Year of the Blog (Part II)

I’ve started new chapter in my life as a journalist but I’m not alone in this – the collective newsrooms of the Liverpool Daily Post, Liverpool Echo, and the Merseyside weeklies are travelling the same road as me.
We’ve become (or, more accurately, are becoming) a single news-gathering operation, working together in what is being called the multi-media hub. It’s hard work and confusing at times. It means I have a new job – Executive Editor, digital, for the Post & Echo – and so I guess it’s an opportune moment to look back at the second half of my blogging year.

September 2008
One of the busiest months of the year, on reflection.
Comparing how the traditional news-gathering and story-telling methods were being enhanced, and in some cases supplanted, by Web 2.0 tools provoked plenty of debate. A lot of people I respect hugely said some kind things about the post, which was a relief as there were plenty of people I annoyed too.
I guess it would be a boring old world if we all agreed… but I am right, you know.
The Post & Echo liveblogged the visit of La Princess, the giant mechanical spider, in Liverpool with reporters tweeting and live-streaming, and Dipity’s TimeTube, using using Flickr and YouTube tags, provided a great addition to the live blog.
I bought a Flip, had a rant about how deadlines constrain journalism, and considered the 13 Web online tools I find essential for my job, from Ask500people.com to YouTube.
What I learned: We are being given new tools to tell our stories and reach new audiences – use them and they will help you be a better journalist, connect more with your readers, find more stories and make your editor happy (if you don’t want that, why are you in the job?); a Flip is a fun bit of kit that delivers great results and is confidence-building for journalists starting out making their own videos; when you enjoy your blogging it shows – and much of the pleasure that comes from blogging is down to the great conversations that spring up in the comments.

October 2008
A bit of blog washout really – work took over my life. I was leading the (rather sad) project to take the Daily Post from a 6-day publication to a 5-day one; and editing the paper most of the time as the merged news operation project began in earnest.
A blog post by Vicky Anderson about Steve Coogan’s hopeless Echo Arena show led me to conclude:
1. Most of our online readers are from our circulation area – contrary to popular belief (in this case, they attended the show then turned to the blog to express their dismay at its quality)
2. Interacting through blogs can feel more natural to readers than forums
3. A blog post with relevancy is valuable to users
4. Blogs can create content for reverse publishing
The post started a great debate on whether reporters could/should write all their stories as blog posts online. For the record, I think they should.
I learned a valuable marketing lesson from Darren Farley, who made himself a brand without going near his local newspaper, using a mobile phone and YouTube. The blog post turned into an SEO phenomenon almost as big as Darren himself. Well, not quite. He really is a phenomenon.
What I learned: When we talk about engaging our audience, we have to remember what we mean – Transparency, Interaction and Conversation (this can be confusing for a journalist trained to protect sources and guard information, but it is vital); no matter how positive we try to be, the evolution of newspapers involves hard decisions and heartache; anyone who thinks their paper is the only brand that matters – and it’s depressing how many people in the industry think that – should spend 2 minutes surfing YouTube.

November 2008
In November the LDP’s Flickr book was conceived – one of the most taxing and rewarding projects I’ve been involved in. It was a celebration of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year, using staff images and photographs from the Daily Post’s Flickr group. I believe other TM newspapers are asking their Flickr groups if want to do the same.
In other news, I ran my blog through Typealyzer and discovered I was a Mechanic. This means, apparently, that I’m independent and problem-solving, good at responding to challenges that arise spontaneous and avoid inter-personal conflicts. Yay me!
Erm… not quite. Typealyzer then said I was in the wrong job, and should consider a career as a racing driver.
What I learned: My advice to anybody attempting a book project involving multiple contributors is plan, share the plan with everyone involved, rip it up and put together a fresh plan taking into account the views and comments that come back, and then Put It In Writing and stick to it. Rigidly. Because the Flickr book was a bit ad hoc (or “grew organically”, if you’re a senior manager, there wasn’t much time to plan and we ended up doing twice as much work as we might have. But it still looked awesome.
Oh yes, and according to a bit of code I’m in the wrong job. I’ve not really learned my lesson there.

December 2008
I was lucky enough to get a place on an Andy Dickinson training course at the Birmingham Post & Mail’s new Fort Dunlop offices. Andy’s course was head-spinningly good and very entertaining; I sat on the train back to Merseyside bursting with ideas, one of which was to use information from Whatdotheyknow.com , credit the site and tell people how they could use it too.
The decision caused some debate in the newsroom because it does go against what we journalists do (not reveal sources, gatekeep information, control copy) but we linked to the website, and the site kindly linked back to us. Everyone won – including the reader.
I got perplexed by blog spam (my current favourite is one which has the words wow! nice gold subliminally inserted through the comment) and outlined my thoughts on when to ban readers who abuse forums.
The blog was becoming less of a practical testing station and more of an ideas-crucible.
What I learned: Share knowledge at every opportunity. Andy shared his with me, I shared it with journalist Ben Schofield, he used the site, investigated, asked questions and filed a story that made the front page, then shared the knowledge of how he built the story with readers, so they could use it too. Sharing information, knowledge – or, crucially, lack of knowledge can increase a journalist’s power and ability to do their job. Incidentally, that’s why Twitter is such a fantastic tool for reporters.

January 2009
Talking of Twitter, it was undergoing a sea-change in January. The arrival of ‘slebs’ meant it was becoming more mainstream, and I noticed many of the people I followed were moving from avatars or photos that didn’t show their faces to portrait headshots.
And I started to feel a bit uneasy about whether I was preaching transparency while hiding behind my little devil. I asked Twitter and Ask500people.com, and as a result of the responses stuck with the devil. I also noticed Plurk was was on a decline, which saddens me still as I love it, and got back on the Twitter subject to ask why people were protecting their updates and what did they think they were protecting, exactly. Work was overwhelmingly busy with the newsroom merger and I managed just five posts. Shameful!
What I learned: Twittering slebs hold no fascination for me (Stephen Fry & Neil Gaiman excepted); having an avatar doesn’t mean you’re hiding something, and my odd little online representative can actually make it easier to pick me out of a busy Twitter stream; Ask500people really is a great medium for conversations and engagement; anyone protecting their Twitter update is doing it because, generally, they don’t understand how Twitter works. Finally, when people ask me to explain how Twitter works I’ve found it’s more important to show them my network, and then explain why Twitter works.

February 2009
Happy birthday blog! Where did the year go? In 12 months my whole outlook on journalism has been turned on its head and I’ve had more fun that at any other time in my career (although getting a job in a massage parlour runs a close second).
In the time I’ve been a blogger I’ve learned just how supportive the blogging community can be, shifted (I think) more towards using the blog as a medium to explore ideas and ask questions, found the comments people post tend to be more worthwhile than anything I write, and – ironically – felt more connected with the real world than I have at any other time as a journalist.
For that I can thank a whole host of people, some I seldom meet face-to-face, but I talk to them most days and count them as valued friends.
A networked journalist is, I believe, a better journalist but it’s more than just how it affects my job; my network is hugely important to me, every day it surprises, challenges and stimulates me, supports me, and helps me be more relevant.
My new jobs started today; what will the next 12 months bring? I don’t know – the current debate is whether people will pay for content, last week it was Do We Need Subs? and within the week it will have moved on to something else.
For what it’s worth, I believe we have to keep telling our stories, share more of our knowledge, make our newspapers and websites communities instead of silos, be relevant, be accountable, demonstrate interaction instead of talking about it, both online and in print, and do what we should do best – serve our local area to the best of our ability, ask questions for them and listen to them when they come to us. We sometimes get things wrong but overall we’re pretty good at what we do and we care. Personally, I think that’s half the battle.

The Year of the Blog (Part I)

I’ve just realised this blog has notched up its first anniversary.
Where has the time gone? So I thought it was an opportunity to take stock, consider how blogging has helped me become (I think) a better journalist and what I’ve learned.
Please forgive the naval-gazing and, yes, it’s going to take more than one post.

February 2008
Blog debuted after a week of learning about social media on the Trinity Mirror Journalism Leaders course at Uclan, where I also got introduced to Twitter. Of 13 newbies on my course, four of us are still tweeting.
I thought a blog might help me learn about Web 2.0 and the potential it offered for journalists. I wasn’t sure what to write then Vernon Scott, who started me off as a journalist (as opposed to a teenager who turned up and typed inaccurate pieces of copy then went drinking) died and I posted a tribute to him. I miss him still.
What I learned: Blogging is addictive; watching your audience grow makes you want to deliver better blog content – your readers make you up your game; you can teach old dogs new tricks, but some don’t want to learn, and you can’t force them.

March 2008
Markmedia introduced me to Utterz (now Utterli) and I started building a network there, podcasting onto my blog and posting photos through it.
The idea of online tribes and forum building intrigued me so I asked Rob Marcus from Chat Moderators how newspaper social networks could succeed. His advice, in a nutshell, was:
1). Control freakery is as unattractive in newspapers as it is in people; take part, don’t take over
2). Have a little humility
3). You only get one chance to make a first impression
I wrote/spoke 24 blog posts, made a blidget using Widgetbox, discovered SpinVox, Qik, Bambuser and bought an N95 (one of my most worthwhile purchases ever).
I also wrote this sentence…

I’ve got the editor’s sign off to live stream conference on Qik

…but it turned out to be a little more ambitious than that.
What I learned: A blog is a great way to test out new ideas; making apps is a lot easier than it looks; building an online community takes time but the rewards more than make up for the effort; editors will take risks if they can see the potential benefits.

April 2008
In April I was back at Uclan, where I was baffled by Yahoo Pipes and marketing strategies. I tried Friendfeed (again) – some people swear by it, I just swear at it – wrote about Cartoon Avatar day on Twitter, a post which still brings massive amounts of traffic to my blog through the wonders of SEO, and started my own YouTube channel, with Nyx cat as my d├ębut film.
April, while not the cruellest month, was frankly a bit of a triviafest blog-wise. But writing posts and experimenting with new sites and tools was helping me learn new tricks, and test out new thoughts.
What I learned: SEO is really all about the headline; the long tail can be very long indeed; blogging is another way of thinking out loud – solutions often appear as you type; Friendfeed is, like Plurk, not for everyone.

May 2008
I discovered how far-reaching a blog post can be. A throwaway remark on an earlier post about artist Ben Johnson annoying the two Liverpool newspaper editors by describing the press as lazy led to him phoning them, apologising and explaining he meant the national press. I’d noticed a lot of traffic to the blog from National Museums Liverpool IP addresses and knew they’d been reading it, but it was an interesting development.
I also had an idea to live-stream a day in the life of the LDP. I posted my thoughts on Bambuser, describing how and why I thought it would work, and then pitched it to the editor. He said yes… David Higgerson suggested using CoverItLive, and we did it. The day was so much fun (and hard work).
What I learned: Liveblogging is a great way to introduce online social media to an un-networked newsroom; blogging has consequences – this might be my own personal blog, but what I write can have repercussions for my employer, and my colleagues; cultural evolutions can be exciting and engaging for both journalists and readers.

June 2008
The impact of how much knowledge is available through online networks really struck me this month. I wrote this

Contacts on my networks point me – either intentionally or as part of wider community sharing – at blog posts, sites, information streams and applications I would never have found out about on my own.

And it is one of the most fundamental reasons I strive to keep maintaining and building my network. It’s very precious to me, both personally and professionally, and it has made me a better journalist, and a more aware, informed person.
June also saw the arrival of mini Superlambananas in Liverpool

(they were another SEO phenomenon for my blog) and I found Plurk. I loved it; I still do.
What I learned: You can write the most thoughtful, observant post ever but a headline with the words ‘baby Superlambanana’ is the best way to drive traffic to your blog; social media has made my real world network wider than I ever thought possible.

July 2008
Paul Bradshaw’s Seemsic debate on the future of journalism provided some real food for thought and sparked a 5-point blog post that boiled down to this: Ask for help; embrace change; Listen to people; Evolve; Share knowledge.
I found Dipity’s TimeTube and Mento (both of which I still use) and had a bit of a rant about newspaper forums and why most newspapers don’t seem to build successful, thriving, friendly communities.
What I learned: Video is a great platform for debate; networked-journalists who use tools to tell stories are able to promote their work quickly and crowdsourdce/gain feedback much more easily; newspapers’ online forums can, if not resourced, nurtured and engaged with, swing from being communities into troll ghettos where new users are in danger of being driven away (and believing that the forum represents the newspaper’s own character)

August 2008
August was a Red Letter Month – I built my first Yahoo Pipe after being taken through the process by Paul Bradshaw. I was so happy I went on a bit of a pipe-building oddessy for myself and the office – whether colleagues wanted them or not. Among other things, I found Ask500people.com and started polling like a mad thing, tried out story-telling opportunities through Dipity and asked Twitter when newspapers should break exclusive stories online. I concluded ‘Exclusive’ means far more to us than our readers. I still believe that is true.
What I learned: Yahoo Pipes look more daunting than they really are; readers love timelines and so do reporters once you show them the rss feed makes them simple; the future is going to find us no matter what and the trick is to be ready for it. Some people aren’t yet but they will be.

Phew! I think that’s enough for now. Part II at some point.

"No one tells a story like a journalist"

I was lucky enough to spend a day with the Journalism Leaders Programme members last week. As ever, it was like having a brain-valet and I came away with a lot to think about.

As part of the day I got to attend the University’s Harris Lecture, which was an insight into the digital transformation of the Daily Telegraph by Mark Skipworth, executive editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.
He spoke with enthusiasm, fielding some searching questions from Journalism students along the way.

And then he said something so unexpected, you could almost see people asking themselves if they’d heard right. The phrase that stopped us in our tracks was this:

“No one tells a story like a journalist.”

Ouch, that’s a poorly-expressed phrase, I thought. Except it wasn’t – it was what he absolutely believed… with his next breath he went on to dismiss the ability of bloggers to provide quality, impartial reportage.
I think it proceeded along in this vein but the muttering around me had actually become more interesting than the fuddled point the speaker was labouring towards. (Which was, I think, that journalists are impartial and quest for the truth.)

Now, as a journalist I do indeed strive to be impartial; I have even been known to quest for the truth. I also know, however, that it’s incredibly easy pick an angle, inject my own views and editorialise the words as they are written.
Once a reporter has written their impartial story, it passes through several other pairs of hands, who might each add their own views, without necessarily even knowing they are doing it.
Story construction, where it is placed in the paper or on the homepage, the occasional adjective, headlines – even how accompanying images are laid out can shade meaning and influence a reader.

Now consider a story told by Terence Edent, a Vodaphone employee, who last summer filmed himself as a train passenger being stopped and searched by police at under the Terrorism Act. No one, I’d suggest, could tell this story like Terence Edent. It is perfect – right down to the police comment (although you can tell they’d much rather he rang their press office.) A journalist could add to this but why? What would they be adding? Some back-story perhaps.

The truth is that everyone has a story that they tell best, it usually begins “Guess what happened to me…”. Some people have a skill of telling others’ stories (often using a mobile, loudly, in the train’s Quiet car), and some people are lucky enough to get a job that pays them to tell others’ stories.

If you believe only a journalist can tell the story then you’re closing your eyes, ears and mind to the millions of people out there who are telling their own stories their own ways – from blogging to microblogging, Flickr to YouTube, Bambuser to Blip.FM.
If as journalists we are open minded enough to listen, then we can sometimes find and re-tell these stories to our readers. Remember Stephen Fry’s ‘stuck lift’ story? I followed it on Twitter using hashtags but it was repackaged and retold in the tabloids two days later.

If we aren’t open-minded, then we may find ourselves headed down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. I am not a dinosaur; I don’t intend to drown in the newsprint tar pits. I’m going to try to keep listening out for other people telling their stories instead.

* If you want a summary of the Digital Editors Network session I’d recommend Sarah Hartley’s post here and there’s an unedited recording of the Journalism Leaders Forum to be found via here.

I’m a mechanic!

I follow Amy Gahran on Twitter, and she’s a constant source of information and humour. I’m a fan of the way she operates and thinks, and so I subscribe to her Contentious.com feed in my Google Reader. Last month she brought me tales of naked Trick or Treaters, this week I learn, courtesy of her blog, that I am a Mechanic.

That doesn’t mean I’ve turned my back on the high-paying, easy life of a regional newspaper journalist. It is, apparently, the type of blog I write. Using the Typealyzer tool I discovered that as the author of Headlines and Deadlines I am type ISTP aka The Mechanics.

Next time someone asks me what’s going on in my head I’m going to point them at this blog post, as Typealyzer provided a handy diagram of it…

Apparently, as a Mechanic, I am:
* Independent and problem-solving
* Good at responding to challenges that arise spontaneously
* Prefer to think things out for myself and avoid inter-personal conflicts.
* Enjoy working with other independent and highly skilled people
* Often like seek fun and action both in work and personal life.

I’m happy to learn that Mechanics enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars, less thrilled to discover I’m in the wrong career – I should have gone for the Police or Fire Service according to Typealyzer.
So, while I would have loved for it to tell me I’m the artistic, inspiration type apparently I’m a ‘roll up the sleeves, pitch in when there’s a crisis’ kinda gal. Interesting (although less in tune with my Belbin findings) and possibly not really that representative of me. Because this is a blog about me learning things, and trying ideas and apps out, rather than my high-flying thoughts on life, the universe and everything.
So I’ve put the Typealyzer widget on this site to see if/how it changes, depending on whether I’m writing practical posts, or simply banging on about things.
Still, come the revolution I’m sure there will be a market for people who enjoy driving race cars and the like, so at least I’ve always got a fall-back position.

(Mechanic Photo: CGill, Flickr)

Blog comments can be the new ‘Letters to the Editor’

The letters page of a daily newspaper is the most mixed of mixed bags.
Various papers I’ve worked for had different approaches to it; some banned ’round robin’ type endorsement letters ostensibly written by celebs (‘hello, I’m Gloria Hunniford and I’d like everyone from Southampton to get behind National Gut Week), others stuck them on the page with a murmur of relief that some of the gaping space had been filled.
Some resorted to getting staff to write letters when there weren’t enough to fill a page and one (the South Wales Argus – take a bow for honesty, folks) only ran a letters page if there were enough local letters to fill one.

If a news story attracts maybe six letters we tend to see it as a major talking point; it merits follow ups and, sometimes, a letters page special. Then we’re all very pleased about how we’ve engaged readers in debate.
So, if six letters mean a news story has engaged readers, what do we make of this blog post about Steve Coogan’s ‘woeful’ show at the Echo Arena in Liverpool?

To say it’s provoked debate is a serious understatement: 37 comments and counting on the blog; the online statistics show it’s the most viewed news story on our site at the moment.
The post itself was run in the paper as a review, uploaded to the LDP website as a review and also placed on the Comedy Blog (with a cross-ref from the online review). It’s a fascinating debate being held between readers, some of whom are responding to Vicky Anderson, some to each other. It’s wonderful to see an article take on such a life and identity of its own.

And more than that, it’s generating content for the newspaper too. After all, a great debate doesn’t just have to exist online – we’re taking it into print tomorrow, by reverse publishing the blog comments. We’ll also be asking Mr Coogan for a response. Be interesting to see what, if anything, comes back from ‘his people’…

The Coogan review is, as far as I’m concerned, important for a number of reasons:
1. It effectively puts paid to any argument that only people from outside the circulation area read newspaper’s online sites. The comments here have been posted by local people who attended the show. Whether they enjoyed it or not, they are from our circulation area.

2. People want to interact through blogs. Would these posters have written a letter to the editor? I’m willing to bet not one of them would have put pen to paper (also, we received just two emailed responses). All the comments were posted directly onto the blog. Search analysis showed that people were actively looking for somewhere to comment – typical search terms were ‘Coogan + review’, which would indicate the blog post was being discussed and people were then going online to find it. I find that very interesting.

3. A blog post is potentially more valuable to users than stories that are seeded by newspapers on their forums in the hope of sparking debate. These posters could have gone to our online forum, but then they would have had to join, if they weren’t already members, fill in the form and accept the verification email, start a topic and write an opinion. Here, they simply entered a conversation already initiated by the blog post.

4. Blogs can create content. We aren’t reverse publishing these comments to fill space, we’re sharing a conversation created by a review on a blog, and we are looking to move that debate on – not only have the comments themselves become a story, they also demonstrate the need for the subject (in this case Steve Coogan) to respond. Forums can work in the same way but the posts here, in the main, lend themselves to publication more readily.

It’s got me wondering if we should try running a ‘news’ blog, with reporters posting versions of stories, along with their own observations. It would be interesting to see what sort of reaction we got from readers. Of course, such an action would also reopen the ‘enabling comments under stories’ debate, and all the associated legal discussions that surrounds that.
But newspapers are there to provoke debate; if readers demonstrate that they want to discuss stories and events on blogs, when surely our websites have to reflect that?

UPDATE: The Independent picked up on the Coogan blog row today; it’s the p3 lead and the Editor’s Choice online. The Daily Mail also reported it. While both saw fit to mention the debate was kicked off by a blog post, neither saw the need to link to it. How poor…

Learning from liveblogging

I’d love to know how many of the UK’s regional newspapers have run liveblogs this year; it seems as though real-time coverage and participation in almost everything (public spectacles, event TV, sports, political rallies to name a few) is on the increase when it was hardly in evidence 12 months ago.

I’ve been pondering this as the Newspaper Society is planning an article on the Post & Echo’s liveblogs, and contacted me for some information, plus I also received an email from CoverItLive’s Keith McSuprren with links to two liveblogs of the Emmys.

The New York Times liveblogged the event on its TV Decoder blog. It reminded me of the Guardian’s entertaining television liveblogs and has great knock-about comments from readers/viewers who are interacting with the host and each other.

Canada’s National Post used CIL to liveblog and the contrast is quite apparent.
It engages the post-event reader just as much as those participating at the time – it’s compelling, entertaining and, possibly a more attractive commercial option for sponsors as well.
The posted comments show how invested the online audience was in the Times’ offering but it just doesn’t have the same longevity, or presence, as the Post’s.

The Post & Echo run liveblogs fairly regularly; the last one saw me part-hosting the whiteknuckle ride that was the Everton FC v Standard Leige UEFA cup match. I was only doing a 30 minute stint but it was incredibly intensive.
The footie liveblogs are great for fans without access to radios or TV (some are overseas, some trapped at work on a night shift) and their demand for information is relentless – believe me, if you think ringing in copy on deadline to a news editor is intense, try finding the team sheets for a UEFA cup match with a clamouring audience.

So, some things I’ve learned to make my liveblogging easier:

Preparation is vital
Before you start, ensure you’ve banked information your readers are likely need so you can upload it with minimal delay. For the Tall Ships that meant knowing links to any webcams and shuttlebus times in advance; for La Machine, a timetable of the giant Spider’s performances. Being able to respond very quickly to queries on these issues (which tend to come right at the beginning) sends a message to your audience that your blog is the source of information they need. You’ll get constant queries for this information and can just refer them to the top of the blog.

State your objectives for readers
Newcomers don’t necessarily know what a liveblog is, they may have just Googled some keywords in an attempt to find information and wound up on the blog. So a welcome and introduction which states exactly what’s going on then users’ expectation levels are set. For example, football fans won’t expect kick-by-kick coverage but will understand it offers broad reporting, colour, photos and fan banter.

Advertise your activities
Share what you’re doing with the liveblog. As in ‘Our photographer is downloading the images now – they should be up here in the next 5 minutes’ or ‘we’re planning to live-stream this event starting at xpm’… it lets users know there’s a structure in place for the coverage and makes the liveblog feel more as-it-happens. You can also plug upcoming related content in the newspaper, let people know how they can get involved or point them towards photosales.

Remember it’s a LIVEblog
Some liveblog software have timelines to show what time comments are posted. If there are lengthy gaps between when you post, promote readers’ comments or upload content the existing audience could start leaving and new arrivals might not bother hanging around. If things quieten down it can be a good time to ask questions, promote a poll, or maybe post some links to relevant copy on yours or other websites. If you don’t keep it looking fresh and active you’re inviting a ‘is this thing on?’ comment appearing from a reader…

You can’t please everybody
I feel an obligation to blog readers when I’m either filing for a liveblog or helping produce one. After all, we’ve offered them a service, they’ve bothered to come and use it, so we have to listen to their opinions, criticisms and observations.
There’s no point ignoring critical comments or refusing to upload them; accept not everyone will like what your doing and let those that do respond. I think every liveblog I’ve been involved with has attracted at least one comment along the lines of how useless newspapers are now compared to what they were, and how we should be doing real journalism.
Don’t post defensive replies – it looks petty, and blog readers are just as likely to shout down the naysayer for you. And don’t promote comments that contain language you’d refuse to accept in the printed paper.

Blog readers want images
They really do and if you fail to deliver they may well get annoyed; the clamour for images on a liveblog of an event is daunting at times.
During the La Machine liveblog our Flickr group photos were an invaluable resource – as was the special text line for spectators to send their cameraphone pix. YouTube is great – a recent search for Steven Gerrard produced a host of (very professional!) ’10 greatest Gerrard goals’ type video packages, which the BBC and SKY may not be too happy about but hey… liveblog readers waiting for kick-off would love to have a link to them. Livestreaming is a great option; readers aren’t too fussed about the quality – they just want to experience something as it happens.

So those are some of the things I’ve learned while liveblogging. Personally I love doing them – you really feel a part of the event you’re covering, you’re providing a service that people enjoy, appreciate and get involved with, and it means you get to break news. It’s also a great way to change minds in the newsroom about the value of interaction – when you ask something and a response is straight away, it brings home the fact that newspapers have an audience with answers as well as questions.

The Lifecycle of a News Story

I rediscovered a link on my Delicious recently, called the Lifecycle of a Blog, from Wired, which traces how a post goes from the author’s keyboard through the system into a subscriber’s RSS reader. It’s here if you’re interested.

Anyway, that sent me off on a bit of a tangent; I started wondering about the lifecycle of a news story, and how online tools have improved the ways journalists can source, tell and share our news. And of course, how we can get our audience to be a part of it.
I want to create a presentation for reporters on the subject so I’ve gathered some thoughts on the potential ways of sourcing, presenting and sharing news articles here. If you have suggestions please add as it would help me illustrate my point:

Step One
Reporter gets potential story (Web 1.0)
Via: Phone call or meeting with contact; letter to the editor; email; comment on the newspaper’s web forum; item in a publication or website; video on YouTube; punter walking in to the front office and asking to speak to a journalist.

Reporter gets potential story (Web 2.0)
Via: Any of the above PLUS link posted on a social network; RSS feed of news and message board posts;status update or link on a micro-blog; Twitter search;search of blog posts;comment on the reporter’s blog; online forums; email/post/link via the reporter or newspaper’s Facebook page; a podcast; online searches;threaded video debate; an incident live-streamed onto a website.

Step Two

Reporter researches story (Web 1.0)
Phones/meets contacts to verify information; searches Google for background/experts; finds expert and emails questions; includes response in article; sets up photo opportunity with picture desk; writes article and sends to newsdesk.

Reporter researches story (Web 2.0)
Crowdsources idea using social networks; uses blog searches and blog translators to find posts and experts worldwide; uses own blog to post developing and ask for input and suggestions from readers; sets up online survey and poll (promotes these using links to it from own blog, Facebook page and online forums); posts links and questions on specialist messageboards; searches social bookmarking tools for related issues; uses video discussion site to seek views; records telephone interview for podcast; collates findings and discusses package with print and digital news editors; films video report; begins writing detailed, analytical article for print product, accompanied by quality images – some found by picturedesk searching photo-sharing websites’ Creative Commons pool.

Step Three
Presentation (Web 1.0)
Newsdesk checks copy, adds come-on for readers to send their views via email or letter to the editor, or via the onlinjavascript:void(0)e forum, sends to subs for layout on page. Content and photo uploaded onto website following morning after publication of print product.

Presentation (Web 2.0)
Copy checked by newsdesk for content, style and reporter’s email, phone number, blog url, keywords for tagging and postcode for geo-tagging, along with relevant links; sent to subs for layout on page; package uploaded to website; link placed to story in newspaper’s forum; copy chunked online to hold readers’ interest; video report embedded in online version; image slideshow with reporter’s voiceover; downloadable podcast offered; reporter blogs on outcome of story and links to associated news stories and external blog posts; words, links, video and images combined in Dipity timeline and embedded on website; updates with links posted on social networks; video report uploaded to newspaper’s YouTube Channel; images placed on newspaper’s Flickr group; reporter hosts readers’ Q&A with expert in online chatroom hosted by newspaper; article leads the morning and midday news bulletins on newspaper website; Googlemap offers locator plus internal and external links to associated issues.


Step Four

Sharing the story (Web 1.0)
Newspaper sold on streets for around 12 hours; shovelware story and images remains on website’s main page until overtaken by more news; readers may find it using search facility in future; radio may pick up story and report (without crediting source); forum members debate issue briefly; readers discuss story with family, friends or colleagues.

Sharing the story (Web 2.0)
Newspaper sold on streets for around 12 hours; online news story has an SEO-ed headline to ensure maximum visibility in searches; story and links seeded on appropriate websites; RSS subscribers sent article and links to associated content; headline and link to content promoted via Twitter feed; article included on e-newsletter sent to subscribers with link back to website; placed on news widget for readers to add to their own webpage; video report on newspaper’s website, YouTube and embedded on Facebook page and reporter’s blog; online package promoted on website front page with links; web forum moderator encourages comments and promotes topic; content highlighted on social bookmarking sites; content features in the ‘top 5’ of web blurb in following day’s newspaper.
In addition to this online readers might: Share the article by emailing links to contacts; post their views on external message boards and link back; blog about the article and link; Tweet and link; save it to their own social bookmarks or Digg existing version; join the newspaper’s Flickr group, Facebook page; forward e-newsletters; add the news widget; or just talk about it…

Step Five
What next (Web 1.0)
Forum comments might be reverse published in a ‘From Our Forums’ column; potential ring in from reader with a follow-up tip.

What next (Web 2.0)
Reporter monitors: Blog traffic for activity and routes; uses online search tools – for alerts, external messageboards, Tweets and blog posts – to see who, where and how the article is being discussed; comments and reactions arrive via blog, external forums and newspaper’s own, social networks, YouTube ratings, video debate sites, Twitter…
Reporter gets several new lines of investigation and begins using online tools again to research these emerging stories.

I had no idea when I started doing this how thin the ‘old’ opportunities for investigating stories would look compared to the tools at our disposal now; it’s quite stark really. It drives home just how important mastering these tools is for journalists as our industry continues to develop and change.

Should readers have more control over newspaper websites?

A few days ago I asked Aren’t We All Journalists? and had a response I thought was very interesting.
Essentially, Captain Mac asked if I thought there should be a place on newspaper websites that people could fill themselves? He suggested a “whole section – that people could write stories on, reviews, opinion pieces, list events, drag in links from other sites etc”.

So I started wondering: Why would people use our sites when they could easily set up a blog (or a website) themselves and share their views, reviews, events or whatever? Also, how many regional newspapers in the UK already have relinquished some control to readers?

Personally I can’t think of a good reason why regional newspaper websites couldn’t host, for example, wikis for people to use for sharing information, links, advice or events? While alternative sites will certainly exist on the web we’d have nothing to lose in offering similar. And given the trust that most newspaper brand names still retain (despite dwindling print sales) they should have a good chance of succeeding, if nurtured and promoted well.
And even if such sites didn’t capture the public imagination, we would at least have tried out a new idea and given online users the choice, instead of simply ‘managing’ the information ourselves.

Why shouldn’t we hand over more control to users? The LFC and EFC Banter sites on the Liverpool Daily Post website do that now to a certain extent and, despite being launched only a few weeks ago, are hugely popular. Of course, you could argue that football fan sites are a special case – but look at the Evening Gazette on Teeside with its award-winning hyperlocal sites where content is directly uploaded by more than 150 community bloggers.

The beauty of online newspaper sites is that most ideas go from conception to reality in a short space of time – sometimes just hours. How long does it take to add a new section to the printed paper? It can take months – and occasionally a good idea suffers a lingering death-by-committee.
So I’d have to say the redoubtable Captain Mac makes an excellent point with his response and my answer would have to be yes, I reckon there is. But that’s just me… I’d love to know what others thought.

Convergence thoughts

I am heartily sick of people who put finger-quotes around the word Convergence when they’re talking about media.
It’s becoming a pejorative term when, as far as I can see, it’s one of the opportunities that may mean newspapers have a hope of prosperity in future.
There are so many definitions for the word but my favourite – and the one I think is most optimistic – states that convergence is when more “is entering a given area than is leaving at that level”. Apply that description to newspapers for a moment: More money, more advertising, more readers – everything we want to ensure our survival is captured in this definition of a word some executives can’t even bring themselves to utter without a self-deprecating little shrug.
But now I’m seriously starting to think that maybe convergence should be about more than how we mash technologies together to tell stories.
Maybe it should be about how we converge with other external sources to tell those stories – and I’m thinking here of the people within our readership reach who blog, Tweet, post on Seesmic or have podcasts.
The Daily Post is about to start co-hosting a blog with The Bluecoat gallery in Liverpool – their CEO is going to put his blog on our site and become an LDP blogger while maintaining his own over at Bluecoat. And I think that’s great; it’s not about unique content, it’s about content people value – and I know he’s going to be a really popular blogger on our site while we drive traffic over to The Bluecoat at the same time. And why shouldn’t we support each other? We’re both city businesses (very old city businesses) trying to connect with a changing world.
If newspapers see their remoteness as a badge of integrity and believe impartiality is maintained by observing and never participating, then we may as well give up and go home now. If we’re not prepared to give more of ourselves – and by that I don’t mean free sausage rolls offers – and allow readers to have more involvement in a product that is, after all, produced for them, then we are downsizing our way to oblivion.
Convergence, as far as I’m concerned, is essential. And if I’m to entrenched to grasp how a marriage of networks – social or technological – can benefit the industry that I love (and that pays my wages) then maybe it’s not something I should be a part of any more.

Links

I am always impressed by the links on other people’s blogs. They have sought down the most interesting, pertienent and useful blogs and put helpful links to the sites so muppets like me can share the wisdom.
I’m feeling a little left behind on the old links issue, so I thought I’d take five minutes out of sorting our entries for the Regional Journalism Awards to grab a coffee and boost the rather paltry offering of links here.
So now, in addition to the Liverpool Daily Post link I now have a list of, well, friends who happen to have blogs. So most of them aren’t of any professional use necessarily (apart from Joanna Geary and Markmedia’s blogs) but they do cheer me up when the day is getting to be a bit of a slog.
Oh, and if you click here you’ll find Emma and Alpa, from the Style in the City teams, helping illustrate the stiltwalking feature of Emma’s new shoes.
I took it on my N95 and managed to post it to Flickr with Shozu, which means I have finally sorted the infuriating upload problem – although it mean removing Shozu from the phone, cancelling all accounts, downloading it again and opening a new account. Web 2.0 really shouldn’t have to be this complicated…