Tag Archives: blogging

Is it time you had your own digital shop window?

A personal website where people can find out more about who you are, what you can do and where you main interests lie, can be an important asset, particularly if communicating is your business. Penny Kiley, a member of the Oxford branch, has just set one up for herself. Here she explains why she thinks other members could benefit from doing the same.


When I found out I was being made redundant, one of the first things I did (after contacting the union) was to start looking at freelance journalists’ websites. After eight years working for a commercial publisher, one thing I’ve learned is the importance of what my now ex-employer calls ‘competitor analysis’.
Other things I’d learned in that job were how to plan, write, edit and manage websites. If I was going to be self-employed I wanted to continue using those skills to make a living. And if I wanted the credibility to sell myself in that area, I’d need my own website.
I’ve already got a pretty large digital footprint (social media was part of my old job, and you learn by doing; I also find social networking enjoyable and useful). But a website is a step above that: a professional showcase.
To me, it seemed a bit of a no-brainer: as a small business, why would you not want a website? It’s a shop window, something that says you exist, a chance to highlight what you do and what makes you special.
So when I started going through the NUJ freelance directory I got a surprise. I thought I’d be looking AT freelance websites – in fact, I was looking FOR freelance websites. To narrow things down, I’d searched for freelances working in the south east who advertised themselves as ‘online journalists’. I’d estimate that around 50 per cent did not have a website included on their listing. And these are people who say they work online!

Who would you commission for online work if you were an editor? Someone with a website – who appears to be at home online – or someone without?
I did find some freelances with very good websites, enough to make me realise how strong the competition actually is. My own website (pennykiley.com) is pretty basic at the time of writing, which is my first day as a freelance. But it was live by the time I left my job and it’s something to build on.
I’m not expecting that a website on its own will cut down the time I need to put into networking and pitching. But once I’ve made those initial contacts, it will be something that people can use to check me out – to tell them a bit more about who I am, and to confirm I am serious about what I do.  


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The bottom half of the internet

Never read the bottom half of the internet.” It’s a modern proverb. Underneath so many news stories and opinion pieces is a pit of frothing bile. It doesn’t matter how uncontroversial or well-written the article is; there’s no guarantee that the comments won’t be a jumble of personal attacks, conspiracy theories and offensive remarks.

The trouble is, sometimes comments go beyond mud-slinging and become a serious legal or moral issue. That’s why, if you’re responsible for a newspaper or magazine website, you need a policy on how to deal with comments.

Our April newsletter carried a piece about the Oxford Mail’s exemplary coverage of Operation Bullfinch, a sex-trafficking story. Everything that made it into print was written and edited with the journalists’ legal and ethical obligations in mind, but this responsible reporting was nearly undone by the actions of others. Jason Collie told the NUJ:

“The website had comments on the suspected ethnicity of the men, which we took down as soon as we were aware of them. We are part of the community and we have to be responsible. You don’t want a whole section of the community suffering reprisals as a result of what’s going on. Ethnicity was not relevant to this story.”

It’s easy to be a bully online, because you can hide behind anonymity or pseudonymity. These racist commenters knew they didn’t have to be accountable in the same way as a trained, named reporter, but they still got a platform on a newspaper website for stirring up hatred towards a whole ethnic group. In the process, they risked prejudicing the trials as well.

The Oxford Mail’s approach was to delete any published comments that could be seen to incite racism or cause legal headaches. Some websites have a policy of moderating, or vetting comments before allowing them to be published at all – but counterintuitively, this is more risky from a legal point of view.

Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ’s Ethics Council, explains:

“Many newspapers and broadcasters don’t moderate websites for fear of making themselves liable. If they can claim innocent inclusion, it’s then easy to remove offensive comments.”

The law on this isn’t fully tested, though in 2009 solicitor Imran Karim sued Newsquest over allegedly libellous reader comments about him. The court found in favour of Newsquest and it appears that its decision not to moderate comments was a factor in this decision. If comments are published automatically with no intervention from the publisher, this means less legal culpability for the publisher – provided they act swiftly when something is brought to their attention.

Combine this legal quirk with the staffing pressures on the average newspaper and it’s not surprising that the default action is to do nothing. Unless there’s a good reason for journalists to carefully watch comments on a story, racist and inflammatory language can stay online indefinitely. It’s time to talk about what we, as the NUJ, can do about changing that.

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