilt machismo, I agreed with Hunter S Thompson, who writing about Grantland Rice said:

“Like all great sports writers, Rice understood that his world might go all to pieces if he ever dared to doubt that his eyes were wired straight to his lower brain…”

“the two keys to success as a sports writer are: (1) a blind willingness to believe anything you’re told by coaches, flacks, hustlers, and other ‘official spokesmen’ who provide the free booze… and: (2) A Roget’s Thesaurus, in order to avoid using the same verbs and adjectives twice in the same paragraph.”

It’s always a mistake to put too much belief in Thompson’s writing.
He himself was a sports writer and some of his best pieces were brought out by spectacles such as the Super Bowl and Muhammad Ali fights.
Hemmingway and Mailer also wrote wonderfully about sport.
This set me thinking about what it that attracts great journalists to sport.
I figure it lies firstly in the style; the concise impact.
A good writer needs a much the same precision and poise as a prize fighter.
And secondly I feel, certainly in the case of the men listed above, that sport is a way of expressing naked male emotion without losing face.
This impulse defines much sport, and journalism would be far better if more writers risked expressing this the way Lewis’ piece did:

“Briggs paid for his toughness – he was taken to hospital and treated in intensive care after suffering from concussion and fractured cheek bones.”

I lost my live blogging virginity yesterday.
A lovely sunny day, in the park with friends, it just seemed like the right time.

I was covering ‘The Jomec Derby’ a sporting showdown between the Jomec Allstars (current Diploma students), CJS Old Boys (the alumni) and Staff FC (the staff).
I haven’t written about sport since I penned a match report in primary school so I figured I’d tried something new.

I used The Scribble Live website as recommended by Hannah Waldram.
This site provides users with a pretty power application and integrates most of the features you’d hope for (although if anyone can recommend an alternative please let me know).
I was using the 28-day trial version so some of the features were limited but I was still able to do the following:

  • Create and share an event: sounds basic but the simple interface and template function made it very easy to add your event and then get it out there using a built in URL reducer.
  • Add guest writers: I think one of the most exciting aspect of live blogging is the social component and the possibility of getting a real plurality of voices. This was made easy through the email function and Iphone App.
  • Get comments: Scribble Live provides an address to which readers can email their comments. This is great to get a dialogue going with your audience who can, in theory, shape your coverage in real-time.
  • Use my mobile: well… I should have been able to. If you have an Iphone the app makes it really easy. But for those who have primitive devices it’s a little harder. You should be able to set up text updates (like on twitter) however my activation code never came through. Fortunately I was able to…
  • Source from Twitter: this is one of the best things about Scribble Live. You can add five twitter accounts, the posts from which will be automatically added to the blog. You can also (although I failed to take advantage of this) set up an auto post query, which can be used to draw in content via a hashtag. The twitter integration improves both the social aspect of live blogging as well as boosting your hit count.
  • Add other Media: I originally assumed live blogging meant only text – which would take away from the power of a blog – however Scribble Live allows you to add videos and pictures. You can also integrate your Flickr and photos posted to twitter via Yfrog or Twitpic come up automatically (if you’ve set up the function mentioned above).  Youtube integration wouldn’t go amiss although perhaps there’s an issue with content ownership?

Having set this all up I lugged my laptop down to Pontcanna Fields and took my place on the touchline (with the WAGs and David English). This is where I encountered my first obstacle: A total lack of WiFi.

It was wishful thinking that the field would be within the University’s network coverage. Fortunately I’d prepared for this obstacle and, even though I wasn’t able to text directly to Scribble Live, I was able to text content to my twitter account which I’d set up to feed into the blog.

And I had phone signal… Or at least I thought I had phone signal. I was, once again, betrayed by my handset, which gave the illusion it was sending the messages I thrashed out during the furious first game (Jomec Allstars trumped the CJS old boys 2-0).

It wasn’t till I was walking back to the bar to have a between game Internet session, when my phone started buzzing uncontrollably, that I realised it was only sending the texts now. Around 20 posts went out. 5 minutes after the game had finished. Live blogging disaster.

Thankfully Neil Pooran was on hand to save the day. With his far superior technology – Iphone on a 3G network – Neil was able to document a dramatic second match, a seven goal spectacular with a gutting own goal from Will Bain.

So how would I rate my live blogging experience? Was it everything I’d hoped it would be? It was certainly fun. You get quite a thrill from reporting something in real time. The format itself isn’t suited to all journalism but it’s great for sport and I can see how it could be used well in politics.

But I’m a big believer in giving yourself some ‘thinking space’. Stepping back from a situation and working out what you’re going to say before you write it. Also on a practical level you have a chance to properly check the spelling and grammar. This is more difficult on a live blog, especially if you’re getting caught up in the heat of the moment and are using a phone with stiff buttons and terrible predictive text. Which leads to strange sentences such as:

“Lovely through call from thor”

and

“Allstars vs old boys starts with a brutal table from joe blogs”

Which is great for someone who’s already espoused the importance of accuracy. But all in all it was an enjoyable experience… we should definitely do it again sometime.

Perhaps the Varsity match between Cardiff and City? I feel the format would be perfect for catching the heated dialogue between the two sides. Who’s up for it? From City? Drop me a line and together we can document your devastating defeat.

The changes brought about by digital technology was the topic which guided discussions at The Cardiff School of Journalism’s 40th Anniversary conference: Tomorrows Journalists Today.
The first of four lectures was titled the Challenges of Convergence and featured Peter Barron of google, Nick Brett of BBC Magazines and Pete Clifton, head of editorial development and multimedia journalism at the BBC.
Topics of discussion included multimedia newsrooms, the democratisation of information and the importance of brand.
Much debate revolved around the way in which technologies such as the Iphone and the IPad are changing the way we consume news. I asked the panel:

“New technologies allow us to tell all sorts of stories in a way that anyone can understand, regardless of literacy or specialist knowledge. However, is there a danger that the cost of new technology will create a digital underclass who are cut off from the events which define their lives?”

Mr Barron responded that prices will fall, particularly as the market gets more competitive.
While Mr Brett told an anecdote about how he uses his IPad to read books in bed which despite not really answering my question, did make me want to buy one.

The second talk was on digital spin and the 2010 election and featured Simon Lewis who from 2009 was the director of communications at 10 Downing Street and Prime Minister’s Spokesman until Gordon Brown’s resignation.
Mr Lewis spoke largely about the culture of corruption which governs political journalism.
He focused on the workings of the journalist lobby which he described as dangerously adversarial, saying that journalists are treating politics like a game instead of acting in the public interest. I asked:

“Will social media and blogs be able to disrupt the traditional political communication or will it they just become another organ of spin?”

Mr Lewis was sceptical about the power of political bloggers saying that while they are excluded from the cosy confines of the lobby they will never get access to the raw information they need to be effective.

A heavy cloud of gloom hung over the third session – Does Regional News Have a Future? – with Alan Edmunds from Media Wales, Ron Jones of Tinopolis, Clive Jones of Netplay and Arwel Owen from S4C.
Much of the discussion involved the potential cuts being imposed on S4C.
There was plenty of talk about regional newspapers as well. I asked:

“The internet should free us up to work anywhere but from my experience it seems that journalism is increasingly becoming a desk job, is this the case? And if so what are we sacrificing by not being out in the community?”

Though Mr Edmunds said that this was partially true he warned against being overly nostalgic for a past which wasn’t as great as we imagine it to be.
Mr Owen said that the journalism industry itself is responsible for this trend by not investing in quality journalism, he cited the BBC as an exmaple of this.
Despite such negativity all four members of the panel said that they were optimistic about the future.
Check out the sketches on Mark Cardwell’s excellent blog.

Thankfully the final talk dispelled the air of doom.
With three recent graduates – Hannah Waldram, Hattie Brett and Sally Rourke – telling the stories of what they’ve gone onto do since leaving Cardiff School of Journalism.
The three presentations were massively encouraging.
I thought the most interesting fact was that, although all three women work online, they’re still using the skills and techniques of traditional journalism.
This seems to be more common among young journalists, who make little distinction between digital and print.
And I think this is an encouraging trend for tomorrow’s Journalism.

It is the duty of each successive generation of journalists to assess their relationship with truth and it seems that transparency may be the most honest device a modern reporter can employ.
This is what I took from today’s lecture by Claire Wardle on Journalism and Social Media.

Dr Wardle spoke about the challenges faced by traditional media outlets – good to know I’m not the only one – in keeping up with the changes brought about by the Internet.
She provided an exciting run down of these developments drawing on the availability of information and the increase in connectivity to show what a good time it is to be a journalist.

But she warned that journalists must also be mindful of these facts when putting together a story.
The arrogant assumption that we are privy to special, secret knowledge should be abandoned, replaced instead with a respect for the reader and a recognition that they may well know more about the subject than you do.

Therefore Dr Wardle recommended making content out of the process, showing the steps we take and sharing the content we collect on our way to getting a story.
This will not only give veracity and realism to our work but will also heighten the audience’s interest in the story by making them feel part of it.
Also by including the audience in on our projects we are able to draw upon their knowledge to develop and enhance our story.

This notion of a news story as being organic and changing struck a chord with other people in the group.
After the lecture Richard Welbirg and I discussed the drawbacks of narrative storytelling and the potential of the Internet to remedy this.
I argued that if transparent journalism is all about improving your work by accepting the limitations of your craft then surely, in recognising the artifice of a self-contained story we can draw attention to the way in which an event connects to wider issues:

Perhaps integrating what Dr Wardle described as the audiences desire for ‘the moment’ and ‘the background’.