Juxtaposition and the benefits of snark

I think next year, instead of running that newspaper stalwart the Review of the Year, I might suggest a round-up of Front Pages That Never Were.
The topic came up after Dan Owen and I had a good hard stare at a splash page the other Sunday night, and reluctantly reached the conclusion that we Just Couldn’t.*
This was the first iteration:

If you can’t see what needed to be changed, well done for having a mind free of snark.
If however, you are now rolling on the floor hooting at the idea of a Wales Skipper Could Have Killed van Persie/18 Fractures in Pub Attack double-act, then you’re exactly who we had in mind when we decided we Just Couldn’t. 
You prompted us to redo the blurb, sans RVP’s footballing brush with death; you helped edit that front page. Because although they are obviously different stories, it’s way too easy to see them as a mash up.
This is what changed (on that particular edition, at least) 

When a newspaper fouls up, especially on the front page, some users laugh, some reach for the caps lock and just about everyone reacts like no one has ever made a mistake in the history of the world before. 
I view it a bit like an entire street rushing to surround a postman and collectively yell at him YOU DELIVERED THAT LETTER TO THE WRONG HOUSE!!! PATHETIC POSTMANISM!!!
I also tend to take a ‘there but for the grace of God…’ approach when other publication’s blunders are crowed over and, ultimately, everyone loses interest and moves on after a few hours; Twitterstorms burn bright, but don’t generate a lot of heat. 

Nevertheless, it’s a good tool for the development of audience-informing-content. No matter what sort of ding it gives to one’s ego, the fact that social networks allow people to give instant feedback – often unfiltered – can be a learning experience. 
Juxtaposing straps or headlines like this has happened for years; pre-internet they might find their way into Press Gazette or Private Eye, and there would be some gentle ribbing.
I can’t say if the Daily Post‘s clashing juxtaposition would have led to an outpouring of online hilarity but I can identify it as the sort of clash that has the potential to. 

Knowing what triggers the social hive mind (be that lolcat, tyop or sweet little video of a blind dog with a guide cat) is handy, and it translates from online into print more often than not. 

Every trainee journalist arriving on a paper is told to write for a fictitious reader (in the Pembroke Dock office of the Western Telegraph, our lodestar was Mrs Evans, of Lower Pennar. Twenty years on I still have a strong mental image of her.) 
We’ve historically been told “Write for your readers” – to have that everyman/everywoman in mind and make sure we connect with them, to be ‘Like Us’ and hit our demographs.
But now our readers aren’t limited by geography or print availability any more – some of my readers might never have set foot in North Wales, but they are – sometimes fleetingly, sometimes deeply – engaging and becoming a part of the creative process, via the internet.

Tweeting photos of the creation of Wales on Sunday’s front page ahead of print deadline on a Saturday night helped market the paper; got people talking about us and sharing the front. More memorably, it massively spared our blushes once, when a follower pointed out a typo in a footballer’s name. 
It’s important to me that the Daily Post is shared socially every night, for those reasons and for one more – with our policy of talking about what we’re doing, on the liveblog or on social networks, it’s puts the cap on a day’s work for us and for our Facebook and Twitter networks, where friends and followers might have been following our progress and contributing. 
So, theres my rather upbeat view on the nature of snark. 
Of course, the next time the Daily Post makes a mistake (like this fleetingly online, ffs, but screengrabbed forever, of course) I will be as cross with the interwebs as ever. Until the bandwagon rolls on to the next unfortunate, of course.  

* Dan suggested I use the Daily Post’s Saturday editor’s column to talk about on how we decide what the front page looks like – I did pen a less detailed version for that, but had so many thoughts around the subject that didn’t fit into a 370 word template (and that probably weren’t of any interest to my readers) I figured it was worth firing up the blog to post something. Belatedly.

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The rise of the retweet junkie

I thought I’d tweeted off my chest the things that appalled me about the ‘be first or be right’ social media minefield following the shattering horror of the Newton shootings. 
 But then I read this post by Andy Dickinson, and it struck a chord. It made me realise I hadn’t blogged a lot recently because I was either posting tweets or just using Diigo‘s bookmarks-to-blog option and not bothering to otherwise update my blog. 

 Writing my thoughts down here has only ever brought me clarity, and wise words of advice or support from people who stopped by to read them. I don’t have time to do the tool exploration and testing I used to on here (which, incidentally, I really miss) but if I can’t find 10 minutes a week to consider the stuff that’s annoyed, inspired, smacked me between the eyes with its brilliance or helped me shape how I think, do or feel about journalism, then it’s a poor look-out.  

Cheers, Andy.

Anyway, to return to where we came in the social media ‘first or right’ issue. I tweeted this a few hours after the shootings, which I had to follow on my iPhone, as I was travelling (and mostly followed via Twitter) 

I was angry and perplexed that opinion and rumours were being peddled and passed on as if they were nuggets of Golden Truth. 

Even Jeff Jarvis got himself tied in knots after taking on trust the Twitter account of the (wrongly) identified shooter was genuine and real.
It wasn’t the right account. hell, it wasn’t even the right name. Cue this.

But mistakes like that aside – and taking as read the fact that how people react on a social network is but a sideshow to the enormity of this tragedy – what I saw on Twitter on Friday night was depressing. 
It wasn’t about racing to share information, and I actually don’t think it was about being first, a lot of the time; it was about ego, and the retweet boost. 

Journalists can be needy creatures. When I was a reporter I wanted the front page; not much better than landing a belting story and being told it’s going to be the splash – it’s Hack Crack. 

On Twitter, Hack Crack becomes Retweet Smack, and it’s available to all, courtesy of the site’s Interactions option which shows just who and how many times your tweet has been favourited or shared.

Four or five years ago, I was sitting down with journalism students and urging them to use social media to raise their profiles, and market their work and themselves. 
I still believe that’s vital, but I also think the whole ‘be your own brand!’ clarion call has helped create RT monsters. 

RT monsters don’t need news breaks to exist – their bible is Favstar, and you’ve probably encountered them on a day-to-day basis. 
Typically, they’re the user who takes your Twitpic link, deletes your tweet, and reposts it with their own, or they steal others’ jokes and ideas, and post them as their own – Twitter’s Witty Writers brigade gets very vocal about this. 

Retweet junkies abound on Twitter. I think Pat Smith summed up the issue of neediness and validation perfectly with this, during a discussion about the Newton Twitter frenzy:

Validation – now there’s a thing social media was made for: How many followers do you have? How often do you get retweeted? Who, exactly, are your followers – any good ones? What’s your Klout score, your Favstar ranking? Who likes your Instagram? 

Personally, I want my journalists to validate facts, not themselves. You can be a brand without letting it become the most important thing about you.

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11 thoughts about tolerance. (And why it’s over-rated)

Rage Template

I’m starting to think social media has made me a less-than-tolerant communicator when it comes to certain issues. This is why: 
1. I assume everyone has already seen whatever Twitter is buzzing about and so knows what I’m talking about.
2. “Because it’s wrong” is not a comprehensive and thorough enough explanation of why I detest MSM plundering Facebook photos SO MUCH. 
3. I feel uncomfortable if people I know personally have egg avatars. I also make this plain until they upload a photo in self-defence.
4. I forget Scribd is not a verb, and that using it does not auto-translate into “handy way to share and embed a pdf accompanying an article”.
5. My heart may sink at Powerpoint but should remember any involuntary groan of anguish I emit when confronted by another sodding Prezi will cause the speaker to react negatively.
6. I work on the basis that linking to a source for more information has permeated Real World consciousness. And I get cross when that assumption is confounded yet again.
7. I assume general understanding that correct attribution of Flickr or Instagram photos to rightful, consenting owners is a basic principle of use. This should not be a water-on-stone issue.
8. Talking about adopting an Agile ethos may cause others to believe I want them to run around at speed. I should check for blank or anxious expressions before continuing the conversation.
9. Tweeting to colleagues sat 10 feet across the office is no substitute for a conversation – but it is often faster, more effective and easier.
10. I believe there is a special circle of Hell for people who copy others’ thoughts on Twitter and pass them off as their own. By incredible coincidence, several people all thought of this bon mot on Saturday, for example…
I remember back at nine o’clock when this were all fields.

11*. I don’t understand why the internet seems to demand lists are made in 10s regardless of whether it’s required or not. *frowns at Huffington Post and Mashable*
* See? I also have zero patience with anyone who would admit to doing something “because the internet demanded it”.
My tolerance levels are not what they were. And, to be honest, that’s fine by me.

Flickr photo courtesy of jcoolmoonster

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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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Tweeting court cases – the case for the defence

Technology and court reporting – it’s the debate that keeps on giving.
In March 2009, after the Palm Beach Post won the right for a reporter to leave the courtroom to tweet an update (seriously, this happened) I wrote that the UK needed to get the courtroom press bench online and networked, and you suddenly really do start to have open justice.   

I wasn’t especially hopeful though. 
However, just a few years later we were given right to tweet updates from court without shuffling apologetically out of the room; journalists can sit with an laptop and tweet from the press bench (assuming we remembered to bring a dongle).

This is an amazing and wonderful thing that we must not take for granted; re-reading my old post and seeing the excuses I made as to why the justice system in England and Wales might not change was illuminating; to be honest, I am surprised the Twitter ruling was achieved in such a short space of time.  

However, there is a problem, as highlighted in Press Gazette today: Tweeting from court: ‘It’s multi-skilling gone mad’ was the headline and the article pointed out the pitfalls.
Chris Johnson, from Mercury, highlighted the obvious issue of prejudicial tweets (just last month a reporter named a juror while live-tweeting the Harry Redknapp trial) but there were also two unnamed reporters complaining about the demands of covering the case and tweeting it.
One said: “While you’re fiddling around with your 140 characters, you may miss a key bit of evidence, or might not have the time to take a good shorthand note of something. It’s going to end in tears.”

The pressures of tweeting a high profile case are obvious, and can take some planning to surmount.
The South Wales Argus recently overcame the difficulty of meeting real time demand with detailed court reporting by assigning two staff to the key days of a murder trial – one to liveblog via Twitter, and one to take notes for print.
That’s a big commitment for a regional newsroom to make, and fair play to the Argus for seeing the issue and understanding the differing needs of its reporters and audience.
But such an undertaking it’s not a sustainable use of resources in most over-stretched newsrooms – and it’s also not necessary in most cases.
Evidence is repeated… and repeated, some witnesses add nothing to the story, other than the line ‘the court also heard from Joe Bloggs who said he had seen the defendant walking along Any Street, Any Town, shortly before [insert nefarious deed here]’, and the quotable newsy stuff, are easily picked out of the warp and weft of the evidence by a hack with an ear for interesting copy.

I’ve little sympathy for the anonymous reporter quoted in Press Gazette who claims tweeting in court is too hard; please don’t blame the lifting of restrictions enable you to do your job more effectively (hint: Your job is telling people what’s happening) when what you mean is you’ve not been properly equipped by your organisation. 
Also, anonymous reporter, have you told your newsdesk what kit you need to do live court reporting adequately? Ten years ago your kit would have been a notepad, pen and a mobile phone. Twenty years ago it would have been your notepad, pen, and access to a public telephone. What do you need now? I’d imagine a laptop, smartphone, notepad, pen and connectivity. 
These are not exactly hostage-taking demands.
Journalism is hard – every day difficulties have to be overcome, whether it’s tweeting from court or knocking on the door of a newly-bereaved parent, or dashing out of a council meeting and filing 500 words off the top of your head to meet the  Late City edition deadline (On reflection, Late City edition deadlines don’t exist any more – let’s say for the website instead).
There may be live tweeting happening from other sources – media or in the public gallery (assuming they’ve sought and received permission) but that’s not a reason to stop.
Taking notes on a laptop and cut and pasting summaries into Twitter as appropriate is achievable, and shifts the problem of tweeting in court from manpower to having the correct kit.

But ultimately, this is just a workaround isn’t it?
Tweeting from court, being allowed to operate a laptop from the press bench – these are issues that detract from the main problem. If we were to have real open justice then our courts need to be live-streamed, with subtitles – and screens, voice replacement technology and other protection methods for cases where identity is an issue – and with embeddable players so the distribution of judicial process is as wide as possible.
The Leveson hearings have allowed more people than ever before follow significant evidence in real time. 
I’d love to see our criminal courts follow suit.

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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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Joining the Pinterest revolution

English: Red Pinterest logo
Image via Wikipedia

WalesOnline has joined the Pinterest revolution – or leapt on the bandwagon depending on your point of view – and it’s early days (and invite-only) but the prospects for good social sharing and driving traffic through specific curation activities are looking pretty bright.

Pinterest has become very fashionable in recent weeks with 2.2m users a month, and was bolstered last month by news it was driving more traffic than Google+ to retail sites.
We’re currently focussing on the female-friendly aspects of Pinterest, and specifically promoting content from our Lifestyle section – fashion, cosmetics, crafting, fitness and diet – onto boards. 
So, for example, this pin about how to enjoy family-friendly holidays… 

… is promoted on our Family pin board, and  links to this story
Meanwhile, the one below, on tanning, which links to here, is promoted on the Products We Love board. 

Both have been repinned by other users and we currently have 17 boards with six topics – I expect that to increase, and gain some serious momentum as Operation Get Ready For Bikini Season starts up (OGRBS is, of course, a MSM churn phenomenon that kicks in around April and involves diets, exercise, fake tan, hats, sunnies, sarongs and a host of other be beachy accoutrements). 
The ’embed pin’ option allows more bloggers access to our images and content than before, with in-built links, and it displays attractively.

It’s too new for analytics on traffic to show any real uplift but, since these sections have traditionally required a lot of promotion on social media – such as relevant Facebook pages – to reach the required audience (Lifestyle has a niche audience and WalesOnline tends to be more heavily weighted towards men, user-wise) an external site that can boost the number of visits and users is a gift. I’ll update this post as I get more numbers for visitors and visitor paths.

Personally, I sign up for more new things in the social web than I ever really use, but I don’t advocate the same for work as I’m conscious that sometimes these shiny things take up more time than they are worth. And sometimes go paid for-only (hello Dippity!), or close after you’ve put time and effort into them (hello Trunk.ly!)

But I suspect Pinterest is different (not least because you can add the handy Pin it! extension to your browser bar and pin without pause) and it really does add value. The more we use it for curating our own and others’ content the richer source we become, and the greater opportunity there is to reach new people. 
Currently we’re Pinterested in Lifestyle content as a pathfinder, but next sport and news will need to follow, sport being a particular opportunity.

Of course, there will be pitfalls – look at this source code image Zach Seward tweeted today…

…but the potential is exciting. I’ve been using Pinterest myself to gather images, video and graphs linked to my MA dissertation around innovation, disruptive industries and leadership. I think it works ok for that but (as a member of the community rather than an interested individual) I’m actually more interested in the lifestyle pinboards – that’s what I’d browse in my lunchhour five spare moments eating a sandwich at my desk. 
Also, I still like Pearltrees for displaying curated web pages, though my main bookmarking site is Diigo, which autoposts to my Delicious.

Meanwhile,this post 17 Free Resources & 59 Tips For How To Use Pinterest For Your Business  is excellent for getting started. If you’re thinking of using Pinterest as a media organisation, I recommend bookmarking it. 

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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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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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Your newspaper BMDs column is now live on Twitter

Image via Wikipedia

Long ago, when people tended to AskJeeves instead of just Asking, and citing Wikipedia as a source got you a newsdesk hairdrier (so, circa 1994), being rota-ed to do the Births, Deaths and Marriages scan was an envied job.

 Usually you were the early shift reporter, so you would potentially already have bagged at least one edition’s on-day splash from calls, and then you were able to settle back and peruse around a dozen pages of arrivals, departures, public notices and classifieds in the name of Human Interest stories.

Once you found a decent lead lurking in the BMDs, there was often a friendly vicar (M&Ds), obliging undertaker (Ds) or several postings from proud family and friends (Bs) to help you track down your quarry, aided by the phone book and directory enquiries. Failing that,  an advertising colleague manning the classifieds ads booking might agree to look for the phone number of whomever had taken out the ad in the first place.

I landed any number of death knocks as a result of BMD trawls, and the Personal column always, even if it didn’t generate any leads, provided brilliant entertainment. 
The Liverpool Echo death notices are legendary (one – genuinely – included the optimistic ‘you’ve come back from worse than this’ and I personally spotted one congratulaing the newly deceased on his son achieving a degree); in my first week on the paper I turned to the BMDs to find someone had announced the death of a loved one by publishing, with songwriting and musician credits and copyright, the lyrics to The Whole of the Moon. It took up an entire column. 

The family announcements columns offered possibly the best and most human face of newspapers; death notices and weddings on the two weekly titles I worked at were published free because they were considered news. For those of a certain vintage, buying a freshly-printed Tenby Observer or Western Telegraph from the front counter, the front page glance would be followed by a scanning of the annoucements – the old ‘just checking I’m not dead’ joke was obligatory. 

You have to pay for most announcements now, every penny counting of course, but maybe the reason they are so compelling is partly down to the fact that it’s where the audience/customer has an element of editorial control, simply by dint of paying to publish.
People get to write and style their own entries, use the grammar they chose, the exact quotes, photos and length of the piece and, unlike ad features, they are usually of interest to at least several people.

Anyway, the thing that prompted this self-indulgent muse was a question from a journalism student whoe dissertation includes a consideration of whether Twitter is essential for journalists. 
I happened to say as part of my response that I thought maybe Twitter, Facebook and other social networks were the new BMDs – people take to them to announce major events in their lives, from livetweeting a birth  to a Facebook status update announcing the death of a loved one – and in the same way those announcements, public notices and classifieds were seen as essential reading by everyone in a newsroom, Twitter should be as well. 

Lives are recorded on YouTube videos and sometimes they go on to become stories in their own right; when Seesmic offered video threads I used to talk to a fellow poster, who lived in America and who had cystic fibrosis. Two days after our last contact, I learned of his death via Twitter. I’ve seen the passing anniversaries of his death being marked by tweets from others as well. 

Lots of people post announcements of a very personal nature, from new jobs to lost jobs, engagements to separations, and they do it online, via blogs, forums, social networks, photo-sharing sites… 
It’s a rich vein of information and you don’t even necessarily need to be an enthusiastic user of Twitter to exploit it. 
Twitter Lists are brilliant for sources, as are the social ranking sites like Peer Index  (I’m less sure about the ranking usefulness of such sites than I am their ability to list topic or geographic interestingness). Geographic Twitter searches, sites such as Monniter and Twibes are just some tools that can help.

If you didn’t read the BMDs and announcements it didn’t mean you were a poor journalist, just one who wasn’t exploiting your sources to the full potential. Same goes for social networks now – you are missing out, even if you don’t know it.

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