Giving readers data means stories don’t have endings – just evolutions

I found this from the New York Times interesting not just because of the high levels of engagement that it led to, but also because readers were actively comparing the respective results, as well as the data they had used to reach their conclusions.
The idea of data never really coming to an end – once a conclusion is reached, the conclusion is scrutinised and new data around that produced – is almost overwhelming in it’s implications for the lifecycle of news. Quite simply, data can evolve and move forward for as long as someone is prepared to scrutinise it I guess.

In my work, we have found when we run surveys online (particularly sports) readers want a very detailed breakdown of responses and numbers – they want all the detailed statistics that come out of a survey (ideally with visualisations of some form – even a basic bar chart) if it is to have value.  It reminds me of what my old Maths exam papers used to say – SHOW YOUR WORK.

As the Times highlighted*:

…”many readers asked for a tabulation of the responses, and taken together, they offer a glimpse of specific preferences within two groups: those who far prefer spending cuts, and those who want to mix cuts with tax increases. The responses also point to a deep divide between those two sides, illustrating why a solution is difficult”…

Some weeks ago a Liverpool Echo survey of LFC fans accidentally missed out on of the questions in the big results round-up. We had several stern comments from readers who wanted to know why a question was missing and what the results had been (not just the number of votes, but how many had voted, skipped the question etc). When we realised, and restored the missing information with an apology, we had more posts from readers marking their appreciation that they had been listened to and the data provided.

So, not enough to just tell – you have to show how you got there too. Not exactly an earth-shattering conclusion, I know, but both examples made an impression on me. A lesson to carry forward with me, I think.

* Big hat-tip to Doreen Marchionni who first flagged the NY Times article and reader demands for information on her Journalism as a Conversation blog. She observes: “Online news audiences not only love to hear it but perceive such interactivity as contributing to a story’s credibility”. I agree.

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Tips, tools, hints and advice: Reflecting on a presentation to LJMU journalism students

Today was spent talking with students.
First up were two groups of PR students from Edge Hill university, whom I spent the morning chatting to about the working ways of newspapers and journalists, and the different opportunities for PR professionals to operate more effectively in multimedia.
Then, in the afternoon, I headed over to Liverpool John Moores University to talk to 3rd year journalism students about my job, how newspapers and reporters operate (and how they should operate in an ideal world) the tools we use, ways to build their brand as individuals, options they could consider if they were looking to start up as entrepreneurial journalists and the opportunities and bear traps of job interviews and work experience. I’ve uploaded my presentation to Slideshare and embedded further down this post*.
Anyway, they were a smart bunch. Questions ranged from the very practical (what to wear in a newsroom) to the ethical (taking photos off Facebook); it was great to get out of the office and meet a bunch of young people who have the optimism and confidence to chance their arm in a career that some within the industry have written off.
I was at the Society of Editors conference on Monday when outgoing Aberdeen P&J editor Derek Tucker criticised the standard of journalists being turned out by colleges – he’s entitled to his opinion but I fall in the same camp as Joy Yates, editor of the Hartlepool Mail, who says she enjoys recruiting and seeing new graduates blossom in her newsroom. Those who can, do; the rest… don’t – as the NCTJ acknowledges.
There have been good and bad newly-minted journos on the job market for as long as I’ve been around. I had editors and chief reporters who invested time and patience in helping me – otherwise, who knows what I’d be doing now. If people in journalism think colleges would benefit from their experience, maybe they should offer some time to help develop the journalists of tomorrow – to give back some of the time and effort that was no doubt invested in them (not to mention the money – UPN paid for my apprenticeship).
After all, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

* For anyone baffled by the ‘large freezer bags’ tip in the Essential Kit section, they are awesome for keeping your notepad, pen, camera, Flip etc dry when you’re reporting from the Great Outdoors. At a pinch, supermarket bags from the fruit n veg section also work. Trufact.

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Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from the future is ours – 2020 Vision What will the media look like in 2020

The future is ours – 2020 Vision
What will the media look like in 2020? An opportunity for senior editors to outline their vision for the media in the future.
Chaired by: Alastair Stewart, Presenter, ITV News
John Mullin, Editor, Independent on Sunday
Maria McGeoghan, Editor, Manchester Evening News
Douglas McCabe, Press and Online Analyst, Enders Analysis
Jodie Ginsberg, Bureau Chief UK and Ireland, Reuters

Alastair Stewart… Appetite for information is healthy as ever but people are finding different sources free to them but costly to us.
Douglas McCabe…
Diversity – whether platform, audience or commercial opportunities
Internet growth has not peaked, television consumption goner but newspapers circulation dropping at accelerated rate from 2003.
Deloittes survey – people who love newspapers have increased that love in the past two years
Ofcom survey – 2% would save print over all their media products.
He also referenced the lack of newsagents and said that would only continue. (This seems to be a recurring theme from people talking; maybe everyone should consider running “save your newsagents” campaigns!)
“there isn’t a single media company not going through this – every medium is but news is going through more rapid change.
Times – quality audience pitch
Mail – quantity audience pitch
Jodie Ginsberg…
Publishing is not about the number of stories we publish it is about how we engage people – that js through fast relevant actionable and engaging content.
Chatroom/comment deb age between audience and journalist is important – combining facts, data, analysis and comment in an intelligent way.
Maria McGeoghan…
Ugc… We have to be aware of the power of ugc. Community editors, media teams in schools, proms – we put a panel in print and online and got 800 pictures.
Data journalism is very important and will be doing more in the future. Figures that you can use.
We need to ask audiences more about what they want. We have asked all our  weekly titles to vote for their own mastheads.
People lover court lists but also want the divorce lists back so we are looking into that. [That raises the question of public interest or interested public. I can hear the irate calls to news desk now…]
Partnering with local journalism college to give students a break into print is the next plan.
John Mullin…
Confidence has taken a dip over the last ten years. We have seen tighter budgets tougher management falling revenues and circulations
But we are producing much better products. We should remember that
We allowed ourselves to be intimidated and let younger tech savvy cohorts set the agenda; because the consumer is king or queen, the role of an editor was diminished, we believed.
That has started to change now. Journalists as we would recogniser them are much more to the fore than previously and are taking charge.
I don’t know the future but without confidence in our abilities we will not get there.
Dominic Ponsford of Press Gazette asked if the Enders prediction about 2014 newspaper closures was still fair.
D Mc… “No, it is pessimistic, it is always a risk when you talk about number of closures. The structural changes in newspaper industry were underrated. Business will do everything possible to survive.”
Alistair Stewart ” the people who will be around in 2020 are not in this room today – they are the small start ups.”
He also raised the issue that no one was really taking about convergence of media businesses.
Richard Tait, head of Cardiff School of Journalism
What they bring with them is of great value because they can use the skills they have learned and the skills of the editorial envelope around them to develop themselves and stories in new ways. We need more focus on how the technologies will transform journalism.
John Mean, editor Hull Daily Mail, asked what could be  done to halt Enders decline graphs
DMc … “The advantage regionals have id the vast majority of the news you cove is unique to you. Flood the market in any way that you can to meet the demand.”
MM… “There are interesting things happening all over the country. The audience issue is very interesting but getting money out of that audience is where we have to look.”
Sent from my iPad

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Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from Winning Online and In Print session, Presentation and Q&A with Martin Clarke, Publisher, MailOnline

Notes from Winning Online and In Print session at Society of Editors conference 2010
Presentation and Q&A with Martin Clarke, Publisher, MailOnline.
MailOnline 10% of traffic via Facebook; it is second biggest referrer to the site after Google.
Re sending links via Facebook: “The costs of serving page to someone who doesn’t come back is marginal but if she gets six links in a week she will probably become one of our online readers. I don’t know why the web go for monthly users – it means nothing compared to daily users. We are reaching millions more than we used to and reading content from a paper they don’t normally buy is not going go make them less likely to buy it.

“Many are male readers the mail would not have reached without a free website. Newspapers with the healthiest websites have the healthiest circulation in print according to Jim Chisholm’s research.”
He quoted stats from Comscore regarding visits, time on site, pages per person, sessions per person in the Daily Mail v the Times for September – showed massively greater response from Mail users who access the site for free.
“Mobile will be a revolution that dwarfs what has happened on the web. But before we get carried away with the iPad we should remember html5 brings all the glossiness of app. There is a good chance that in a few years time the apps we love will have become redundant, but they may have helped people understand that while the tethered wry on their desk is free the mobile wry on their tablets is not.”
On the future of print “There will still be a DM pin print when I collect my pension. I am 46.”
“Papers have permanence and prestige” – eg. The Daily Beast merging with Newsweek.
“We won’t win any design awards bug we designed the site around the content. We get 12,000 or more comments a day.” Web traffic includes a regular visitor from Nth KOrea. Is KIm Jong Il a LAdy GaGa fan?
Comments moderation: “we have a hybrid system wife as many as where are comfortable with are unmoderated. Other stories that are contentious we moderate from the get-go.”8
Wouldn’t discuss the Baskers question.

If you try to integrate journalists too much you end up with a crap website and a crap newspaper. Better to have people getting out of bed thinking ‘how do I do the best for the web/newspaper’.
What works for us won’t work for everyone. What you can’t do is ignore it. Find a way to make it work because it won’t go away. Should newspapers link to competitors websites on stories? “we link out on some stories and we will do more in future I think as the web matures. If you don’t link they will find it themselves anyway. Sent from my iPad

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Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from the What is the Audience sesision

What is our audience – Chaired by: Steve Hewlett, Presenter, The Media Show, BBC Radio 4
Jim Chisholm, Media consultant and analyst
Mike Ironside, Chief Executive, National Readership Survey
Stewart Purvis, Professor of Television Journalism, City University London

Jim Chisholm’s claims:
People spend 30 mins reading a paper and 3.8 minutes reading online news sites e every day; This is why Murdoch’s paywall will fail.
Sites that cater for female audiences perform better than those that do not.
Times lost six percent of circulation share when the Tories were in power. Guardian achieved gains under Thatcher
Understanding audience behaviour is key to success.
“The key lesson is loyalty and frequency our customers do not come to us often enough.
People are reading less and we are getting four pages per user per visit and that is not enough.
Are people who pay more valuable?
Regarding the Times pay wall he says it will fail –  “there are ten papers competing for an audience and people will get information free elsewhere.”
He stated there was no statistical evidence that the Internet has damaged circulation more than any other element although subsequent links tweeted contradicted this.
(But I would say it is accepted industry fact that things such as rain, holidays, bad sport results etc all get blame for loss of sales. Internet is just another factor.)
Ereader could have a big impact on readership. People read paper online five mins but on iPad twenty five minutes.
US paper (which he would not name) found if it sells subscription onto ereader conversion level and agreement levels are higher. People with ipads more likely to respond positively to a call from Circulation dept suggesting they try print subscription.
Mike Ironside
National readership survey is used mainly by commercial divisions, not by editorial. Paying for one off research is not the answer. Readership survey more useful he says.
“ABCs, 15-24 and young people are reading more, the quality sector take-up is good, but they are not regular readers – they buy print when they want. We know upmarket readership is more disloyal.
“Advertisers want to carry their craft skill into internet but that is not available right now. Most of Internet income is search. That needs to improve.
“Why do newspapers have racing pages – four pages no one read?”. (He should have answered the calls when the Liverpool Echo dropped it’s print racing card – lots of upset punters).
Re. Female readership online- Readership profiles have equal split – Daily Mail has female bias but one element is not the solution.
iPad subscription/app take-up: “These people are early adopters justifying the cost of their iPad purchase. Now is easy – it will get harder as products become more widely used.”
“People consume media in generalities – they don’t know what channel they are watching, or what site they are on; it’s just tv and the web.”
Stewart Purvis
“Of 16 hours a day we are awake, seven hours are spent digitally but they are also media multitasking.
“YouView is an example of media stacking – most converged content yet available. Non traditional channels will be accessed – search, apps, tv, iptv etc. Local tv debate… People want to make it but without the regulatory aspects of normal tv – YouView will allow that to happen.”
Bundling – half of people now bundle, compared to quarter five years ago. Content v convenience – if you don’t have premiership football you are stating from behind. Is the choice between having your local paper or not? That would be a buyer decision.
He cited an (unnamed) Long Island media company offering cable and paper but said it did not seem to have worked.
Local media ownership rules – “never met a local paper owner who want a radio station and Vice versa. No harm in relaxing rules was the general feeling. People have not sought to be cross media locally.”
Sent from my iPad

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Making newspapers – as addictive as ever

An illustration of the box juggling pattern.Image via WikipediaThis hasn’t been the most updated blog recently but that’s because, for a while, I found myself doing two jobs. I’m back doing just the one now but it’s a bit different to what I’ve been doing for the past two years. To start with it left me somewhat mentally taxed, and not a little perplexed.
This demanding new job is… making newspapers.
My usual job as executive editor, digital, sees me editing print titles on an ad hoc basis (and the Echo on a Sunday rota) but generally my multimedia day is more weighted towards the web, mobile, online journalism and online strategies or projects. But for the past month I’ve been on a job swap with the executive editor, Echo, and for a chunk of that time, due to absences, I was also engaged in day-to-day digital editrixery as well.
All this was set, Margaret Mitchell-style, against a backdrop of the Liverpool FC club sale/saga – a frenzy that sent reader usage spiralling upwards and led to near record print and online figures.

Some days started at 7am and ended at 10pm, several front pages were made during the course of edition changes but never actually lived to see it to the presses because the story had zoomed forward during that short window, and on the day of the actual sale there was a special Late Final edition of the Echo.
Here’s one that never made it out into the world…

A front page that didn't make it

… as, in the 20 minutes between designing that and the edition being sent to press, the LFC sale had moved on again and taken the lead slot on the front. It was relentless, frustrating and exciting. I was happy we still had an on-day edition of the Echo, and sad that the 3pm late City Final edition was no more. And I was delighted that online we could react/predict fast enough to keep ahead of things.

Print or online, changes were made only when people were absolutely confident of their sources. When the tip came through that the sale had been completed we were nearing absolute deadline to make page changes for a one-off Late Final edition (about 2pm) and still no white smoke had emerged from the room where Christian Purslow, Martin Broughton, NESV representatives and various legal types were closeted, difficult choices had to be made.We had a solid tip, but no confirmation… was it enough for a late final?
Everyone in the newsroom was becoming increasingly desolate as the late special idea looked set to fall down. The confirmation came, we managed to get it online (and cached, for once) before Sky and the BBC were even reporting it and there were celebrations at landing a web exclusive.

Then it turned out we had a print one as well… Echo editor Ali Machray had quietly got the front page change made – including a story announcing the sale, and had sent to the printers on the off-chance. So bundles of the latest news were in vans heading back to outlets on Merseyside…bundles that would have been pulped if no announcement had come through.
It was a true real leap of faith and it paid off.

For me, it was an especially fascinating story because I got to be immersed in both print and web areas of the story. A fans-crowdsourced online survey had nearly 2,000 responses in 24 hours and made a front page, tweets by John W. Henry regarding the sale were packaged for web and print, and compliments/complaints about the coverage (especially the scale of it) came in from fans and non-fans alike.

A breakdown of what had value for readers… Demonstrated by online comments/tweets, letters, phone calls and emails. The brackets show on which platform(s) something appeared

Valued
  • Breaking news (online – switching to a liveblog for the last day was particularly popular)
  • Accuracy and clarity, not re-running other titles’ speculation (web/print)
  • Repackaging reader comments as articles and inviting more comment (web/print)
  • Timelines (web/print)
  • Archive front pages charting the Hicks-Gillett-NESV progression (online)
  • Image galleries (web)
  • Short video – esp. of scenes outside the High Court (web)
  • Word clouds contrasting NESV and Hicks&Gillett ownership statements (print/online)
Not Valued
  • LFC sale updates on the general news @LiveEchoNews Twitter (online)
  • Breaking news not validated by other news sources* (online/print)
  • Impartiality – there was a clear desire for the Echo to display attitude and partiality by fans, not merely report (online/print)
  • Unsubstantiated claims (online) – even when stating ‘reported by’ or linking to an article referenced, readers often rejected it. This was interesting – an article linking out to a speculative story on another media source would attract negative comments; however, a commenter adding a link in their post would often attract ‘thumbs up’

Anyway, I go back to being a webbie next Monday. I’ve missed it and yet I’ve learned and re-learned more in the past month than I would have thought possible. I’m not sure I fulfilled part of my brief – which was to ’embed digital higher up the story-gathering process’ because it turns out that executive editors for print spend as much time sat in meetings, away from the real world of the newsroom, as executive editors for digital do.
But making print pages – working with designers to produce front pages, designing blurbs myself, discussing what sold, and where, with the newspaper sales dept, has helped open my eyes wider to newspapers. Why I stayed when colleagues went to lucrative pr jobs, why I remained in the regionals instead of chancing my arm with the nationals, why I get hate headaches every time someone posts a gleeful ‘death of newspapers’ article.
I had to go to hospital today and a nurse asked me my religion. When I told her I didn’t have one, she was a bit baffled as to what to put, and asked a colleague for advice.
It’s just struck me, I could have replied “Journalism” – and it would have been 100% true.




*An exclusive article on Tom Hicks and Mill Financial bidding to delay the deal was not followed up by the BBC or Sky. As the day progressed without some 3rd party also reporting it, readers online began to complain it was untrue. This, of course, was possibly because it didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear – that NESV was a shoo-in)

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