Six thoughts on emerging opportunities for journalism

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Attending the Society of Editors* conference on November 10 and 11 meant a trip back to my old stamping ground of Southampton. I spent several years there in the ’90s with the Southern Daily Echo (editor Ian Murray completed his term as SoE president this month) and it was good to go back – not least to see how much the city has prospered since my last visit.

The conference had some excellent sessions  - I particularly enjoyed the Full Steam Ahead panel, the Continuous Development panel on training, and the New Threats to the Media debate, with a special nod to Matthias Spielkamp, of iRights.info for his insightful view of journalists’ needs to protect processes, not just sources. The links above go to the SoE summaries of each debate but the Daily Echo also undertook a commitment of covering the conference live. Respect.

I was invited to take part in a panel on Emerging Opportunities for Journalism with my fellow panellists being Kathryn Geels, of innovation charity Nesta, and Peter Jukes, whose account of crowdfunding to live tweet the hacking trial was fascinating. At the end of the session it did feel a little as though digital journalism was still viewed as the freeloading cousin of the more solvent print product by some, although I don’t think it’s hard to find value in engaging audiences, getting social media right, and concentrating on dwell times and user needs rather than page views.

I have a bit more room to explain my ideas on this blog and, obviously, I work in regional legacy media so my view is slanted towards that segment of the industry. However, everything I talked about at the SoE is already being done by other companies - some are recognisably in the content creation business, others perhaps not so much - and they are making money.  These are emerged opportunities but parts of the mainstream have’t cottoned on to that yet. So, these were the themes I chose to talk about:

1. Data and the roles of journalist/developer: Twenty years ago, I would go on a job with a photographer and between us we would tell the story using our own choice of media, which were blended to enhance reader experience. A posh way of saying, I did words, the toggie did pix, and the end result was a content package that was greater than the sum of its parts.  In Trinity Mirror we have the data unit, where facts, figures and whole paragraphs of exposition are enhanced by developer coding skills to create entirely new pieces of content. Like the WWI search widget, for example. A standalone story, with data and visuals, that through existing brought in new stories as readers explored the data, discovered new things, and shared them. Of course, you can be your own developer, just as you can be your own photographers. I just think that the dynamic will see developers and reporters working closely in mainstream newsrooms in the future, just as we have always done with photographers and sub editors.

2. Mobile/wearables: From my notifications column in Tweetdeck, the most tweeted point I made as a panelist was ‘if it doesn’t work on mobile you need to ask yourself  why you’re doing it at all’. The opportunities for mobile journalism are enormous – commercial developments aside (and there are so, so many) simply being able to deliver your new content into a platform that your target audience’s is already holding in their hand – (and tell them about it through some judicious notifications use) is a little mind-boggling when you stop and consider it. Apps aside, why would any media company have a news website that wasn’t responsive? It’s surprising how many do. In terms of wearables, we’ve only just reached the foothills; I’ve no time for dismissive ‘Glassholes’ chatter – if we aren’t looking at how the potential opportunities offered by these spaces now, when the audience shift happens (and, as with phones and tablets, it will be at a gallop when it does move) we won’t be there as a familiar brand to greet them. So ‘our’ audience will form new alliances with brands that did get there first. Under the innovations banner, we’ve got a Google Glass project running at the Manchester Evening News in conjunction with UCLan’s John Mills and we are already discovering wearables have advantages over handhelds for telling some stories (like the Manchester Live video linked to in point 5).

3. Socially shareable content: Just a glance at a news website’s real time anaytics shows how important the social audience is to driving traffic. The opportunities for mainstream media to create content – images, text, audio – that has a standalone life on social platforms are obvious and although I wouldn’t say this has been cracked  yet I think the native advertising content being created around games and lists is a pointer A bit of a digital air plant; socially shareable standalone content should have a built-in life-support system of editorial and commercial content, and in a social media ecosystem users would interact, consume, and move through on to other points of interest on a website served up through linking and curation.

4. Immersive storytelling: I’ve seen for and against discussions on whether there’s a really life for long form online (here’s a long Twitter debate that’s worth a read). If you ask will people read 400+ words on a mobile device I’d say, on the evidence I’ve observed, you have the wrong question. As ‘how’ people will take in the information and you’re on the right track. Personally I think if they are 400+ worthwhile words, with associated multimedia, engaging graphics, interactive content and clean, easy scrolling, on an engaging subject, then yes, people will. And then there’s the immersive opportunities of long form audio storytelling – as the statistics of TAL’s Serial podcast show, for example.

5. Live and collaborative journalism: This is my favourite point, because it involves drawing people into the journalism you propose, and quite often it becomes a better – and perhaps different – thing because of that. Live invariably means more transparent – the immediate need to convey information to a waiting audience takes out the editing filter, often, and what’s comes across are pure facts or descriptions. It’s exiting and often compelling – readers stay for longer, share more, involve themselves and – particularly in the cases of regional brand liveblogs – living stories become authoritative pieces of work. Collaborative is fun to do because the crowd you work with knows so much.  The Manchester Evening News ran Manchester Live for one day but the learnings it took away have been incorporated into the day-to-day fabric of the newsroom. A real case of seizing an emerging opportunity, seeing the value to an audience, and acting on the feedback.

6.  Audience analytics and reader trends: None of the above points work without knowing the audience, their behaviour and the user trends. If we don’t know what our audience’s habits are, what devices they use, where, when and what information they are going to want, it’s very hard to deliver the right content. And this is a competitive market – we compete for users’ attention against other media, against their preferred music, their work, their loved ones… getting a slice of their attention is hard, and our best hope is to insert ourselves into their day at the points when they’re likely to have time to want information and entertainment. Layer real time analytics with historic data and social information, and you have a matrix to work from. Personalisation and automation of some content/content delivery are more opportunities that spin out of knowing audiences.

So that was the tone of my contribution. I tried hard to avoid jargon but when you’re talking about ‘wearables’, ‘immersive storytelling’ and ‘analytics’ it is kinda hard not to sound buzzword-y. Hopefully the message didn’t get too mangled by it though.

* A bit of disclosure: I’m a (very new) member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Editors

Bonus content: Since taking part in the panel, I’ve managed to catch Amy Webb’s immense 10 Tech Trends for Journalists slideshow, which is essential viewing in my opinion.

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • “omments do not make a community. They can help, but again, it’s about the editorial approach. Community takes a comprehensive social strategy, not just a comment box on the bottom of articles.”

    tags: comments engagement transparency community

  • “Your audience already sends signals about their preferences; you just haven’t listened to them yet. Check out where your existing readers are coming from by looking at your social referral traffic, and determine if that says anything about them or the coverage that they’re finding on your site.

    tags: social media readers

  • ““We have been very careful to follow that maxim that we’d rather be right than first,” said David Duitch, editor of Dallasnews.com, the newspaper’s website. Caution has been a cornerstone of the company’s digital media strategy as it covered the disease in Dallas, according to Duitch and Robert Wilonsky, digital managing editor for The Dallas Morning News. The website editors opted to wait to release news developments on Ebola until they received confirmation from their own sources, even as the paper was experiencing a rapid increase in website traffic and social media followers during what became a big, fast-moving news story in their backyard.

    “We understand the responsibility that comes with the digital side of things,” Wilonsky said. “Because yeah, you can go back and correct it quickly, but man, God forbid you put out one wrong tweet, one wrong fact, one wrong piece of information on a story like this. Because God forbid people stop trusting you, and when you report something really important you don’t want them to taste that grain of salt with it.””

    tags: newspaper journalism ethics accuracy

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting reads (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The how and why of Twitter lurking


It looks like there’s an interesting new paper out on social media use. I can’t be entirely sure because, y’know, academic paywalls, but when I saw this, I had to know a bit more…

The abstract is here, but on the whole it’s less exciting than the tweet: ‘TWEET OR BE SACKED’ is a good headline.

It struck a note with me as I spoke at the WAN IFRA International News Summit this week, about overcoming blockers in newsroom culture change. (My slides are at the end of this post and Julie Posetti‘s overview of the main takeaways is here)

I only touched briefly on the place social media has in changing newsroom culture, but two points seemed to strike a chord with the audience:

1. A strong social media presence for a journalist should be expected, not requested

2. Social media is our judge and jury and we should not only conduct ourselves accordingly, but be prepared for all outcomes.

With regards to point 1, the recent furore about whether NYT executives tweeted or not was valid – they should be tweeting; in my view they need to lead by example. Also if these people don’t have interesting news and views to discuss and share, the Times needs to take another look at its recruitment policy.

Point 2 was made for (hopefully) editorial leaders to take on board, because if you’re in charge of a mainstream media team you have to know what people are saying about you and your title. In fact, you should be a committed Twitter Lurker.

You might not always tweet a lot; there are times when newsroom managers would no doubt quite like to tweet about work-elated events but discretion proves the better part of valour. Nevertheless, even when you’re not active on Twitter, you should be actively consuming Twitter.

Editorial leaders really have be plugged into the conversation at a deep level, knowing what people are saying about them or their brand, and ready to respond or advise on a response, if need be.

My view is, if I heard someone in the pub sharing untrue information about a title I edited, I’d step in and correct them. It’s no different on Twitter – put people straight on inaccuracies, answer questions when they don’t expect an answer – and with a few straightforward tools you can make your brand the omnipotent voice you like to think it is.

It’s not hard to be a good Twitter Lurker, and you don’t need to be especially adept either. So, some things I’d say are useful for editorial leaders…

1. Be an admin: Your brand’s Twitter account is run by people you trust, obviously, and asking to be an admin isn’t undermining what they do. But social is a publishing platform with, ultimately, your name on the deeds if something goes terribly wrong. You should also be able to access the back end – although you may never need to. Know the Twitter login details so you can tweet as your brand if need be.

2. Put your brand’s tweets and @mentions in a Tweetdeck column, so you can see what people are responding to, or a-ing you about. Basic, but it’s very easy to quickly pick up on what story has really clicked with your audience, whether your account is more about broadcast than conversation, or how well it responds to a burgeoning Twitterstorm. A good social media editor can head a spat off with a few polite tweets and a :) It’s an art form.

3. Set up and save Twitter searches around your brand, and your company. Not the @-names but the full text – ‘Nowhere Times’, not @nowwheretimes – and monitor it for conversations where you are being talked about but not talked to. I enjoy a good subtweet as much as the next person, but if you’re a councillor opting to sneakily spread misinformation, you shouldn’t get away with it. (This is the perfect riposte for a snarky mayor, btw)…

  4. Use private Twitter lists. You might not want to follow people who continually talk down you/your brand, but you do want to know what they are saying about it/you. So… set up a private Twitter list (call it something really satisfying too) and add them too it. They will have no idea and you can always keep on top of their misinformation. People who call the Liverpool Echo the Oldham Echo,  tend to get a tweet off me with its Old Hall Street address – anorak-y but hugely satisfying.

5. If someone does want to get into it online, ask yourself a few questions before responding. Are they simply grandstanding? (Generally, they don’t want a response, they want a reaction) What are their follower numbers like? Are they an egg? If they don’t even have an avatar, they aren’t usually that active or followed.   Does their tweet make any sense or are they swearing? (I won’t talk to you on the phone if you swear at me, I’m not making an exception in digital life) Are they agent provocateurs? (if their Twitter stream comprises complaints, whinges and attacks then there’s a good chance they just enjoy annoying people)

There are, of course, lots of options for monitoring conversations - IFTTT.com is one of my favourite online helpers, and a host of new Twitter trackers have recently been created.

My WAN-IFRA slides from the Changing Newsroom Culture session

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • “The research suggests that Facebook is a growing source of local news, with 27 per cent of respondents using it (versus 22 per cent in 2013) and some 11 per cent listed Twitter (versus 9 per cent a year earlier).

    Local newspapers were by far the most trusted local news source in the survey.”

    tags: facebook newspapers research

  • “the vibe was a lot different 10, even 5 years ago — that people had big ideas and dreams about saving big journalism, that they were on the cutting edge of the movement to carry on the legacy of news in a digital world.

    That didn’t exactly happen..and now we’re reduced to tweaking. People are fixated on one thing: What is the secret sauce for making your story go viral. I went to one session called “How Can I Make My Story Go Viral” and another that was called (you’ll never believe this) “You’ll Never Believe How This Story Went Viral.” There was debate over whether you’ll get more re-tweets for your story if the headline is in the form of a question or a statement. There was also speculation at more than one session whether putting the word “congratulations” in a Facebook post bumps it to the top of their news feed “

    tags: journalism research viral

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • Some new PEW research on how people use social media for news, and what that means for news brands.
    ” Facebook is an important source of website referrals for many news outlets, but the users who arrive via Facebook spend far less time and consume far fewer pages than those who arrive directly. The same is true of users arriving by search… visitors who go to a news media website directly spend roughly three times as long as those who wind up there through search or Facebook, and they view roughly five times as many pages per month. This higher level of engagement from direct visitors is evident whether a site’s traffic is driven by search or social sharing and it has big implications for news organizations who are experimenting with digital subscriptions while endeavoring to build a loyal audience.

    tags: social media pew research journalism

  • I saved this ages ago but think I’ve only just gotten around to reading it. Anyway, useful tips as ever from the BBC College of Journalism.

    tags: bbc journalism how to

  • The weight of nostalgia could drag us all down. This article makes excellent points and also hits the nail on the head about conferences where the same issues are repeatedly examined, because people can’t or won’t accept that print is never going to enjoy a resurgence. “People want change, but they want to keep things as they were before. “

    tags: nostalgia publishing WAN-IFRA

  • Sound authentic, get shared more. This is an interesting piece of work, with 8 takeaways to sound more human online

    “To try and discover the magic formula for conveying that you are in fact a human on the internet, I’ve analyzed and tested over 1,500 quizzes that have been created through interact. My general hypothesis is that human sounding quizzes will get shared more, viewed more, and commented on more because people like them better. “

    tags: how to audio

  • I do like this idea, and I think it’s exciting to see a big media group try something out like this but on the whole I think I see more potential for everyday useful information sharing using AR, in the style of Talk About Local, who demo-ed it very effectively at a Digital Editors Network meeting earlier this year.

    tags: VR innovation virtual reality augmented

  • Trendspotting on Pinterest – a really good idea. “Autumn is not yet upon us, but Jill Waage, a top editor at Better Homes and Gardens, has already predicted some of the biggest trends of the coming holidays. Painted pumpkins are about to replace carved pumpkins. Snowman cookies with jiggly eyes will overtake traditional gingerbread men. And decorative ribbons on Christmas presents are going to get much more creative.

    But instead of spotting these trends by consulting colleagues or outside experts, Ms. Waage has tapped Pinterest, the social media site that lets its members pin, or post, images of their favorite foods, hairstyles and clothes.”

    tags: pinterest

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

A short guide to longform

It sounds like one of the speakers to hear this year was Aron Philhofer at #hhldn this week, when he levelled some zingers at mainstream media for complacency about their future.

I wasn’t there, but Richard Kendall very thoughtfully grabbed a lot of the tweets around his talk into a Storify and it makes a fascinating read (which will probably have a lot of digital journalists punching the air in agreement).

One of the interesting things to me was the subsequent discussion around immersive longform, an we at Trinity Mirror have ventured into recently, courtesy of working with Shorthand on some projects.

I love immersive storytelling; it’s important to me that a good tale gets a good telling, but the reading experience has to be a rewarding thing if an audience is going to stick with it.

One of the points Aron Pilhofer made was that the New York Times‘ Snowfall immersive story measured page views, but missed the more important metrics. He’s right: PVs and UUs don’t show the true impact. I wouldn’t say discount them entirely –   collating all the metrics to get a rounded picture is important – but they are only a small element.

Talking on Twitter with Andy Dickinson the next day:

Sparking:

Some of the metrics that matter (imo, anyway) – the completion rate, active reading time, the device used, the recirculation rate, how the story is retaining users…  And then there’s the social side of things: How someone interacts with the content; shares it on Twitter without @-ing the brand or author (ie. tweeting the link with a comment rather than retweeting);  likes, comments or shares it on Facebook, pins on Pinterest or on other social book marking sites. The number of unique users for a piece of storytelling that took several days to complete might be low in comparison to those piling on to read a breaking football transfer story. If you went by PVs you might conclude it the game wasn’t worth the candle.

But PVs and UUs miss the point. It’s abut how invested people are in the piece – the time they spend reading it, the multimedia they engage with, the emotions exhibited the words they use when sharing it, and how often they return to it. This is valuable information to help inform future decisions (and commercial opportunities).

I’ve learned plenty from working with Shorthand; it has driven home  the benefits of collaborating outside the mainstream media. It made me put the needs of the mobile reader above everyone else, and it also helped me think about story structures in a new way.

Every time we make an immersive story now I think we improve on previous efforts, mainly because we endeavour to learn from things that tripped us up along the way. Getting text, multimedia and various 3rd party content tools to play nicely together isn’t always easy, whether you’re thinking of doing it in your own CMS or via another platform.

Shorthand’s Rachel Bartlett spoke to Maria Breslin (Liverpool Echo), Paul Gallagher (MEN) and myself recently about our experiences and I’ll link to her piece once it’s live. My longform learnings are pretty simple:

Storyboard it

When I edited newspapers, in common with quite a few other editors I think, I often sketched out the front page I wanted, complete with blurbs, ads and smiley or frowny stick people (depending on whether the subjects of the p1 photograph were calamity-struck or not) on A3 paper.  It helped me visualise if and how the elements of the front fitted together; the fit of the overall package.

Storyboarding an immersive read is a great way of seeing if you have a flow to the narrative, or whether you’re stacking multimedia unnecessarily, overloading some sections with content, and whether it has a strong ending. The final section needs to be as rewarding a read as the opening one.

Device-check it

Build a draft, see how it looks on mobile, desktop and tablet. Refine the draft, check it across devices again. When we built the LFC ‘We Go Again’ story it had beautiful graphics for each player, created by the TMR Data Unit. On desktop these looked really great; on mobile they were a) too small to read and b) required the reader to scroll until March 2015 to get to the end of the graphics. In the end, graphics for key players were redone and these featured in mobile-friendly format. It’s missing a ‘Suarez’s Biting Stats’ graphic, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Browser-check it

During the build of NC&J Media’s Great North Run ‘One Million Stories’ tribute, oddness was discovered. The story displayed beautifully everywhere except IE10, although every other iteration of IE was acceptable. Some checking showed that IE10 is the tenth most popular browser for their users (Chrome and mobile Safari came top.) Tenth wasn’t enough to be a deal breaker but incorporating some helpful advice about using Chrome or a similar modern browser in the promotional marketing was a smart idea.

Have an analytics plan

Twice the analytics caused problems, once due to a glitch and once simply because we didn’t know what we wanted to track; now it’s fairly obvious what the important statistics are. Social, real-time, engagement and user-data-over-time all need to be considered.

Think like a user

Shorthand advises around 20 sections is optimum for UX; the first draft of the MEN’s Blue Moon Rising was about double this. Then you try to read it as the audience would, and realise you’ve stopped reading and are just scrolling.  Just think how you’d react if you were reading the piece, and then you’ll probably slash it in half. I can’t even be bothered to click through to the second page of a Storify half the time, and I suspect my attention span is pretty typical of most people’s so I try to bear that in mind when thinking about longer reads. As with many things in life, just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

 

 

Talking innovation, blockers and culture change at WAN-IFRA summit

I was amazed and delighted when WAN-IFRA contacted me recently to invite me to speak at the upcoming 13th International Newsroom Summit during World Publishing Expo in October, in Amsterdam.

I said yes  - what an opportunity to hear industry leaders from around the world talk about things I passionately want to learn as much as I can about! – and then I entered into a state of terror at the idea of public speaking at such an event. This terror has not left me yet…

Other speakers include Steve Herrman,  Editor of BBC News Online, Lisa MacLeod, head of operations for ft.com, and John Crowley, digital editor for WSJ.com in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Anyway, ahead of the event WAN-IFRA’s Jessica Sparks asked me for my thoughts, as a regional journalist, on innovation, newsroom blockers and how the industry should continue to adapt and evolve.

Here’s a sample of her (very tough!) questions, and my response;  her article in full is here.

You’re speaking at the upcoming Newsroom Summit on strategies to prevent newsroom cultures blocking change. What’s the biggest barrier you have personally faced working in this space?

Inertia has been a terrible thing for the news industry – for decades nothing changed, and then everything changed, including the amount of revenue flowing into our businesses, and we just weren’t equipped to deal with it on an economic, cultural or and operational basis.

[Online] was regarded at best as a luxury, and at worst as helping hasten the demise of historic news brands. I think the biggest blocker was probably the ‘them and us’ mentality that existed between digital and print teams, because it fostered the idea that the newsroom Nerd Herd ‘did digital’ while everyone else did the heavy lifting. It wasn’t uncommon to find a journalist refusing to file breaking news stories for online because they felt it would damage the newspaper.

We’ve travelled a long way in a relatively short time, but we can never stop striving to do more – otherwise we will simply end up repeating the mistakes we made in the late 20th century all over again.

The theme of the conference centres on: “See how successful editors are syncing their newsrooms to the digital world. Over one and a half days, we will hear how people and processes are being managed to ensure growth in audience, engagement and loyalty”; my contribution will be on the important role of leadership within that changing world.

 

 

 

Innovations and ideas on the agenda for #fearlessDEN

Here’s an exciting thing: The next DEN (Digital Editors Network) meeting is being held at Trinity Mirror Towers, aka One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, aka IN MY ACTUAL HQ.

Having attended many DENs over the year (we even hosted one at the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo) it’s exciting to be inviting the network at Canary Wharf, and pretty timely too as this one is #fearlessDEN – all about being bold with ideas and taking innovative leaps of faith (probably backed by some market research).

DEN is always a great place to meet like-minded people, put names to faces in your social networks, and grow ideas. Obviously the theme of innovation is close to my heart and my job title, and I’m delighted we will get to hear the genesis and progress of some inspirational ideas.

There’s a lot more information on the event here (plus some quotes from me that Francois insisted on having – thanks, Francois!) and the Eventbrite tickets are here.

Hope to see you there!

Interesting reads (weekly)

  • This chapter opens with a description of how users of 4chan set out to exploit, humiliate and expose a girl who – from her willingness to pose with her meds – seems to have some problems with her mental health. It’s a Very Tough thing to read, by the way. It then expands into a discussion with a self-annointed troll, and looks at the history of the phenomenon. It is, in short, a very good read for anyone who deals with online communities.

    tags: trolls OnlineCommunities abuse

  • Crunching the data on what you really see on Facebook.
    “My News Feed showed me only a fraction of my network’s total activity, most of what it showed me was old, and what I was shown was often jarringly unexpected.”

    tags: facebook social+media

  • “News organizations learned about the arrest and harassment of their reporters on Twitter and were able to take steps to get them out of jail. In the meantime, important information continues to flow out of Ferguson. As much as any traditional wire service, Twitter spread the remarkable work of David Carson, a photographer at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch who managed to take pictures despite being pushed around by both the police and the protesters.

    Continue reading the main story
    There is a visceral quality to Twitter that can bring stories to a boiling point. Ron Mott, an NBC correspondent and a social media skeptic, watched Twitter turn up the heat on Wednesday and tweeted, “As powerful as our press have been through years of our democracy, social media raises temp on public officials like never before.””

    tags: ferguson shooting nytimes social+media twitter

  • Handy little gif maker from YouTube videos – let people watch Fenton running after those deer over and over and over and….

    tags: gif youtube how-to

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thoughts on journalism, digital storytelling and the future

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