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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

The Beatles 40-year Abbey Road album anniversary – the rise of the citizen photographers

The first thing that struck me when I arrived to find Beatle mania in full swing at Abbey Road today was not the wacky costumes or the people striking poses on the zebra crossing with no shoes on, but it was the paparazzi huddle.

The huddle has been infiltrated by “citizen photographers”. It was fascinating to watch the unwritten rule of ‘pros only’ being unashamedly broken. I’ll give you a few examples. When a fan held an original LP of the Abbey Road album up for a professional photographer to get an artistic shot of, there was the usual rush as several other professional photographers cottoned on. But then, completely unexpected, there was a second mass rush of citizen photographers who joined the huddle to have a go at getting the shot as well. The result was a hysterical manic mess. There were about fifty people all around this one guy like he had suddenly been promoted to A-list celebrity status. Then once they had got some form of shot – I am dubious of the quality of some shots – they calmed down and dispersed. But this was not the last time this happened.
When 11.30am crept round there was a scheduled re-enactment of the Abbey Road album cover by four Beatles impersonators. The professional photographers were flanked by a mass of mobile camera phones and semi-professional cameras all desperate to get the same shot as the professionals. Everyone had one. It was incredible. At one point, the man impersonating Ringo Starr had to say: “Calm down everyone, you do realise we are not the real thing, don’t you?.”

There were even some citizen photographers clamoring on the statues copying the professionals who were gaining height by using step ladders.

Everyone now seems to want their professional shot. And with semi-professional quality cameras becoming more and more affordable and sites like Flickr becoming more popular this phenomenon can only grow.

Citizen journalists move over. Now it is time for the era of citizen photographers.


Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , ,

Visit to the Guardian printing press

I spent a day at the Guardian offices after winning a writing competition. This is how it went. Photos to come.


I arrived at the offices in Kings Cross and immediately realised not sending a what-is-the-dress-code email was a mistake. My prim and proper suit stood out a mile  from the smart-casual jeans and jacket ethos of the uber-trendy Guardian. Whoops. What a fool.

I met Matt and Jennifer, the Guardian PR managers who had arranged the visit, plus John the other winner and we headed to the canteen for breakfast. I had already eaten but was reluctant to reject a free meal.

10am – the editorial conference

A circular mass of bright-yellow slouchy couches filled the room with various other couches dotted around it and a gigantic television spanned one of the conference room walls. I’ve seen a number of editorial conferences before but this was completely different.

The editors slunk in (the politics editor had brought her son). Some opting to recline on the yellow couches, others leaned casually against the wall and some found space sitting on the floor. It had a very open feel to it.

The conference started with editor Alan Rusbridger –  described to me as “the Harry Potter lookalike” because he has brown hair and circular glasses – saying what he liked and didn’t like about the day’s paper. This was followed by a discussion of new stories and a debate on the loophole culture of business. Even John, the other competition winner who was sitting next to me, chipped in with a comment in the debate. It was all very open.


The conference concluded and we were given a tour of the editorial office followed by lunch. Oddly, I sampled pigeon for the first time which staff assured me wasn’t fresh from Trafalgar Square.

3pm – the printing press

We were then taken to Stratford for a surprise visit to the printing press. After fastening our fluorescent safety vests and meeting Mike, the press supervisor and our press tour guide, we entered a large warehouse stacked high with rolls upon rolls of blank paper to the left and a mass of machinery intertwined with stairwells to the right. This was the printing press warehouse.

It was like being shrunk. The rolls of paper were as high as my shoulders and apparently held enough paper to span several miles if unravelled. Everything in the warehouse was operated by computer and the few workers there had more of a monitoring job rather than anything hands on.

Automatic machines put the rolls into long lines ready to be put into the press for printing. But before printing could start the fully-subbed pages from the editorial office needed to be electronically transferred so they can be transmitted by laser onto metal printing plates which are needed to put the image on paper.

But how is the electronic image transferred to the plate? Well, it comes down to a substance I call “green stuff”. The metal plate, made from aluminium, starts life with a layer of this water-soluble green stuff on it. This green stuff hardens when the lasers zap it making the green stuff’s molecules stick to the aluminium surface. The stuff that is hardened is no longer water soluble so when the plate is washed only the non-lasered green stuff comes off leaving the lettering and dots that make up the image. Genius. But each plate only makes up the lettering and dots for one colour. This means that for the each page a total of four plates (each slightly different) must be made for the ink-colours black, magenta, yellow and cyan. Once all the plates are ready they are loaded as templates into the machines ready for printing. For any new editions the plates have to be remade.

When browsing your daily paper you can tell what edition it is by looking for the little asterisks on the left hand side of the page. Asterisks at the top of the page indicate if there have been any changes for that edition. For example if there are three asterisks on the left side but one on the top it means it is the third edition but that page is the same as for the first edition – i.e. no changes have been made.

During the printing process the paper makes its way up from bottom to top back down to the bottom again, gradually becoming more and more newspaper like. Printing takes place at the bottom of the press upward (the four colours are printed separately) and slicing the paper into pages happens at the top. Folding takes place back down at the bottom again. The finished newspaper is then picked up on the pincher thingies (I always used to think these were for drying the ink on paper- I was wrong) and taken to the other side of the warehouse to be put into bundles ready for dispatch.

Et voila. The process is complete. If you ever get the chance to see a printing press in action, it is well worth it. It is a  complicated process but the fact that his is all done by machines is mesmerising and really makes you appreciate how much technology has advanced in the last decade. Truly spectacular.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

The perils of saying you are a freelancer

It really frustrated me this morning when I opened the newspaper to see my story idea in all its glory with someone else’s byline. I know it is a well- documented problem among freelancers whose story ideas have been pinched by other journalists but this was nothing to do with this kind of bad luck. It was to do with the people I contacted during my research.

In preparation for an interview in Yorkshire I have been preparing a news list and trying to think up some interesting story ideas that might impress them. Not wanting to be presumptious I have been introducing myself as a freelancer rather than assuming the title of journalist for the newspaper I am interviewing for.


Anyway, one of my ideas was to see if the Archbishop of York had any advice on using communal holy water and the shared chalice after recent hygiene concerns following the swine flu outbreak (a bishop in Chelmsford had already raised these concerns a few days before). So being the eager journalist, I phoned up the Archbishop’s office and spoke to the PR manager – who will remain nameless – to see if the Archbishop would be interested in making some comments. The PR manager told me the Archbishop was not making any comments at this stage but would of course get in touch with me if he changed his mind. So I left my number and my email address for him to let me know.

This was yesterday morning. This morning, I opened up The Times and low and behold there was a fantastic article on page eight about the Archbishop’s advice on sharing the chalice. Thank you very much PR manager for not getting back to me.

The problem is’, why phone back some eager freelancer when someone with as much clout as the Archbishop can go straight to The Times? It does seem a little catch 22 – but how can you research article ideas properly if this kind of thing is going to happen all the time?

If someone has the answer then please let me know. Until then I will be keeping my story ideas close to my chest up until the last moment. But you would have thought the Archbishop’s office would have a little bit of integrity.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , ,

Now is not the time to turn on ourselves

I was disappointed to read how the owner of Express Newspapers Richard Desmond is suing journalist and author Tom Bower.

For journalists libel is a touchy subject. It restricts freedom of speech potentially threatening the threads of democracy, and the vast sums of money awarded to successful claimants cripples a journalist’s budget needed for good journalistic practice.

Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers

Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers

It is such a contentious subject that there was even a select committee set up recently to discuss the threat of defamation and privacy laws on freedom of the press and the ability to do good journalistic work with the threat of being sued. Everyone has the right to clear their name if something unfairly malicious is said against them but why not do as  Salman Rushdie did and clear his name but refuse to accept damages? The media industry needs to stick together. Please can someone tell Richard Desmond this and stop this hypocracy.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

Back to basics

The multimedia revolution is an interesting one. But while all newspapers should be embracing the multimedia revolution, I still believe online media should supplement not replace print journalism.

And there is not a better example of this than in The Birmingham Mail this week with their exclusive on Aston Villa footballer Gareth Barry’s farewell letter.

Gareth Barry letter, Birmingham Mail

Gareth Barry letter, Birmingham Mail

HoldtheFrontPage reported that Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson refused to publish the letter online until after it had been published exclusively in their print edition. This was a gamble which paid off. It meant media companies such as BBC Five Live, Setanta and Sky Sports News could only use a copy of the letter from the Birmingham Mail’s print edition giving the newspaper a huge amount of publicity and increasing print sales by more than 4,000 copies that day. Smart if you ask me. So why have newspapers been ignoring these basic principles for so long?

Timing is everything with the web. And I think this is not understood well enough by editors at the moment. By timing I do not mean madly rushing to get something up online as soon as possible. It is about carefully considering the pros and cons of publishing immediately or holding off. Sometimes, particularly in the case of exclusives, there is more benefit in holding off, as demonstrated by The Birmingham Mail.

The public does not care who published the information first. They do not care whose amazing journalism skills brought in the scoop, they simply care about the news and what it means to them and the rest of the world. When we hear that a teenager girl from Cardiff has first degree burns from a sun bed we don’t read it and think, wow… the South Wales Echo sourced that story first. We think about the safety implications coin operated sun beds have on our children.

How many members of the public sit there refreshing news sites to see if their regional paper has got an exclusive? Realistically it is only our fellow multimedia journalists who are obsessively checking their RSS feeds, twitter updates and so forth to see if there is anything they have missed. And if they find something, there is nothing to stop them from simply passing it off as their own without crediting the original source.

What is the point in being a first class journalist with the ability to bring in dozens of off-diary stories and having brilliant networking skills, if a budding churnalist of a rival newspaper comes along and respouts your exclusive as his or her own? Churnalism is a big problem at the moment. It is inexpensive and non-time-consuming meaning it is a great alternative to on-the-ground journalism.

My point is this. Multimedia journalism is the way forward but editors must consider timing as much as the content of their sites. Otherwise without clever timing, churnalism will be allowed to get out of control like a parasitic weed.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , , , ,

Harmless fun or a waste of time?

I’ve seen Twitter used for a number of things… news updates, stalking celebrities… but psycic Twittering now?  That is exactly what blogger and avid Twitterer Richard Wiseman has teamed up with New Scientist to do. Wiseman will travel to different locations around the UK and send a Twitter post for fellow Twitterers to use their ‘psychic ability’ to determine what kind of place he is at.

Screen grab of Wiseman's Twitter page

Screen grab of Wiseman's Twitter page

Today was the test run. He posted the message below on his twitter page at 3pm today and gave fellow twitterers 20 mins to post their guesses or psychic answers on his twitter experiment page.

OK, at target location NOW. Post the thoughts, feelings, impressions, and images in your mind. You have 20 mins. Everyone GO!”

The answer was near a river. Realistically though, call me a skeptic but is this not a complete waste of time? He could just copy and paste the same message each day without even bothering to go to the location. Upload a photo and say he was there and no-one would know the difference. Maybe that is the real test – to see how many Twitterers will be foolishly drawn to his Twitter page to use their so-called ‘psychic abilities’.

But on the other hand even though my head tells me it is ridiculous, there is a real urge to give it a go. I mean after all it is only a bit of fun I suppose, and maybe deep down I want to guess because secretly I’m thinking, maybe by some weird coincidence I will get it right.

Click here for Wiseman’s blog.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

Are recent newspaper job losses due to the credit crunch or a general shift in media?

I receive my daily Holdthefontpage news alerts with mild anticipation. How many redundancies today? In the last week, North West publisher CN Group shed 30 jobs and will be selling off two radio stations, Newsquest editors of York titles, the Daily Press, weekly Gazette and Herald face redundancy, and three sub-editors at Torquay’s Herald Express could face redundancy as well. This all from just one daily news alert.

At a Cardiff journalism school lecture this week, Rick Waghorn of said these redundancies are part of a general shift in media. He explains how readers have moved online and no longer need their local hard copy and sub-editors are becoming redundant as general page templates are being used instead.

This is not the first time I have heard this. Four weeks before Mr Waghorn’s comments, Matthew Yeoman of Custom Communication, said: “The bad news is this business is crumbling around us. Social media is killing the advertising industry and the media industry needs this money.

“The media world is changing and people are having to rethink their businesses.”

Whilst there is no doubt that the media world is changing and people are being made redundant, I challenge the view that this is simple cause and effect.

It is all too convenient that the people who hold these opinions have online media businesses, businesses which would flourish if this really was the primary reason for all these job losses.

I would argue instead that the state of the economy is the cause. Mortgage rates go up, people rein in their spending, companies do not receive as much revenue, advertising budgets get slashed and newspapers bear the brunt – redundancies are the clear effect of this.

The Daily Telegraph office- embracing the shift in media

The Daily Telegraph offices embracing the shift in media

The shift in media is being used as a scape-goat, bosses too proud to admit that they have been affected by the recession. In truth, the media had already started to shift a long time before the credit crunch and for a while newspapers embraced it: the Daily Telegraph rearranged their office (see image) and created MyTelegraph, websites were launched at most local papers and the BBC embraced all sorts of online technologies (live streaming, tailored news alerts etc).

In all this doom and gloom the shift in media offers a shinning light of hope. If the cause is the recession rather than a shift in media, then this is but a short term problem. When the economy picks up (yes it will happen eventually) the shift in media will open up a whole new range of job opportunities in both online and print. Not convinced? Well, let us wait and see.

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Why The Telegraph started MyTelegraph: a lecture with Shane Richmond, communities editior,

MyTelegraph, launched in May last year, was a bold move by a national newspaper to embrace the world of the blogosphere. It allows any reader to create their own blog, store all the comments they make on other readers’ blogs and save articles to read later.

But why would bloggers use MyTelegraph over a specific blogging site such as wordpress or blogger? And why would a newspaper embrace blogging when some people have argued that blogging has destroyed journalism?

Shane Richmond, community editor at, explains how MyTelegraph is not just a blogging platform but it is about being part of the MyTelegraph community.

“People like to see the Telegraph masthead and some just want to talk with other Telegraph readers who may have similar interests”, he said.

MyTelegraph is providing a platform for reader loyalty.

“If most of a website’s traffic is coming from a Google search or other search then the website is not doing well. If someone is simply entering the website to view one article and then clicking away after, it can be a threat to the business. It is better to gain reader loyalty so they go straight to our homepage and navigate from there,” he said (quoting a CNN journalist).

Moderation is something all blog sites have to consider. The BBC, with its BBC blog network, chooses to moderate everything before it is published but Mr Richmond points out this is not legally the best option.

” Although this may seem irresponsible, legally we are advised to offer no moderation because we could be seen to be endorsing the blog entries,” he said.

Mr Richmond explains how the Telegraph and its MyTelegraph members consider free speech paramount. But, he admits, free speech is particularly difficult when dealing with items containing illegalities such as contempt of court and defamation. He explains how Mr Justice Eady ruled last month that online defamation is ‘much more akin to slander than to the usual, more permanent kind of communications found in libel actions’. He drew parallels with internet conversations and pub conversations in that ‘they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out’. Mr Richmond uses this example to show how internet moderation is still an area of legal evolution.

He ended on a cheerful note, saying that MyTelegraph and blogs are great because journalists can now join the conversation with little extra cost.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , , , , ,

Information Librarians

Journalism is about cataloging information. We find it, authenticate it and make it easily accessible to the public.

The information library is complicated. It has no walls. The books have minds of their own. They hide away, the cover can be misleading or wrong, and often you have to read between the lines to understand the full picture. Journalists work hard to use their networks to develop a catalog for the public.

Then the world wide web and user generated content arrived. Access to the web means the public have the potential to view the raw data before it has been verified and before it has been cataloged. They can even add stuff themselves. But they also attempt to navigate it themselves and like any amateur explorer, without the correct equipment or training, it is inevitable that they may become lost, sidetracked and the important information may get overlooked.

This where the journalist as an information librarian comes to the rescue. Not with the barrel of whiskey and a fluffy Saint Bernard but by guiding the library tourist through the important sites, maybe sometimes showing them where the pitfalls might be.

The journalist therefore has an ever increasing importance to develop respect and trust from their information tourist. The way to gain this trust is by allowing people to become part of the guiding experience, to be able to ask questions and to tailor the things we show them to meet their specific requirements. This could be through Have Your Say comments at the bottom of online articles or Related Article options on the side bar. Either way the media is certainly moving in the right direction so far.

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News Mapping- the next big thing?

I find the concept of Murmur and psycogeography fascinating. It combines human interest and creativity in a multimedia narrative.

Some news sites are already playing around with the concept. This technology can be seen on Reuters and a nifty site called

I would like to see more media companies making more use of this tool. It would be brilliant if news events were plotted on an interactive news map on a regular basis. It would put more emphasis on local news and local issues. The public will be able to locate the news stories which have the closest proximity to themselves, friends and family.

The internet has already enabled the public to tailor their news. This feature could enhance it further. It would also give the reader a 3D image of issues in their area, around the country and also around the world.

But it has yet to take off fully, mainly because all good ideas need time to establish themselves. But watch this space, I think this could be the next step in multimedia journalism.

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Brand battle playground

My name is Joe Bloggs and I would like to read the news online- where do I look?

Easy, I do a search on Google for ‘news‘. I get all the big broadcasters CNN, BBC News, MSNBC, Fox news and ABC but also there are the news aggregaters such as Google news, Yahoo news and Which do I choose?

Ok, so my name is not really Joe Bloggs but this illustrates a point: unless the public have a specific news provider in mind, it is unlikely they will venture further than page one of their search results. This is why internet branding has become key to the media world.

Media brands are central to networked journalism. Branding is essential because like with any network, people can recommend you to their friends or forget you exist.

At the moment newspapers are relying on their existing brand reputation to draw visitors to their sites. But the battle is just warming up. The newspapers are testing their tools. Video clips, RSS feeds, bookmarking, blogs, search engine optimisation, twitter, tagging, breaking news reports and exclusive stories are all being used.

And who will be the winner? Joe Bloggs of course. His news service is now interactive, more varied and there is an ever increasing importance that the information is reliable and trustworthy.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, ,

Check the dictionary

I love the concept of ‘citizen journalism’ but I find the use of the word ‘journalism’ or ‘journalist’ misleading in this context.

Take a look at the Oxford English Dictionary.

Journalist: 1) One who earns his living by editing or writing for a public journal or journals; 2) One who journalizes or keeps a journal.

Clearly there is a distinction between one type of journalist and the other. However, in talking about ‘citizen journalism’ everyone automatically assumes we are referring to the first definition or an amateur form of this. There are no amateur professionals. This is clearly an oxymoron.

Blog entries are similar to journal entries. They give personal experiences and opinions. The difference is simply that in this modern era, these journals have become interactive.

Dorset Elk

The Dorset elk (by John McColgan, courtesy of

So why indulge this misunderstanding?

It is causing confusion. It is spreading an unnecessary pandemic of negativity as some people are failing to see the difference.

Citizen journalism is a source of news in its raw form. It is not the news. The news should be a collaboration of sources. It should not rely on one source alone- mistakes happen this way.

Professional journalists work hard to bring these sources together. To use the term ‘journalist’ for raw source data seems illogical.

Let us call it something different. Suggestions to be posted below please.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, ,

Money Matters

As a trainee newspaper journalist, media convergence is great. It means I can use a variety of media platforms and it gives me broader scope. Yet, as an economic recession looms, can convergence become a double-edged sword?

With advertising budgets being slashed in fear of the credit crunch, there may be a danger that Managing Editors and Publishers may see ‘multi-skilled journalism’ as a cost-cutting euphemism. Let’s not fall into the scape-goat trap. It would be foolish to deny media convergence in favour of ignorance. In implementing a multimedia environment, we are keeping ahead of the game, not digging our career graves.

Have ‘citizen journalists’ become our competitors? No, it would be a contradiction to our values to want these people silenced. Journalists are here to aid democracy and represent the public. It is our responsibility to investigate further, to find the truth, and filter the crap. That is our USP.

Multimedia reporting gives us more opportunities. We can now reach a wider audience and this means more potential for advertisers (like it or not but free and impartial journalism needs a budget). Yes we are approaching a recession, but media convergence is keeping our heads above water, not dragging us down.

So to those in fear, don’t worry. We just need to maintain our core values. I don’t think we have fully unlocked all the digital doors and we may find some hidden treasure.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , , , ,

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