Student journalist bloggers - The good, the scheduled and the risky - Part 3: The risky
This week I've been posting some of my observations from reading the blogs of some student journalists over the last six months. I found them by setting up Google Alerts for a blog search for the phrases "I am studying journalism" and "I am a journalism student". On Tuesday I looked at some of the trends that I think make a good student journalist blog, and yesterday I looked at how picking a topic with a regular schedule can help a student keep their blog running continuously. Today I wanted to look at some areas where blogging as a journalism student seemed to me to be a bit risky, or posed potential ethical problems for the future.
Blogging about faith
One thing I wasn't expecting was that several of the journalism student blogs that I discovered were very open in writing about their personal religious faith. Of course, it may just be my British reserve on such matters that made it noticeable, but I thought it posed an interesting ethics question for young aspiring journalists.
Any well trained journalist should be able to put aside their own beliefs and prejudices to cover a story impartially and fairly, but there is a risk that writing on such an emotive area makes the journalist a hostage to fortune in the future. Picture one of these openly religious bloggers covering a local issue like "Church served noise abatement order, and claims it has been done to appease local Muslims", and suddenly the fact that Googling their name reveals their active faith gives ammunition to anyone who thinks they are not covering the story fairly.
I think this is just another facet of the continual blurring between our personal and business personalities online - and I may well be exaggerating the potential issue here. Students are also constantly being warned that posting drunken pictures of themselves on Facebook might be a bad idea when a future potential employer researches their social online profile. Personally, I think the negative impact of this will diminish over time, as we reach a point where the person doing the recruiting is also likely to have published some stupid photos of themselves on the net...
Reporting becoming a reporter
Another topic which I thought was potentially risky was blogging about the process of becoming a reporter. Nikki Owen's blog Xposed Media is a great example here. From what I've read, she writes really responsibly about her experiences on her course and in her work experience at the Gloucestershire Echo.
The Guardian Careers series "Diary of an intern" showed up just this dilemma. Revealing that they had written a 26 week series for The Guardian would obviously be a plus point on a young journalist's CV - but some of what they had written in the series was brutally frank about the people they had worked with, and might not do them any favours in the newsroom:
"A reporter who edited my footage has pointed out a few little mistakes I made when getting the two videos, but I think they could've done being a bit more understanding of my situation. The person concerned is one of those who can't really wait to see me gone. Won't look me in the eye if I say anything during a conversation and is generally dismissive of any views I express. Finding hard to even speak to him the way he's gone on."
I think it is brave to be public about the learning process you are going through to join a profession. I've been doing the 'blogging about my work in a media company' thing for years now, and frankly I still have the odd awkward issue struggling to stay the right side of what is personal and what is professional.
This - Political Economy of Student Journalism - is a fantastic post from Tintinnabulation which makes me wish they would post more frequently, but it is also one which might not endear them to their college:
"I can’t understand how a school with a journalism program hopes to gain any credibility as a trainer of journalists, when they don’t allow the freedoms typically enjoyed by students...I understand that they need to train their students to work within the strictures set by their future employers. But can’t the school have slightly more lax editorial policy, because they are still a school, not a private for profit station"
And students are not just blogging about becoming a reporter, but also blogging about not becoming a reporter:
"In the last six months I have realized a lot about myself as a journalism student. I feel that I may not be prepared for the path I've chosen. The J217 course has been the driving factor in my creating this judgment of myself as a writer. I've realized that going down the path of an investigative reporter, or even a reporter at all, is not for me. This sad fact is even more grim, because the only reason is that I really don't care about investigative reporting."
Blogging your ambition
There is nothing wrong with showing a little bit of ambition in your blogging though. Take the 'About' blurb for Brianti's The Daily Planet:
"I would love to be an arts and culture writer someday, and I plan on applying to NYU's cultural reporting program for graduate school. I also want to write celebrity and political profiles, reminiscent of the amazing profile writers from Elle. I want the opportunity to put a very unique, personal voice in my writing.
In the end, I am going to be the editor of Seventeen to help give young women confidence, which I already try to do by facilitating self-esteem workshops and writing a self-esteem column.
Until I reach my dreams, I am clerk at a wire service for a national newspaper and a blogger for two online magazines."
She's also learning the art of online cross-promotion, with an embedded RSS feed of her other blog as part of the sidebar - self-esteem.tumblr.com. What interested me here was firstly, the fact that she is using two different platforms - Wordpress and Tumblr - and is linking together a personal portfolio of writing, rather than brand specific silos. Despite a very print-centric career plan, Brianti looks very comfortable with online publishing as a medium.
I didn't want to pick people out as individuals particularly in this series, but instead just use some example posts of the trends that I've been observing. It looks like there is a healthy crop of young journalists coming through who are very comfortable with publishing online. I was pleased to see people experimenting with blogs and producing content of serveral types across different platforms. There also appears to be a good number who are using their digital blogging presence to very much practice the writing style and subject matter that they see in print in major papers. I suspect though that those who are tending to spend more time trying out different multimedia and digital storytelling techniques may find themselves increasingly more employable than someone who has concentrated on knowing how to mimic print subbing styles.
There I was searching for blogs by journalism students, and as part of my research I came across this post by Jeremy Mikula (with Leah Hendrickson, and Katie Schweiker). It is a long-form piece about music consumption, and is a good example of people using a map and some good photos as part of their blog posts. But what they were chiefly talking about were the surviving Reckless Record shops in Chicago. Regular readers may recall, I used to work in the London branches in the nineties. I love the serendipity of the web.