torrii

26

To have no idea what you’re doing next, and to be absolutely sure that is the right decision.

26 was a deciding year. I’m not sure I wanted it to be, or even planned it to be, but I think in the end it simply had to be.  I will sound like a twat, but I wasn’t ‘present’ in my life. I used to write diaries and blogs to savor a moment – that was clearly my way of processing and enjoying it – but for the past few years I stopped even doing that. When I wrote the last 2 birthday posts, that probably the most excited I’ve been all year because I actually took time to think wow, I did all that.

I have been really really busy, and really really tired.

 

So the biggest thing to happen at 26? I quit my job and decided to move to another city. There are other things I can and will write about this. Lots of people keep telling me it’s such a brave decision, and I guess it is, but it didn’t feel that way when I made it. It was just obvious and not really a decision in the end… it was between being asleep for the rest of my life, or finding something worth being awake for even if I don’t know what that is yet.

What else though? Well. I spent 2 weeks in Japan. It was kinda stressful at the time actually but the further away I get from it the more incredible and unique the memories become.

I went skiing for the first time. And honestly, it woke me up.  I’ve experienced lots of new things throughout my life, but so often it feels like ticking boxes. Skiing felt like an absolute thrill. The satisfaction of getting my body to get down a hill burned through me like I imagine drugs must feel, and then to spend time with family in the evenings felt like the perfect mix of adventure and people that I have always craved.

I got promoted in my job again. And it was a great role, and I know I did the best job I could while I was there. Part of me is gutted to leave. But in a way still really wanting to leave even though I had a great role made it even clearer to me that leaving was just something I had to do. Right now I’ll be honest and say I feel jaded about publishing. But I can already see with a bit of time and perspective I don’t think I’ll feel that way in 6 months. I still believe communications, media and the stories we share are some of the most important things on this planet; I just need a bit of time to step back and rethink how I think they should work.  I also think teenagers and young people are such a phenomenal under-acknowledged power. I would have loved to continue to grow what’s available to them in the media, but luckily my work with Girlguiding and Girls Out Loud will be able to continue some of that.

I had some brilliant trips with truly dear friends to Berlin, Paris and Gibraltar, and had a brilliant baptism into the Balkans and all its history in a week long sojourn to Belgrade, Serbia in my trustee role.

I watched the London Marathon for the first time, which really blew me away.  I also hit an all time low with my health which it seems was necessary to bounce back from and really start taking my body seriously. Thus a mix of fear and inspiration is firing me to make little steps to get my diet back on track, and start running again. I have loads of time now, so no excuse 😉

And this is probably the understated but really most exciting one… I started studying for my foundation accounting qualification.  I’ve always been fascinated by everything and I am hugely indecisive. When it came to university applications my plan was to apply for both arts and economics and decide depending on the offers; until I realised you could only write one personal statement. I went for arts (probably because of too much Gilmore Girls / Dawsons – role models matter..).  I’m grateful for the open-mindedness and debating skills it has give me, but I always kept my toe in the numbers side, and the more I got to work on budgets and accounting in my publishing roles, the more I craved it. So initially the plan is to just beef up that interest with a basic formal qualification, but who knows.. I’ve done almost 10 years of creativity (which will never leave me), maybe the next decade is for numbers and logic? Or a magical mix of it all.

 

So now what? Now I’m on sabbatical. Or something.  I am trying to take it easy. To give me space to think, to learn, to have new ideas.  My intention had always been to take 6 months off after my masters to explore various bits and pieces, but unfortunately / fortunately I got my dream job in London straight away and had to get on with life quicker than anticipated. So now is my time to explore, and luckily working your butt off for years affords me that freedom for a few months. On the menu is finishing my accounting qualification, reading lots, spending time learning from all the amazing people I know and hopefully will know, taking care of my long forsaken health, exploring London, exploring Manchester, doing some strategy and comms work for a few businesses, and hopefully by September be doing some really great and exciting new work.

In the middle of the ride :)

blog image owenwbrown flickr

Where I go all post-modern and reflect on the purpose of blogs. And to a lesser extent, journalism.

I’ve had this blog since 2008.  I’ve been reading blogs since then too.  I’ve read them, and their critics.  I’ve delved into that world and been fascinated at every turn.  I’ve followed the journeys that individuals and, later, organisations have made in discovering a digital world and what place it has in the real world.

And then I started a journalism masters which forced me to contextualize it all.  To consider the official point of it all.  And boy did it confuse me because suddenly it felt like everything I put on my blog had to be researched and linked and backed up and explored and supported by experts and interviews.  It didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t figure out why.

I’ve come to temporary conclusion – that, for me (and I do think for the digital world at large), blogs are about opinion.  They are about your own personal perspective, however limited that may be.

My very first reasons for wanting training in journalism, I realise, were not about journalism.  They were about me wanting to improve my writing on my blog.  I now wonder whether blogs are journalism at all.  I have so far come to understand journalism to be the skill of researching a topic from experts through interviews and books and exploration, and then presenting that topic to a wider audience in a way they will understand it.

Right now (and this may change the more I learn on my course) I see a divide between ‘journalism’ and ‘writing from your own perspective to interest the public – be that as an expert or simply as someone with an interesting opinion and voice’.

We shall see.

 

Thumbnail image: Owenwbrown on Flickr

 

EDIT: I got some interesting feedback from one of my tutors suggesting that I could make ‘the personal more journalistic’.  I like that.  I think while the above may still be true, there may also be a discipline in differentiating between a blog that simply rant and waffles, and one that applies the structure and clarity of a journalistic piece.  Then again maybe that’s just good writing, rather than anything to do with journalism.

magazinespt2

Will women’s magazines ever change?

It feels like people have been crying out for more ‘intelligent’ content in women’s magazines forever and yet the consistent call for this suggests that it still hasn’t been satisfied.

In a recent survey on my blog I asked you what you thought about women’s magazines, what you liked and what you felt was lacking.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some of the questions I asked and the main responses:

 

What is your favourite section of a women’s magazine?
This was pretty equally tied between features and fashion, with a bit of celebrity gossip, and relationship advice (this was mainly the boys!)

 

Why do you read women’s magazines?
The most common reasons were light relief and the fact that you don’t need any prior knowledge of the subjects covered.

 

What would you like to see in women’s magazines that isn’t currently provided?

  • Things that affect the real lives of women
  • Features on more serious issues
  • More original writing (rather than formulaic)
  • More current affairs
  • More and more varied career content
  • “More debates i.e. comment columns from different viewpoints
  • Motoring sections
  • A section for secret male readers (!)

 

Why do you think magazines are important?
“The reader often forms a relationship with the magazine and it’s something quite personal. Specialist magazines keep you up to date with your area of interest and other magazines allow you to relax.”
“They can help you feel like you belong to a certain scene or group. You can learn a lot from magazines.”
“The fashion is always really interesting and sometimes the investigations are great and open your mind onto a subject.”
“Inform, engage and entertain. Neither are they as temporary or disposable as newspapers; there’s something very ‘of-the-moment’ but lasting about a magazine.”
“They are a fun way to relax. They provide a change from a book (which I really love). They can be read during a break from work or on the move and they always change. “
“They are good for getting new ideas, fashion-wise.”
“They give you advice when you don’t know who to ask”
“Creating social cohesion between groups of people with similar interests.”
“A good way to unwind and help take your mind off some of lifes more serious issues.”
“They look beyond the immediate news and open your mind to the world around you. They inform you of things you would never have known about in a way that is engaging. There is a magazine title for everyone.”

 

It’s clear that people have a great fondness for women’s magazines but it is still glaringly evident that content can be too trivial.  Let’s hope that this can change, even if we have to do it ourselves.
design thumb

Inside Magazine Design

This term I’ve been lucky enough to have talks from two men who are super clued up on magazine design and magazine covers… first was The Sunday Times editorial consultant and former Art Director at the New Scientist, the Radio Times and the Sunday Times Magazine, Tom Reynolds and secondly,  former editorial director of Haymarket Consumer Media, Mel Nichols.  So, incorporating advice they gave, I thought I’d give my thoughts on covers of some of the magazines I read.

 

Essentials: Mel Nicholas had a test for magazine cover lines to check if they are effective.  Cover up the secondary lines and only look at the main coverline (i.e. ‘Smart Money!’) – does it tell you what the article is about?  If it doesn’t then it is not a good coverline.  Too often, magazines save the essential information for the line underneath, missing massive opportunities to pull in readers.

What I love about this cover is the bullet point ticks, because Essentials is all about the bullet points and snippets of information – easily readable chunks of information.

About a year ago Essentials decided to feature only ‘reader’ cover stars instead of celebrities.  There is usually then a feature of them in the middle of the magazine which tends to be a real life story.  While I like the move towards more ‘normal’ women, I sometimes wonder if it’s to extreme in that direction (also I don’t like the insinuation that celebrities aren’t ‘real’ women)… I’d like to see a middle ground where the cover women aren’t actors or singers, but might still be someone interesting and inspiring – a business woman or someone who has set up a charity.

Saga: (obviously, my parents get this magazine, but some of the editorial is great!).  It fails Nichols’ coverline test – all the information is held in the secondary titles – but this might not matter so much since Saga is a subscription magazine so doesn’t need to scream from the newstands.

Image wise I’d say the magazine hits the nail on the head, being topical, age appropriate and fun.

 

Wired:  Wired’s launch issue cover still makes me excited.  The image completely taps into its audience, showing a buzzy city full of the tech start-ups and researchers who will read the magazine. And of course there are the flying cars.

 

Psychologies:  This cover passes Mel Nichols test completely – it doesn’t even bother with secondary coverlines, it just gets straight to the point.  Psychologies also embodies its content on the cover – this magazine is about Women and Words.  That’s what’s inside, and that’s what’s on the cover.

 

Red:  Red seems to have decided to take all the cover lines off the cover of its subscriber edition.  While a subscriber edition doesn’t need to scream from the newstands, I’ve been surprised at how the lack of coverlines puts me off picking up the magazine to read at all.  Ultimately it may put me off re-subscribing, so I’m not sure what the benefit of wiping the cover is.

I asked Mel Nichols about this and he said that it’s a fad that’s spread through glossy magazines.  It was started off by the fashion glossies which market themselves highly on their images anyway so coverlines aren’t as important.  Other magazines followed suit to follow the trend.  This may NOT be the reason for Red’s change but it would make sense.  If it is the case, I think they’re missing the fact that their magazine doesn’t hang on their cover interview… personally I don’t care about the celeb, it’s the features in Red that I love… so I want to know what they are!!

magazines

What do you think about women’s magazines? (Survey)

So I started this MA in Magazine Journalism because I LOVE magazines but at the same time have always found them lacking in certain areas. So before I get ahead of myself  and design my own – I would love you feedback on what you think of women’s magazines!

Keep your eyes peeled in the next few weeks as I’ll write up what I’ve found from this survey :)

delicious

Digital Tools for Journalism.

In the first of a series of digital journalism training sessions as part of my MA, I’ve managed to discover some amazing new social networking and online publishing & sharing tools that I either hadn’t heard of or never really thought were relevant.  Here’s some of the one’s that stood out in our discussions.

 

The problem with social technology is that there is so so much out there.  This is also the great thing about social technology.

 

Delicious – I’d always avoided Delicious and bookmarking sites in general because I never liked the idea of my bookmarks being public.  Now that’s I’ve had time to properly think about it, I think a few things have changed my mind…

  1. You can choose what is public and what is private.  So you can use Delicious for two completely separate purposes, and even keep it entirely private if you want.
  2. The idea of sharing your links actually is quite appealing (hence why I have a links page on this site!) and maybe bookmarking sites are a great tool for keeping them organised.
  3. The search function is great… it’s a far more regulated version of google, where people actually have to value something enough to share it, before it will show up in search results.

 

Trunk.ly – Another bookmark service whose attracting feature is that it will automatically aggregate all the links shared by people you follow on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites.  This is probably very effecient for people who follow people like me – who often share links on Twitter but don’t collect them anywhere.

Essentially I guess its a tool for people who want to use a bookmarking search engine when the people you are interested in aren’t on a bookmarking website.  My only issue with this is privacy in letting it access your twitter (though the fact that twitter is open anyway probably negates this worry).

 

Ifttt – Long name: ‘If this, then that.’  Essentially an amalgamation of automatic posting tools, this site allows you to set up prompts so that when ‘this’ (a time of day, a post on your blog) happens, then ‘that’ (post to twitter, send an email) happens.

My first impressions are that this is an amazing toy, and also that it’s very handy to create any customized automatic postings that you need.  However I’m wary of this type of automation because I worry that it takes away the personal, human nature and voice of social networking?  I wouldn’t argue that too far though, I don’t think it’s a massive problem.  It’s just for the time being I avoid any automatic posting, as I prefer my postings to be more sporadic and natural.  As our lecturer pointed out though, the point of these tools is time saving, and I’m fully aware that if things such as my blog became more popular and regular, then automation tool might quickly become invauable.

 

Google Reader – Google Reader was the one site covered that I do already use.  Google reader is an RSS feed reader that can collate blogs and any websites with changing content, that you read.  It puts them all in one place for you to check for new posts and then usual read within the reader too.

On thinking about it, I collate everything on the web using either Google Reader or Twitter.  If there is a person or company that interests me then I will first follow them on twitter.  If they have an interesting blog or website that I think I’ll regularly keep up with, it will go on my Google Reader.  That’s essentially my way of keeping contacts.  I rarely even keep a note of websites or email addresses because I know I can go into my twitter contacts and find every person I would be interested in, and follow through to get contact details.

I have found Google reader invaluable since I first got into blogs back in 2008, just because it was by far the easiest way to keep up with latest posts.  My only qualm still is that I miss a lot of the beautiful designs of some of the blogs I read.  I appreciate that you can’t really have both though, and when I have time I still make a visit to the website itself.

 

Tracking sharing – Another interesting question that came out of this lecture was how tools like Google Reader and aggregation sites like Delicious affect user stats and Google Analytics. For example, when I read a blog purely via my Google Reader, does that show up in any way on that person’s Google Analytics or other website stats?  And, what are the main tools for tracking click throughs to your site from url shortening services like bit.ly.  I’m not fully sure how this works yet but I plan to look into it and report back on my findings and what I think.

 

As a final note I have to comment on the difference between this one (of many to come) Digitial Journalism lecture, and my past social technology experience.  To be blunt I was more inspired and leant more in that one session that in probably all my previous ‘training’ and industry experience all put together.  Gotta show my appreciation for people who really get into the nitty gritty of digital media and really know how it’s working and changing.  (My irritation in the past has come from those who ‘teach’ social media without admitting that we’re all kind of making it up as we go along and have all been exposed to it for the same amount of time, and also without often knowing too much themselves about the advances.)

 

Thoughts??

tom cruise interview image from thevine

Reacting to Magazine Interviewing 101

My first crash course in my journalism degree threw me head first into interviewing. And surprisingly in the space of 2 days I learnt a lot, or at least realised what I need to learn.

Questioning different types of people

I think you need different skills/tactics depending on type of person you’re interviewing.

If you interview (or know you will be interviewing, if you have that luxury) someone really interesting then I imagine this is generally easier as they the have great stories to tell and the confidence and initiative to tell them.  The skills here then I guess would be simply asking the few right questions that will spark them off.  Also if you have a limited time in which to interview and you know they’re going to talk lots, it’s probably about asking the right questions and steering the questions and conversation to make sure you find out what you and your audience really want to know.  (And obviously you need to very sure of what it is that you really want to know before hand!)

If the interviewee is less obviously interesting or at least hesitant with their responses, I guess the ‘skill’ of interviewing becomes more important.  You need to know how to get interesting information out of them by asking the right questions, in the right way.  You also need to be paying close attention to what they say and be able to pick up and follow up anything interesting they mention, as you might be able to develop an great insight from something they touch on, that you hadn’t even thought of.  I like the idea that everyone is interesting and has a story to tell.  You could try and make the story interesting to anyone, i.e. if you write well you can make anything sound interesting.  Or you can just try and put yourself in the mind of someone who would be interested in this person’s story, and ask questions you think they would want to know.

Types of questions
In my interview, I went down the road of asking more deep emotional questions as this tends to be what I find interesting when I read an interview… but I realise that I ended up with a lack of actual factual detail which, when I think about it now, does frame an interview and make it specific to that person. The deeper comments are only interesting when they are contextualised. That said, when it is largely facts that are gleaned in the raw interview, it does seem then that the interviewer when writing up the profile tends to put in her own interpretations of the facts into the article. While this may be interesting, it is not strictly what a reader is reading for, they are reading to find out about the interviewee, not what the interviewer thinks. When I think about this further I wonder if actually this type of interview (more interviewer’s interpretation) is similar to a review; that the interviewer is ‘reviewing’ the interviewee. In a review it is expected that we get the writers opinion, so why not in an interview? Both seek to showcase the discussed item (be it a celebrity or a film), so why are we taught that in an interview the interviewer should not put herself in the article?

The ethics of representation- sounding good vs. ‘reality’.
When writing a profile it worries me that it is possible to make a massive assumtion via your interpretation of someone. With a mock profile I wrote about an author, I implied that maybe the reason that she wasn’t in a relationship was because she was overshadowed by the earlier relationship with her father. I didn’t know this to be true, it was just one interpretation you could make from what she had said, and it sounded interesting. But what if she didn’t want people to think that? Yet had this been an actual published piece, a chunk of the public may now believe it to be true. It has been suggested that what regulates an interviewer more is not so much the law but rather whether what you print and how you use information will make other potential interviewees trust you. On the other hand, a friend of mine suggested that she would sometimes create or embellish quotes in her work but that was because a lot of what she wrote were advertorials, and so the interviewees liked that they were made to sound better and more interesting. So would that also apply to individuals promoting themselves or their work, since most interviewees (at least in magazine terms) are there to promote something or other? Since a profile in its nature is a colourful presentation of quotes and facts about a person, maybe it is just accepted and inevitable that there will be some interpretation or angle on it. If there weren’t it would be a Q&A piece.

Being interviewed
In one of our tasks we had to pair up to interview each other, so I also got to experience being interviewed. And boy did that make me feel more sympathy for celebrities and anyone who has to be interviewed. When you suddenly realise that every word you say and even every gesture could be put down in print for the world (well, maybe not in this case but it’s the same feeling) to see, you suddenly enter a whole new social code. There is no accepted courtesy that more emotional or private things won’t leave the room, and yet at the same time you are allowing yourself to be asked often very personal questions by someone you don’t know very well. I’m sure interviewees get used to it, but it’s definitely a new art to learn.

A note about notes (and shorthand)
I’m studying shorthand under the premise that you may not always have a Dictaphone to hand or you still can’t rely on it if you do.  That’s fair enough.  But even assuming that I get up to 100 words-per-minute (the required speed for print journalists), I’m still not sure how it’s going to work when interviewing, because it is difficult if not impossible to listen, respond, ask questions and keep eye contact while writing that fast.  I can only assume that with shorthand you get to a stage where you need not look at the page (in same way I don’t need to look at a keyboard while I’m typing).  Or at least I hope this is the case, or that I find out another way that this is all possible!

 

So there are my very first and very raw thoughts on interviewing and writing profiles. If anyone has any thoughts on this please share in the comments!  I’m very new to all this so will inevitable learn more as I go along but I’d love to discuss what I’ve seen so far…

 

tom cruise interview image from thevine

Top ten awkward celebrity interviews via The Vine

Photo credit: The Vine