Living online but learning offline

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Vibrant living: Jamillah Knowles, the BBC journalist, who delivered a lecture at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore.
Vibrant living: Jamillah Knowles, the BBC journalist, who delivered a lecture at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore.

Deepa Kurup

‘Journalists should join in the conversation rather that be spoonfed’

She is here

to understand

‘IT city’ better

‘Nothing beats a good broadsheet spread’

BANGALORE: A typical day for this young radio and online journalist involves trawling through blogs and User Generated Content (UGC) sent in by contributors to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

On a regular snowy day for example, this means looking for that one unusual snow-related picture or experience out of the 60,000-odd contributions that land in.

Jamillah Knowles says what makes it worth all the effort is finding that ‘choice pick’ of pictures or voices that manage to “tell the story much better than a parachute reporter ever can”.

Ms. Knowles confesses that she pretty much lives online, as goes the cliche, and is still learning about how online social networks can play a role in creative news making. Working with the User Generated Content Hub at the BBC, her job is to get a voice or perspective (in multimedia form) about any news-worthy event from the best possible source: the user who is in the thick of things.

Visiting the city to record the smaller stories that lie behind the “IT city” facade, Ms. Knowles takes time out to deliver a lecture on “User Generated Content, citizen journalism and news” at the Centre for Internet and Society. “It’s taken us (traditional journalists) a long time to understand that we should join in the conversation — wherever is happening — rather than expect people to come to us,” she points out.

This includes blogs, social networking sites, social media aggregators and just about any online forum where people are likely to have their hang out, voice their opinions and interact.

During the G20 summit in London this year, cyberspace was abuzz with people making plans to participate in protest rallies across the city. “So we phoned them ahead and asked if they’d mind if we put up their experience there. This even made them think about what they wanted to say, and the package we had was truly evocative,” Ms. Knowles explains. This kind of content, she believes, provides depth, vibrancy and relevance, which is much more than what a “parachute reporter” (who lands in on the scene) can offer. However, she adds that recent statistics show that despite Internet proliferation, over 78 per cent adults do not contribute to news media.

Online threat

Much has been written in recent years about how Web 2.0 poses a threat to traditional news sources. Ms. Knowles, however, maintains that although trends will change, news organisations are not directly threatened by dynamic social media platforms. “My twitter, for example, may deal with technology, global affairs and maybe kittens – it’s still granulated. News may not be built to suit us, but when it comes to looking for larger headlines and perspectives, you turn to traditional and trustworthy news sources.”

As much as she loves blogs and social media, Ms. Knowles insists that nothing beats a “well-written, evocative feature spread across the broadsheet”. “It just takes you to a different plane, and we’re yet to bring that experience to the Web. So, although I love the ‘look and feel’ of newsprint, when it comes to involving a large section the digital media is excellent.”




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