#ONALondon Session: Crowdsourcing as the ultimate strategic engagement

Panel: Mimi Onuoha, Research Fellow, Data & Society, Tow Society for Digital Journalism, Katerina Stravroula, freelance journalist and radio producer based in Athen and Tobias Dorfer

MO: Co-author of Tow report on the subject and before you read any further, you probably need to open this http://towcenter.org/research/guide-to-crowdsourcing/

Broadly defined by the Tow report as ‘The act of specifically inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting task’

People engaged in crow sourcing need to feel they have agency in contributing to a new story – we are not talking about scraping; people must not feel they are doing work for you. Everyone is getting something out of it.

The Two report says there are six types of crowdsourcing:

1. Voting – prioritising what reporters should tackle

2. Witnessing – sharing what you saw during a news event

3. Sharing personal experiences – tell us what you know

4. Tapping specialised expertise – contributing data or unique knowledge

5. Completing a task – volunteering time or skill to help create a news story

6. Engaging audiences – joining in call-outs (either informative or playful)

Crowdsourcing is about opportunities for communication via web technologies. As in the first session of the day it is about leveraging the collective intelligence of communities. People have something to gain, and it is it is crucial to the entire element of the entire story. It is just another part of the journalism process.

It is high touch, resource intensive and iterative. It allows journalists to tell stories that could not otherwise have been told, and it asserts the audience as an active participator in the story – the journalism is a relationship rather than a commodity.

TD: Engagement Editor at German news organisation Zeit Online which has about 10m unique users a month. User debates are at the heart of what it does and it has 67% of its audience aged under 49.

“Crowdsourcing is a really important part of our audience engagement strategy. It is not just about getting information that we might not be able to get otherwise, but it is about credibility. Crowdsourcing is the possibility of giving our readers the chance to be a part of project rather than consuming a product and it allows us to gain trust”.

Case study: Zeit Online investigated overdraft rates and asked the audience to send in their postcodes, BIC and overdraft rates. The project got 10k participants, information about 691 banks, and from that created a map of the two highest overdraft interest rats for every state, alongside several articles.

Case study: Bakeries that bake bread on the premises 

Crowdsourced for readers to share the bakeries they knew of that sold handmade-on-site bread and rolls, and what baked goods they recommended. 15K participants, with more than 2,500 such bakeries identified. A map was created and included readers’ favourite products from those bakeries.

With these two case studies, Zeit Online used Google Forms and ran the campaign call outs for around two weeks.

KS is a member of the radiobubble.gr community, contributing to the rbnews and rbdata teams. Radiobubble comprises journalists and activist in Greece.

She was part of the team behind Generation E, a data driven investigation into migration; with a small team she crowdsourced for people to tell their experiences and stories. (The E stands for Europe, Emigration, Erasmus, Economy, Exodus, Escape.)

The team wanted official data, but also the stories of those impacted by it. We used a form online – we first invited people to participate, and tell their stories alongside sharing their data.

They received 2,400 stories and their top level findings included the driving factors for emigration, the registration of non-European migrants, and the inclination emigrants had to return to their home countries.

Tools: Open Refine, Datawrapper, Trello, GoogleDrive and Forms. Doodle, Twitter, Facebook, and also the team worked with media partners.

Takeaways from the panel

You need to plan but be prepared for what comes back to be different to what you expected

If you have a data journalism project, as a freelancer, you cannot continue indefinitely without funding

 

*

So, a few thoughts from me as a result of sitting through this very rewarding session…

Personally I think the big point journalists can take away from this was just how much information and time people are prepared to share – IF you can hit a topic they care about.

A few years ago, when I was editing the Daily Post, we ran a survey on a notorious road, the A55, but – crucially, I think – as well as asking people if it should be given a 3rd lane (no brainer answer: Yes) we asked them to share their views on what the biggest problems were, what they thought should be done, and any experiences they wanted to share.

It was incredibly successful in terms of response and richness of detail and made for several days with of content.

Crowdsourcing, I think, means you cede control of your questions and your line of investigation – what people want to tell you about may be only indirectly linked to the question you ask initially, but if you follow that line of inquiry, you may find the rewards, engagement and validity of the journalism is far, far greater than you imagined at the start.

Crowdsourcing is not “send us pictures of your children in Easter bonnets”; that’s a UGC shoutout. It is the collaborative act of putting inquiries into the world, and seeing what develops – of making stories with people who are outside of your newsroom and your bubble of perception.

Audience engagement and newsroom attitudes

Several years ago, when the words ‘content is king’ was everywhere, I remember Joanna Geary observing  ‘collaboration is queen’. I loved that.
I’ve been thinking about Jo’s twist on King Content because the phrase ‘audience engagement’ is so prevalent right now, and I think that if collaboration is queen bee then being part of the conversation swarm is a vital part of it.
‘Content is king’ became a cliche thanks to a combination of overuse, misuse, and buzzword bingo; essentially, it holds truths, but it’s hard not to groan when you hear it.
Today we’re all about ‘audience engagement’; everyone (mainstream media, brands, marketers or social media players) is looking to, y’know, #engage the #audience with #content that is #shareable and possible even #viral. It’s in danger of becoming disengaging; a phrase on the precipice of becoming a placeholder in strategy documents for the future of journalism.

I think about audience engagement a lot because it’s the cornerstone of my employer’s strategy – Trinity Mirror doesn’t do paywalls, it does audiences – in a nutshell we want to increase audiences, keep them coming back, and know them well enough so that advertisers find the right customers. This isn’t a blog post about TM, it’s about my personal view of how audience engagement should be considered in (many) newsrooms and  what the phrase means to me.  It means this: Creating a newsroom where the process, culture, planning, and output takes the reader/audience/customer/end user – whatever you want to call it – into consideration, and produces stories that begin a second phase of development post-publishing.

I heard Alan Rusbridger speak last week (funnily enough, I had already written most of this post, and so I’m not plagiarising him, I promise) and he spoke of his admiration for Glen Greenwald. Greenwald, he said, was a journalist who thought the real and exciting part of his job started after he’d published his story, and people started talking to him about it on social media. How brilliant (and fearless) is that?

When we hold our news conferences, we’re deciding what the parameters of what is a good story, how it is presented, what platforms we are going to market it on and how, and what time people can read it.
Once a story is in the world, and going great guns on social or on the live analytics board, the most important thing to ask is not “what else are we doing on this?” but “what are people saying about this?”
How are they reacting? Do they see the story as we do, or have a different view point? What aspects chime with them? When they share it, what editorialising of their own are they doing?
If they’re not saying anything, are we
* looking for any conversations in the right places
* inviting people to talk about it
* listening and making ourselves available to discuss further

Getting audience engagement right isn’t a complicated equation (it doesn’t take a vast cognitive leap to know a news story about heavy overnight snow will leave the morning audience wanting to know if the roads and schools are open).
It doesn’t begin and end with the idea of simply making content people want to view/interact/share either – it’s far more sophisticated, and it is also understanding your audience well enough to know how to tell the stories that probably don’t trigger an automatic urge to click.

I was in a news conference recently where a mildly-important-but-dull story about business rates came up. As regional and local reporters, it’s not enough to cover the story that and then expect people to work hard to get the sense of it – if you think it’s boring, ask yourself why would readers care, unless they were directly impacted (and even then, why would they chose your content over a rival publisher’s? Or a social media update from a councillor? Or – more likely- a business owner directly impacted by the change? Competition for attention is brutal and the audience is a promiscuous beast. Similarly, if/when Twitter adds the option to bust 140 characters, user options for storytelling become far more open. So the business owner can write a considered 200-word piece on how rates affect them instead of a short view, or a jumbled rant over several posts. The context available to Twitter audiences will grow – and that is an area where, for the moment, news media have been able to claim an advantage simply by being able to link to a story on a website.

Audience engagement is a newsroom where the reader is considered at the start of the story process. It’s thinking about the people we’re telling stories to, beyond the timings of audience spikes and social uploads. I think it’s about bringing a blogger mindset to our journalism – that live construction of a story that happens, and is refined with reader input to show how it’s developed. People might leave a comment on this post, for example, about what audience engagement means to them, or they might tell me on Twitter (and I could embed a collection of tweets if there were enough).
They might write their own blog post and link to this, so my post will track back to theirs and anyone reading this can find it.

For newsrooms it’s about starting the day looking for and asking what people are talking about, what they want to know more about, what stories they’re reading, sharing and responding to – and what they are ignoring, and why.
It’s about holding regular open sessions with readers (and this can be an exposing and difficult thing to do) such as an editor committing to hold regular, scheduled hangouts to discuss ideas or decisions with readers, reporters doing live debates on Periscope or in Facebook Q&As on their work, news conferences being held in public (and if you think that’s impractical, the Liverpool Echo once held theirs on on a bed in an art gallery).
And it’s about sustaining the practices you put in place not because they are the flavour of the month, but because they bring you as a journalist, or your newsroom as an exec, closer to readers.

That’s the other thing about audience engagement, you can’t be half-hearted or engage a little bit; all you do that way is confuse people (including your newsroom, if you are an editor who blows hot and cold on the subject), or end up sticking with safe trivia that allows a bit of easy bantz but isn’t meaningful.  It’s a commitment but the outcome more than repays the investment made.

 

 

Dealing with witnesses: Why the Eyewitness Media Hub’s guidelines are so important for journalism

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A while ago I was asked to join a group of journalists assembled with the aim of providing some input into Eyewitness Media Hub’s principles for journalists working with UGC* – user generated content (or ‘other people’s words and images’, as non-journalists might say).

It was a privilege to be involved in the discussions and workshop around such important issues, and as a mainstream journalist it’s really important to me that my world view of our working practices gets stretched and challenged regularly.

Anyway, EMH took on an enormous piece of work and, from a bazillion clauses, sub-clauses and “yes, but…” moments, has distilled the best practice down into 6 simple steps.

Go and look at them with full context on the EMH website, and do please read the version on Medium with lovely sharable graphics because they explain things beautifully, and succinctly.

However, as I’ve got your eyeballs for a moment, here’s a pared-down version, with my input in (these):

  1. Consider the physical and emotional welfare of the eyewitnesses you speak to during breaking news events (I have spoken to people who were so shaken by what they’d just been involved in, they didn’t even know I was media, despite me telling them. I imagine a stranger saying “hello, this is my name and title” is classed by the brain as extraneous information compared to the WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING information it’s trying to process. Try to publish footage already captured (Again, it’s often amazing how obliging your average member of the public can be. They will unthinkingly and unwittingly put themselves in, or back in, harm’s way just to be co-operative, helpful and show the story. Others do it because they want that brush with fame – both are equally damaging, potentially). Appreciate the eyewitness may be completely overwhelmed. (This is an opportunity to be a human being, and not take advantage of them. I think probably Vivien Ayling, who witnessed the Shoreham tragedy and then drove on, obviously in deep shock, to her workplace. I caught a radio interview with her a few days later, and a) she was getting a huge amount of social media abuse for driving on to work – instead of what? Staying and getting caught in the fire? Being in the way of the rescue services? – and b) reporters were allegedly waiting for her at home, have steamrollered her son to get into the house. She didn’t even think of asking them to leave, poor woman).
  2. When you’re asking people if you can use their content, do explain how it will be used, and where and what you’re planning to do with it. Also, tell them about syndication, including the who and where. (I’ve explained the syndication opportunity to Liverpool people who have, for example, given us videos, and the stipulation comes back that they’re fine for it be bought by other organisations but it cannot go to The Sun. Also, historically, people have had no idea what syndication of their content means: I think that will change, especially as more organisations like Storyful appear; but in the meantime, if they don’t ask, we should make sure they’re told).
  3. If you’re embedding content, without speaking to the creator, think about reasonable expectation of where it might appear. (But, tbh, get explicit permission every time, if you can. It just saves a heap of problems later and, frankly, if someone doesn’t want you to use their stuff, and finds out you have, you could find the ensuing Tweetstorm and drain on your time trying to right a wrong outweighs the click value. Also, TinEye and Google Reverse Image Search are commonly used nowadays; it can also cost you more financially, once you’ve annoyed someone through non-communication).
  4. When it comes to images, think about the impact of what you’re publishing might have on people pictured/broadcast, or their family. (Blur isn’t a cop-out; it’s a mature way of telling a story while acknowledging the impact of what you’re publishing can have. We can be so terrified of bottling it, or not using the same photo in the same way as another publication, sometimes. Competition is a good thing, and being bold and brave as journalists is generally the right way to go. All I’m saying is: It’s rare you can cause harm by shielding people)
  5. Ask how someone who has created the content you’re publishing wants to be credited. This may mean you need to explain the potential pros and cons (like, you’ll get a lot of social media kudos and follows – you’ll also get deluged by other media wanting to use it, and they will contact you directly instead of going through our syndication department (see #2). And, no, Photo: Twitter, or Video: YouTube is not a byline.  Sometimes people will choose pseudonyms, or request anonymity, often they won’t. What they do need is a choice.
  6. Treat people fairly; ask them if they would like recompense if their content is being used to make money for the publisher. And here we are at the delicate business of finance, at which point most newsrooms will twitch their skirts around their ankles and dither because UGC IS FREE, ISN’T IT? Not always, and not if you want a relationship with your audience, and a reputation for fair dealing. Often people don’t want money but it’s a conversation that should be had.

*I think Other People’s Content is probably the honest way of putting things, because it doesn’t set the Wo/Man In The Street on a different footing to a freelance photographer. If you want what they’ve made, you need to treat them both well and fairly, whether payment is requested or expected or not. Because, well, ethics. And not being a dick.

A short guide to longform


Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Talking on Twitter with Andy Dickinson the next day:

Sparking:

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

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

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

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

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

Storyboard it

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

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

Device-check it

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

Browser-check it

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

Have an analytics plan

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

Think like a user

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

 

 

A bit of MSM and hyperlocal co-operation goes a long way

I came across an exchange between the Daily Post and Wrexham.com on Twitter today that made me happy. 
It makes far more sense for MSM and hyperlocals to support each other to get information out; the alternative is to pretend the other doesn’t exist or – worse – denigrate the ‘rival’ source. The former is a MSM habit, the latter (in my experience) an indie one. 

As far as I’m concerned, the main competition anyone trying to connect with content consumers faces is audience disconnect, distrust and apathy, not other information sources (whether those information sources are the BBC or the eyewitness tweeting). 

Yes, I edit the Daily Post (the exchange below had nothing to do with me though) and I know we won’t be unique in having candid, supportive conversations with other news organisations without getting precious. 

But, as I say, it made me happy to see mainstream and indie teaming up to make sure a story was accurately and swiftly updated. And so I thought it was worth saving the moment here.  
The Daily Post current version of the story is here and Wrexham.com’s is here

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Disruption isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a lifebuoy

Life Preserver
From a link tweeted by Kevin Anderson this morning I wound up at a new-to-me blog by John L Robinson called Media, Disrupted.
Sometimes it feels like I work in Sesame Street – Journalism today is brought to you by the letters D and C… Disruption, Data, Distribution, and Curation, Collaboration, Content – so a blog with a title like that had appeal before I even started.
Anyway, I read the post and it didn’t so much ring a bell with me as clang one of Poe’s ‘loud alarum bells‘; I mused on it for most of the morning. 
In fact, it made me think so much that I tweeted Kevin to say, well, just that, and he replied with another clanging phrase – that “local journalism isn’t just about speaking to power but also about communities speaking to themselves”.
I can’t say it anywhere near as well as John L Robinson does; he hits the nail right on the head pretty much with this paragraph:

Newspapers hurt themselves. They began charging for obituaries. (The paper wants to make money from a death in my family? Who does that? Not a friend) Newspapers developed attitude. Snark was in; folksy was out…That’s not how you talk to family.

I understand the point he makes as what I had with various communities, at different points in my career, was intimacy with the readership.
When I worked on the Western Telegraph I knew my readers (not their social demography, I mean I literally knew most of them because I saw them. If I didn’t know people to say hello to, I knew them from court, council, from them putting in adverts at the front counter, or because they worked in W. H. Smiths or Woolworths).
When I moved to the Gloucester Citizen, even though I had a news patch and I knew a little more about my paper’s reader demography, I didn’t have that same connection and I suspect that even if I had lived in the heart of my patch it wouldn’t have happened. Because the Telegraph was ‘our paper’ or, just as interestingly, ‘THE paper’ but the Citizen was ‘The Local Rag’.
I genuinely heard it called that on a number of occasions, and bear in mind this was just at the time Fred and Rose West’s horrifying secrets were being revealed; the Citizen’s sales figures were at an all-time high, so it was being bought – it just wasn’t respected or (I suspect) particularly liked.
There was no intimacy between paper and reader. The old Grade II listed St John St offices didn’t even have – and were unable to install – a disabled access, so if you were in a wheelchair or unable to mount steps, an advertising rep or reporter would have to come and talk to you in the street – how’s that for looking after your customer?

Other papers I’ve worked on had the same issues – the Southern Daily Echo didn’t have the same feeling of connectivity with its readers as the The News, Portsmouth – just 15 miles down the M27 – while Liverpool felt connected (there was even a Foning The Echo Facebook group, set up to celebrate that landmark moment in a consumer’s life when, while complaining about shoddy goods/services, the local paper is invoked).

Maybe sometimes the physical barriers contribute to that loss of intimacy too – when you close a district office, move from that expensive city centre address to a more remote industrial site, when you shift to automated switchboards or – as Johnson says – start charging for things people would expect to get for free.

However far we’ve shifted, I think the opportunities for reconnecting (or connecting with new people) are vast, thanks to online tools and social media, and it comes back to those letters D and C.
By disrupting old ways of working – whether it’s the full-on change to digital first, or taking the decision to more transparent, or by – we open up new channels to reach people. By distributing work across 3rd party platforms (from Twitter to Scribd, Flickr to What Do They Know? or collaborating with others (blogging an unfolding story, or simply hashtagging a breaking news story), acknowledging that content does not begin and end with a 400 word story and side panel but is maps, spreadsheets, pdfs, photos, timelines, graphics, adverts puzzles, horoscopes… and then there’s data and curation, which don’t just allow us to do all of the above, they demand we do all of the above (as does Hyperlocal, I guess).

Newspapers have lost their audiences; evening titles managed to balance things somewhat by publishing earlier in the day, and some have shifted to become weekly publications but I wonder how and whether they are reconnecting with people.

As part of my Journalism Leaders Course studies I’ve been reading papers examining at how businesses cope with change. This paragraph…

Some individuals will be able to change and to adapt to even the most difficult circumstances whereas others will not. This is true for organizations as well. Some organizations are slow to react to a challenging environment whereas others are able to do so more easily

… from How Flexibility Facilitates Innovation and Ways To Manage It In Organizations  sums up the challenge anyone bringing disruption to a regional media business faces. Individuals might change, departments might change, but it’s wholesale business change – disruption – that’s key.

Disruption makes for uncertain and occasionally worrying times, but it also clears the way for the new. So I’ll say it again: Disruption isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a lifebuoy.

Sesame Street
Image via Wikipedia

* Flickr photograph by cncphotos

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New online storytelling tools: Curating/collaborating with Pearltrees

Pearltrees  could be an interesting take on curated and collaborative storytelling. I discovered the site via Mo Krochmal, who hade made a paella tree using the Flash tool, and I liked the idea so much I wanted to try it out.

Basically, Pearltrees allows users to collaborate on just about anything that exists online. I’ve found everything on there from beauty tips to nude photography, to political debate, all available to be updated in real time by multiple users. So it should be fairly simple to adapt as a way of telling a story online, in the same way you can use Prezi for visualisations.

I installed the Firefox addon for Pearltrees, which lets me add web pages, and then had to pick a topic. The question was, what?
Time was pressing so I combined it with something that I’ve been doing as alongside my day job (although, of course, it is part of my day job as well) which is getting to know more about my new home city of Cardiff.

I tried to group topics and themes together, so information like maps, Wikipedia and TruKnowledge are linked pearls. Likewise, sport, Dr Who, Torchwood and some social media elements have linked pearls.
It’s not perfect – in fact it’s downright sprawling compared to Mo’s lovely paella pearltree, but it has a rough shape and more elements can be added in as necessary. 

As a storytelling tool I like it. It can be very realtime and linear, or it can branch out and span multiple topics. You can invite users via email, Twitter or Facebook, publish via Twitter, embed or link.
Downsides (for iPad-ers, at least) are that it’s Flash-based, plus it would be really useful to be able to add comments (in text boxes to clarify a timeline or the choice of content, for example), as you can on Storify. Also to upload media as well as curate existing information.
But it’s only just out of beta, and it’s a very interesting, and very simple tool.

[Update: Overnight my Pearltree on Cardiff had accrued 65 hits. It’s also got followers, one of whom is now a team-member as well. 

[So, maybe this will start to take on a life of its own – I certainly hope so.]

I did think of curating a journalism Pearltrees but – frankly – the one below takes the blue ribbon… so I’ve simply shared it here…

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This is not a blog post… this is a confession

This was quite a taxing post to write. It took me a while to work through my thoughts and I suspect it might irritate some as, essentially, it advocates allowing the people we interview to see and change copy before it’s finished.

So, before I get to the point, here’s a story.
As a trainee reporter for a weekly paper I once arrived in newsroom to find a note in my pigeonhole from Fierce News Editor. His handwriting was – still is, I’d bet – too poor to decipher. So I asked him, and braced for impact.
Turned out he’d scrawled me a compliment along the lines of: “Liked your piece on Bird Woman; you’re turning into a decent feature writer”. I remember his words practically verbatim not because of any warm glow they produced, but because of the guilt.

The ‘Bird Woman’ of his note was a former personality who had dedicated her twilight years to bipeds of the feathered-variety. She refused requests for interviews from local (or, on occasion) national journalists but, after months of cajoling, she agreed to give me an interview… so long as she got to see the copy first. She said ‘see’, we both knew that potentially meant ‘change things’; I wanted that feature and so I went along with it. Sending my article to her before it was published was a big deal to me; moreover, I think I’d have got absolute carpeting if my news editor had ever found out.

I interviewed her, I wrote it, I posted a draft to her (yes, it’s that long ago) and a corrected proof arrived a few days later. The corrections were, to my shame, mostly spelling but I also remember some adjectives (it was for our magazine so the odd random act of prose was permitted) were replaced – ‘small, elderly’ became ‘sprightly’ for example, and ‘eccentric’ became ‘a local character’ – vanity changes that were important to her, as a septuagenarian dealing with a teenager who couldn’t spell ‘receive’ properly. The feature ran, I had lovely feedback from readers and colleagues, but it was ashes in my mouth.

I’ve sent my copy out for approval on two other occasions and both subjects were rape victims – one a young girl who recounted her ordeal as her father stood, frozen and grieving, behind my chair watching my shorthand, the other was a woman in her eighties, reunited for the first time with the son she’d conceived during the attack. I broke the rule for a simple reason – I simply couldn’t bear the thought of getting their stories wrong. Hence, I broke it for me, not for them.

All journalists get asked the “Can I see the copy” question at some point; most news editors will advise trotting out something along the lines of: “I’m sorry, it’s against company policy”. I think newspaper-types feel a little wounded by the request – why, anyone would think you don’t trust us. But, culturally and professionally, print journalism is undergoing a sea-change, which is sweeping aside long-held tenets.

Letting others see your copy-in-progress in advance of publication is no longer the issue it was, because we’re already showing the thought-processes behind articles via blogs, tweets, liveblogging, crowdsourcing, livestreaming and more. The big ‘Ta-daa’ moment of revealing an exclusive is a lovely thing if you’re the reporter writing it but if others are blogging or tweeting or commenting on forums about various angles before you’re anywhere near a print deadline what are you gaining?

I’m not saying journalists should just hand over all articles pre-publication, whatever platform that article is intended for so individuals can approve (“Could you just ask the defendant if he’s happy with this latest trial update M’Lud?”) although John Terry would probably like that a lot. But I do think we need to challenge the ‘never let them see your work’ attitude.

The rise of collaboration and the opportunities for openly developing a story mean that those involved can be active participants rather than passive subjects, and I also think platforms like Google Wave can allow reporters to develop interviews, ideas and question threads in real time.
For the newspaper industry, especially for print journalists, I think the sooner we grasp the concept that collaboration means showing our hand the better. If someone shares their story a reporter, then asks to collaborate with them by seeing – and most probably amending – the article pre-publication, then an automatic “No” is a difficult position to maintain.

Storybird: A collaborative storytelling tool for… journalists (and why not?)

I don’t know if I’m late to the party with this but I’ve just discovered Storybird
and, let me tell you, it’s an amazing website. So brilliantly simple, effective (and free – essential for me to try something for the first time) and engaging – I think it has great opportunities for journalists who want to tell, collaborate with others and share stories online.

In a nutshell, Storybird is a sharing site that allows you to make, illustrate and publish online your own stories. I signed up, skipped the ‘this is how it works’ video and plunged in to create my own story.
As I typed in text, images suggested themselves (I love that for Typical British Weather it offered me a little cartoon cricketer) and there are lots of artist illustrations to choose from. Most, but not all, are cutesy but since I’d only suggest Storybird be used to illustrate ligher-hearted articles (or as stand-alones) I don’t think it matters.
Here’s my first attempt (I only noticed the spelling error once I’d published it. Sigh)  UPDATE: Storybird suffered a ‘server outrage’ on Christmas Eve and emailed me to say my story was one of a dozen that had been lost. Irritatingly, instead of displaying a message that says this story is now irretrievable, it says it has been set to private. It hasn’t – it simply doesn’t exist any more. I would prefer if Storybird had made this clear, rather than pretending I’d made the story private, especially since I’ve been offline for several days, and therefore unable to do anything about that incorrect message.

Most, but not all, of the illustrations offered up are cutesy but since I’d only suggest Storybird be used to illustrate ligher-hearted articles (or as stand-alones) I don’t think it matters. You can have collaborative Storybird tales, with multiple authors, and they can also be open-ended.
The stories carry embed codes and badges, which is a huge plus as far as I’m concerned. I’m definitely going to be using this on the Liverpool Daily Post site soon, as Arts Editor Laura Davis and I are plotting an Online Literary Festival (more of which anon). And I could see this fitting into the scheme of things brilliantly as one way for our readers to get involved.

Anyway, in case I haven’t been quite clear on my feelings, Storybird is GREAT. It’s in public beta so do sign up and have a go. I haven’t been so thrilled with an online discovery since I made my first toon using Xtranormal.

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Google Wave, transparency* and engagement

I’ve been using Google Wave for about a week now and every time I log on I discover something new. I’ve read a few gripes about things being broken, or it being too confusing, or too quiet, but for me the biggest problem is having time to play around with it enough to learn everything it can do.

Lifehacker has been invaluable, as has this post and this one although when I swept off in a, well, in a wave of enthusiasm to embed a wave on here I swiftly discovered my limitations. I was pretty downcast as well until I realised that it should be quite easy as it’s all done by automation but the facility isn’t switched on yet. And since my coding skills are pretty lowly I am really not up to tackling this without bot assistance. So instead of getting hung up on what it can and can’t do, I think I’m better off trying to work out the rules of engagement.

For example, I’ve just crashed a Wave. It’s about Flickr, I didn’t mean too, but I have just added myself to the discussion simply by clicking ‘reply’ to see if I could. No one cared but it was weird that a debate was going on between a group of people who obviously know one another and suddenly I’m in the middle of it. All a bit too “Ta-daaaaaaa!” for me right now. I guess it’s because I am still treating it like it’s a private conversation; it is a public Wave on the public timeline but, like Twitter, it’s not easy to keep that in mind when you’re using it. It becomes a little world and when someone new arrives it’s a surprise.

Here’s something else to, raised by Nick Miller in the ‘Wave, journalism and the mainstream media’ wave I joined today:

Watching people type in real time is fantastic, in a voyeuristic way. You can see their minds working.

But do we want people to see our minds working? How many times have we written an email, tweet or forum comment, only for our censor to kick in and say ‘don’t send that!’.

How many times? For me, a lot. Right now I’m getting mocked for my poor typing skills by fellow wavers who can see me correcting as I’m going – but there’s a lot more onus on me now to think through what I’m going to say. You know in Google Chat when it says X has entered text and it generally means they’re sense-checking what they’ve written? In a wave, your thoughts are revealed letter by letter. And I get very self-conscious if I start a sentence, then backtrack/delete and rephrase it while other people observe me making those changes.

What Google has done is create an application that allows those watching a wave to see thought-proceses at work; a wave is an aid to Transparency. A journalist using a wave is asking people to collaborate wiki-style in information-gathering – in fact, s/he should be writing the article in the wave, so contributors can participate in living, breathing news-making – a space where they can throw questions, facts and comments in themselves – not be served up a flat, one-dimensional statement of facts that ends when the story is thought to be the required amount of words.

I remember last July when a crane collapsed on an apartment block in Liverpool, and how Twitter was integral to the Post and Echo’s coverage – imagine if we’d been able to start a public wave on the topic and embed it on our websites. By bringing a contributing audience into our site and asking them to help us – using maps and images being added alongside observations and comments – the ‘journalist as gatekeeper’ would have been truly defunct. Rumours posted could be quickly checked and a breaking story updated constantly. And it would remain open for users to revisit, and add to. The playback option shows exactly who made what changes when, which is also pretty handy.

It’s not Twitter, or Facebook, or a wiki, or even email but it is, I think, a great learning opportunity for journalists who are prepared for the sense of exposure and vulnerability it brings. Letting someone see the messy spaghetti of a story-in-progress is something we’ve been conditioned against for decades – it’s many years since I sat my NCE but I’ll bet the NCTJ is still interested in the end product, not the journey – and Google Wave is all about in-progress. It would be unsettling (and possibly, initially, irritating) as a journalist to type a statement and then see another wave participant dive in and start editing the text you’ve just written to change a fact, or add information but I’d imagine it would also be exciting to see a news story being woven out of random strands of questions and facts.

Google Wave is going to be what a journalist wants make it – crowdsourcing, debating, real-time news-gathering, breaking news, image sharing, archived events, live-blogging, polling, asking for feedback – but, I think, the most exciting thing it offers is the opportunity to change the way we think about interaction and engagement. As a learning tool for transparency, it really could be amazing.

* Shortly after I published this post it was pointed out to me that the headline read ‘tansprency’; I told you my typing was hopeless…