Testing… testing… Some curation tools compared

Given that curation is the new black*, or at least a popular, effective way to tell stories, the number of tools caluclated to help with gathering and presenting information rises every week.

Since I have accounts with any number of them of them, albeit mostly unused, and happened to be using Storify for work today, I thought it might be interesting to run the rule over a few others. 

So, Storify, the one we’re all using and loving was my weapon of choice for work, and I’ve embedded that one here (it will need a minute to load – more of that later). <a href=”http://storify.com/alisongow/oh-the-weather-outside-is-frightful” target=”_blank”>View the story “Oh, the weather outside is frightful…” on Storify</a>]

For me, Storify offers great flexibility and is very user-friendly – the drag-n-drop approach is fast to pull together and it offers excellent sources. I also like the fact that it has a bookmarklet you can drag to your browser bar – one click and you’re ready to start curating a swathe of information. 
However, it would be incredibly useful to be able to put date specifications on some sites (particularly Flickr and YouTube) as a lot of the returned media looks exciting but is historic.

 Also, it can take time for the widget to load. And if you’ve got a lot of content, it’s l-o-n-g – by which I mean it takes up a lot of space on a webpage. Which, from a user point of view, has potential to be annoying – particularly if it’s embedded mid-story.
From using CIL for liveblogging I know users on busy blogs complain content revelent to their interests is hard to find. I feel the same issue here – it would be nice to have the ability to put a * (or something a bit more sophisticated) next to, say, official sources or interesting links.

I joined Storyful years ago and I think it’s an effective curation tool with lots of functionality (including date relevance) with the added bonus of being very handsome (Storify is, well, a bit functional by comparison). Here’s the one I made.

 The search sources are the same, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Google and rss, with the ability to add links. I also like the Add A Section tool – it distinguishes a new strand of information and has the nice, newsy feel of a sub head. 
Storyful is huge, of course, and has professional curators doing paid for work (the curation around today’s tragic grenade attacks in Belgium was extremely impressive.)
  Alas, Storyful curations exist on Storyful; you can’t embed them anywhere. You can tweet and Facebook them but that’s it. The lack of an embed code is for me, as a basic techie only, a shame. I like Storyful very much but I want to be able to post my creation elsewhere if necessary and that’s just not possible.

Themeefy got off on the wrong foot by a) autotweeting that I’d joined without making it clear this would happen, and b) being less intuitive to work out than the others.

However, I only discovered this site at the weekend and got round to testing it last night so I may have been a bit frazzled and lacking in concentration. 
So, the idea is much along the lines of Storify – you get your menu alongside a space to create your ‘magazine’. 

You can add social media (and it’s got by far the largest number of sites available – the usual suspects plus several others from Wikipedia and WordPress to Bibkosh (associated social media site) plus the ability to upload files and photos, and design a page from scratch with hyperlinks, text, photos and more.

I liked it, I have to say. The Themeefy I made is superficial (in my defence I was very time poor) but it worked well – it felt a little like Storybird – and it had the crucial embed ability, plus the usual social media link ups for publicising your work, and a ‘comments on/off’ option. 
I would like to be able to add more content to each of the pages more, so they had more of a paper.li feel; I couldn’t work out how – or even if – that could be done. Having said that, the ability to create a unique page, with multimedia, was a useful feature.

A few others: 
Bundlr: Chrome bookmarklet, bookmark extension, collaboration with others, various social media integration, embeddable. 
Pearltrees: Blogged about this one before: I like it as a curation tool. Offers multi-collaboration, embeds,and the opportunity to open up sections so your tree has ‘branches’ dealing with specific topics.
Scoop.it: Beautiful to look at, frustratingly limiting to use. 

* Apologies to the Cliche Police; I really don’t have an excuse.

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What message are the NCE editors sending out to their newsrooms?

I saw an update on Twitter today that read: 
Editors: ‘Traditional skills more important than new media’ 
with a link that I clicked, and it took me to this Press Gazette story. 
(I appreciate the above isn’t an award-winning opening sentence but bear with me, all will become clear I hope…)
So once I’d clicked my link and visited PG this was the first thing I read: 
Editors involved in a review of the National Council for Training of Journalists’ NCE qualification for senior journalists have urged the training body to continue emphasising traditional journalism skills over the use of new media.
More than 100 editors and senior managers were asked to assess the importance of skills ranging from legal understanding to how journalists use social media.
The top four most important skills cited by editors were: writing, finding news stories, interviewing and legal knowledge – while at the bottom of the list came social media, web skills and interaction with readers.
It’s possible that third par has been worded to prod the hornets’ next a little but I guess these are – if not explicitly stated as being luxuries – viewed as of being of some usefulness but not really what journalism is about.

However, I’d be amazed if all editors really saw things as narrowly as this – after all, they are journalists and we’re trained to see the angles in everything.
Surveys can be so one-dimensional and I cannot imagine many editors who have believe the frankly-ludicrous Interview part of the NCE is more useful than web skills. Or video. Or an ability to moonwalk, to be honest.
I used to act as an ‘observer’ on the interview part of the exam (yes I was that shadowy figure who at in the corner and never spoke) and I can honestly say all that part of the day ever did was teach journalists to fire questions like ‘and did anything unusual happen during the rescue?’  in a most un-real world manner, simply because the candidates all knew there was always a hidden nugget of information – like, the guinea pig alerted the family to the fire or the rugby team was actually a women’s XV, lawdblessmysoul!

I wholeheartedly agree that finding stories, interviewing, local knowledge, are fundamental skills for anyone who wants to report (whether that’s in msm or otherwise). But here’s the thing; why would any editor say these were more important than social media, web skills and interaction? Why would any editor not understand that these are intrinsic to finding stories, interviewing and local knowledge?
Finding stories could just as easily be called crowdsourcing, something made possible by  online social networks. Web skills surely boil down to an ability to work online effectively – be that on Facebook or in Google search – and what editor wouldn’t view an ability to use Google search that as essential?
What are print skills? Are they an ability to write a headline, sub a story, design a page? Because if you’re going to break things down into web or print, then the universal across both include: 
Meanwhile, online you have the added ability to 
Add media
… and much more
It’s no controversy to state that nine times out of ten you’ll find more stories through judicious searching on social media than you will reading public notice boards on your beat patch or the death notices in your paper. You’ll also get a faster, wider, more engaged response if you ask for help on a social network than if you put ‘Got  a story? Contact our newsdesk’ on the strap of a page. How would I have found the PG story if it hadn’t tweeted it? I’m far more likely to visit a website when prompted by a Twitter link.

Another editor’s comment that stood out for me as this one:

“I think the exam is still about fundamental journalistic standards – it is not a test of Facebook and Twitter skills or, for that matter, audio and video,” commented one editor. They have their place but they are not as important as the underlying principles of accuracy, objectivity, balance and news sense. The NCE should be about testing those.”

How must that editor’s digital team feel? Less than valued, I’d imagine, if they knew what their boss really thought of them.
As a digital journalist, you have more skills than most of your colleagues: your toolbox includes soundslides, video, running multiple social media accounts, creating unique online content, and the ability to rewrite (or just write) webheads that are SEO-ed, add photographs, embed multimedia, move the the sports pages football splash out of the Tennis story list where it’s inexplicably ended up, the list goes on.
If an editor doesn’t think that’s at least as important as what’s being done elsewhere in the newsroom, what sort of message does it send out?

Updated August 24 2011
There have been some very eloquent blog postson the report that I’ve caught up with today; I’m adding them in here as they address a wide variety of points, from different perspectives…
Educator and digital star Andy Dickinson: “Frustrating as it is, I’m not surprised by the report or the reaction to it. I’ve kind of moved beyond being annoyed by the continued blurring of the lines between NCTJ marketing and the ‘views of industry’. What annoys me about this report is that it’s so output driven – it’s all about getting the paper out not about the process”
Full post here 
Martin Belam, Lead User Experience & Information Architect at Guardian News & Media: “If you get a job in a newsroom, you will be surrounded by years of experience in “traditional” journalism. What you won’t generally have is frequent access to people with the digital skillsets the industry is transitioning towards.”
Full post here
Adam Tinsworth, Editorial Development Manager for Reed Business Information: “Trying to separate working a beat from social networking and the web is pretty much like trying to separate it from using the telephone: ridiculous. But the problem is that anything new has this vague sheen of “techie” that people seem to use as an excuse not to move beyond their comfort zone – and there’s plenty of evidence of that in the comments on the original post.”
Full post here
David Higgerson, Head of Multimedia for Trinity Mirror: “Ironically, interaction with readers scored more highly than using social media, but lower than finding news stories. Surely the three go hand-in-hand. Each can be done by the journalist on its own, but the successful, employable journalist will be one who can do all three without thinking about it.”
Full post here

I’ve now uploaded the NCE report to Scribd (embedded below)
NCE report 2011 – (function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })(); * Pic via AccessHollywood 
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Twitter hashtags; lots of curation but where’s the context?

Hashtags give me headaches.
Not the #somethinghasjusthappenedandIamtweetingit hashtag or the #iamaddingahashtaginanironicwayhere or even #myfootballteamisplayingandIwanttofeelpartofthetribe  – it’s the interesting hashtags that are being shouted into a void that perplex me.

Curation is an important word for journalism at the moment; we’re all about the curating of content and adding context around it.

But hashtags often do little add context, although they do add volume. I can get a sense of amplification – of importance – from how many (and who) is tweeting a hashtag but finding out what they are doing, where and why can be tricky.

I follow a lot of people on Twitter, and they go to a lot of events or follow a lot of sport, and they tweet about it with hashtags.
Sometimes I’m not interested (#F1 I’m looking at you) in which case the Tweetdeck filter or Proxlet extension on my Chrome browser is a godsend.
But sometimes I am interested and would like to know more; that’s when it can get frustrating, because finding out what a hashtag is can be a nightmare.

Occasionally this sort of thing pops up in a stream…

But often I just see interesting looking conversations happening around an unknown event with a #hashtag that doesn’t link to anything other than a stream of other people using the same hashtag.
If I know the people I can try to backpedal down their tweet stream far enough to see what they’re up to but it’s a hit-and-miss approach with no guarantee of success.

Brizzly has a ‘why?’ hyperlink next to the trending topics that explain why each is being talked about and it can be very useful; it adds a layer of knowledge that takes a hashtag beyond curation into explanation.  Trends Map is also great for spotting local trends, but there’s nothing around hashtags themselves that allows the creator to explain what they are.  

There is a site called Twubs which allows you to register a hashtag but it doesn’t really do what I need it to; ie. tell me what that hashtag is about. It does aid discovery by others in that it’s added to the Twubs directory, but mainly it’s to stop Corporates stealing hashtags off each other.

Ideal world scenario: When you write a hashtag you can select an option to explain what it’s for, which generates a comment box to enable a short description, like the name of the conference, or a football match or a breaking news event. Thereafter, anyone hovering over that hashtag sees a pop-up explanation.  

So, dear Twitter app developers (or just Twitter, God knows it would be nice if you actually did something for your own site rather) please could you build something that brings the endless game of What Is This Person Talking About to an end? 
Or, if something like that exists, will someone tell me and put me out of my misery?

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:  

  • 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
  • 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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Attribution: It’s not just for quotes

I was thinking about the importance of attribution today after reading Mike Glover’s take on the issue in his post on the coverage of Bin Laden‘s death and the “outrageous gullibility of the media in the wake of the Bin Laden incident“.
It’s a thought-provoking piece of writing and  well worth a read. (Also, incident is a great word, isn’t it? Covers everything from the reported death of the world’s most wanted man to a pub brawl). 

Anyway, attribution of information when constructing a story is vital; journalists tend to be the questioners of eye-witnesses, rather than eye-witnesses themselves. Sometimes we’re several links down the chain, and sometimes the report of several statements gets prosed into appearing as a presentation of stone facts. 
Tempering a slew of facts with acknowledgements that the information has come from a third party is helpful for readers, I suspect, but attribution with regards to content is an equally thorny issue.
YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Twitpic, Facebook, Twitter, Storify, ManyEyes visualisations… just a tiny fraction of created content that lives on the internet, in the wild, that journalists can use to source or display information. But when it comes to reusing this work – the attribution – it’s so important to show genesis, or at some point the accusations of making a smash-n-grab raid on social networks will come.
I’m probably a little obsessive about attribution, or showing source as a) I would hate to be accused of pillaging other people’s content and b) it’s easy to get permission or show original ownership. Things like a quick tweet exchange over the use of an image on Twitter, a link back to the video owner’s YouTube page, a link and a nod to the person who made the Storify you’ve embedded or the ManyEyes vis – so quick, so simple. So courteous.
Flickr is a different matter; I wouldn’t use a Flickr photo on this blog without checking the Creative Commons licensing and giving clear attribution. Professionally, I wouldn’t consider a Flickr photo unless the owner had given me express permission (either by joining a group with a consent form – like the Liverpool Daily Post’s Flickr group has – or through direct contact. 

I had my own little attribution incident (see? such a handy word) recently when I made a photo-montage for WalesOnline and it got reproduced, without attribution.
But when I say I made, that’s incorrect attribution; to be accurate, I used Microsoft application software to create a photo-montage, and then something happened…

Have a look at this screengrab:

and this one from WalesOnline:

They are actually the same one. I’d made a Photosynth for the website on Friday – it took a quite bit of time to find photos that would allow a sort-of panoramic (only 87% in the end) embedded it and went on with the next task of the day.
The next morning a tweet showed up in my stream

and then another one

I’m not usually precious about this sort of thing; I enjoy using online tools like Photosynth and I support the idea of sharing content as widely as possible. Also, I could see Rafael’s point as Microsoft had allowed me to create that content in the first place.
The downside was that WalesOnline was missing out on a pretty decent traffic opportunity. And that a really simple bit of attribution had been skipped.
I’ve seen people nick other people’s tweeted jokes, and even pass off photos of their own on Flickr; this wasn’t in the same league but it still didn’t feel great. I worked hard on that thing, dammit!

But it didn’t end there, as it turned out. Tom took it up with Bing pr and look – a change of heart, thanks Bing.

How cool is that? Almost as cool as this: someone I didn’t know took up cudgels on my behalf to see attribution was properly made. I thought that was really decent; how often have complete strangers stood up for your rights in real life? Nope, never happens. Except, sometimes it does.

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In praise of Pixelpipe (Updated post on Cardiff industrial estate fire)


Explosion at an industrial site off Rover Way in Cardiff. Locals said a gas pipe blew up about 8.30am, but it was still blazing away when I drove round there. Lots of smoke – and lots of people watching it burn.

UPDATE… (6/3/11)
Nipped out to buy the papers this morning and saw a black plume of smoke rising from the city centre. Two minutes later the paper-mission was abandoned and husband was driving towards said smoke.
We found it, along with around 30 other people who’d gone to see what was happening. One told me he lived nearby and had been woken by an explosion around 8.30am. The Walesonline report is here
The first photo was taken with an iPhone 3 on zoom, the second with a Nokia N86 – personally, I think the iPhone image is the more striking.
I was uploading pix using Twitpic, and it ate three out of the four I used. So I switched to my Posterous site and that’s where my loyalties will be lying in future – Twitpic has let me down three times now, and it’s only force of habit that I’ve kept using it. Enough. I’ve deleted it from my phone.

Fire in Cardiff

I also tried to shoot some video with the Nokia, uploaded to my YouTube site via Pixelpipe, but it was a bit far away, and I was being pretty jostled by the crowd that had gathered so it really wasn’t worth it.
However, crappy video aside, it brought home to me again just how useful Pixelpipe is to a journalist on the go, without recourse to any kit other than a phone. I could have potentially done photos, video and audio and uploaded them all via the Pixelpipe Share app on my phone. Really useful for when you’re in a hurry – or for when you need to get media off your phone to somewhere it can be accessed by another person quickly.
I would have loved to have tried out the N8 I now have for work, but it has so far thwarted my attempts to get Pixelpipe to work; I think it’s more to do with the contract than the phone, but it needs further investigation. An awesome camera on a phone is a fine thing, but the ability to get the photos out to the wider world is a finer one.

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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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Here today… gone tomorrow content? Back up your work…

This is not so much of a new post as a republishing of something that already exists on a third party site but there is a reason for it beyond lazy blogging.
Yesterday, I found myself rummaging through Delicious as I needed to use various Twitter tools I’ve either used or which have featured on, for example, Mashable, over the years. They were all neatly saved in my tags, but when I came to use them something like half of them led to redundant sites. That included the well-established Mr Tweet, which I always thought was an excellent tool (if a little annoying with the DMs) and far better than Twitter’s own recommends ofo people to follow.

Along with the rest of the online world I saved my Delicious bookmarks as a csv file within seconds of Yahoo intimating it was thinknig of closing the site.
And when Seesmic closed its video operation last year I thought about moving my videos and then decided it was a job too far (it involved emailling them and asking for the content) in a fairly hectic period of my life.  So, as far as I know, those videos (including a before-and-after of my epic hair cut, and all the lovely people who videoed their thoughts on it) are gone.More pertinently, I suspect a lot of people who crafted blog posts that included embedded Seemsic discussions are now missing content if they search back in their archives.

Of course, those videos weren’t particularly import but – extreme example, I know – what if Google was to close Blogger? Shifting three years-plus worth of content from this blog elsewhere would be a piece of work. And as a journalist, creating and embedding content up using curation or visualisation tools – like Storify and ManyEyes, both of which I like a lot – doesn’t mean you’ve crafted a work of permanence.

So, along with the idea of backing up as much of my data as I can (and accepting that, sometimes, things just come to an end) I’ve moved a piece of crowdsourcing that is very close to my heart onto this blog.
It’s the Journalism Cliches I Most Dislike list, which I started on Listiki and which so many talented and funny people took the time to contribute to.
Of course, Listiki still exists and I’m not suggesting for a moment that the site is likely to go away – I hope not, it’s great – but I also would hate for this to get lost because I enjoyed collaborating on it, and so I’ve cut n pasted it here.
I’m sure I’ve used or worked on papers that have featured every one of these cliches in the past, but that doesn’t bother me one jot. These are still awesome:

  1. Saying something was ‘slammed’ when someone disagreed with it a bit
  1. Tragic (when used to describe minor inconvenience)
  1. ‘‘Sources close to’’ meaning the person concerned
  1. Only time will tell (I haven’t a clue)
  1. Firefighters use breathing apparatus to tackle the blaze… NO THEY DIDN’T, THEY USED WATER
  1. “So-called” before some tech term
  1. An uneasy calm descended on X (place, frequently war-torn) one day after X (violent event). Meaning: There’s no story today, but we have to write summat.
  1. Drinking sprees that end in tragedy
  1. Ttroubled
  1. A neighbour said “He was such a quite man who kept himself to himself…”
  1. ‘Gone to the dogs.’
  1. (insert verb)-athon
  1. Teens are always on ‘a rampage’
  1. Every young person is a ‘hoon.’
  1. Laceration (it’s a CUT!!!)
  1. Moggy – see pooch
  1. Terror – See Horror
  1. Mercy dash (routine ambulance call out)
  1. Sparking Fears.
  1. Political correctness gone mad
  1. “with links to”: Anyone who’s flown on the same airline as Al Quaeda operatives, or families, or acquaintances, or pre-school classmates is deemed to be one “with links to”: absent detail on said links, the phrase has lost all informative value
  1. Wrote in an online blog (because there are so many offline blogs…)
  1. Winter (or any other season) of discontent
  1. In an inte, “what’s it like….” to…, when… followed by some reference which couldn’t possibly be “lik” anything else.
  1. At the end of the day…..
  1. All Caribbean, Australian etc etc waters are ‘shark infested’; nowt else, just ‘shark infested.’
  1. “Beverages” when you mean “drinks”
  1. Keynote speech… as opposed to a pointless one
  1. Every mother’s/parent’s worst nightmare
  1. “Licence fee payers reacted with fury”. Did we really…?
  1. “Allegedly”: The magic word that allows any random speculation and wild guess be presented as a fact
  1. Gruelling – in connection with any charity or sponsored event
  1. Tragic tot
  1. It  remains to be seen
  1. Floral tributes
  1. ‘Community leaders’
  1. Loveable rogue (death tribute which translates as ‘bloody nuisance)
  1. Only cute girls pass exams.
  1. ” -gate”
  1. ‘Plummeted’ meaning ‘was down a bit’
  1. Detectives are piecing together
  1. “Fuel fears of a double-dip recession”
  1. Tour de force (in book res)
  1. Fires that rage or blaze
  1. In scenes reminiscent of [insert film/TV show here]
  1. Grisly murders. Or brutal ones.
  1. Rain/snow/gales ‘Brought Traffic Chaos’
  1. Cats that are ‘feline purr-fect’ about anything
  1. Articles involving music that include Striking A Chord headlines/intros
  1. Pooch (It’s a damn dog)
  1. Wantaway (any sportsperson looking for new club)
  1. Fights described as fracas or rumpus
  1. Wet weather failed to dampen the spirits of…
  1. Anything happening in broad daylight
  1. Non-biblical Good Samaritans
  1. “Bravely battling” by doing what the doctor says
  1. Raised eyebrows
  1. Revealed
  1. Centre Stage
  1. “A grieving mother/wife/girlfriend today paid tribute…” (ugh. pass the sick bucket)
  1. “Blinking back tears…” (often a attempt to add colour to a real-life story)
  1. Horror (when used in a headline. Almost every day)
  1. Tot (small child)
  1. Plucky (especially pensioners)
  1. Up in arms
  1. Perfect storm
  1. Only time will tell/bring closure
  1. Outpouring of (grief/support/etc)
  1. 70 Intro: “It is a truth, universally acknowledged…” (that a journalist without an intro will dust this down)
  1. According to my taxi driver (clueless foreign correspondent arrives in country)
  1. Fortress (insert football stadium name here)
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Using search tools to inform news-gathering: Some data and examples

Back in October I wrote a guest blog post for Glyn Mottishead’s online and mobile journalism blog for his students, about how site searches could be a useful tool for journalists, I found the draft post again in my Google Docs the other day and thought, since some things had moved on since that was written, it merited a repost.
So, with apologies to Glyn for repeating myself, here’s an updated version:

 Seek, and sometimes ye shall find things that you weren’t actually looking for in the first place.
Take crowdsourcing, as an example; you start out with an idea, share it across online networks, and wait… and sometimes what comes back bears little resemblance to what you originally conceived. Sometimes it is a vast improvement.

We’ve been paying a lot more attention to Search in the Post and Echo newsroom recently and it’s paying off.
Twice a day, this drops into the inbox of heads of department in Editorial…

along with this…

It’s a self-updating dashboard created in Omniture Analytics, and it shows the sorts of internal site searches people are running. For example,  James McVey was a lad who died in tragic circumstances about three weeks ago, but his name still shows up in searches every day – in fact, last Thursday James was the most searched for subject on the site.  Daniel Smith is a gangster and these searched-for articles are no doubt being read (slowly, with brows furrowed by concentration) by Liverpool’s criminal underworld, while little Elliot Wild is the subject of a high-profile bone marrow campaign.

But what’s been happening in Landford Avenue? Or at Huyton Park pub? It would be well worth be checking out with local sources, just to see if the jungle drums have been beating about an incident; audiences will often come to our site to read the official take on something they already know the background on. And to comment, of course.
Note of caution: When we first introduced this initiative the press office at Merseyside Police were naturally confused by a sudden surge in reporters ringing up, apropos of nothing much, asking “Anything been going on at Accacia Avenue, Anywhere?”. We explained the background and also reined back on that sort of random approach – if you’re a press officer you tend to need a bit more to go on than a searched-for address.

So in-site search give us a (sometimes vague) nod as to where a news story might be brewing, and it can definitely show where readers’ interests lie – we continued to run James McVey stories because the audience has shown an appetite for that, and listening to your audience is key.

But these searches can also give us the kind of information that you would wear out a lot of shoe leather trying to get, often without success.
When someone is killed in violent circumstances on Merseyside – something that seems to happen with depressing regularity – there is a strong chance that the in-site search will, within hours, start showing multiple searches for a specific name. Twice we’ve run these names by official sources and got confirmation that it is indeed the deceased.
If the death involves a gun and someone who is – as the phrase goes – known to police (aka a gangster) then you can practically guarantee their name will crop up in a search before anything official has been released. The most recent example happened shortly before Christmas – two teenagers died in tragic circumstances during a car crash and their names showed up in the top 10 most searched-for terms within the hour, and remained there for several days.

From a digital team point of view, the daily site search round-ups have also visibly demonstrated – with proven results – the opportunities inherent in online journalism to those who are more print-focused in their jobs.
It can be easy for a newsroom to view the website as a separate entity, not as part of the platforms we use to reach audiences. Print is such a behemoth, with its deadlines, and its multiple pages that demand filling, that I understand how it eclipses digital in some journalists minds, even if I don’t like it. But these site searches reinforce the usefulness of the web, underline how readers are using it, how they don’t differentiate between paper and screen when it comes to finding out information – they just want it. And that has helped achieve a little culture shift in Editorial.

In-site search tells us so much, but it’s equally interesting to know where your non-audience is getting their information. We use Hitwise and it is a constant source of fascinating (and sometimes dispiriting) information about our un-users.

But knowing where you aren’t hitting audiences is vital; it helps us spot where our gaps are and, when appropriate, take steps editorially to address that. Take showbiz – the Echo score on Hitwise was low in March 2009 with most searches by Liverpool people for Hollyoaks (made by Liverpool company Lime, filmed in the city) going to Digital Spy. Which was crazy because we actually do a lot with Hollyoaks, and have a good relationship with them. So, showbiz coverage was upped, more galleries, better SEO, and we improved our rankings. Not an earth-shattering topic, but a small victory nonetheless. Equally, from a Advertising department point-of-view, knowing that a large proportion of people in our circulation area are searching for – to take a real example – jobs in the NHS in Liverpool – could help inform commercial campaigns.

So, search is something I’m particularly interested in at the moment – not just in-site but also Twitter Search* using the advance search features. Useful when looking for local tweets on specific topics/people (although if I do Liverpool searches it takes time to sort out the zillions of football-linked tweets from news ones). TwitterSearch also gave us a fairly powerful assist when a suspected gangster was shot in Liverpool just before Christmas. We had a possible name, but nothing confirmed, but a refined area Twitter search turned up people tweeting RIPs and calling the victim by his first name. Not concrete enough that you could print initially, but it gave us a good steer that we were on the right track, and also meant we could tweet people asking them for comments.

Most recently I’ve been using it to gauge how people feel about Scouse singer Rebecca Ferguson on XFactor, simply by ticking the positive/negative box on the advanced search. Turns out she’s pretty much universally loved, if you fancy a punt at Ladbrookes…

 With regards to Rebecca Ferguson, the results eventually showed she was indeed worth a punt if you were putting your money on the X Factor final two. Just goes to show what a powerful tool search can be.

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"I want to write for the New York Times…"

I think this little Xtranormal skit has gone around the world twice now but it did make me Laugh Out Loud twice.

Much as I like Xtranormal, I hadn’t used it in a while because it was pretty limited but when I logged in again today I see there are a host of new character types added in. It would be nice to upload audio though – the text-to-voice is distracting for all the wrong reasons.

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