Video: a (very) interactive newspaper

I’m indebted to Andy Dickinson for sharing this video on Twitter, of an interactive Lancashire Evening Post, created by UCLan and partners. 
Paul Egglestone explains the why and the what of the project in the video, and also shows how the data of reader interaction is captured. 
The last bit is so important thing; I understand (and suffer from) the Distraction of Shiny but it can be just that – a distraction. 
 

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Mocking up photos, and mocking readers

These are some the points commenters found objectionable about about The Sun‘s Naked Intern photoshoot

She was female
She was an intern
She was asked to make an impossible choice
The Sun did not ask a Page 3 girl to do it (Seriously. I guess Page 3 girls must just wander around the editorial floor at all times, filing their News in Briefs)
The subsequent statement about ‘no cover up’
The paper then printed the actual photo

Most of these are good points. But, personally, the element I found most objectionable wasn’t that the question had been asked, it’s the fact that the whole tawdry affair – made, no doubt, with sniggers and self-congratulatory noises – puts fresh tarnish on the profession of Journalism.

Every time Fleet Street Muppets pull a stunt that shows they view their readers as fools – ‘hand over your money, folks, we’ve been having a high old time getting our staff to take their clothes off’ – it erodes what we’re supposed to be about. 
You might think the customers being mocked are Sun readers and so don’t count. I’m not interested in news brand snobbery; I’m interested in the editorial decision.
And it’s not about high-mindedness or having an over-inflated view of a newspaper’s role; I am very aware that an incorrect fact in the splash might merit a complaint, but printing yesterday’s Crossword is an Unforgivable Blunder for which the editor should be sacked.

 
But – and the Leveson Inquiry underlined this for me – the Press is a collective, as far as the public consciousness goes. 


The repercussions of phone hacking outrages perpetrated by national tabloid journalists are still being felt at a local level; after all, most people will judge us all by the standards of conduct they saw displayed on the BBC’s Leveson reports month after month

Photos of a prince displaying his innate good breeding to the world aside, I wish Thursday’s The Sun front page had been a banner headline of a bit.ly link to the TMZ.com story. It would have made the point a lot more eloquently. 
As it was, it just reinforced the idea that, for newspapers, the joke’s on the reader. 
The Sun published the Harry photo today – for me, any moral stance in that decision was eclipsed by the earlier lack of judgement.

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The responsibility of learning

I always find the Pew Research Centre data fascinating – the information is all based on US findings, of course, but it’s a wonderful insight into the way people think (and, given the right technology, operate). 

The latest one – Learning in the Digital Age – is no exception. It’s packed with stats and graphs, although my personal favourite slide is this one:

74% of smartphone users are sharing where they are and what they are doing there. A later slide says 52% of adults are on social networks (I would have probably guessed higher, probably due to my own bias)  
If mainstream media organisations can’t find a way to tap into these people – collaboratively, editorially and commercially – we may as well pack up and go home. Although some of the information pertains to libraries and librarians, it inevitably has resonance with me as a journalist. 
Like this slide 

From a media point of view, you could say “We report best passively…” has been replaced by “We report best actively” – the engagement, collaboration and transparency that newsrooms should strive for is just the same. 
And, taking the last part of the sentence into consideration, I believe we should manage our own learning. 
Training is vital, and no one should be expected to be able to produce edited video without having some idea of how to go about it but when it comes to learning about social media, data tools, mapping, sharing, online tools that make doing the job or telling the story easier/better/richer – from Audioboo to Zemanta– there is a responsibility to keep up with what’s happening.  

Learning on the job is part of the job. Whether it’s listening to colleagues, reading tech blogs, following interesting people on Twitter (it even suggests who you should follow now, after all) or Quora, asking questions…. learning about the new tools of the trade comes down to putting your journalist abilities into good use.
After all, it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. 

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Bild’s UGC success story

free_stamp

Reading Maria Purdy Young’s take on UGC (Citizen Journalism: Something for Nothing Won’t Last Long) recently I remembered Bild’s 2008 intiative to pebbledash basic digital cameras around it’s potential audience, to try and boost the photographic network. 
According to Bild’s picture editor the newspaper now receives something like 4,000 photographs a day, and  has led to nearly 1,000 lead stories. (more here, courtesy of Google Translate). 
 The mind boggles as to how they process all that content pouring in, or whether they respond to everyone who makes a submission (I doubt it’s possible)  but it really is the whole River of UGC idea that the regional press has been so intrigued by in recent years.
Bild is, of course, huge – 2.2m copies a day – with a vast audience and the amount of photos, tips and more it receives are correspondingly vast; but when Bild and Lidl announced their plans I thought how wonderful it would be if only my company could give free or peppercorn cost Flip cameras to people. 
Because like Maria Purdy Young says, something for nothing won’t last. In fact, something for nothing shouldn’t last –  ethically it’s a concept we should be uneasy with.
There should be an exchange – it doesn’t mean that it always has to be a financial one as people see value and reward in various ways, but an acknowledgement that both sides are benefiting in some way and an exchange has taken place is crucial.
 

The problem with engagement? It involves other people

There have been several social media conferences recently where, from hashtag evidence, person after person stood up and urged listeners to “go where the conversation is”,  “be part of the conversation” and “if your brand isn’t engaging on Facebook, ask yourself if YOU aren’t engaging on Facebook”.
Which is all very right (although possibly repetitive) but quite often you see brands attempting to engage, and then getting caught up in a social media storm for striking the wrong note.
Remember the admittedly-baffling Greater Manchester Police tweet ‘there are no excuses!’ (now deleted) around the riots sentencing last year?
It saw GMP go from the Darling of Twitter for its commitment to engagement and social media to a pariah within moments and was quickly followed by…

That made it into the Guardian, no less. And yes, it was a stupid editorial to add to a tweet about a sentencing, but feeds are run by people, and people make mistakes.
This week it was London Midland having to apologise for tweets about a suicide on the line causing delays.
Among the tweets complained about was:

@louhaffner Go to the pub – things will be rubbish for at least the next hour.
— London Midland (@LondonMidland) February 12, 2012

Hmm. Maybe I’m being insensitive but I can’t get exercised about that. And having looked at the London Midland Twitter page, which responds not just to @messages but also to tweets generally referencing the company, I think it’s pretty exemplary and the result of decent training and, possibly, some harsh lessons.
Whoever helps run it (assuming it’s a team effort) has a good line in engagement and conversation, understands hashtags, doesn’t overdo the emoticons and generally sounds, well, human. All in the face of people tweeting intelligent responses such as

@LondonMidland yes you can,stop hiking the fares,have the trains on time & you would have no one jumping in front of trains. #frustration
— PIEnMASHgeezer (@PIEnMASHgeezer) February 12, 2012

Tweeting as a brand is a hard balance to strike. You need personality, but not too much, and a degree of familiarity might work some of the time but not always – or at least not always with everyone.
Some people are apparently keen to be offended, some people will respond in inappropriate ways, but expect you to remain respectful and informative.

Engaging as a news brand is an even bigger minefield. You ask a question around, say, what people would be interested in reading about and get a “Why should I do your job?” tweet back from someone.
At which point, you can either shrug and respond to those who do want to engage, or try to strike some common ground with those who prefer to complain.
The benefit of the latter could be very real… it could also end up being a mutually dissatisfying time-suck.

I’ve got some personal rules about responding to people who are in full fighting plumage – usually on Twitter rather than Facebook – as a brand (ie. tweeting as WalesOnline or WalesonSunday)…

1. Are they simply grandstanding? (Generally, they don’t want a response, they want a reaction)
2. If they are grandstanding, who follows them? (If you’re broadcasting to 3 pornbots and a couple of mates, fill your boots)
3. On Twitter, do they have an avatar or are they an egg? (Often indicative of whether they’re likely to engage or not)
4. Does their tweet make any sense or are they swearing? (I won’t talk to you on the phone if you swear at me, I’m not making an exception in digital life)
5. Are they agent provocateurs? (if their Twitter stream comprises complaints, whinges and attacks then there’s a good chance they just enjoy annoying people)
6. Am I responding simply because the person is bone-crushingly stupid, and I’d quite enjoy smashing their point out of the park? (If yes, it’s generally not worth it)

Four years ago I would have said it was wrong to have a criteria for responding to anyone online, but now I’m not so certain.
I’ve closed two online forums because in both cases my overstretched digital teams were intervening in rows not only between users of those communities, but with some of the community-appointed moderators. The horse hadn’t just bolted, it was accelerating into the next county.
Shutting them down wasn’t a decision lightly-taken – the page views were advertiser-friendly (100k+ in one case) but the spite and fighting weren’t.
Getting those channels back on track might have been possible with concerted, full-time community management. Ergo, from a team manager point of view, it wasn’t practical or desirable. Putting new efforts into Facebook, Twitter and site users elsewhere proved far more beneficial, and led to lessons learned and better engagement.

The beauty of social media for brands is that it brings a connection with other people.The drawback is that other people will be, well, people. Add a little anonymity, distance and the opportunity for some manufactured outrage, and the results can be illuminating.

* Update: The subject of engagement and brands has also prompted a blog post from David Higgerson. Recommended reading: SOCIAL MEDIA: THE PERILS OF GOING TOO FAR WHEN TRYING TO MAKE A BRAND INTERACTIVE

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Why (and how) news organisations should schedule tweets

Image: Wikipedia

It’s not exactly a raging controversy, but there are decided opinions held on whether news organisations should schedule their tweets. 
It makes a huge difference when someone writes a tweet as opposed to a bot spitting out a link – the colour, interaction, nuances are quite different, but you can’t hover over a keyboard promoting links 24/7 and there are times when planning ahead and scheduling means you put the reader first. 

So, some thoughts…

1. Be mindful of what’s happening
One of the big issues with scheduling tweets is that the news agenda and public mood can change quite rapidly; a jaunty tweet about a showbiz story is obviously jarring to people gripped by a major, rolling news break of significance.
If you did schedule tweets in advance and then have second thoughts about them, log in and quietly unschedule*. In Hootsuite and Tweetdeck (which I flit between – especially now CoTweet is ending its free model) you need to add Scheduled Tweets as separate columns to edit/delete them. 
Just because you’ve set a tweet in time it doesn’t mean you’ve set it in tablets of stone, after all Just… kill your schedule for the time being. *May necessitate some midnight logging on if something of international significance occurs late at night.

2. Apps matter
Scheduling does have drawbacks – not least the client you use. 
I’ve been using the neat tool Bufferapp for a while, and started running SocialBro for Twitter analytics after TM’s social media wrangler Heather Hughes tipped me to it, but I’ve now realised they mash-up to produce a very handy scheduling option.
For example, analytics tell us the Welsh ex-pat community in the southern hemisphere will not be logging on on WalesOnline, agog for local news, at 7am GMT. 
They will, however, show up in the small hours, and many of them will be checking their Twitter and Facebook networks around the same time. So by linking WalesOnline’s Twitter with Bufferapp and SocialBro, it does some crunching, and resets Bufferapp’s schedule to hit the times most of our audience are online. Bufferapp also offers several browser extensions and can be installed in Twitter. Like I say, it’s very neat.


3. Humans rock

We switched off the Twitterfeeds in Liverpool a few years ago; WalesOnline lost most of its auto tweets last Spring and everything on the new @WO_breaking is tweeted by Actual People. 
We hit the lunchtime traffic, for example, with some of the more diverting stories in the Need to Read section (which sits alongside the Wales News story queue and effectively sums up the difference between public interest and interesting to the public). 
The early evening traffic gets the big/high-traffic stories of the day that have broken while worker bees may have been stuck in meetings, and are looking to catch up on the commute. We also add diversions – the picture editor’s choice, some quirky reads – because it’s not all about news.
Most of those tweets can be written earlier in the day and scheduled; they can run to a timetable that sits outside the news agenda.


4. It’s not gatekeeping – it’s curating
Possibly some the resistance to scheduling was born out of the Journalists as Gatekeepers backlash – certainly I think a lot of us working in MSM digital spaces were terribly conscious a few years ago about the stigma of being seen to hold back the flow of news. 
Personally, I’m not so worried about it any more – news flow happens whether we want it to or not, there are so many options out there for stories to be shared that it’s laughable to assume things won’t find their way into the world independent of what the newsroom does (this goes double for sport stories). Don’t try to gate keep but do try and curate interestingness to make things more convenient for online users – and your average time-poor, Daily Mail sidebar of shame lunchtime reader deserves a bit of help in finding something other than TOWIE and Branjelina updates to read. 

5. Check your tweets
Don’t assume the link will be perfect, or the photo will have uploaded as you planned. It looks unprofessional and uncaring if your Twitter page starts spitting out broken links.
Hootsuite has a good scheduling option but ow.ly links are flaky and frequently break; Tweetdeck scheduling is, in my experience, a disaster. 
The analytics on Bufferapp (I use Bit.ly) and SocialBro show me how many times each individual tweet has been reshared, who retweeted it and what its likely reach was. 
From that, and from on-site analytics, it’s easier to build up a picture of who your readers are, what they want and when they want to read it – which makes it easier to consider what tweets you should be scheduling, and at what time. It’s practically a virtuous circle.

Those are my thoughts; anyone who has some other views or scheduling thoughts tricks or tools, please share – I’m always on the look out for new things to try.

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Are users jumping through hoops to comment on your stories?

Dolphins at Loro Parque.
Image via Wikipedia
Jon Mitchell has had a rant here on ReadWriteWeb about Google+ and its many (in his view) shortcomings. 
I still don’t find Google+ compelling enough to be able to engage in that debate, but I was interested to see one poster’s view in the comments included this salvo:
As for jumping through hoops, having to come to this site, after seeing the article on G+ was a pain. The entire article could have been posted to G+, where I was already logged in and could then share or comment. Instead I have to load this site, wait for all of the ridiculous ads and recommended stories to load, read the full post, which is interrupted with an ad right in the middle of the story, scroll past 20 comments, write my comment, then look forward to the no-doubt idiotic login process.

Anyone who has ever tried to comment your average newspaper website will no doubt join in on the chorus (and is probably still trying to work out how they subscribed for 20 e-newsletters while registering to comment).
We don’t half make things complicated sometimes. 

Which is why I found myself agreeing (and, in line with my New Year Resolution, leaving a comment on) this post  by Dave Burdick who suggests maybe shifting debates from main news sites to social networks, specificaly Twitter. 
Interesting idea isn’t it? Although debates shift wherever the participants want them to, imo, and the more we try to control them the more likely we are to lose out. 

I suspect that as time goes on we will get less concerned about making people jump through hoops to comment on our site, and just seek out interaction, wherever it may be. 
I hope we do, anyway – the ‘log in to comment on this story’ is just another facet of the Media As Gatekeeper approach we’re all trying to move away from. 

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An attempt to turn a newspaper inside-out

How do you turn a newspaper inside out? That’s been the question bugging me for about a week and I’ve found myself thinking about it more and more in the context of the Register Citizen Open Newsroom project.


I broached the subject with Glyn Mottershead and Neil MacDonald over a pint recently; this is how it unfolded.
Me: “You know, like, you have skin and, uh, it contains everything and you can’t see your organs and stuff…”
Glyn: “Er…”
Neil: “I’m going to the loo.”
Me: “Well, that’s like a newspaper. It comes out and it’s complete and finished and it presents this skin to the world. And it would be great to turn it inside out, show what’s underneath.”


Essentially, I wanted to be more public about how the paper came together. Glyn and Neil are social media nuts; they love the idea of media engagement and had lots of encouragement. 
So, last Wednesday, an experiment started from to show how Wales on Sunday is created and try and engage more with people.
I used Storify to track the start of the project (kudos to news editor Steffan Rhys for working so hard on it, and I especially love Adam’s video capture of his page design) 


[<a href=”http://storify.com/alisongow/turning-wales-on-sunday-insideout” target=”blank”>View the story “Turning Wales on Sunday inside-out” on Storify]</a>




Using Twitter and a Facebook  page is the obvious starting point but I’m open to suggestions for developing it (and expanding it). These accounts aren’t about pushing links to the website or giving cryptic hints followed with a ‘buy Sunday’s paper’; I want them to be about what we’re doing. Or about what we should be doing as far as our audience is concerned. Or what we’re doing wrong/right/not enough of. Stories that are going in the paper will get discussed and displayed (but I’m not ready to put an exclusive splash in the public domain three days before publication – maybe this will happen but I’d like to keep my job for more than five months).
Right now it’s a journo echo chamber – especially Facebook (and why do Facebook pages have to be so complicated? I had to draft Ed Walker for assistance) – but that will change over time, I hope. 

It’s not a Citizen Register project – I’d like to work towards that but the logistics are beyond my ken right now – but it’s a toehold in something I feel strongly about. If I was doing this three years ago it would have been mostly journalists and early adopters getting involved – now it’s a much larger audience. That’s a good thing, of course, and also means we’re more likely to get told exactly what we do wrong in no uncertain terms. Customers – past, present or potential – have standards and expect them to be met or failures accounted for.
Of course it’s not all about growing engagement; it’s about fostering an audience’s emotional investment as well. 
How to develop it? All ideas welcome…
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Moderating comments on Facebook

How do you moderate a community on Facebook? Should the same policy exist as for a title’s website moderation or do the disparate fans and friends it has there require different handling?
I use Facebook for content, for sharing information, for instant polls, news gathering and just taking the temperature of the public mood on an issue but wall comments can sometimes be horrific. From wildly inappropriate link-sharing to libelous comments to outrageous Anglo Saxon to attacks on other users or writers… I’ve seen these shoulder their way onto Facebook pages associated with newspaper titles at one time or another and have had to sort it out – sometimes with an un-friending and a block.

Stretched newsrooms with small digital teams have to juggle the management of website comments, as well as the importance of participating in conversations on Twitter and managing @ replies and Facebook wall posts. 
I’ve had a few Twitter mates DM-ing me recently for advice/thoughts/verbal chicken soup over dust-ups with members of the Online Community on Facebook (usually football or crime related, where emotions are running high), and I sympathised and offered some thoughts on what to do.
The new e-guide from Buddy MediaHow Do I Respond To That? The Definitive Guide to Facebook Publishing and Moderation is useful; once you get past the corporate language and the fact that it’s not written for newspapers but for business it contains some helpful advice. 
The Buddy Media report highlights, in a nutshell, are:  


Don’t…
  • Forget to check your Facebook page regularly – you have a space where users are commenting in all sorts of language and ways that may or may not be appropriate
  • Turn a volatile thread into a back-and-forth argument with someone
  • Respond to one person but not others
  • Ignore requests for information 
  • Automatically get rid of negative comments – respond and give the community a chance to engage as well
Do… 
  • Respond to comments on accuracy/ability of journalist 
  • Take advice on brand value/stance before you respond on issues (eg. political) 
  • Block haters; life’s too short 
  • Moderate by communication; encourage the Facebook community to flag inappropriate posts
  • Have a clear strategy so all page admin know how to respond in situations 
  • Create a written policy about what types of posts you don’t want to receive, and place it prominently on your wall or page 
To which I’d add

  • Turning Facebook chat on gets you lots of interaction
  • There’s nothing wrong with auto-posting links but do also show there’s a human, not a bot, behind status updates
  • Indulge in a little curation and share things from other media
  • If you have breaking news in your status update, FBers will expect you to update them there too as it progresses 

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Journalism 101: Your readers are the toughest sub editors ever

As a journalist, you should never underestimate the smartness, recall and grammatical abilities of your reader.
When the subject matter is a niche interest that warning goes double, as the Guardian discovered (*links to the two articles are at the foot of this post):

and, just to compound the fun, someone else spotted this:

Whatever your profession, you can’t be an expert in everything (as a journalist some knowledge,  an enquiring mind and a willingness to bother those with the expertise is probably what many of us would admit to).
But you can be either a) more honest or b) more devious when it comes to recyling: You can link to your sources, or at least reference them in articles, and make transparency and pathways a virtue; or you can be devious and change the words so it reads differently. At the very least you will have made some effort.

But a word of warning on the last choice – I know of a few instances when articles had to be purged from electronic archieves because one elderly (and subsequently corrected) error kept being repeated. This was, of course, because journos working on the on-going story – maybe years later – were cutting and pasting bits of the original.

Incidentally, one of the best things about writing this (not-very-illuminating) blog post was that Zemanta threw me a fantastic website as a link option.
It’s called 43things.com and is a space for people to list their life goals. The link in question was ‘Quote Roy Batty‘s dying speech at most social functions or awkward moments at least once”. (Yes, that’s their life goal: Not ‘be a good parent’ or ‘scuba dive on the Barrier Reef’; just to shoehorn a quote from a character from a 1980s movie into an inappropriate scenario.)
So there’s a list of people explaining how they movingly incorporated “C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate” into a eulogy.
As one respondent who managed to achieve that particular life goal pointed out: “AWESOME SAUCE!

*The link to the Guardian article is below, with the rest of Zemanta’s suggestions, if you want to read the full story of how remaking/reimagining/making a prequel to Blade Runner has caused such consternation. The link to the Guardian article refered to in the comment is http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/aug/26/sciencenews.sciencefictionspecial

Character Rick Deckard has a hard time resisti...Image via Wikipedia

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