Tag Archives: social media

The Thief of Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy. A friend of mine used that quote (from Theodore Roosevelt) as part of her response when I asked for her views on ‘Sharenting’ for the article I re-posted last month. I think about that quote a lot. About how so many of the things that filter through into the little reflective moments when you try to work out what’s bothering you, what’s brought this little cloud of darkness to the corner of your brain, what’s made you snappy, shouty, sad… so much of it can be traced back to comparison. The Someone Else who is doing the Something You Care About so much better than you.

My friend’s example was about social media. And that does play a huge part in the mental-fuckery, particularly for a new author. It’s hard not to feel a bit battered by this joy-thief when your profession relies on using these busy, self-congratulatory platforms to market your work because, of course, they are the very same platforms that everyone else is using to make ALL THE NOISE about how much better they are at writing books, selling books, marketing books, harnessing the very beast of social media itself… It’s hard not to feel a little defeated when confronted with a 17-year-old BookTok pro who churns out bestsellers for a hobby, has lovely skin and, you know, might not even end up DOING this for an actual career because perhaps they’ll go to medical school or become a marine biologist… they are but a child after all. Meanwhile here I am deleting yet another draft video post whilst muttering darkly about the point of having a bloody broadcasting degree but being unable to fathom how to use two audio tracks, stitch drafts together and why, why must all the edits get deleted when I go back to the recording page?! I swear, grappling with TikTok makes turning my kid’s eyes digitally green for my book trailer video a damn doddle.

Here I am, looking suitably unhinged (and oddly angry, which I really wasn’t) in the name of BookTok. This particular video about different reader impressions features me quite obviously not knowing how to cut the beginning and end where I press record/stop. I do rather like the automatic airbrushing though.

Comparison can do strange things to you and it can be a sneaky, insidious foe. Coming via a screen is bad enough, but at least it’s obvious – you can click onto social media knowing you’re fairly likely to come across something that’ll make you pang. Photos of someone’s glorious holiday on Instagram, someone else’s adorable baby/puppy spamming up Facebook, notification of a job promotion on LinkedIn, a smug tweet about a brand new dream car, etc… The noise of it all is deafening but you can at least SEE why you’re jealous. But then there are the other times. Times where you’re not guarded or expecting it… and the comparison, that slippery little joy-thief, will shiver under your skin and encroach into the very core of all your deepest-most insecurities. The things you care the most about. For me, I sometimes find myself thinking that other people are automatically better parents than I am because they planned their kids and we (mostly) didn’t. It’s an utterly ridiculous – not to mention illogical – line of thinking because of course ticking certain boxes (married, thirties, own house, stable career) does not make anyone better-qualified at knowing what the fuck what to do with a baby. I know this because I ticked those boxes myself with my second-born and the only thing that made me better at parenting was the fact that I’d done it before.

Unfortunately comparison does not account for irony or, you know, actually making any damn sense because as much as I know all of the above, I will still rock up at school stressed, disheveled and on the brink (and often past it) of being late, and I see so-and-so’s mum on her way out looking so nice and put-together and in it creeps, that strange, irrational insistence that because she did things the right way however many years ago, that’s why she’s got her shit together in the morning. Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s an illogical cow and really, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with so-and-so’s mum or some adolescent prettily flogging their books on TikTok. So what can you do about it? Whatever you bloody can. I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier and get the kids dressed before breakfast instead of after (we are still late but not quite so regularly). I try not to listen to the noise of social media and view it more as a business tool. I take the deepest, darkest feelings of parental insecurity and I write fiction about a mother who secretly believes she should never have become a parent in the first place.

And I try to remember that there will always be someone else out there doing The Thing I Really Care About better than I am. But that there is still enough joy for us both.


To Share or Not to Share

*As recently featured by marie claire*

Do our kids deserve anonymity online until they’re old enough to decide for themselves?

Being a parent has always involved a minefield of choices, and the digital age has only raised the stakes. We are faced with decisions our own parents wouldn’t even have fathomed back in the days of screechy dial-up modems and not-so-Instant Messenger. From the moment you find out you’re expecting a child, the pressure is on to decide what kind of parent you’re going to be. There are the questions which divided our NCT group back in the summer of 2013: will you breastfeed or use formula? Will you use a dummy? And there are the questions which divide the expectant masses of today: have you announced your pregnancy on Instagram? How much of an online presence will your child have? Will you sharent?

When I wrote my novel The Girl with the Green Eyes three years ago, I found the inclusion of social media a useful plot device leading to the main character Bella and her daughter Ariana going on the run. It was only too easy to imagine how difficult monitoring a curious preteen and keeping her off the social media running rampant through the demographic back in 2018 might be. And now… with the rise of TikTok and the increase of family-centric content on YouTube complete with snappy, click-bait titles and cutesy thumbnails… now it would be even harder. There’s a huge, ongoing debate rumbling through the internet: how much privacy should our children be entitled to? Should they be banned from appearing on social media completely until a certain age? For Bella, it’s not so much about protecting her daughter’s privacy as it is concealing her entire identity. For others, of course, things are far less clear-cut, though palpable from all those I spoke to who do sharent was a sense of guilt. And if we’re feeling guilty about it, can it be entirely right?

I have been a parent – and, to an extent, a sharent – for eight years now. I never set out to be a mum blogger and still consider it a hobby more than anything. I was fairly young when I had my eldest and what started out as a dazed, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-now flurry of posts has, I hope, evolved into a parenting journey containing nuggets of experience-based advice which may be helpful to others. That is why, when I had a big wobble over whether I was over-sharing and almost deleted the whole thing a few years ago, I decided to keep it going, albeit with identifying details abridged. And I believe that this kind of sharenting can help others, particularly when you chronicle things in an honest way.

‘When I had twins I started a blog on Facebook,’ explains mum-of-three Natalie. ‘I used it as a coping mechanism as it was a very hard time. I felt socially isolated on maternity leave and having an outlet helped me. I also hate the “perfect mums” on social media as there is so much pressure on parents anyway, when we see those posts it can affect us really negatively. When I shared, I’d try to really show the reality of life with twins and this seemed to go down well, with a lot of people thanking me.’

Is it always helpful, though? I spoke to another mum, Emily, who came off all social media before having her first child. ‘I just don’t see it as positive for anyone,’ she says, ‘let alone those already facing challenges in life. Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy”, and I believe that really applies here… My daughter is not a pet or a new pair of shoes. She’s a human being. I respect her and wouldn’t feel comfortable using her to impress distant acquaintances or strangers. Either through a straight up “nice show-off photo” or through an ironic or self-deprecatingly comic one. She’s not old enough to agree to be used in this way. And as a shy child who dislikes being the centre of attention, I can guarantee if she was old enough she’d be against the idea.’

Dad-of-two Mark also has concerns over the issue of consent when it comes to sharenting, and says he has become a lot stricter with the amount he shares of his children since his second was born. ‘Once things are online, it’s very difficult to fully remove them. How might [my son] feel when he’s older and wants to present himself in a certain way, but he’s partially defined by loads of pictures of videos of him as a five-year-old? It doesn’t seem fair. That said, I do understand the compulsion to share pictures of your children online. You love your kids and want to share that with the world. [My son] sometimes says or does things that I’d love to share, but I always stop and think about how he might feel about it in future before I do.’

For some, the choice to sharent is tied to obligation. ‘A lot of [what I share] is so my in-laws can see what [their granddaughter] is up to as they don’t use messaging like WhatsApp, etc, and we haven’t seen them since August 2020,’ says mum-of-one Hayley. ‘During the various lockdowns I definitely started to share more. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about sharing because I don’t want to be seen as one of “those” mums who shares too much and feel like I have to qualify it by saying, “it’s so my in-laws can see!”’

That sense of guilt, of needing to justify our sharenting, is not a novel one. Mum-of-two Georgina, who frequently shares on Facebook and Instagram, admits, ‘I do worry sometimes about what I share, whether it’s too much. But I don’t have a huge number of followers/friends on social media and those I do have are all people I know or have met. My accounts are private for a reason.’

But what of those whose accounts are anything but private? What of the countless family-centric accounts depicting seemingly-ordinary families doing seemingly-ordinary things, just broadcast to thousands, sometimes millions. There are toddlers out there with followings I, as a fledgling author, can only dream about. One clear benefit is that they’re already set up with the foundations of a following, should they decide on a public-facing career in future. On the other hand, of course, they may find the whole thing mortifying in a year or ten and, consideringly nothing on the internet can be permanently deleted, who are they going to blame for putting them in such a position? I suppose it comes back to the question: are your sharenting choices setting your kids up for the future, whether that’s as simple as a relationship with family who wouldn’t see so much of them otherwise, or as complicated as a career which includes a ready-made audience, or are you just setting them up? I suppose the best we can hope for is that our kids see it as the former.

The Girl with the Green Eyes, part one of Take Her Back trilogy, is available now in all good bookshops or on Amazon: http://getbook.at/GirlWithTheGreenEyes.

Want to hear more? Follow me on Twitter @jm_briscoe or like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JMBriscoeWriter


South Devon: The Hyperlocal Blackspot?

Or so it would seem… Following this week’s lecture on the rise of hyperlocal blogging as a low-cost, far-reaching mode of online journalism, I did a search for South Devon hyperlocal blogs on Google.

Most of the maps detailing the whereabouts of hyperlocal sites show a significant blank spot around the South Hams area of Devon, where I used to work as a local reporter. Even Northcliffe, the producers of the bigger local and regional newspapers in the area, with their 23 local sites launched last year, had a significant gap in their site map.

Here is the South Hams:


Clearly plenty happens here, and I’m not just saying that as a former reporter for the area.  Local papers have crumbled elsewhere while South Hams Newspapers is still going strong… So why has the 21st century still not quite reached the area in terms of futuristic journalism?

Maybe it’s because the average reader profile of the local paper does not match the profile of a person who would look for their news on a hyperlocal website.  Maybe it’s because not enough people in the area are ‘media-savvy’ enough to know what hyperlocal journalism could offer… 

The appetite for local news has not changed.  What has changed is the nationwide appetite for local newspapers.  Surely this means, then, that it is just a matter of time before places like the South Hams, or from the looks of things, the majority of Ireland, begin to spring hyperlocal sites.  A huge benefit is that it brings the whole community together into one place, from which they can spray off into whatever they care about the most.  As I’ve said previously on this blog, a huge part of local journalism is feedback from your consumer – hyperlocal sites have the potential to merge consumer with journalist, community with stories, reading with commentary.  It raises the bar without reducing the emphasis on the beauty of local news’ relevance to the average person.

As for the South Hams… Well, no doubt we’ll get there in the end.


The Community

How do you measure the success of a piece of online journalism?  By hits?  What’s the point of that if people aren’t reading the article?  By comments?  Not according to Nick Robinson.   By the amount of people willing to pay for the content?  Well, that’s a work in progress. 

According to Joanna Geary, communitites and web development editor for The Times, it is the collaborative stories which rock the boat.  The ones that people come together to rant/rave/dissect… The ones that everyone has read.  So what stops journalists posting sensationalist stories just to generate more hits?  Who is to say that Andrew Marr didn’t make his comment about pimpled bloggers just to generate attention? 

I came across this anti-twitter article by Janet Street Porter on the Mail Online site this week, in which she claims the social media site ‘confuses activity with content.’  From the perspective that Twitter rates trends and tweets by hits, I see what she means.  But as Joanna Geary pointed out during her guest lecture at CJS, one of the best ways to generate traffic and comments is an anti-blogging/twitter article.  So, you could argue that Ms Street-Porter is, whether intentionally or not, practising the very traffic-generating tools she condemns.    After all, the article has generated more than double the number of comments than her last despite being in the public domain for half the time.


Blogging: A Journalist’s own Personal Newsroom

A journalist’s blog, whether it be about politics, technology or the best of the web, provides a unique platform for their craft beyond the power of TV, radio and newspapers.

This was just one of the points made by BBC Technology Correspondent and blogger extraordinaire Rory Cellan-Jones at CJS this afternoon.  He was very upfront about the fact that TV reporting is generally considered by most as a ‘higher’ form of journalism than online journalism.  But he also made the refreshing point that having total control of one’s platform reconnects the journalist with the fundamentals of the trade. 

ie:

Yesterday a colleague and I were sent onto the streets of Cardiff with an audio device, handheld video recorder and our smartphones to source a story.  We interviewed a sound tech guy helping to set up the city’s Christmas Lights Switch-on event and a UWIC student dressed as a time machine.

I found that rather than focussing on good questions to elicit interesting responses, I was fiddling about trying to get the audio device near enough to the interviewees’ mouths while desperately trying not to decapitate them from shot.  I think this really proves Mr Cellan-Jones’ point.  Given the broadcasting platform of the interviews, I was more concerned with the mechanics of recording material rather than content. 

He also pointed out the difficulty of getting a piece of journalism on air at all, citing his Spinvox story as an example.  Without blogging, and the audience he has built up online, this would never have been publicised because the content is so specialist.  Yet it was a huge story with massive repercussions for the technology community.

Mr Cellan-Jones conceded that TV journalism will for the moment always reach more people than a blog post.  (Particularly the BBC’s News at 10 and The Today Programme)  TV is showing journalists what the audience rates in news stories – audio and videos which are exclusive and which are complimentary to the story. 

Can blogging emulate this?  If journalists continue to build their online reputation, draw in more followers and ultimately begin to receive the crucial images/videos sent in by members of the public… Why the hell not?

Ending this post with a link to a video about Citizen Journalism vs Traditional Journalism which I came across when researching for this post.  It’s a little out of date now and a bit long but I think some of its points are still relevant.  Plus, I realised about 10 seconds into my first viewing of it that one of its creators is a guy I met in Australia a couple of months ago… Small world…


Social Media: Power to the Pimpled

Whether he was serious or not, Andrew Marr’s scathing description of citizen journalism certainly threw an interesting shade on the subject-of-the-week at Cardiff Journalism School. 

After the fast-paced discussion of the role of Social Media by Claire Wardle of the BBC’s College of Journalism, something which stuck with me was her reference to Jay Rosen’s article about The People Formerly known as the Audience and their changing role from reactors to interactors.  It got me wondering, if readers are to users as magazines are to tablets, what are journalists to? 

When I wored at my local paper, my editor used to quote Mark Twain, saying that the mark of a good news story was one which someone, somewhere did not want published.  As an inexperienced local reporter, I came across many such people of a publication-day morning. 

Once, when I had been in the job a matter of weeks, I wrote a very small article saying there had been rumours that the local Post Office was going to close.  I had been unable to get confirmation from the press office or representatives at the local branch, but my editor said that rumours themselves were justifiable news, so we went with that.  Come Friday morning, I received a visit from the local postmistress who explained in no uncertain terms just how mistaken we had been, and that I was a disgrace to journalism in general and the elderly Post Office users in particular.  I think she would have given me a journalism-ASBO if she could. 

Needless to say, we printed a clarification/apology the following week, I realised that being the local reporter meant taking verbal punches with the glory no matter who was ultimately responsible, and began to walk the extra mile whenever I needed to post a parcel. 

So is it terrifying to face the prospect that the people ‘formerly known as the audience’ will soon be brought that significant step closer to the journalists themselves?  No.  Not really.  Because another point I picked up from Claire’s words, as well as those of the many respected journalists who spoke at Friday’s Tomorrow’s Journalism Conference, was that quality journalism stood to be enhanced by the future, not damaged. 

I agree with this.  I think that there is a level of security facilitated by distance from the consumer which the weekly newspaper journalist/ columnist/ TV and radio reporter has when delivering a story in a controversial way.  Users who can comment directly and immediately on journalism provide a challenge to the journalist to step up their game.  There is no room for error or complacency anymore, the bar has been raised, and that is why it is so exciting to be training right now.  Because in some ways we are training to be multi-tasking journalists of the juggling-small-children-while-riding-a-camel-on-roller-skates calibre.  

Having said that, try not to aggravate the local postal workers.  The buzz is no match for the looming realisation that you’ve run out of stamps.


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