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Sunday, 2 August 2015
From Sceptic to Digital Convert
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
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
In the past, journalists viewed themselves as "dispensers
of the truth". They would decide
a) what was newsworthy
b) its degree of importance
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.
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
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
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".
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
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
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:
b) beneficial - building trust
c) essential in the Internet age
(although not suitable for everything).
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
Karen Andrews runs Anglicity Ltd. She is an entrepreneurial French to English translator, editor, content writer and marketing consultant.
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