Friday, January 16, 2009

Why if you're a student, you MUST blog

Oh what like I don't know? It's been raked over ad nausea:"why should students blog", but here's my bent as a senior lecturer, former broadcaster, and blogger.

Firstly, I'd wish the name blogger had an alternative to it when looking to brand studious and prolific writers in journalism. At the next attempt launching a writing template, please simply call it "writer" and watch the fundamental difference it would make amongst student journalists.

Updates soon from "Writer lite", "Pro" and "Gold standard." Which one would you prefer?

So why should all students blog?
  • That perennial yawning catch phrase that your lecturers cease to let go off; you become your own publisher. Tick box.
  • Then, your blog will enable you to write about matters which concern you and your friends if you wish, a re-wording of the previous point. Tick box.
  • And then a moment of silent clarity and internal huzzahs: you've joined the new world, a journey into digital journalism, the unknown, but which gathers pace in its quest to reformat the art of knowing and telling. Tick that box.

So why is it some students or trainee journalists resist the urge to blog or feel at best it's an inconvenience, worst rubbish?

This is something I come across wearing my top hat as a BJTC council member.

Briefly, the BJTC is the body which sits at the interface between journalism colleges, universities and the media industry in the UK, and whose kite mark of accreditation is much recognised and admired within the industry.

Why you don't blog
There are a number of limited reasons why I could think as a student, professional or who ever you may be, you should blog, but I'll keep this to students.

Overheard at our last BJTC council meeting yesterday by one member: "Oh if they could just write, our HR (Human Resources) could do with students who could just write and write well. Getting techie, yeah, but write".

Now here's the its not rocket science bit.

If you want to be an actor, act; if you want to be a psychedelic pharmacist, you're going to have spend some time in the lab; if you want to be a writer, write. With some professions theoretical knowledge alone just won't do.

Here I'm referring to writers as journalists and not fictional novelists. Two separate desires, no less superior to each other, though many journalists in their lifespan tend to become novelist than the other way round.

What blogs do is strip bare the tenants of journalism.

Disregarding the most complex of tasks, setting up the blog in the first place and gathering any number of widgets, you're being defined by the art of pen to paper; key to screen.

You are who you are by your posts, the frequency and quality of your style and argument.

Were I a media manager, I would insist on seeing an interviewee's blog. I understand the Guardian Newspaper does.

A blog provides a crucial insight into a potential journalist employee. That never mind all the wonderfully well phrased entries on that CV, the blog says the following:

I James Meredith Sinclair, studying journalism, blog because I am:
  • Interested in writing - determined by the frequency of your posts.
  • Can display broad interests or how well honed my specialist knowledge is - determined from the quality of your writing.
  • That fundamentally, and often overlooked, it is my online CV, my "newspaper cuttings".

Yes strange as it may seem job applicants once used to walk round with dog eared binds, stuffed with their columns and bylines painstakingly cut from newspapers, and if you were a broadcaster researching any number of subjects you went down to the cuttings library. Ho hum.

Reasons why you don't blog
Often young trainees and student journalists will have reasons for not blogging. They vary, but some reasons are more prevalent than others.
  • Not knowing what a blog is - fairly common.
  • Not having anything to write about ranks in the top three
  • Too busy with all my other work is a strong favourite
You could probably come up with your own counterpoints for the aforementioned. Here's mine.
  • If you're unaware what a blog is and you want to become a journalist, then I may question your hunger. Just as if you wanted to become a chef and you didn't know what a microwave was you'd have me reaching for the next candidate.
  • Having nothing to write about portrays a lack of high media consumption and perhaps forming your own ideas, which yes, is a skill that will develop at journalism schools. But if you don't listen to any radio news, read other blogs, watch the news, then you're isolated and will have little to fire the imagination into damming the hubris of that politician or health care spokesperson.
  • And if you're too busy, then whilst that's to be applauded, you're exhibiting a key flaw of journalism practice which is a lack of organisation and priority.

Here's my back-in-the-day lecture. Sorry!

But back in the day, in 1989, when Daniel Boettcher, now one of the BBC's all rounder correspondents, was my classmate, and blogs were not around, our lecturers at Falmouth in Cornwall pressed us with work. At times it became mind-splitting, until the low down in organisational skills was aired.

Why you're never too busy
News does not respect time, it is not guided by what period of day it is, neither is it sensitive to whims; it happens. It's relentless.

And when it happens on your patch, you'd best be there, and when another big story happens on your patch again, you'd best be there as well. You simply don't have the luxury to say you are busy.

You may have made the decision not to do anything about the latter story, but that's a different matter entirely.

This was best put to me by the venerable and inveterate ITN News Editor Phil Moger, a true powerhouse in journalism and passionate about it to his retirement having served it many years.

I had some shifts in the 90s at ITN with Phil as Editor. After the niceties, for the following half hour my to-do-list kept rising steeply with one assignment or another.

At each turn, either Phil or a correspondent would request where I was in the task and why I hadn't finished. I'd been used to multitasking, but this was something else. Soon I would approach Phil, and after our exchange, he smiled.

There's no such things as being busy, just know how to prioritise and once you make the editor aware of what you're doing, let the ed make the call.

Later I would learn how to say "I'm busy" and by then it was understood and appreciated how truly busy I was.

Prioritising and finding the creative period in your day means a daily post should take you minutes. More on that in my next post.

The new writers
I have come across some wonderful student bloggers. It would be inappropriate to single anyone out from the current Masters programme, but from previous years there's the likes of Richard Brennan of Newsjiffy ( class of 2006) whose blog gets to the point, far swifter than I have here.

And also from outside where I teach comes Adam Westbrook from City University, whose latest post indicates how far City Uni have come with blogging.

I still remember that moment when having spoken about Adam to my students, various friendships were formed and Adam and us (students and me) would later meet at the Front Line Club.

Students from competing universities who share something in common - a creative common.

Then there's Dave Lee, whom Like Adam defines the future. In both cases, yes, they've recently pinged me, but that's not really the self-vanity point here. They're good strong bloggers reaching out.

And there are countless more, including as I alluded to before current Masters students whose blogs I read. But there are many others who have not taken the plunge.

Ultimately, and something Darwinist might say, that needs to happen. There has to be a distinction. There needs to be difference, a hierarchy.

You may rubbish this, for we're all not built the same, what interests you may be nonchalant to me.

But our job is to provide a route so that everyone has an opportunity to make strong their case for becoming a paid and respected journalist.

Blogs to some people, may actually not matter, but they do provide a weather bell, and if no one reads them nay mind you're at least, at least, doing something no one else can do for you which is....
There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as do exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft. ~Jessamyn West, Saturday Review, 21 September 1957

Next week what to blog about and what we've discovered in access to blogs.

David wrote his first published article at 15 for his school mag about the Neutron Bomb ( pretentious Ba*****) He doesn't believe blogging will save the world, but it will make a world of difference to understanding issues. He sits on Council of the BJTC


Richard Brennan said...

Hi David.

Thanks for the mention (although I was at Westminster 2007-8).

I'm now the Online Networking Co-ordinator for ISEAL Alliance, which helps charities with setting standards. At the moment I'm working on an online consultation proposal and an online community. Blogging definitly helped me get this job, and I would also advise students in most fields, not just journalism to blog. A history blog from a history student or a linguistics blog from a language student would impress.

David of said...

Well said Richard. I did see your appointment. Congrats. I agree that all should blog, history n'all, but I guess I was narrowing the field into an area where writing is a professional creed and blogging is a natural basis for journalism.

2007-8. What last academic year? Seems an eternity :)