Monday, April 27, 2009...3:17 pm

Why journalists should sometimes look beyond the phone

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I just got into an interesting spat with Tim Luckhurst, professor of journalism at the University of Kent’s Centre for Journalism

Apparently he thinks only the phone is good enough for journalists to use to chase up stories.

For contact with interviewees or sources of information the telephone is ALWAYS the right way to make the first approach […] There is no room for debate about this. 

Well, uh, I think there is (hence his slightly snarky defence later on in the post’s comments section).

I use email far more than the phone now when writing features (OK, that’s not news reporting – I understand that. But then, journalism/media isn’t all news reporting either.) 

It has clear benefits – particularly if you’re dealing with people in different time zones, the people you’re dealing with prefer to use digital communications rather than the phone, or simply that you’re trying to contact people at a tech firm.

Tech firms in particular live online – it’s the water they swim in, so it makes a lot of sense to fish in that pool if you want to reach them. 

As a journalist, I’ve covered the response of retail and service companies to the explosion of digital communications available. The savviest companies expend some effort in making sure they use the right one to reach their customers – not everyone wants to be called up; not everyone uses email; some people still prefer a letter. 

It’s a lesson that journalism needs to learn too. There’s a generation growing up who only use SMS and Facebook to communicate. In a few years’ time, when a journalist from Kent University is beaten to a story by someone who understands that and gets to a source by text first, maybe the penny will drop…

[HT: FleetStreetBlues]

4 Comments

  • I hate cell phones so i dont care what they do with em

  • freelanceunboundNo Gravatar
    April 28th, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Ah – a truly civilised comment…

  • You would not get very high marks for accuracy if you were one of my students. My post, to which you responded, was written in direct response to a specific issue arising from the work placements on which my students are currently gaining experience of reporting. Your summary is misleading about context and content. I advised my them to use the telephone instead of e-mail. They should, not only because their editors want them to but because it is faster and more likely to produce interesting results. I also acknowledged that face to face communication works tremendously well.

  • freelanceunboundNo Gravatar
    May 4th, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    In light of this comment, I looked again at Tim Luckhurst’s post. It is true that it is written as a specific instruction to journalism students about how to work in a certain newsroom context. However, if that’s all it is, perhaps an open blog post might not be the best forum for it – maybe a group email to students would be more appropriate.

    As it is, an open blog post begs to be considered for its wider argument. Which is, as quoted, that journalists should ALWAYS use the phone – and there’s no room for debate.

    Well, this is the internet and journalism, and there’s ALWAYS room for debate. I think the underlying argument of the post is somewhat flawed. And given that the Centre for Journalism opens up its web site and blog posts for comment, that’s what I did.

    It does beg the question of whether I would be losing my marks for lack of accuracy – or for not agreeing with everything that Professor Luckhurst says.

    There are certainly some interesting issues at play here in the wider debate of how journalism responds to the medium of the web, and I’ll be ruminating on them in an upcoming post…

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