Tag Archives: BCU

Elevator pitch. Well, not really #MAEnt

Robyn Bateman waving shadowSo, the current module of my MA requires me to be the business. Literally. I’m full of creative ideas at home and at work (and with the kids… well, you have to get them to eat their greens somehow). But business? Well, that’s not my thing. Or maybe it is and I just haven’t tried it. We’ll soon find out.

The key part is coming up with an idea that is a) online, b) relates to the award for which I’m studying (damn, that food-related project I have burning a hole in my notepad will have to wait) and meet some political/social need. I.e I need to try and do some good in the world while trying to make money while trying to be a journalist.

My idea in its very barest form (the one I think I’ll stick with, at least) is linked with what I love and what I do. One of my work buddies describes me as abstractly creative and I’d never have put myself under that umbrella until he said it. It’s not that I come up with weird and wonderful ideas but I do try and challenge myself to think beyond what’s the easiest option. I don’t always succeed but I do enjoy a spot of creativity.

I also love content, as a creator, consumer and lurker. And I’m fussy, time-starved and suffer a short attention span so it needs to be good. I also love learning, both as a learner – in the direct sense, hence why I’m doing this MA; as a mentor, I love sharing my skills with others, it makes me feel good; and also indirectly too. I work for a university and know first-hand how education changes lives, develops careers, boosts self confidence, contributes to the economy and makes the world go round. And I know that being creative and learning new skills is beyond tricky when you’re spinning many plates: job or jobs, parenthood, carer, friend, sportsman, volunteers etc.

So, my idea is to offer a kind of mentoring service for small business who want to develop their brands without having to employ a large agency or cough up a small fortune to attend a workshop in London. I want to offer an online portal of bitesize content training in all things digital content, from creating videos, writing social media posts, re-sizing images, learning WordPress, web content, enewsletters etc. And that that ‘learning hub’ for want of a better phrase will allow people to put their learning into practice, try by failing in a comfortable, supportive space, and therefore contribute to other people’s learning. Or something like that.

My husband works with a lot of small businesses in his role as web designer/developer and knows first-hand how people struggle with the basics which, in this day and age are pretty essential if you want customers to engage in spaces they’re comfortable in. And they don’t have the time or budget to skill up in a more formal way, and neither do they have to. Although a traditionally qualified journalist, I was trained in print and much of my own digital skillset has come from being mentored by others, learning by doing and experimenting, and failing plenty times over. I’m still learning.

So, that’s the crux of it. It needs a lot of research, polishing and working up but I’m further on than I was last week: clueless.

Enterprise #MAEnt from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.

All roads leads back to the workplace
It’s interesting to see how prominently my place of work features in my MA in Online Journalism. I’m not sure why, but I read a 2009  post from Paul Bradshaw last week when he was started to write the MA course. In it, he referenced Peter Horrocks, then of the BBC, who’d offered some though on the content of the course. Today, as I sit and type this, Peter is the Vice-Chancellor of The Open University (OU), where I work.

Then, while reading about social innovation, I stumbled on a paragraph that mentioned the OU and the Young Foundation, named after Michael Young, the man who helped to found the ‘university of the air’.

Now, I’m staying late after work to catch up on MA reading and access to the Taylor & Francis Online ‘portal’ has been granted because I’m logged on with the OU and the uni logo has popped onto the top of my screen. Being a distance learning student (live Milton Keynes, uni in Birmingham) can have disadvantages, but working for another university (particularly the ‘king’ of the distance learning tribe) seems to make up for the shortfall.

De Bono six thinking hats graphicHats off to de Bono
And already my work-life is benefitting from the MA. I’ve been reading up about Edward de Bono and his six thinking hats and would really like to try them out in a creative brainstorm session sometime soon. Brainstorms can often be messy, lots of people cramming in ideas, shouting them down and forgetting objectives for what seems like an age. The thinking hats sounds less messy but just as creative and I won’t know until I’ve tried it. I like the idea of sitting in a meeting wearing a hat too. Watch this space.

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Communities of practice: critical evaluation

When I began to explore the world of video and audio it was easy to hark back to my print journalism days and strike a comparison between the two. At first, I was keen to avoid doing that; to embrace the new. But in fact, the principles of journalism apply whatever the medium, it’s just the approach and production that’s different. I actually found having print experience to compare and contrast to the production of online audio and video helped embed my newfound knowledge and gave me more to offer the communities of practice.

Throughout my exploration of online video and audio, I’ve learned a lot, not least that good quality sound is essential. Adam Westbrook and Christian Payne lead by example in their fields, but what’s also clear is this: there are no hard and fast rules. There’s great scope for flexibility and creativity and no such thing as a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to multimedia journalism.

The community is in agreement on several principles: good quality sound is vital, be prepared, have a Plan B, and to be clear about the story you’re trying to tell and who you’re trying to tell it to. Most everything else is flexible and practitioners won’t agree; each will have their own preferences when approaching online video and audio.

I’ve also found that just as citizen journalism was, at first, shunned and later embraced as a valued source of news, video and audio reporting using ‘everyman’ technology such as smartphones is just as capable of reporting a news story (Sky news reportage of London riots, for example) despite efforts to retain professional production standards. There are vast numbers of tools to be used but the advice is to focus on sound quality as most ‘everyday’ video cameras can record at high quality.

Blogging

What’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work; to follow their learnings, take note of the things they’ve tried and tested, and ask questions.

As I embarked on this project to delve into communities of practice around video and audio journalism, I have endeavored to ‘blog as I go’ and record my learnings. This has helped my blog stats considerably and since starting the assignment I’ve increased hits, followers, subscriptions and comments, as well as gained new follows to my associated @journonest Twitter account.

For the first time I used the relatively new reblog feature on WordPress to embed blog posts by others onto my own, as well as recording my own learnings via blog posts. At first it seemed lazy but the reblog feature proved a useful way to pool relevant content together in one place, while giving the original author credit.

As well as reflecting on my own learnings I created a ‘Tips for Tuesday’ weekly post in which I share a new list of useful resources and this is something I’d like to continue; to be a regular feature of my site.

Social media

I focused on experts in the field on Twitter to follow and learn from. I used the online aggregator Paper.li to create a Twitter newspaper called Multimedia Mag to pull together tweets around multimedia, specifically focusing on journalism, audio and video. This attracted a lot of retweets and highlighted some interesting and relevant content although I had to play with the settings to avoid pulling in content in foreign languages, and some content is slightly off topic or too advertising-led, which reduces the appeal.

I created Twitter lists, one for audio, one for video, to aggregate tweets by the people I identified as experts and also subscribed to other relevant Twitter lists, one created by a former MA Online Journalism student.

And I used Twitter to ask questions of the community, including recommendations for tools and editing programmes to use.

While I did tweet links to my blog posts (set to auto tweet as I post) and other useful links, and got retweets, I should have been more proactive in asking for feedback on my own work and could have done more to encourage distribution and interactivity around the communities of practice. With that said, I am a beginner and my support network in this field will grow as I develop my skills and have more to offer. For example, a retweet by @Documentally helped me get more hits to my content on this particular day but comments/discussion around the topic would be something to aim for in the future.

I neglected to use other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, finding Twitter to be the easiest/best for my needs, but these are channels I’d like to explore in the future.

Subscriptions and links

I also subscribed to sites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Media Bistro, Adam Westbrook’s blog and others (see Tips for Tuesday) to catch up on latest multimedia news and advice via Google Reader or newsletters direct to my inbox.

And I kept a record of interesting and relevant posts by bookmarking them in Delicious under video and audio tags. I also found online tutorials and tookits really useful, including this Audacity tutorial by Mindy McAdams.

Events

Due to a number of factors, one being a lack of relevant events in my area, I wasn’t able to mingle with other members of the multimedia community as easily as my full time equivalent BCU students in Birmingham. However, I have signed up to a locally established MK WordPress group, MK tweetup group and at the end of the month I’ll be attending The Guardian’s Open Weekend including their session on ‘How to make a video’ as well as MK Hacks’ Day in May.

Interviewing the professionals

Without the ability to attend events I did want to catch up, face to face, with experts in the field. I interviewed Tracy Buchanan, a multimedia editor with The Open University’s Open Media Unit about her roll at work and how she’s used video to help promote the other part of her professional life as a recently published author. Character is an important part of journalism and promotion and Tracy felt it was easier to give readers a slice of her personality via online video.

I exchanged emails with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, who shared some useful links via Delicious and I researched his more open approach to mobile and multimedia journalism which was in sharp contrast to the views of others, for example radio journalist Caroline Beaven who believes good audio needs planning. I’ve also commissioned Christian to do some video with me for my day job, in which I’ll spend the best part of three days with him creating and editing footage.

I spent an afternoon with Roger Stotesbury from Jump Off The Screen video production company in Milton Keynes who gave me a great insight into his work, and offered some useful tips, especially focusing on giving the interviewee control to make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Roger showed me his new studio and equipment and has invited me to sit in on some editing projects in the future. I also learned a lesson about drinking coffee while recording an interview.

Fellow MA student and video journalist Franzi Baehrle wrote a guest blog post for me on how she began her career in Germany and the valuable lessons she’s learned along the way and I’ve been an active contributor to her own blog, debating over best practice and mistakes we’ve made and learned from.

I found that listening to other people – and about the mistakes they made when they started out – helped my learning; it’s refreshing to know everyone, even seasoned professionals, make mistakes and move on. They all offered advice on putting interviwees at ease, what equipment to use and different styles: Documentally on the power of unplanned audio, Roger on where to position your interviwee for effect and Tracy on using the right style of video for the right audience.

Forums

Apart from what I refer to as technical forums offered by the creators/owners of editing tools such as Audacity I found it a) difficult to find relevant forums to contribute to and b) struggled to contribute because of my limited knowledge. As a beginner, I felt it best to learn by trial and error and research, rather than posing questions ‘for the sake of it’ on forums. These forums were also highly technical and not a place beginners can easily contribute. I found it easier to learn by looking at other people’s content and commenting, rather than through forums. For example, listening to this podcast I learned how to include links within your audio, a feature I previously wasn’t aware of.

Reading

As well as reading books on the practicalities of audio and video journalism, and ‘how to’ guides both in print and online, supported by blog posts from experts such as Adam Westbrook, I managed to find a hard copy of a video guide produced by The Guardian in 2008 as I cleared out my office drawers. This offered a wealth of informative articles around creating newsy videos and is something I’ll hang onto for future reference. And I posted an image – for variety – on my blog to suggest useful reading resources for other newbie multimedia journalists.

Comments

I endeavored to share my own experiences and opinions on other sites by commenting where I had something to add; either a differing opinion or experience, praise or feedback to help others improve and this often led to discussion. This is something I’d like to do more of – more opinions make for a rounded picture, and every new comment on a blog is a new contact in the field.

Experimentation

If I have any chance of becoming a successful multimedia journalist I have to try things. I started by recording an AudioBoo talking about why I’ve chosen to do this MA, to get used to being recorded (and found it strange to be the one talking rather than asking the questions).

I produced other podcasts, an audio slideshow and a video using a variety of equipment and software to compare the differences and find what I’m most comfortable with (I’m not sure yet!). My experimentations included use of the following: iPhone, Kodak Zi8, AudioBoo, Audacity, Final Cut Express, iMovie, YouTube, Soundcloud and the iPhone Recorder Pro app. What I need to do more of is focus on audio (by investing in a microphone) and try using a tripod to avoid shaky hand syndrome and to have one less thing to concentrate on (it’s easier to focus on the interviewee when you don’t have a camera in your hand).

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. For the most part my appraoch, to date, has been the ‘quick and dirty’ one, to capture unscripted, unedited footage to save time. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach, which brings me to…

Assignment 2: Specialist portfolio

For the second assignment this semester I intend to create a series of podcasts off the back of the Cybher conference which celebrates women bloggers. I plan to research and interview both those who are speaking at the event and those who are attending as delegates in order to find some human interest stories and promote what connects them: the blogosphere, and how it’s impacted their lives. I plan to record my research on a Tumblr blog as I go and embed the podcasts on a web page to invite comment and the sharing of stories by the blogging community.

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Podcast: Students talk about online journalism and audio

Podcast by Derrikkwa via FlickrGah, this is what I miss about not being in class… being a distance learner does get in the way of ‘experimenting’ with my fellow students, as per this podcast some of them produced, in which they talk about journalism using online audio. Great effort guys!

 

Picture by Derrikkwa via Flickr under this licence

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The end of the first semester…

First comes the stress, the panic and the constant waking in the night to write ideas down, then comes a wave of relief on completion, followed by panic that it’s not right, then the underlying worry until you get your mark. Yes folks, MA assignments bring with them a rollercoaster of emotions. And it’s not like you can ride the wave of relief for too long either…  before you know it another one is lapping at your toes, threatening to drown your social life and sting your brain cells.

Despite the workload and constant fear of failure I’m really enjoying being a student, particularly as I got to see campus for the first time last week. Having been a student since September, albeit a distance learner, I had yet to tread foot on BCU soil.

That said, I have email contact with my fellow students and know they’re only an email, text or Facebook message away. I speak regularly with my tutor and, equally, know numerous ways to quiz him if I get stuck or need support. As a distance learner I digest my learning via a series of weekly AudioBoos, video clips or filmed guest speakers, presentations on Slideshare and blog posts, as well as a long reading list and time spent dabbling with the very tools we’re learning about. It’s a very practical, just get on and do it, type of course, and that’s one of the reasons I like it; there’s a lot of flexibility in the way I tackle my study and that’s appealing. As someone who works full time and also likes to cling onto a social life and other hobbies, it’s important to be able to fit study around everything else.

For some, distance learning may feel isolated but I don’t feel that way. I’ve made an effort to attend some of the courses and conferences with my fellow students – so at least I know what they look like and where they are if I want to chat – and because I work at The Open University, the kings of supported distance learning, perhaps I feel more at ease about the process of independent study and less physical hand-holding.

And I think, so far, BCU are doing a pretty good job – particularly as it’s the first time they’ve offered the course via distance learning. Some of my fellow students are doing it full time, others part time, and just three of us via distance learning. But we’re all in similar boats, doing our best to stay afloat.

What I do miss, perhaps, is the sharing of experiences which most likely happens during weekly tutorials. I don’t know, for sure, because I have never attended one. And my learning journey may suffer slightly for it. But for now, I’m just getting on with it.

I’ve just slaved over my second assignment of semester one, which ate up a lot of time, and I’m now full of dread as I await the result. It’s worth 80 per cent so I need this one in the bag. But soon I’ll have other assignments to focus on as semester two rolls around – and the whole process starts again.

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Live blog from C21’s Future Media #c21fm

Robyn Bateman, Franzi Baehrle and Sheryl Willis, MA Online Journalism students at Birmingham City University are live blogging from C21’s Future Media conference from 9am on Thursday 1 December.

Click Here to view the live blog.

 

 

 

 

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