Sunday, 2 August 2015

From Sceptic to Digital Convert


Pic of laptop with iPad and smartphone resting on top

Reluctant hack converts to enthusiastic digital journalist would be a fitting subtitle. Jon Henley described his conversion to digital journalism in the first session of The Guardian's latest Masterclass. His experiences contain echoes and insights for the translation community and many other fields.

Jon Henley started his career as a Dutch to English translator. Like many a translator, he has seen a dramatic transformation since the old typewriter days. He shared his journey as an "ageing hack" (his words, not mine), who is now embracing the digital revolution. He outlined the opportunities in "New Ways of Storytelling".

Old days
In the past, journalists viewed themselves as "dispensers of the truth". They would decide
a) what was newsworthy
b) its degree of importance
and even
c) your opinion on the subject.

The traffic was all one-way. There was little comeback from readers. Newspapers provided "the first draft of history". Even the letters page involved careful selection and editing.

Journalism today
And now? Journalists have lost their monopoly. Jon viewed this challenge as "a good thing in retrospect". Today, anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can act as a journalist. The Egyptian people tell the world about unfolding events in Tahrir Square.

Pic looking down on tiny people forming shape of a video camera

Engaged readers
Jon acknowledged that some readers have always known more than journalists on a given subject. Journalists are not always accurate. Today, the general public can correct them. And they do...

Today's audience act as fact-checkers and contributors. They comment. They propose storylines. They suggest new contacts and avenues to explore.

Millions access The Guardian's website rather than the printed newspaper. They find their way via a web search or a shared link on a variety of platforms.

Readers have now also become distributors. The traffic is now "multi-million way". News flows in all directions.

"Articles are the beginning of a process, not the end".

 Andrew Sparrow's Politics Live blogs illustrated this point.

Journalists in demand
Despite the dramatic transformation, the underlying principles remain the same. In Jon's view, the old days were not necessarily the "good old days". Whereas journalists used to approach people for stories, those very same people now come in the front door actively seeking journalists out.

Stories of the Greek people
Jon contrasted the "bad old days" as a foreign correspondent in France with his more recent experience of reporting on the Greek crisis. He described French bashing after consulting with the past's limited sources against the use of Twitter to engage with ordinary Greeks for stories of hardship and self-help. He had hundreds of replies before even landing in Athens.

Responsible follow-up
Open journalism is not without its difficulties. A medical story could have threatened Greek tourism when German and British tabloids picked it up. A good follow-up story created a positive vibe and increased The Guardian's web traffic. There was even a tweeted suggestion of Greek citizenship.

                                  "Responsive and responsible journalism".

The project was conceived on the Internet from the very start. The audience really wanted to get involved. They wanted people to be properly and honestly informed about their situation. 

Jon Henley is now convinced that working in this way helps to rebuild public confidence. In the public eye, journalists have a reputation that is "not much above politicians".

Verification remains important. The response can make you dizzy. A journalist should not abandon traditional judgement and values. Reports should still be objective, accurate, balanced and complete.

Benefits of open journalism
Open journalism harvests stories and gets results faster than the old ways. It is:
a) effective
b) beneficial - building trust and engagement
c) essential in the Internet age (although not suitable for everything).

Powerful storytelling
Video is a powerful way to tell a story, as in the case of a Tasmanian family hiding from a bushfire. The Guardian's Firestorm included videos taken by those on the scene at the time. The interactive story took weeks to create.

It is hard to predict what the future will bring. Journalism has changed dramatically in just 5 years. In Jon Henley's opinion, the transformation has brought more effective and responsible reporting, a more democratic relationship with readers and terrific storytelling.


Karen Andrews, content writer
Karen Andrews runs
Anglicity Ltd. She is
an entrepreneurial
French to English
translator, editor,
content writer and
marketing consultant. 

Contact karen@anglicity.com 
for further information 
on Anglicity's services.

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