Instant Articles for regional news

Here’s something that put a smile on my face today (no, not the drink drive mum) – it’s a Manchester Evening News Instant Article on Facebook.
image1-2.png
The MEN and WalesOnline are the two Trinity Mirror regional sites signed up for the UK Instant Articles roll out (announced today) – The Mirror is also participating. The only other UK regional involved right now is the Evening Standard, and it’s a really positive step that Facebook looked beyond the national/international brands for involvement in this.
Instant Articles, of course, is Facebook’s answer to the horrible problem of mobile load hang time for publishers.
Content loads seamlessly, and from a user experience it’s brilliant. Personally, I’m also more likely to read other sections of publisher’s ‘related content’ if they are published as IA too, as there are few things that make me boil like watching a page l-o-o-o-o-a-a-a-d on mobile.

It is, I guess, odd that we rely on a third party to solve a problem we created ourselves with our heavy loading pages but I’m employing my maxim of ‘better to light a candle than curse the darkness’ here. After all, the issue of heavy loads isn’t something newsrooms can solve; getting content out and in front of readers is something they are good at, and if the tool exists, use it, I’d say.

At the International Journalism Festival, last April, I watched a Facebook exec explain the concept of Instant Articles to a room full of journalists, and the reaction was Not Good. There was a loud and sustained outcry against the idea of FB hosting content publishers created, without sending them back to the originator’s website, and it was interesting to witness. (Incidentally, there is a commercial model for publishers built into Instant Articles).

Since then, the roar of disapproval has subsided to more of a mumble, but there are still questions being asked about why publishers are willing to cede their – what would you call it?- control? to a social media platform.
For what it’s worth, this is why I’d say it is worth trying: Facebook is HUGE and as an editor I’d want people to read my content and give commercial colleagues the chance to sell into that if they want to.
If someone is scrolling through content on Facebook and see something interesting the chances are they want to read it there and then (I doubt your average reader is using that Save Link option too often) and if it takes longer than a couple of seconds to load, your fickle reader is off to the next thing.
If we can deliver a fast, decent user experience – and a great piece of content – it gives my brand a big tick, with the reader and with FB.
So congratulations to MEN editor Rob Irvine, social media editor Beth Ashton and regionals head of social media Gayle Tomlinson (along with other TM colleagues) for doing a bit of ground-breaking work for regional journalism, and trying something new.
It’s always a good feeling to be at the forefront of trying new things.
MoJocon15 organised by RTÉ

#mojocon15 part I: Talking mobile innovation and storytelling

MoJocon15 organised by RTÉ
Daniel Berman speaking at Mojocon

March 27 and 28 were spent immersed in the world of mobile, journalism, storytelling and content creation, courtesy of the first Mobile Journalism Conference held in Dublin and organised by broadcaster RTÉ.

It was the most rewarding, packed and inspiring event – filled with incredible journalists and storytellers doing wonderful things, often armed with just a few pieces of tech, some apps and a determination to get the story out no matter what.

I was lucky enough to be asked to attend by my boss, and then even luckier to be asked to participate as a speaker by organiser Glen Mulcahy,  Innovation Lead with RTÉ, and author of this brilliant blog.

Day one got off to a flying start with two of the best keynotes talks I’ve heard, by Richard Sambrook and Gerd Leonhard.

Richard Sambrook said the changing immediacy of journalism was a challenge, and that “first and wrong was not first”; he also warned that mobile journalism wasn’t so much about phones as about the end of the age of satellite. “It’s the age of IP news” he told his audience. He cited mobile, social and realtime visual as the three disruptions to traditional news, and warned that to survive a newsroom had to understand and do all three. “Mobile is about much more than reorganising desks,” he said.

Gerd Leonhard said broadcasting was over and ‘broadbanding’ was the new world: “If you want a job [in journalism] what you do has to be above the api, because if it falls below the api a machine can do it”, was his takeaway message. He also introduced me to a word I’ve never heard before: ‘Humarithams’. As in, ‘stories can be made by algorithms, great stories are told by humarithms’.   Here’s an extra bit of Gerd bonus copy, for all those social media editors still traumatised by the recent Facebook upheavals: “Facebook is not in it for the journalism. It is not the reason Facebook exists… we should not be giving away our content to people who are not interested in news, but who are only interested in news as a commodity”.

The point I really took away from his talk was that the pace of change in most mainstream media is just too slow, given the speed of the innovations are happening away from our industry, in the world of tech and the world of the consumer – and we have to be faster, more nimble, and more open-eared/open-minded to trying new things.

Of course, as with any mobile conference I guess, you do come away wanting to do everything on a mobile phone and just bin off the desktop forever. But, in a world where the Nerd Herd was gathered in such great numbers, it was interesting that my presentation was the only one that day (as far as I can recall) to reference work that had been done in newsrooms with Google Glass. Occulus Rift didn’t get much of a mention either on day 1 (I can’t speak for all the day 2 workshops) and the most interesting wearable I saw was a Narrative camera that takes photos on a timer and which I now want so badly I’m ready to commit a crime for one.

The other talks that I found highlights from Day 1 were by Michael Rosenblum (aka the Father of Videography, according to his bio) who sucked all the air out of the room by informing journalists they were effectively “fucked” and that ‘editing, curating, publishing’ was the future for news organisations. I love a bit of agent provocateur, and I thought his talk was fascinating – designed to needle, provoke and make mainstream media ponder its role in such a world, and for indies to consider their responsibilities.

From the same panel, I really enjoyed Shadi Rahimi‘s talk on covering Ferguson with just mobile phones, what made AJ+ social media existence a faster, more fit-for-purpose news organisation than rivals. The answer, in a nutshell, is hitting the story out into the park on social as soon as you can verify it, and involving the audience as much as possible.

My panel was on challenging story concepts, boiled down to ‘what makes a good story?’ and as I’d begged to go first (my slides are at the bottom of this post, along with bonus content for reading that far – a video of @warrengatchell and I talking social media…) I was able to relax and actually listen to the rest of the speakers. Christian Payne was, as ever, compelling as he ran through the tech he uses for storytelling, dating back to 2003, and also somehow shoehorned a quick burst of harmonica playing into the session.

Here’s a link that’s worth a listen

Day 2 was a very special event – a group of us were taken around Dublin by two of the best mobile phone photographers in the business, and given a masterclass. But as this piece of writing is now reaching epic proportions, I’ll blog about that when I have a bit of time to do (hence ‘part I’ in this post’s title).

So I hope RTÉ get plenty of kudos for organising something so cool – they deserve all the plaudits going. Thank you for inviting me along to participate – it was an experience I am delighted to have been a part of. I met fascinating and cool people who do amazing things in mobile spaces, and I learned so much. I really don’t ask for much more from a conference.

Pix or it didn’t happen?

Embed from Getty Images

So, Meerkat, eh?

It was, by all accounts, the darling of SXSW and digital acres have been given over to assessing its worth (and here I am, adding to them). Search Twitter at any given time and it’s everywhere, being [LIVE NOW]…

//

I downloaded it a few weeks ago when it still had access to Twitter’s social graph, which meant that as people I followed also joined there was an onslaught of notifications.

When I tested it in the BelfastLive newsroom, and later discovered my timeline was subsequently full of me @-ing myself, which was a puzzle until I realised it was a kind of reverse-publishing of my Meerkat conversations, back onto Twitter. This tweet-conversation feature did cause some controversy and at one point was switched off by Twitter, although it’s been reinstated.

I like the idea of another live streaming app (I liked the late, lamented Qik although I’ve always returned to Bambuser) but I just don’t know that I’m that sold on the idea of ephemeral livestreaming for news organisations, as unless you save the Meerkat video to your phone, it’s gone.

Your livestream has a mayfly-like existence, no matter how large your audience for the stream was, if you forget to save it down. In the heat of breaking news moments, I like to know my livestream is already safely stored, with an option to download or embed, on a site somewhere.

Of course, ephemeral conversations can offer wonderful opportunities for journalists (hello, Snapchat!) but I also think newsrooms should attempt to put down permanent markers of their work, because a) certain events that merit live streaming need to last, and b) with permanency comes authenticity and the opportunity for checks and verification. It’s harder to challenge inaccuracy if there’s no permanency, both in terms of the journalist and audience. It’s definitely easier for People With Agendas to call out journalists for errors if there’s that piece of work’s lasting testimony is this: joshconstine on Meerkat So, yeah. Meerkat. It’s fun, it’s insanely popular, and it has a social cache right now that means most of us working in digital journalism are interested in trying it for new things. But, as with a lot of The Shiny (and, yes, I am guilty of loving The Shiny)  it should also come with a caveat: When you’re planning to go live, don’t just think about trends, think about what is fit for purpose in the long term as well.

Off with their heads! Crimes against cropping in tweets

Update: Some more cropping tools. This one, which is – I think – called Favicon Generatorwas suggested by @ourman and Twitshot by @xxnapoleonsolo. Thanks chaps.

When it comes to critiquing others’ work, I am very much of the ‘there but for the grace of God…’ school of thought. I’m fairly sure, for example, there are enough spelling and grammar issues over the course of this blog’s eight or so years to make the average sub editor’s heart sink.

But.. there is a new-ish thing that is quietly driving me nuts and, as more titles latch on to the idea of Tweet+image+link = More Engagement it’s spreading like a weed.

It’s the phenomenon of Headless Subject Matter. Here are some examples (and I’m sorry, titles below, to pick you out – another time search would have revealed several different offenders I’m sure)…

The Headless Royal (thankfully not in the wives of Henry VIII sense)

TweetDeck
I’m assuming the £1 beauty product she can’t live without is for her hands?

The Headless-But-Clothed-So-That’s-Something Pop Sensation

Miley's smile may or may not have reached her eyes
Miley’s smile may or may not have reached her eyes

The Headless Only People In The World To Have Married, Ever

The answer, apparently, is ‘get her entire head in a Vogue social media post’

The Headless My-Dress-Cost-Less-Than-A-Tonne-So -I’m-Spinning-With-Joy Model

Visible hair, invisible head
Visible hair, invisible head

And finally, two Cropping Crimes for tragic Jagger. Poisoned (allegedly) and now beheaded – what is this? The 13th century?

_32__Twitter

My dog's got no nose. etc etc
My dog’s got no nose. etc etc

The thing is, even when it looks normal in the tweet, the preview (these examples are from Twitter and Tweetdeck) often doesn’t. I learned bitter lessons last week, as I selected, cropped, uploaded, posted, checked… and then deleted photos on both Twitter and Facebook posts because I’d sized them wrongly.  Eventually Google (or Audience Review, to be accurate) provided me with a key: Use a 2:1 ratio, with the best upload size being 1024×512, as this scales down well to 440×220.

And when it comes to tools, I use Canva, PicMonkey and Spruce (all are excellent for overlaying text too, although I found I had to close and reopen Spruce each time I wanted to upload a new pic).

Links with photos in Facebook also have a nasty tendency to crop in unfortunate ways. I tend to get around this by uploading a specific image rather than going with whatever the link generates. I found this post very helpful in choosing sizes.

So, a minor gripe in the scheme of things but it’s something that takes just minutes to get right, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Social media monitoring and analytics (infographic)

Not 100% sure who I owe a hat tip to for tweeting a link to this infographic about social media monitoring (I suspect David Thackeray though).
It is exceptionally useful, anyway, and I thought I would store it on my blog as it’s a reference source I will probably come back to in the future.

The World of Social Media Monitoring and Analytics

Powered by Demand Metric – See more at: http://www.demandmetric.com/content/world-social-media-monitoring-and-analytics-infographic#sthash.MfJdn18b.dpuf

Tweetdeck: A short user guide to getting the most out of it

tweetdeck
(Photo credit: estherbester)
I ran my first Webex training session this week; it was a 45 minute run-through of How To Be a Tweetdeck Ninja, which contained my tips for getting the most out of Facebook. 
Ahem.
I’ve used Tweetdeck for years and I like the Chrome extension very much – I personally find Tweetdeck the desktop tool for Twitter I wouldn’t be without (one other being Buffer). 
So when asked to give some colleagues an introduction to Tweetdeck, and others a bit of a power-user insight, it was a chance to sift through what is useful or not to me, and share it. 
Because Trinity Mirror uses Google Apps, I’ve slanted the presentation to the Google Chrome Store Tweetdeck extension – obviously that isn’t a prerequisite to using Tweetdeck. 
Having not used Webex before (other than a nice, safe ‘this is how it works’  session between me and the trainer) it was a little nerve-wracking but, used properly it is a great tool for engaged learning. (My main learning outcome was that background noise can hugely impact on the sound quality.)
Anyway, before the session started I did ask the Twitter hivemind for its thoughts on what was good and bad about Tweetdeck, and and then pulled a selection together into a custom timeline* of the responses: 

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+”://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

There was also a powerpoint sent around as an aide memoir, which I’ve uploaded to Scribd

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Election apathy? Real time audiences disagree…

Chartbeat is an amazing tool. Compelling even. Today, watching the real time traffic on our site, it was obvious people were consuming the ‘live’ news on the site more than anything else. 
Visitors were following updated story of the ‘locus in quo’ jury visit to Machynlleth as the April Jones murder trial continued, the live coverage of the Anglesey elections, and the more general breaking news live blog.
This was how early afternoon traffic looked – 

Later in the afternoon, when the court proceedings ended for the day, it looked like this… 

Meanwhile, this was the Most Read widget

Local elections covered live, and covered well, are compelling content and give good dwell time on – more than 3 minutes each – per page in this case  (Anglesey, by the way, bucked the turnout trend – a breakdown of the island’s voting showed: Seiriol 56.1 Talybolion 48.7 Twrcelyn 53 Ynys Cybi 45.7).

Readers of the breaking news live blog typically went on to next read the Anglesey election live blog, and then visited several April Jones articles via the jury visit article). 

Since it launched last October, our live coverage has gone down well with readers, but has had some parts of the industry (people who comment on industry websites, mostly) looking in askance.
The common theme of those unconvinced by the blog is to question where the merit – or the money – is. 
Personally, I think that’s obvious; it‘s what readers value and want. 
We cover stories live, readers stay on our site for longer, are more likely to hop around the site more, and potentially use the social sharing – and that keeps advertisers interested. (Hint: Don’t ask where the money is, ask where the audience is. We have to make sure the money-generators are in the same space…)
Last Spring, as I settled into the job and got down to meeting people, a common complaint was that the website wasn’t updated enough – or at all on a Saturday. 
Now, 12 months on, as I continue to meet people, if the conversation turns to ‘what do you think of the Daily Post?” nine times out of ten the live content will be highlighted, favorably, at some point.
I love the live element of our role, and how it has helped – and continues to help – us change the way we work to meet what the audience wants. 
And, of course, with Chartbeat showing us there are 250-odd people whiling away their day following the real-time updates of a local council election, it means we can make better informed print decisions around our coverage– and promote that coverage accordingly to the online readers. 
 
 

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Of Pinterest and pastures new….

WalesOnline‘s Pinterest presence has been steadily growing in the two months since we set it up, with 16 boards now covering everything from music to sport and interior design. 
It’s a great resource and we’ve hooked it up to Facebook and Twitter to enable cross-promotion of what we’re up to, so as an experiment I’m happy to see it progressing well. 
Anyway, digital journalist Gareth Rogers has been using it to great effect for the Bluebirds Banter blog, but today he showed me an ingenious way of displaying photo content well on our site, via Pinterest.

One of the limitations of our current CMS is that it doesn’t allow you to really showcase great photos well – as a user, you can’t click on an image to enlarge it, for example. 
It may seem like a small thing, but when you’ve got images that the reader would want to see in more detail (or an infographic, for example) it can be somewhat restrictive.
Anyway, Gareth came up with a clever workaround (necessity really is the mother of invention) to show off a series of fashion photos from the Aintree race meet – he pinned the images to our Piinterest news board, and then embedded them back on the site. Now , when you click on the image, it opens, large-scale, in a new tab.
I love Gareth’s solution. And I love the fact I work* with clever people who don’t let system limitations get in the way of story-telling.

On the site it looks like this (full story here):

and when you click on the image, you see it like this (or click here):

I think it’s very nice; take a bow, Mr Rogers. 
* On the subject of work, I have a new job – I’m heading to North Wales to edit the Daily Post, starting on Monday. 
I’ve loved my time with WalesOnline and Wales on Sunday – it’s been hugely educational and I got to work with some great people – but (despite being a committed worshiper at the Church of Digital) I’m massively excited to be given the chance of editing a daily newspaper, and working with the DP team in print and online.
However, first I have to persuade two cats into travel baskets and brave the A470 to North Wales. Compared to that, editing is a doddle…
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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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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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