Interesting reads (weekly)

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“That time Bohemian Rhapsody crashed the comments on Facebook…”

This story, about Alan Barnes deciding to make a new life away from the city, was posted on the Newcastle Chronicle’s Facebook page an hour ago:

Newcastle Chronicle2

//

“I have had a calling from God to go to the Shetland Islands.”

Posted by Newcastle Chronicle on Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The first reader comment was this…

Newcastle Chronicle1

…and here is a typical selection of the ’40 replies’  alluded to below that comment…

Newcastle Chronicle

Yup, the lyrics of Bohemien Rhapsody were posted, line by line, by different commenters.  Never let it be said Facebook comments on news sites are all either “slow news day” moans about lazy journalism, or sinks of hatred and bile.

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#formatDEN: Audiences, realities and goats in hats

 

Goat. In. A. Hat.

Recurring themes in journalism conferences I’ve been following (and sometimes attended) this year are:

  • Try innovating, not imitating (aka don’t be Buzzfeed-lite)
  • Everyone is a reporter, so be a curator and editor
  • Don’t be scared of failing
  • Get developers coding in the newsroom

At FormatDEN this week, these were raised but so were some others…

TELL IT LIKE IT IS
This was a takeaway from Trushar Barot, Mobile Editor (editorial/product/partnerships) with the BBC. I really enjoy listening to Trushar, he’s incredibly smart, very business-minded and asks tough questions (I sat on an innovation judging panel with him once and he cut straight to the woolly bits of the business case)
His talk on messenger apps and BBC approaches was excellent and I especially liked his thoughts around the real practicalities of using WhatsApp for UGC sourcing.

His view on culture change is to find people who are passionate and excited by change, and put them in charge of digital projects, rather than having the digital experts leading on them.
His view was that showing someone a shiny that would make their job easier, wider adoption of would follow.
But he is also an exponent of treating people as adults, telling them realities and drawing their attention to what is happening in the wider world – to the successes of other competitors, to the successes of their counterparts with said competitor, and by pointing out how skills are changing, and to be relevant and required in a business, individuals have to change too. “And that works as well,” he finished.

Trushar shared a Google Doc of relevant BBC links too. They’re here.

Two other takeaways from this talk, for me:
Working on messaging apps is a way of grasping what content could work on these platforms. It also is an indicator how we engage an audience in what will be, I think, the next disruptive stage in the news industry. We’re going to have to shift from ‘open social’ distribution method to a ‘one-to-many’ distribution approach. We will be less visible, but perhaps the content will have greater value, and impact.
The other thought I had: Is it a good investment of time to work lots on apps if people are – within a few years – going to have moved beyond them and into opt-in receivers rather than seekers of information? The answer is yes, I guess; what else are we going to do?

WHAT ARE YOUR VALUE METRICS?

Juan Senor, a journalism consultant, visiting Oxford Fellow and academic, said page views weren’t the metric to trust (side point: Our metrics-that-matter at Trinity Mirror shifted to dwell time. pages per user and completion rates a while ago) but also had a suck-the-air-out-of-the-room moment when he said social metrics didn’t count either.
“Good journalism will always be shareable” he said, saying there was a need to move from the “anarchy of the mob and the idiocy of the mob”.
“If what we are selling is good journalism we need to think about what we do when we dumb down the content. We should look at the Huffington Post (he was alluding to the fact that the HuffPo has had some bad press recently) and unless Mashable and Buzzfeed look to that example they will go the same way.
“The money is coming in but the metrics they want are time spent, and video completion – not Likes, and RTs. Advertising departments want people to spend quality time with their client’s messages – not shares and page views”.

I should say that a lot of DEN is Chatham House rules, but given that Juan was probably the presenter who had the most soundbites tweeted while I was there, and is a consultant whose views are widely aired, I don’t think he will mind me quoting him directly.

MILLENNIALS AND THOSE WHO THINK LIKE THEM

Blathnaid Healy, the UK Editor of Mashable, said the company was obsessed with audiences and used its early adopter chops to try new platforms, because that’s what the audience expected, and where it would follow (or lead, I suppose. So the more early Mashable is, the more audience comes with them).
Something I really liked about her talk – and there were many highlights – was the phrase ‘Millennials and Those Who Think Like Them’ – I get a bit tired of hearing about Millennials doing this, that and the other. I know people who patently aren’t millennials by their birth certificates, but who romp across the digital media landscape like toddlers, grasping bits of it and cooing with delight.
They live and breathe media in its current form, and there are plenty of them.
My other takeaways from Blathnaid were that explainer video can be nearly five minutes long, and users will stick with it, if it’s good it and informs them of things in entertaining ways.
She also got me thinking about longform formats and how we can experiment by using people’s own stories in their own words. And she had the quote of the day:

“Journalism can be shareable as much as a goat in a hat can be shareable”.

Words to live by.
Unfortunately I had to leave DEN before the end, but it’s worth looking back over the hashtag for comments and links. One of the other big impacts on me was Ed Miller’s immersive news documentary on Hong Kong unrest (shot on Go-Pros, highlighted in his talk on VR for journalism) because it’s an area we’ve done some work in and the results – i.e. the audience engagement – are really telling.

People love interactive multimedia, especially photos they can explore, and we need to make it more of a part of our portfolio, rather than a special event.

So, thanks to the Wall Street Journal, John Crowley, Francois Nel and Nick Turner for a great event.

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Interesting reads (weekly)

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The end of ‘behind closed doors’ journalism

There are times in a journalist’s career when you are going to have to approach someone who is not having the finest moment of their life, and ask them to help you. It might be calling on a grieving family, or approaching witnesses to an accident, or asking someone who has just emerged the loser in a tussle with Justice to talk about How They Feel. The outcomes are sometimes unedifying, occasionally unpleasant but – more often than the non-journalist might credit – can also be mutually successful and beneficial. These interactions were also largely unwitnessed, except by those participating. They happened behind closed doors, or, more accurately, on doorsteps – whether you got inside said door or not hinged, no pun intended, on how you conducted yourself, and represented your intentions. I called it the Black Edged Voice and it would be employed for death knocks (low, respectful tone, apologetic demeanour for intruding, much stressing of the fact that I would leave  if the door-answerer wished, and would not return) and I was more often than not invited in. I would interview the person or family; I would do my utmost to do justice to their dear one with a tribute. My goal was to give them a cutting that they would come to regard as a mini-memorial. Every newsroom had reporters who were ‘good on the knock’ – I suspect it comes down to empathy… and luck. Things started to change in… I’m going to go out on a limb and say 2008, because that was when the first pebbles of social media sliding down a slope became a rumbling avalanche. In 2009 this happened, which gave me a personal insight into how my old-school ‘contacts’  had become my (much-wider) network and a plane crashed in the Hudson and (most) mainstream media suddenly got what was going on. Now, when a news break happens, you can bank on Twitter being at the heart of it in some way, and often that’s because it’s where the witnesses are. If I’m passing a huge traffic snarl-up on the M6 my instinct is to photograph or video it and post it on Twitter with a hashtag (from the passenger seat, officer, of course) – my natural instinct is to share. And it’s a common mindset; whether you’re wondering what the noises overhead are, or seeing the Clutha tragedy unfold sharing the experience on networks is now a common thing. But as a witness, or someone who acknowledges a connection to someone caught up in a newsworthy event, when you share that on Twitter you invite reaction, and a side effect of that is that the massed ranks of media are likely going to be in your @ mentions within minutes, asking for a) your content or b) an interview or c) probably both. For a journalist, it means these interactions are happening in the world; they aren’t behind closed doors or in a one-to-one exchange on a doorstep – you’re asking your questions on Twitter and onlookers may well view them as intrusive. It’s not necessarily pretty but that’s beside the point – asking the questions, respectfully, within the Editors’ Code of Conduct, and knowing that varieties of “NO” may be the comeback are part of the job. There are two problems: Dozens of other media may well be @-ing the same “can we [use your photo, speak to you, ask you to put us i touch with X]?”; others witnessing the Twitter scrum get outraged (sometimes with good reason) and start throwing abuse back. This will usually include references to vultures, lazy journalism, disgrace etc etc. This week’s Smiler crash saw a spate of no-closed-doors journalism approaches. Mercifully no one died, although the terrible injuries (I would imagine mental as well as physical) suffered by those caught up in it meant it was an incredibly sensitive story to stage a “can we have…” media grabfest on Twitter. This is pretty typical of what went on:

and this

Followed by

There are scores of these exchanges – I imagine her mentions column was in meltdown. She obviously was sanguine about the journalists who approached her (although if you read the full exchanges, it shifts from journalists asking for interviews to some fairly nasty tweets from non-media, taking her to task for the original tweet). But there are also variations on a theme of this

And it wasn’t unique – other people tweeting photos were getting similar requests, and similar views were being expressed

Is it fair? No. Do they have a point? Yes. Am I contradicting myself? Sorry but I don’t care. Publicly requesting content like this is a legitimate part of the journalist’s job, while taking photos without asking is obviously not; and yes, it can look shoddy to the wider world. That’s ok – most of us don’t come into this job to win an award for our high-minded purpose and nobility, we come into it to tell stories and let people know things they otherwise wouldn’t. If someone wants to tell a journalist their story because said hack asked the right questions, politely, mindfully and within the Code of Conduct, that’s a valid exchange. When it fails is when the question is posed in a crass way, or we barge into exchanges between friends, because we had a Tweetdeck search running. The above tweeter posted her content and opinion to broadcast it – she was happy for journalists to amplify the message. But an enormous amount of Twitter users don’t understand the network, or think that when they @ a friend, it’s not public. Leaping into what they think is a private exchange is a bit like opening the front door and walking in the room to ask if you can interview the grieving family, without knocking.  Just observe for a few moments and follow the conversation – you’ll soon work out whether it’s something you can step into (or another journalist will jump first, and you can take a cue from the reaction). Being first isn’t a great thing when all you’ve achieved is a mentions column of abuse, and retweets with added angry comments. It damages you, the brand you work for, and the wider journalism community. When you’re using Twitter to find witnesses, treat it like a door knock. Sometimes, in real life, the journalism pack gets there first and you can ask them what reception they’ve got so far. On Twitter, a couple of minutes of observing conversations, or watching others rush in to the breach, can be very valuable. Knock at the metaphorical door if you think it’s appropriate, and be prepared to have it shut in your face – or to have someone else tell you to clear out. But if you aren’t respectful, or you don’t conduct yourself in a way that reflects well on you and the title you represent (quick sense check: How would you react if you were the person you’re about to approach?) you can expect to get flung off the metaphorical doorstep and land in a heap.

Update: Here’s a link to Robin Hamman’s post on the VirginiaTech shooting – it’s not a new phenomenon.

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Interesting reads (weekly)

  • “During this year’s general and local elections a collection of my Birmingham City University students used WhatsApp to publish regular updates throughout the two days of voting. Frankly… they nailed it. In the process they learned a lot, so I thought I’d share some of the things that came up throughout the process – as well as the experiences of the person responsible for the Mirror‘s political WhatsApp account in the week leading up to the election.

    tags: whatsapp

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CMS? It’s SEP

I was talking recently with a scarily smart colleague recently about what content/tech/social/CMS might look like in 2018, and I realised I was getting stuck around trying to jam new ideas of onto existing platforms.

Way back when, in the heyday of print, everyone owned a printing press and managed their own platforms and distribution.
In the 90’s I joined one regional newspaper company (now best known for its subbing hubs) it had invested £60m in a new press, and I was given a tour of the facility after my interview by the managing director*.
Today, so many services are bought in and there’s no thought of not dealing with a competitor on a commercial basis.
Presses are hired (when I was editor of the Daily Post, we used to groan when we had to wait for the press to finish the Daily Mail at the Oldham plant), distribution transport for newspaper bundles are contracted out… the business end of getting the Legacy Product to market is pretty well established as buy-what-you-need.
Digital, though, is another matter. Everyone probably has their own purpose-built CMS, adapted to their own unique needs (albeit needs may well be outstripped by technology or audience/customer demands within months of the build starting).
Meanwhile, WordPress, Blogger, Typepad and other have been around as publishing platforms in their own right for years.
And more recently, we’ve seen the shift of Facebook, Medium and – just this week – Shorthand Social) to become publishing-within-a-platform for users. Plus the media/Facebook partnerships with Instant Articles is in its infancy
So is the next step to shift, as Facebook would like, away from our own platforms and onto other, hired, ones. Just like you lease a car for three years, what if you could lease a CMS?
And then, after a pre-agreed time period, you’d update to a new, shiny system that was build to robustly met the needs of user, audience, device, analytics tools de jour and a plethora of other requirements.
Suppose Facebook, Medium, Google or Twitter moved into this space – renting Rolls Royce operating systems to content creators, on revenue share deals?
It’s not a huge leap from where we are now, with Instant Articles. I’m not suggesting the news media world ready to shift from buying to renting, when it comes to housing its content, but it does make me think that when we plan the future, it’s worth factoring in ideas that maybe the delivery system could become, to borrow from the Hitchhiker’s Guide, an SEP – Somebody Else’s Problem.
* Imagine an MD having time to talk to a prospective new senior reporter nowadays, let alone give them a guided tour…
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Interesting reads (weekly)

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Facebook and cookies n milk journalism

cookies Here’s a paragraph from an article on Digiday earlier today:

On the PopSugar Moms Facebook page, PopSugar’s most popular page with nearly a million likes, most videos surpass 100,000 views. A few have cracked a million views.This video about milk-and-cookie shot glasses went viral, racking up more than 9.8 million views since its Feb. 25 post date.

You can read the full article here if you want but the essential takeaway is this: Cookies in the shape of shotglasses drove obscenely large amounts of traffic to a site that harnessed the power of Facebook native video.

That’s fair enough but, having listened to Andy Mitchell, director of news partnerships, Facebook, speak at the International Journalism Festival recently about how user choice and engagement would be one of the key drivers for ‘surfacing’ content on Facebook, I do wonder this: As most journalism – particularly regional news – has literally nothing to do with cutesy shotglass cookies and milk, are those stories going to sink without trace?

Mitchell spoke about Facebook’s future at the IJF (the video of his talk is at the end of this post) and it’s clear that video and native publishing is where he and Facebook see that future pointing (Buzzfeed and the New York Times are among those publishers who are in the first tranche of working with Facebook on this) and that Facebook’s algorithm was key to content flourishing in the Facebook ecosystem.

He’s obviously used to giving keynotes and was initially unruffled when the less-than-enthused audience questions started up. But he did start to get exasperated when various hacks started quizzing him about responsibility, integrity and censorship. George Brock has written a great post on his thoughts (and he was one of the questioners, too). My notes from the session at this point say “AM said a lot of words, none of which answered the question” – and I see George Brock came to the same conclusion in his post too.

So Facebook thinks it is a perfect platform, particularly with regards to mobile, for news brands but there are a few things that I wonder about:

1. If your audience growth strategy is tied to commercialising on your platforms, how quickly can a regional news publisher adapt (again) to make content commercially viable on Facebook? I believe in the idea of social media news, with its own commercial life support system untied to a platform, but I don’t see anyone pointing the way in how to crack that yet. And Facebook is not going to  trip over itself to help publishers find a solution when it is competing in that very same space.

2. PopSugar’s cookies-n-milk video numbers are phenomenal. Not sure a crime scene in Leicester is going to be the same kind of draw, even proportionally. Lifestyle content – and the Lad Bible, of course – can be numbers monsters; regional brands who try to emulate that have to constantly reinvent how they are packaged, pitched and presented or the inevitable “slow news day” comments pile in. They risk damaging the brand’s reputation. Even apparently popular regulars, like property porn articles, start drawing criticism from jaded Facebookers after a very short time.

3. Cookies-n-milk stories aren’t journalism but they are informative, fun, sharable and popular so, if getting on people’s news feed is the goal, is Facebook – that monster mainstream sites rely on so much – descending into a Reddit/VideoJug repository of trivia and how-to-decorate cupcakes or how-to hairstyle time-lapse videos, with an occasional cryptic status update from an old school friend? Is the only way to buck the algorithm is to play by Facebook’s rules and post native video or text? That’s not so much a strategy as a distress tactic.

4. Facebook says it wants to help publishers – specifically news brands with their “slow mobile experience” get their content front and centre on a massive publishing platform, that said brands happen not to have any commercial stake in or ownership of. And that might just be ok, but Facebook effectively washes its hands of what happens next. It says the new feed algorithm responds to reader interactions, and that users should use other sources, not just news feed, to get a holistic view of the news. Personally, I’d say before a Facebook exec makes a breezy public statement like that again, he or she should read some of the comments under an average news story; they’d quickly realise most readers don’t even click-through to the article – they read the social media headline, look at the photo, form an opinion and type ‘slow news day’ or possibly post that damn photo of Michael Jackson eating popcorn. Very few go off to find a wider source of information to add context, nuance and depth.

Some commentators say journalists and mainstream news brands have moved past the point of reporting news, and are now curators and editors of news, verifying and checking the social noise to sort the clear signal. That’s a fair idea, but where does the Facebook strategy (and algorithm) fit into this? Can you edit and curate if the platform where content is being published dictates, on the interactions of the shot glass cookies crowd, whether that work is seen? And on that note, how long can Facebook resist calling itself a publisher?

International Journalism Festival video:

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Interesting reads (weekly)

  • This analysis of Twitter’s shift from developer darling to standalone creator is a fascinating read. I remember the blog post alluded to in this article, and the shockwaves it caused about Twitter’s supposed retreat from openness, dev culture and the open web.
    Of course, Twitter has never pretended to be a charity; it employs people, and they need paying. It has offices, shareholders, expense accounts – it’s a company that exists to make money and grow. The Meerkats and Datasifts, that build businesses on someone else’s data, are always gong to be at risk. “Twitter’s story in many respects makes me think of Google: both companies started out benefiting greatly from openness and the power of both connecting users to what they were interested in and opening up powerful APIs to developers. The monetization model is even similar: note the AdSense reference above. Over time, though, Google has pulled more and more of its utility onto its own pages (and the revenue balance in the company has followed), just as Twitter focused on its own apps, and now Google is even starting to eat its best customers like travel websites and insurance agents (members-only), just like Twitter ate Datasift.”

    tags: Twitter api social+media

  • What is says on the tin.

    tags: video how-to

  • “what we have here are ignorant people (Vaynerchuk, Brogan, Kawasaki, and friends) telling big brands and agencies to dump their money into unproven platforms, or platforms with really shady metrics that they can totally fudge and claim their successful to journalists who don’t really know better. A tech blog may know to call out Vaynerchuk’s portfolio company, MeerKat, for spamming Twitter in order to grow their service, but other publications like AdAge won’t. And guess which one of those publications the brands and advertisers are reading? So the money continues to flow from the agencies and brands and that leads to VCs continuing to prop up these companies”OUCH

    tags: Google+ social media

  • I had no idea it was based on such an everyday annoyance as an unavailable name. Now, Flicker would just look weird. “We wanted Flicker, but the guy who had it wouldn’t sell,” says co-Founder Caterina Fake. “So I suggested to the team, ‘Let’s remove this “e” thing.’ They all said, ‘That’s too weird,’ but I finally ground everyone down. Then of course, it became THE thing and everyone started removing vowels right and left.””

    tags: flickr marketing

  • Where next? I like Google Glass and it’s been useful for our journalism, but the problem was it was made by developers, and really it’s a fashion accessory for most people. So, we’re expected to fit around the device, not vice versa. This piece on where wearables are headed is worth a read. “We’re at an interesting point with these devices that feel analogue but have a subtle digital participation. We are used to watches being so simple that making them into tiny phones on your wrist may prove interesting to some but will create a split between those designing for aesthetics and those designing for function.

    When you get ready in the morning it seems natural to use voice. I don’t often talk to my computer because it has a rich set of interfaces but you could imagine a talking mirror, a piece of furniture that would work. With wearables we are in a weird place because they are a mix of analogue things and digital devices so do I use a crown or do I talk and tap?  Apple has done both with Siri and double touch but they have also included the scroll wheel from 20 years ago.”

    tags: new york times NYT wearables Glass

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