SEO recruiters look for journalists as Google gets fussier

Online Journalism Blog

content marketing trend Searches for ‘content marketing’ according to Google Trends. Since February the term has been at the peak of its popularity [Tweet this image] In a guest post for OJB, Nick Chowdrey looks at why increasing numbers of SEO agencies are hiring journalists.

As online marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) practices have evolved, journalists have become increasingly sought-after by the agencies that compete to improve their clients’ rankings.

“For a long time there was a very poor practice in online marketing,” says Joe Sharp, Head of SEO at Hearst Magazines. “Generic advertorials were duplicated across multiple sites with strategic links engineered to increase SEO value.

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Some Foreign Looking Yolk

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The Malaysian Prime Minister's office makes Number 10 look like servants' quarters

The Malaysian Prime Minister’s office makes Number 10 look like servants’ quarters

It may sound cheesy, but I feel I’ve come a long way in a year. This time in 2012 I was sitting in an old biscuit factory in Bermondsey, having driven from Maidstone through two and a half hours of solid rush hour traffic, only to be working (“interning”) for two failed magicians from Essex who thought they’d start the world’s shittest magazine.

Needless to say, it wasn’t how I pictured myself at 23 years of age: law degree in hand, trying to breathe some life into a publication that was essentially a spine bound, matte finished, portfolio of toilet paper with Alan Sugar on the front.

Since then I’ve worked as essentially the editor for a much (much!) better magazine; I’ve moved to a new town and met a whole load of new, amazing people; I’ve had video footage I shot shown on the BBC; I’ve managed to learn shorthand to 100 words per minute and I’ve come here, to Malaysia, to shoot this documentary.

Today I was presented with the toughest challenge that I have faced since those fateful days at the biscuit factory.  Today, it seemed like the winding roads of life had led me to this one final test, to prove that I’d turned my life around.

Today, I had to try and eat a soft boiled egg with chopsticks and three different kinds of ladle.

Needless to say, I was at a loss. None of my education – formal or otherwise – had prepared me for this moment.  I first attempted to crack the shell with one of the ladles. To no avail – the sides just weren’t sharp enough. I tried using one of the chopsticks as a sort of cleaver – the egg simply spun away in a mocking pirouette.

Skipping forward, I ended up mushing the top of the egg with my hands and drinking the yolk as if it were some kind of pretentious, Shoreditch cocktail. Needless to say, my actions did not go unnoticed – the young Malaysian boy sitting across the restaurant looked at me with a mixture of trepidation and amusement that hasn’t been seen since the era of the Victorian freak show.

Overwrought anecdotes out of the way, here’s a quick update on the progress of the film. After a nice weekend off it was back to the grindstone for a 7 hour shoot. In the morning I interviewed my friend Sharanya’s mum – Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan – about her infamous political activism, and she gave all the detailed and passionate answers I was looking for.

In the afternoon I travelled south to Putrajaya – a strange kind of planned city/ Islamic theme park which serves as the administrative centre of Malaysia’s government. I filmed the Prime Minister’s house and office, which was basically a palace equipped with a huge, ornate, personal mosque.

I arrived in time for Dhuhr prayers, for which the Prime Minster was escorted by a 30-strong armed guard on the comically short journey down his driveway and round a roundabout to the mosque. Interestingly, no guards accompanied him into the prayer room itself, which conjured an amusingly ironic image of PM Najid performing his salah in a bulletproof box.

All the establishing shots are now on tape (well, hard drive) and with just three more days and two more interviews left to do, I’m hoping at least someone else is around to appreciate the moment I get to legitimately say “that’s a wrap” for the first time.

If you have a solution to the boiled egg conundrum, please send answers on a postcard to Restauran Magic Silver Pot, Taman Tun, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Stranger in a Strange (but friendly) Land

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Old ladies in Malaysia are more hardcore than most kids in England

Old ladies in Malaysia are more hardcore than most kids in England

Tamun Tun, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: around 7:30pm. Sitting on the balcony of a local coffee shop, the stifling humidity of the day time has mercifully subsided. With a ceiling fan whirring silently overhead and a refreshing iced green tea in hand, it’s just about the perfect temperature.

A haze lingers in the air – pollution from crop burning in Sumatra – as I gaze out beyond the hills at the other side of town. Suddenly, lightning flashes across the horizon, followed a few seconds later by a thunderous, rumbling crescendo.

A moment of silence…

Then, as another burst of electricity forks through the air, the call to Maghrib prayers reverberates eerily from the local mosque – the choral accompaniment to nature’s symphony.

The atmosphere is almost surreal, as if this were the opening scene to a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s the sort of feeling that begs for contemplation, calling into question the nature of reality. ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘Where are we going?’ And, most importantly: ‘In the week that I’ve been here, have I eaten my entire body weight in rice?’

Those first three questions continue to escape me… however, the answer to the fourth is almost definitely yes. Those that know me personally will probably have picked up on the fact that I’m no longer eating wheat. Unfortunately, that’s a big part of the Malaysian diet, and the only alternative is rice. Or rice noodles. Or rice crackers. Let’s just say, it’ a good thing I actually like rice (at least, for now.)

Things have kicked off since the last entry. Last weekend saw me covering the Black 505 rally – an 80,000 strong demonstration for electoral reform – and on Monday I attended the opening of the Malaysian houses of parliament, where violence erupted and over 30 people were arrested.

Despite this, what I have noticed most about the Malaysian people is how friendly and helpful they are. As a loan film crew on both days of shooting, there were plenty of times throughout when I could have easily messed up if it wasn’t for the help of those around me.

For example: scrambling up a hill to get a better view of the demonstration, I managed to press the ‘battery release’ button on the camera, sending the £200 battery tumbling down the slope. Anyone could have run off with it as I gawped in horror, stranded, clinging onto a tree. Instead, the man who picked it up came scurrying up the hill and handed it back.

This was not an isolated incident of kindness. Thanks also to the taxi driver who, after welcoming me to Malaysia 20 times, gave me a face mask to protect me from the smog. Thanks to the man at the train station who showed me how to use the ticket machine. Thanks to everyone who shouted at me to stop when I almost walked into quicksand, and thanks to the protester who helped me interview people in Malay.

The kindness continues. Today, I went to see a village of Orang Asli – the indigenous people of Malaysia. I was shown around by one of the villagers, now a freelance graphic designer living elsewhere. All I had to do was ask. He picked me up from my hostel, took me to the village, helped me interview people, then took me back. I bought him a couple of drinks and some food, but I definitely didn’t need to. In other words – what a lad!

The only downside of the trip so far is the haze. It’s preventing me from getting any decent establishing shots, as visibility is very poor. I really hope that it improves by the time I leave. KL is a beautiful city and, at the moment, my enjoyment of it is slightly spoiled.

The mission continues. Watch this space!

 

Jet Set Journalist

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Kuala Lumpur City

Not content with pretending to be a journalist in the UK, I felt like travelling to the other side of the world to see how much more difficult it would be to pretend to be a journalist there. And so, my training has brought me to the beautiful country of Malaysia, and so far it’s turning out to be pretty damn tough.

A bit of background (feel free to skip): For a Master’s degree, usually you have to write a rather hefty dissertation of around 20,000 words. Thankfully, for the journalism course I am studying, you can instead choose to do a multimedia journalism project made up of a piece of print/online/audio/visual journalism, with 7,000 words of write-up.

So for my project, not wanting to take the sensible (boring) route and doing something based in Brighton, I decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur to film a 20 minute documentary on eminent racial issues in Malaysian society. I have with me around £5,000 worth of filming equipment that the University of Sussex has entrusted in me (for some reason), it’s day four of the trip and I still haven’t used any of it. On the plus side, I have already eaten a lot of really nice rice.

What on earth am I doing? That’s the question that kept me up until 7am last night (thanks, jet lag). Well… there are a number of issues that make this job a lot harder than it would be in the UK. Firstly, there’s the heat. It’s currently around 28 degrees, which doesn’t sound too bad, but it’s also about 90% humidity. This makes lugging around the 14kg of kit, which in the UK is a pain, downright hazardous.

Although my half-Indian-ness (thanks dad!) means that I blend in quite a bit better than a full on Gwai Lo (white person) would, it’s pretty obvious that a 20-something-year-old bloke, wearing a Superman t-shirt, staggering around like a sweaty drunkard, trying to eat frozen yoghurt whilst carrying three massive bags, is going to quite easily become a target. I also don’t have my own transportation. So, unlike in the UK where I could just hop in my car with the kit, go wherever I want and film whatever I felt like… here, there’s a whole load of planning that must take place before I even put the battery in the camera.

So what have I been doing for four days? To be fair, I spent the first two travelling and settling in, but since then most of my time has been spent organising and researching. Why didn’t I do this sooner? Well, pretty much since April I have been overloaded with uni work, freelance stuff and working on my online magazine – www.facelessmagazine.com – yada yada… Even so, I do wish that a few of the hours that I spent drinking cider and watching Mad Men/Game of Thrones back in Brighton were instead used to formulate a solid plan.

It’s not all doom and gloom! By pure coincidence (as it was meant to take place last weekend), tomorrow there will be a protest against the government which, it is rumoured, may be the biggest Malaysia has ever seen. I’ll be there, on the front line of news, trying not to get myself (or, more importantly my £3,500 camera) hit by a tear gas canister of water cannon. Then, next week, there’s the state opening of Parliament, which will no doubt make for some interesting footage also.

As for now, I’m about to go and meet my friend Sharanya, whom I know from my previous life as a sketch/improv comedian. I’ll try to pester her to take me into the city to film the Petronas Towers at night, but what’s more likely is we’ll go out, eat more rice, and maybe watch the new Superman film.

Stay tuned! Video blog coming soon (once I have some footage…).

Review: Spring Awakening

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Homosexuality, domestic violence, rape, suicide and abortion. These are the challenging and hard-hitting themes explored in the coming-of-age rock opera, Spring Awakening.

The Sussex Musical Theatre Society (SMuTS) presented their portrayal of this challenging piece with five performances last week at The Old Market Theatre in Hove.

SMuTS was established in 1991 and throughout the years has produced a variety of traditional and contemporary musical theatre pieces; from classics such as Sondheim’s West Side Story, to Little Shop of Horrors and Jonathan Larson’s RENT, which was performed in February 2012 at the Sallis Benney Theatre.

This more modern approach continues with their 2013 production. Adapted from a banned, 19th century German play, Spring Awakening depicts the emotional fallout of a group of teenagers struggling to come to turns with their sexuality.

Director, Jess Duxbury, said: “The music of Spring Awakening works the emotions and thoughts of these violently passionate and angry teens into a far more expressive format than simply words alone.”

This being said, what with the musical’s angsty, pop rock style, there is a real danger of making light of these very serious issues. Was this a problem for SMuTS’ portrayal?

Audience member, Sophie Turton, said: “It was an entertaining show, but I found it really hard to take it seriously at all.”

It’s hard to tell whether this was due to the performance or the writing itself; however, it’s fair to say that a number of things hampered the ability of the cast to do the piece its full justice.

Lead actress, Georgia Ermilios, a Psychology student said: “The biggest challenge was probably getting into the theatre the day before our first performance. Although this tends to be pretty standard procedure, for a few members of the cast this was their first show and it felt a little weird only having one rehearsal in this new, never before used space before having to have the real performances.”

This lack of preparation was most obvious on the opening night in the amount of technical difficulties. The microphone levels were frequently off, if on at all, and the amateur cast struggled to perform with them without causing a horrible distorted rumble. Thankfully, the set and the rest of the production was very well conceived and executed, and most technical difficulties were ironed out by the closing night.

In any case, the talent on stage went a huge way to balancing out these minor imperfections.  Ollie Beckwith, playing second lead male Moritz, stood out particularly; striking the perfect balance with his character between innocence and sexual bewilderment.

Lead actor, Joshua Crisp, said: “Considering only around 100 people auditioned, the talent the cast bring to every rehearsal and to the show itself is nothing short of astounding.”

The band also deserve a special mention. The score was performed with accuracy and emotion; the electric rock sound ripping through the bare rafters of the old theatre. The fact that the band were visible on stage, coupled with the use of microphones, made you feel more like you were at a gig than the theatre – something that many audience members will have found delightfully unexpected, as well as improving the experience for the more skeptical theatregoer.

In terms of the emotional payload, I did see some tears; however, I must confess that I left the theatre far from moved. This could have been because I had seen the musical performed previously.

Ultimately, with the excellent choreography, singing and acting on display, a good time was had by all. An evening very well spent.

Master’s in Cognitive Dissonance

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Like an aquaphobic paedophile at a kids’ swimming pool, the industry of journalism appears to be caught in two terribly conflicting minds.

On the one hand, journalists see themselves as keyboard-wielding Jedis, exposing wrongdoing and protecting society with their extra-special word powers. On the other hand, the whole business is inescapably enslaved by the greedy, pig-headed beast that is the market system… and those in power will happily martyr their morals for the sake of a cheap buck.

This professional confusion has quite inconsiderately applied itself to my career. As mentioned before, my degree is split into two halves: the NCTJ diploma in journalism half and the MA in multimedia journalism half. It turns out that the two are about as compatible as Satan and a salad.

For example: in my NCTJ module, ‘News Research and Writing’ we learn how to dumb down news to the most common denominator and write sensationalist headlines to get people interested. Simultaneously, in my Master’s module, ‘Journalism in Transition’ we learn why both of these things are killing the industry.

Similarly, whilst for the MA we study in depth the ways that modern technology is revolutionising journalism, meanwhile we are forced to study shorthand for the NCTJ – the industry skills equivalent of teaching a modern doctor how to bleed someone with leeches.

Why, you ask? Well, despite the NCTJ course being denounced by academics for being archaic, unfairly marked and just “oh so 20th century”, most media companies won’t look twice at your CV if you don’t have the diploma. The message from the University of Sussex is “lie back and think of England”.

The reaction, as you can imagine from a group of middle-class students, is to throw our iPhone-shaped toys out of the seafront pram that mummy and daddy are paying for. On top of this, the NCTJ – undoubtedly proving their supreme wisdom – are coming for an accreditation in a couple of weeks… in the middle of our exam period.

In the words of a certain faded mainstream band named after two words for the same thing: ‘I predict a riot’. (TAKE THAT, NCTJ! I REFUSE TO BE CLEAR AND CONCISE FOR ANYONE!)

As for me, I’m taking the University’s advice. Despite being spread out in all my glory, in an uncomfortable position, on slightly scratchy sheets, with the heating off and a bitter, decrepit, ex-tabloid hack as my bed fellow… it’s not as bad as everyone’s making it out to be.

In fact, I’m quite enjoying it.

Mike Weatherley MP attacked – my first taste of live action reporting

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Today I had the chance to engage in some real life reporting!

At approximately 13:50 the fire alarm sounded during my Journalism in Transition lecture in the Silverstone Building on the University of Sussex campus. We quietly filed out to the front of the building, where we noticed a riot van had parked outside on the road.

Nothing seemed to be happening, so I went across the courtyard to get a coffee. Suddenly, a huge amount of shouting and banging erupted from the entrance to Silverstone. I looked over and saw a group of 20-30 people swarming the police van as it tried to pull away.

Officers were battering people off the sides of the van. I left my coffee behind and ran outside, taking the above video.

I spoke to two young girls shortly after I stopped filming who told me that they were squatters protesting about the recent criminalisation of squatting in the UK. They had chased Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove – who was due to give a lecture on the subject at the university that day – into the building. Police were called in to rescue him.

Daisy Stevens – one of the young squatters, who can be seen in the above video wearing a red jumper and black scarf – told me that they were angry at the dawn evictions taking place across Brighton. Daisy’s friend, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “we want him to be as frightened as we are.”

Putting into practice my two months of journalistic training, I immediately tweeted on the issue and my video was posted up on The Argus website: http://tinyurl.com/a2tcxss

Apparently, the BBC now has the video and it may be used tonight on South East today. Although I’m not sure how they’ll get round the amount of swearing… Either way, exciting times for the aspiring video journalist that I am!

The experience was incredibly thrilling. The wobble from the video is so bad because my hands were shaking with adrenaline. It reminded of being on stage – so many bits of information were flooding back to me at once and I was ready for anything.

I can only imagine what it must be like, for instance, for journalists embedded in areas of conflict. I’ve always wondered what could possibly attract people to do that job – now I think I understand a little better.

Journalism: A Faceless Industry

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A shit photoshop of me with no face

Last week I said I’d post about the different aspects of my course. Well, something more interesting came up.

If we’ve learnt anything from the digital age it’s that incredible things can come from not much more than a jumble of loose ideas, as long as the right people come together at the right time.

Facebook of course is the prime example. Starting out basically as a crude way for blokes to anonymously compare their female classmate’s boobs, the website has expanded into arguably the most prominent online business venture of all time.

Earlier attempts were perhaps thwarted by a basic lack of users – MySpace, for instance, is about as redundant now as a combi VHS and Tamagotchi. But now that so many more people across the world are online, web-based business is surely the only way forward.

As part of my MA course in multimedia journalism I’ve had the opportunity to attend two extremely interesting talks from two prominent but very different journalists.

On the one hand, Fleet Street Fox of www.fleetstreetfox.com – an experienced tabloid news reporter – dispensed such controversial advice as “you’ll never be a columnist unless you’re willing to give the editor a blow job.”

On the other, Mike Herd – previous editor of The Guardian’s G2 magazine – eloquently discussed the decline of print journalism and gave his opinion on the online future of the newspaper and magazine industry.

Taking both these talks to heart (mainly the distinct reluctance to whet ones whistle with the flobbering todger of some Fleet Steet suit),  a few of my course mates and I decided to start our very own web-based magazine.

The aim is to create (using only the most pretentious e-commerce terms) a hyper-accessible, multiplatform web and app-based publication, featuring a hybrid of easily shareable visual, audio, video and written content.

In layman’s terms, it’s going to be a pretty website with funny and interesting things to watch, listen to and read, that you can show your friends – and an app to do all this on your smartphone and tablet.

This idea is like a radioactive coconut: it’s definitely going to be hard to get in to, but I think it has legs.

Watch this space!

Sensible Brain v Silly Brain

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News writing, media law, shorthand, more news writing, academic discussion on media and power, more shorthand, radio broadcasting, meal out and pub with awesome course mates, massive sleep. Phew, just 51 more weeks of this to go until I’m a ‘master of arts’ and a qualified journalist.

I’ve recently started studying for a combined degree and diploma in multimedia journalism, which not only gets me an MA, but also an industry standard vocational qualification.

In real terms, what this equates to is an absolute poo load of work. Not only am I at uni or the training centre 9-5, four days a week, but I also have to be constantly looking for stories to report on, reporting said stories once found, preparing for weekly academic seminars, practising shorthand, reading all the news all the time and writing this bloody blog.

And we haven’t even got any exams to revise for or coursework set yet! Give it a few weeks and I’m pretty sure my free time will be about as rare and precious as a non-pixelated snap of Princess Kate’s bubba wubba wham whams.

I’m hoping that my prior experience in the working world will have adequately prepared me for the forthcoming period of intense concentration. Let’s just pray that my inherent laziness will be as easily deterred by the prospect of wasting my time and money as it has previously been by the prospect of a massive bollocking from some twat in a suit.

For me, self-determination has always been an epic inner battle. Part of my brain lucidly understands that it’s in my very best interest to knuckle down and work the hardest I can towards a bright and promising future of opportunities.

But then there’s the other part of my brain which tells me to play computer games or search YouTube for videos of midgets super-gluing raisins to a dog… and this part, for some reason, is infinitely more charming and persuasive.

This being said, I’ve been overjoyed with the amount of effort I’ve put into the course so far. It helps that all my lecturers are interesting and engaging, and that the subject matter is both diverse and fascinating. Long may these victories for sensible brain continue!

I’ll have to bring this to a close now, because I’ve just (for some inexplicable reason) eaten most of a pot of custard to myself and now feel, unsurprisingly, a bit queasy. Silly brain was plainly riled by the last paragraph and is now fighting back.

In next week’s entry I’ll be going into more depth about my individual modules.

Bleurgh.

Nick used ‘retreat into education’. It’s super effective.

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The gloriously green Sussex campus at Falmer

Having been out of full time education for over two years and living back home with my parents for the last one, returning to the all too cosy world of university invokes a mixture of emotions.

On the one hand, I seem to have slipped back under the warm duvet of learning as readily as on a hungover Sunday morning. On the other, I can’t help but feel peripherally unnerved by the fact that my LinkedIn profile currently reads ‘no current position’ for the first time since I created it.

I retreated into education, among other reasons, to escape the perversely intimidating world of professionalism which, as I have come to discover, my body seems to actively reject by either gaining weight faster than a pre-season sumo, or by stolidly refusing to make proper toilet.

Even so, although I am relieved to have bought myself another year before being once again forced to board the 9-6 wage slave train, there’s still a little voice in the back of my mind (a bit like Rob Bryden’s ‘man in a box’) quietly wailing ‘GET A JOB! GET A JOB! YOU’RE ALMOST 24! GET A JOB!’

It is, then, at least partially reassuring that my course in MA Multimedia Journalism has an involved vocational component. The University of Sussex provides the degree in cooperation with Brighton Journalist Works (BJW), which is a professional journalism trainee centre based at The Argus – Brighton’s local newspaper. At BJW, we study to achieve our NCTJ qualification – the nationally recognised qualification for professional journalists – which includes such practical modules as shorthand and news writing.

The upshot of this is that we leave the programme not only with an internationally recognised Master’s, but also with more bespoke, vocational skills. This is the only way I could justify returning to education, seeing as my undergraduate degree in law left me not much better off than flat on my arse just outside Exeter in a puddle of tears.

And so, I embark upon university 2.0 with an increased optimism than I’ve learned from my mistakes and have made the correct decision. This blog will hopefully give some idea of what to expect for anyone interested in entering the profession, whilst also being an outlet for the inevitable woes and wonders that are surely destined to befall.

Watch this space.