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June 20 2013

09:52

AP Targets More Live UGC Video Through Bambuser Investment

LONDON – The latest in a line of citizen-journalism contributor platforms embraced by big media, Sweden’s Bambuser is taking an equity investment from Associated Press.

Bambuser members broadcast live mobile video of news events like the Syrian conflicts, Russia’s meteor sightings and a recent helicopter crash in London. AP has had exclusivity on the footage amongst competing news wires since the pair brokered a deal in 2012.

Now AP’s global video news director Sandy MacIntyre will join Bambuser’s board as a non-executive director. The group says it hopes smartphone users can be “first responders” in the scenes of breaking news, carrying verified live video to its newswire clients and, in turn, to TV viewers’ homes.

In previous years, citizen photography site Demotix sold to Getty Images whilst rival Scoopt was acquired by Corbis. The size of AP’s investment and its equity stake were not disclosed.

Last year Bambuser executive chairman Hans Eriksson told Beet.TV in this video interview that his AP partnership had led to live video being aired on CNN, Al Jazeera, Sky News and BBC News.

May 10 2013

09:06

Free ebook: Citizen Video – training and engaging citizens in video journalism

Videographer Franzi Baehrle has published an ebook documenting lessons in delivering video training to non-journalists.

The ebook was part of her final project for the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, and based on her experiences of working with communities online and offline in Birmingham, with the Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project, the Birmingham Mail’s digital team, and independently.

I forgot to blog about it at the time it was published last Autumn, but better late than never: it’s an excellent piece of work, and well worth reading.

09:06

Free ebook: Citizen Video – training and engaging citizens in video journalism

Videographer Franzi Baehrle has published an ebook documenting lessons in delivering video training to non-journalists.

The ebook was part of her final project for the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, and based on her experiences of working with communities online and offline in Birmingham, with the Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project, the Birmingham Mail’s digital team, and independently.

I forgot to blog about it at the time it was published last Autumn, but better late than never: it’s an excellent piece of work, and well worth reading.

August 16 2012

08:27

Hyperlocal Voices: Matt Brown, Londonist

The fifth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices explores the work done by the team behind the Londonist. Despite having a large geographic footprint – Londonist covers the whole of Greater London - the site is full of ultra-local content, as well as featuring stories and themes which span the whole of the capital.

Run by two members of staff and a raft of volunteers, Editor Matt Brown gave Damian Radcliffe an insight into the breadth and depth of the site.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Everyone in London! We’re a very open site, involving our readers in the creation of many articles, especially the imagery. But more prosaically, we have an editorial team of 5 or 6 people, plus another 20 or so regular contributors. I act as the main content editor for the site.

We’re more than a website, though, with a weekly podcast (Londonist Out Loud, ably presented and produced by N Quentin Woolf), a separate Facebook presence, a daily e-newsletter, 80,000 Twitter followers, the largest FourSquare following in London (I think), a Flickr pool with 200,000 images, several e-books, occasional exhibitions and live events every few weeks. The web site is just one facet of what we do.

2. What made you decide to set up the blog?

I actually inherited it off someone else, but it was originally set up as a London equivalent of certain sites in the US like Gothamist and Chicagoist, which were riding the early blogging wave, providing news and event tips for citizens. There was nothing quite like it in London, so my predecessor wanted to jump into the gap and have some fun.

3. When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

It dates back to 2004, when it was originally called the Big Smoker. Before too long, it joined the Gothamist network, changing its name to Londonist.

We now operate independently of that network, but retain the name. It was originally set up in Movable Type publishing platform, but we moved to WordPress a couple of years ago.

4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Obviously, the Gothamist sites originally. But we’re now more influenced by the wonderful ecosystem of London blogs out there, all offering their own take on life in the capital.

The best include Diamond Geezer (an incisive and often acerbic look at London), Ian Visits (a mix of unusual site visits and geeky observation) and Spitalfields Life (a daily interview with a local character). These are just three of the dozens of excellent London sites in my RSS reader.

5. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Complementary rather than competitors. We cover three or four news stories a day, sometimes journalistically, but our forte in this area is more in commentary, features and reader involvement around the news.

And news is just a small part of what we do — most of the site is event recommendation, unusual historical insights, street art, food and drink, theatre reviews and the like. As an example of our diversity, a few months back we ran a 3,000-word essay on the construction of Hammersmith flyover by an engineering PhD candidate, and the very next item was about a beauty pageant for chubby people in Vauxhall.

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

I think most of these would be technologically driven. For example, when Google mapping became possible, our free wifi hotspots and V2 rocket maps greatly increased site traffic.

Once Twitter reached critical mass we were able to reach out to tens of thousands of people, both for sourcing information for articles and pushing our finished content.

The other big thing was turning the site into a business a couple of years ago, so we were able to bring a little bit of money in to reinvest in the site. The extra editorial time the money pays for means our output is now bigger and better.

7. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

We’re now seeing about 1.4 million page views a month. It’s pretty much doubling year on year.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Transforming from an amateur site into a business.

We started taking different types of advertising, including advertorial content, and had to make sure we didn’t alienate our readers. It was a tricky tightrope, but I’d hope we’ve done a fairly good job of selecting paid-for content only if it’s of interest to a meaningful portion of our readers, and then making sure we’re open and clear about what is sponsored content and what is editorially driven.

9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of? 

I’m rather enjoying our A-Z pubcrawl at the moment, and not just because of the booze.

Basically, we pick an area of town each month beginning with the next letter of the alphabet (so, Angel, Brixton, City, Dalston, etc.). We then ask our readers to nominate their favourite pubs and bars in the area, via Twitter, Facebook or comments.

We then build a Google map of all the suggestions and arrange a pub crawl around the top 4.

Everyone’s a winner because (a) we get a Google-friendly article called, for example, ‘What’s the best pub in Farringdon?‘, with a map of all the suggestions; (b) we get the chance to use our strong social media channels to involve a large number of people – hundreds of votes every time; (c) the chance to meet some of our readers, who are invited along on the pub crawl, and who get a Londonistbooze badge as a memento; (d) a really fun night out round some very good pubs.

The next part (G for Greenwich) will be announced in early September.

10. What are your plans for the future?

We’re playing around with ebooks at the moment, as a way to sustain the business directly through content. We’ve published a book of London pub crawls (spotting a theme here?), and a history of the London Olympics by noted London author David Long. Our next ebook will be a collection of quiz questions about the capital, drawn from the numerous pub quizzes we’ve ran over the years.

Basically, we’re looking to be the best organisation for finding out about London in any and every medium we can get our hands on.

08:27

Hyperlocal Voices: Matt Brown, Londonist

The fifth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices explores the work done by the team behind the Londonist. Despite having a large geographic footprint – Londonist covers the whole of Greater London - the site is full of ultra-local content, as well as featuring stories and themes which span the whole of the capital.

Run by two members of staff and a raft of volunteers, Editor Matt Brown gave Damian Radcliffe an insight into the breadth and depth of the site.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Everyone in London! We’re a very open site, involving our readers in the creation of many articles, especially the imagery. But more prosaically, we have an editorial team of 5 or 6 people, plus another 20 or so regular contributors. I act as the main content editor for the site.

We’re more than a website, though, with a weekly podcast (Londonist Out Loud, ably presented and produced by N Quentin Woolf), a separate Facebook presence, a daily e-newsletter, 80,000 Twitter followers, the largest FourSquare following in London (I think), a Flickr pool with 200,000 images, several e-books, occasional exhibitions and live events every few weeks. The web site is just one facet of what we do.

2. What made you decide to set up the blog?

I actually inherited it off someone else, but it was originally set up as a London equivalent of certain sites in the US like Gothamist and Chicagoist, which were riding the early blogging wave, providing news and event tips for citizens. There was nothing quite like it in London, so my predecessor wanted to jump into the gap and have some fun.

3. When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

It dates back to 2004, when it was originally called the Big Smoker. Before too long, it joined the Gothamist network, changing its name to Londonist.

We now operate independently of that network, but retain the name. It was originally set up in Movable Type publishing platform, but we moved to WordPress a couple of years ago.

4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Obviously, the Gothamist sites originally. But we’re now more influenced by the wonderful ecosystem of London blogs out there, all offering their own take on life in the capital.

The best include Diamond Geezer (an incisive and often acerbic look at London), Ian Visits (a mix of unusual site visits and geeky observation) and Spitalfields Life (a daily interview with a local character). These are just three of the dozens of excellent London sites in my RSS reader.

5. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Complementary rather than competitors. We cover three or four news stories a day, sometimes journalistically, but our forte in this area is more in commentary, features and reader involvement around the news.

And news is just a small part of what we do — most of the site is event recommendation, unusual historical insights, street art, food and drink, theatre reviews and the like. As an example of our diversity, a few months back we ran a 3,000-word essay on the construction of Hammersmith flyover by an engineering PhD candidate, and the very next item was about a beauty pageant for chubby people in Vauxhall.

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

I think most of these would be technologically driven. For example, when Google mapping became possible, our free wifi hotspots and V2 rocket maps greatly increased site traffic.

Once Twitter reached critical mass we were able to reach out to tens of thousands of people, both for sourcing information for articles and pushing our finished content.

The other big thing was turning the site into a business a couple of years ago, so we were able to bring a little bit of money in to reinvest in the site. The extra editorial time the money pays for means our output is now bigger and better.

7. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

We’re now seeing about 1.4 million page views a month. It’s pretty much doubling year on year.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Transforming from an amateur site into a business.

We started taking different types of advertising, including advertorial content, and had to make sure we didn’t alienate our readers. It was a tricky tightrope, but I’d hope we’ve done a fairly good job of selecting paid-for content only if it’s of interest to a meaningful portion of our readers, and then making sure we’re open and clear about what is sponsored content and what is editorially driven.

9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of? 

I’m rather enjoying our A-Z pubcrawl at the moment, and not just because of the booze.

Basically, we pick an area of town each month beginning with the next letter of the alphabet (so, Angel, Brixton, City, Dalston, etc.). We then ask our readers to nominate their favourite pubs and bars in the area, via Twitter, Facebook or comments.

We then build a Google map of all the suggestions and arrange a pub crawl around the top 4.

Everyone’s a winner because (a) we get a Google-friendly article called, for example, ‘What’s the best pub in Farringdon?‘, with a map of all the suggestions; (b) we get the chance to use our strong social media channels to involve a large number of people – hundreds of votes every time; (c) the chance to meet some of our readers, who are invited along on the pub crawl, and who get a Londonistbooze badge as a memento; (d) a really fun night out round some very good pubs.

The next part (G for Greenwich) will be announced in early September.

10. What are your plans for the future?

We’re playing around with ebooks at the moment, as a way to sustain the business directly through content. We’ve published a book of London pub crawls (spotting a theme here?), and a history of the London Olympics by noted London author David Long. Our next ebook will be a collection of quiz questions about the capital, drawn from the numerous pub quizzes we’ve ran over the years.

Basically, we’re looking to be the best organisation for finding out about London in any and every medium we can get our hands on.

January 27 2012

20:56

December 19 2011

07:37

Magazine editing: managing information overload

In the second of three extracts from the 3rd edition of Magazine Editing, published by Routledge, I talk about dealing with the large amount of information that magazine editors receive. 

Managing information overload

A magazine editor now has little problem finding information on a range of topics. It is likely that you will have subscribed to email newsletters, RSS feeds, Facebook groups and pages, YouTube channels and various other sources of news and information both in your field and on journalistic or management topics.

There tend to be two fears driving journalists’ information consumption: the fear that you will miss out on something because you’re not following the right sources; and the fear that you’ll miss out on something because you’re following too many sources. This leads to two broad approaches: people who follow everything of any interest (‘follow, then filter’); and people who are very strict about the number of sources of information they follow (‘filter, then follow’).

A good analogy to use here is of streams versus ponds. A pond is manageable, but predictable. A stream is different every time you step in it, but you can miss things.

As an editor you are in the business of variety: you need to be exposed to a range of different pieces of information, and cannot afford to be caught out. A good strategy for managing your information feeds then, is to follow a wide variety of sources, but to add filters to ensure you don’t miss all the best stuff.

If you are using an RSS reader one way to do this is to have specific folders for your ‘must-read’ feeds. Andrew Dubber, a music industries academic and author of the New Music Strategies blog, recommends choosing 10 subjects in your area, and choosing five ‘must-read’ feeds for each, for example.

For email newsletters and other email updates you can adopt a similar strategy: must-reads go into your Inbox; others are filtered into subfolders to be read if you have time.

To create a folder in Google Reader, add a new feed (or select an existing one) and under the heading click on Feed Settings… – then scroll to the bottom and click on New Folder… – this will also add the feed to that folder.

If you are following hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter, use Twitter lists to split them into manageable channels: ‘People I know’; ‘journalism’; ‘industry’; and so on. To add someone to a list on Twitter, visit their profile page and click on the list button, which will be around the same area as the ‘Follow’ button.

You can also use websites such as Paper.li to send you a daily email ‘newspaper’ of the most popular links shared by a particular list of friends every day, so you don’t miss out on the most interesting stories.

Social bookmarking: creating an archive and publishing at the same time

Social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Digg and Diigo can also be useful in managing web-based resources that you don’t have time to read or think might come in useful later. Bookmarking them essentially ‘files’ each webpage so you can access them quickly when you need them (you do this by giving each page a series of relevant tags, e.g. ‘dieting’, ‘research’, ‘UK’, ‘Jane Jones’).

They also include a raft of other useful features, such as RSS feeds (allowing you to automatically publish selected items to a website, blog, or Twitter or Facebook account), and the ability to see who else has bookmarked the same pages (and what else they have bookmarked, which is likely to be relevant to your interests).

Check the site’s Help or FAQ pages to find out how to use them effectively. Typically this will involve adding a button to your browser’s Links bar (under the web address box) by dragging a link (called ‘Bookmark on Delicious’ or similar) from the relevant page of the site (look for ‘bookmarklets’).

Then, whenever you come across a page you want to bookmark, click on that button. A new window will appear with the name and address of the webpage, and space for you to add comments (a typical tactic is to paste a key quote from the page here), and tags.

Useful things to add as tags include anything that will help you find this later, such as any organisations, locations or people that are mentioned, the author or publisher, and what sort of information is included, such as ‘report’, ‘statistics’, ‘research’, ‘casestudy’ and so on.

If installing a button on your browser is too complicated or impractical many of these services also allow you to bookmark a page by sending the URL to a specific email address. Alternatively, you can just copy the URL and log on to the bookmarking site to bookmark it.

Some bookmarking services double up as blogging sites: Tumblr and Stumbleupon are just two. The process is the same as described above, but these services are more intuitively connected with other services such as Twitter and Facebook, so that bookmarked pages are also automatically published on those services too. With one click your research not only forms a useful archive but also becomes an act of publishing and distribution.

Every so often you might want to have a clear out: try diverting mailings and feeds to a folder for a week without looking at them. After seven days, ask which ones, if any, you have missed. You might benefit from unsubscribing and cutting down some information clutter. In general, it may be useful to have background information, but it all occupies your time. Treat such things as you would anything sent to you on paper. If you need it, and it is likely to be difficult to find again, file it or bookmark it. If not, bin it. After a while, you’ll find it gets easier.

Do you have any other techniques for dealing with information overload?

 

July 16 2011

08:45

FAQ: How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Here’s another set of questions I’m answering in public in case anyone wants to ask the same:

How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Online communities contain many individuals who will be able to contribute different kinds of value to news production. Most obviously, expertise, opinion, and eyewitness testimony. In addition, they will be able to more effectively distribute parts of a story to ensure that it reaches the right experts, opinion-formers and eyewitnesses. The difference from an audience is that a community tends to be specialised, and connected to each other.

If you rephrase the question as ‘How can broadcasters benefit from people?’ it may be clearer.

How does a broadcaster begin to develop an engaged online community, any tips?

Over time. Rather than asking about how you develop an online community ask yourself instead: how do you begin to develop relationships? Waiting until a major news event happens is a bad strategy: it’s like waiting until someone has won the lottery to decide that you’re suddenly their friend.

Journalists who do this well do a little bit every so often – following people in their field, replying to questions on social networks, contributing to forums and commenting on blogs, and publishing blog posts which are helpful to members of that community rather than simply being about ‘the story’ (for instance, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ questions behind the news).

In case you are aware of networks in the middle east, do you think they are tapping into online communities and social media adequately?

I don’t know the networks well enough to comment – but I do think it’s hard for corporations to tap into communities; it works much better at an individual reporter level.

Can you mention any models whether it is news channels or entertainment television which have developed successful online communities, why do they work?

The most successful examples tend to be newspapers: I think Paul Lewis at The Guardian has done this extremely successfully, and I think Simon Rogers’ Data Blog has also developed a healthy community around data and visualisation. Both of these are probably due in part to the work of Meg Pickard there around community in general.

The BBC’s UGC unit is a good example from broadcasting – although that is less about developing a community as about providing platforms for others to contribute, and a way for journalists to quickly find expertise in those communities. More specifically, Robert Peston and Rory Cellan-Jones use their blogs and Twitter accounts well to connect with people in their fields.

Then of course there’s Andy Carvin at NPR, who is an exemplar of how to do it in radio. There’s so much written about what he does that I won’t repeat it here.

What are the reasons that certain broadcasters cannot connect successfully with online communities?

I expect a significant factor is regulation which requires objectivity from broadcasters but not from newspapers. If you can’t express an opinion then it is difficult to build relationships, and if you are more firmly regulated (which broadcasting is) then you take fewer risks.

Also, there are more intermediaries in broadcasting and fewer reporters who are public-facing, which for some journalists in broadcasting makes the prospect of speaking directly to the former audience that much more intimidating.

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July 12 2011

12:16

Learning about community strategies: 10 lessons

Back in February I blogged about the process of teaching journalism students to think about working with communities. The results have been positive: even where the strategy itself wasn’t successful, the individuals have learned from its execution, its research, or both. And so, for those who were part of this process – and anyone else who’s interested – I thought I would summarise 10 key themes that came through the resulting work.

1. A community strategy isn’t something you can execute effectively in one month

Perhaps the number one lesson that people drew from the experience was that they should have started early, and done little, often, rather than a lot all at once. There was a tendency to underestimate the needs of community management and a need for better time management.

Communities needed time to “grow organically”, wrote one; it wasn’t a top down approach. Members might also have felt they were being “manipulated” when weeks of inactivity were followed by a flood of posts, links and questions.

2. The importance of real world events

Many wrote of the strong effect that attending meetings, events, conferences – and even the simple knocking on doors – had. Get out there and shake hands.

3. Look at your analytics – and adapt

Some of the most useful pieces of learning came from close inspection of the metrics surrounding a website, Twitter account or Facebook page – whether during the project or after. One, for example, changed the content they were creating for a Facebook page when they noticed that the use of visuals was having “a significant impact” on the community’s life. They created a YouTube channel linked to the Facebook page to capitalise on that.

Another, who created a website for rating the performance of referees, noted how traffic was affected by a referee’s performance – giving them a useful insight into the types of subject matter that generated the most debate.

4. Content alone isn’t enough…

One student put this particularly well, admitting that he had misconceived his role and assumed that the content he was providing was good enough to draw a community “on its own merits”. Seeing the results of his peers, he realised the importance of “being active in the establishment and strengthening of a community”.

Others noted that “A community need not focus around a singular blog” and the best way of tapping into a community was “through relationships built with others” – reading others’ blogs, commenting and retweeting them, and asking for advice.

It seems like common sense that people are more likely to be interested in you if you are interested in them, but that’s something that needed to be discovered in a journalistic context.

Many had particularly well developed and impressive content strategies based on Richard Millington’s useful ‘How To Write A Practical Online Community Plan’ and other readings of the literature around community management. Those who didn’t frequently hit problems that might have been easily avoided.

5. …But engagement is hard without content

Some realised they had made the opposite mistake: focusing so much on building relationships that they missed the need for content. One noted the dangers of simply ‘collecting’ people. That was easy, they remarked. “It’s creating and keeping those valuable relationships that is the difficult part.”

A clear objective beyond simple membership helped with community-building, another pointed out, identifying fundraising as just one objective that could be adopted to help build connections.

Similarly, for a third student research by McMillan and Chavis came in useful: communities, they said, needed to create a sense of “integration and fulfillment of needs, [a] feeling of being supported by others”.

6. Think about sustainability

The timescale wasn’t long enough for this to become an issue, but it was worth considering. One strategy quoted the following “Online groups die without new members to replace those who leave”.

7. Find your role

It is sometimes better to fill a much-needed role in a community than to try to usurp someone else’s – especially when you don’t have the same access or knowledge (yet). When one person realised that they “couldn’t be one of the news breakers”, for example, they decided that their best bet was to become involved in the community and introduce talking points. They built social capital through helping out on Twitter, answering tweets or by asking questions. “By doing that I became known in the community.”

Likewise, another found that “offering to do a little bit of work went a very long way” and a third realised that they had been too focused on their own needs and should have been looking more closely at what the community needed. “I focused too much on herding a market as if they were sheep, and not enough on actually developing a community.”

8. Think about how people use the medium and whether that fits your objectives

A significant number of people seemed to feel that they had to choose between one medium and another, which led to the later realisation that one medium wasn’t enough, or wasn’t appropriate.

Tumblr, for example turned out (for one user) to be a medium where people did not engage on much more than a superficial level (they also realised that they needed a more specific goal beyond getting people to the site returning).

Many discovered the limitations of Twitter for continuing deeper discussion. And one noted the problems in Facebook’s connectedness where people “might not want to advertise their ambitions so openly to their friends.”

Identifying leaders in a community – and the platforms that they used – was a strategy adopted by a number of students, some of whom changed their initial choice of technology as a result of research.

And looking beyond generic blogs, Twitter and Facebook proved an intelligent move for one person, who found Yelp a good place to attempt crowdsourcing.

9. Think about what contributes to a person’s standing in a community

Different communities have different ways of behaving, and having an understanding of this can make a big difference as you try to build relationships. This was quite an eye-opener, as we can often assume that what contributes to someone’s standing in the tech blogging community, for example, can be applied to others.

In one particular online financial community, for example, one student noted that new users have to build up a track record of either neutral contributions or correct predictions in order to be accepted. They also outlined specialised language used to describe online manipulators.

Another noted of a different community that to gain genuine membership of one community they needed to be posting “entertaining reviews, regularly”. A fellow user helped her understand “that you could not be stand-offish in this community” – she threw herself in.

And a particularly good piece of research into photo sharing groups noted their “unwritten codes of conduct”, including an emphasis on extremely high standards before acceptance into the group photo pool; not complaining too much when photos aren’t accepted; and the importance of contributing by joining discussions, adding useful links and understanding emerging trends.

10. Community management experience is useful

Finally, it was particularly heartening to read, over and over again, of the success stories that came out of people’s experiences – especially as the assignment had been greeted with such scepticism by some, and active antipathy by others. At least 2 students obtained jobs at major broadsheet newspapers as a result of their community experience, and a third at a major magazine publisher. A fourth sold her blog to a publisher as it had already become their biggest rival.

Many wrote about how they had changed their impression of community management through the process of executing the strategy. In particular the strategy had benefits in terms of building contacts and relationships, meeting and interviewing people for their project and building networks of contacts – not just in the UK but internationally.

A couple identified both strengths and weaknesses in this approach, which are not new to journalism. For one, relationships of trust meant that they received stories and releases before anyone else. But the same relationships meant that “there were times when I couldn’t use the information I did get.” Another noted how relationships could “take away your objectivity – or be broken if what you publish is not to the liking of the community”.

Others spoke of how involvement in a community broadened their scope, introducing them to new perspectives on their field.

It also helped drive traffic – many noticed a very strong impact on analytics, with traffic doubling and even tripling in some cases. One, who was writing for another site, found out that they had the most-visited story on it.

And there was an impact on engagement, with newcomers “turned into regulars” when they were asked to contribute.

Finally, and particularly importantly for aspiring journalists, engaging in a visible way helped raise students’ profiles and lead to work opportunities and conversation points. One made radio and TV appearances as a result of their involvement; they were approached to write articles for industry magazines, and are in discussions with a major publisher about content exchange. Another found their blog listed as a magazine’s blog of the month.

Many found that the reputation built in a particular community opened doors in terms of gaining access to interview subjects, events, and publishers.

And of course the project provided a useful talking point at interviews, with one interviewee at a mid-market newspaper specifically asking “what it had taught me about writing for a specialist subject and locating communities of interest online.”

I hope the above 10 points help provide a useful basis for further exploration. For my own part, I’ll be building on this with next year’s class – for which I already have some ideas…

Meanwhile, many thanks to all the students at City University who persevered with this assignment and who taught me so much in the process.

If you can add any other experiences or areas you think have been missed, let me know.

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June 30 2011

08:30

June 27 2011

14:38

My online journalism book is now out

The Online Journalism Handbook, written with Liisa Rohumaa, has now been published. You can get it here.

I’ve been blogging throughout the process of writing the book – particularly the chapters on data journalism, blogging and UGC – and you can still find those blog posts under the tag ‘Online Journalism Book‘.

Other chapters cover interactivity, audio slideshows and podcasting, video, law, some of the history that helps in understanding online journalism, and writing for the web (including SEO and SMO).

Meanwhile, I’ve created a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account (@OJhandbook) to provide updates, corrections and additions to the book.

If you spot anything in the book that needs updating or correcting, let me know. Likewise, let me know what you think of the book and anything you’d like to see added in future.

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April 01 2011

09:39

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Jonny Campbell's Charlie Sheen internship hoax

Image from jonnycampbell.com

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

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March 02 2011

12:06

Guest post: Do we need moderation guidelines for dealing with mental health issues?

Last month the Press Complaints Commission made a judgement in a case involving discriminatory comments on a newspaper article. The case highlighted the issue of journalism on mental health and how it is treated by publishers alongside similar considerations such as sexuality, gender, religion and ethnicity. The complaint also led to a change in The Guardian’s moderation rules.

In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog the person who brought that case, Beatrice Bray, writes about her experiences of comment abuse, and the role she feels publishers should take in dealing both with comments relating to mental health, as well as writers with mental health issues.

Last April I wrote a rallying cry for the Guardian for all who have endured taunts about mental ill health. In my reply article Cartoonists should be careful how they portray mental health (23/4/10) I reclaimed the word “psychotic”. Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson had used the word to abuse Mrs Thatcher. I put him right.

I am a long-standing reader of the Guardian newspaper but I did not know the website audience. Being a proud campaigner I told Guardian readers that I had bipolar disorder and had experienced psychosis.

I expected a civil hearing. Newspaper readers did oblige but many online readers were foul.

The Guardian’s managing editor Chris Elliott did not warn me about the impending abuse. That was a mistake. I think Mr Elliott knew I would face hostility but I do not think he realised how badly I would be hurt.

Those insults made me physically sick. My head was sore for many weeks. This was all so pointless. If Mr Elliott had given me a chance to discuss the risks involved we both could have taken precautions. Instead there was a row.

Guardian staff gave me an apology but told me to grow a “thick skin”. That jibe spurned me into going to the Press Complaints Commission. It is free. It is also less adversarial and less costly than a disability tribunal.

I was not asking for anything unprecedented. The BBC has guidelines on working with vulnerable people. We need to extend this to new media.

Working with vulnerable people

For example when dealing with discussion sites moderators need to deal swiftly with abuse. They also must facilitate discussions so that they do not turn nasty.

Staff should appreciate the reasons for this action. This is not prima donna treatment. This action is necessary because the writer and many of the readers share a common disability. They all have mental health problems.

Section 2 of the PCC Editors’ code promised fairness to complainants. I thought it only fair to ask for warning of abuse but in my PCC ruling the Guardian and the PCC disagreed with me. The PCC did not say why.

However, I did score other points.

Before the PCC ruling the Guardian at my request did add the word “disability” to its moderation rules.

The PCC and the Guardian and did apologise with regard to the abuse.

Guardian online readers called me, amongst other things, a “nutter” and a “retard”. Unfortunately both the Guardian and PCC refused to accept that this was discrimination as defined by the terms of section 12 of the Editor’s code of the PCC.

This is not just semantics. To me the word “discrimination” is a word with power. It holds the abuser responsible but the PCC fights shy of doing that online.

I now know that you can only complain to the PCC if a staff member makes a discriminatory remark about you. Comments made by non-staff members do not fall within the PCC’s remit. My abusers were not Guardian staff.

It is a shame. By being discrimination deniers both the Guardian and the PCC cut themselves off from a store of knowledge on handling disability and mental health in particular.

January 10 2011

08:40

‘UGC’ and journalism: the Giffords shooting and Facebook page moderation

Sarah Palin's Facebook page - comment condoning killing of 9 year old

The Obama London blog has a post looking at the moderation of comments on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page (following the Giffords shooting) which raises a couple of key points for journalists dealing with user generated content.

Editorially selected, not UGC

The first point is that it can be easy to assume user generated content is an unadulterated reflection of one community’s point of view, but in many cases it is not. A political page like Palin’s is, in many ways, no different to any piece of campaigning literature, with quotes carefully selected to reflect well on the candidate.

Political blogs – where critical comments can also be removed, should be subject to the same scepticism (Nadine Dorries’ claim that 70% of her blog was fiction is a good example of this).

Taking a virtual trip to a Facebook page, then, is not comparable to treading the streets – or even a particular politician’s campaign team – in search of ‘the feeling on the ground’.

Inaction can be newsworthy

The second point, however, is that this very moderation can generate stories itself.

The Obama London post notes that while even constructively critical comments were removed almost instantly, one comment was left to stand (shown in the image above). And it appeared to condone the killing of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green:

“It’s ok. Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as ‘they’ say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.”

Drawing on the campaign literature analogy again, you can see the newsworthiness of Palin staffers leaving this comment to stand (even when other commenters highlight its offensiveness).

Had Obama London been so inclined they could have led more strongly on something like: ‘Palin Facebook staff refuse to condemn comments condoning killing of 9-year-old’, or chased up a response from the team on why the comment was not removed.

But regardless of the nature of this individual example, you can see the broader point about comments on heavily moderated Facebook pages and blogs: they represent views that the politician’s camp is prepared to condemn or condone.

Comments

By the way, the extensive comment thread on that post is well worth exploring – it details how users can flag comments for moderation, removing them from their own view of the page but not that of others, as well as users’ experiences of being barred from Facebook groups for posting mildly critical comments.

Dylan Reeve in particular expresses my point more succinctly for moderators:

“The problem with the type of moderation policy that Sarah Palin (and others) utilise in places with user-contributed content is that they effectively appear to endorse any comments that do remain published.”

Oh, and on the more general thread of ‘analysis’ in the wake of the Giffords shooting, this post is well worth reading.

UPDATE: More discussion of the satirical nature of the comment on Reddit (thanks Mary Hamilton)

h/t Umair Haque

July 07 2010

10:40

Looking back on the 7/7 bombings and the birth of user-generated content

Five years on from the 7 July bombings in London, Matthew Eltringham from the BBC College of Journalism remembers the day that sparked the future of user-generated content.

[W]e ‘stuck a postform’ on the first take of the News website’s story and waited to see what would come in. Within minutes our email inbox was out of control – it was clear that something was happening, but we had no idea how to manage the huge number of emails we were receiving and the information they were giving us.

By the end of the day we had received several hundred images and videos along with several thousand emails. It was only with hindsight that we were able to make sense of them and the impact they were likely to have on our journalism.

Since then, the UGC project has grown to a team of more than 20 people, working around the clock and developing “an incredibly sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the ‘who, what, when, where and whys’ of ‘social newsgathering’ or put another way, ‘finding good stuff on the web’.”

There have been many lessons along the way too, leading the BBC to ruthlessly check every piece of user content which gets sent their way.

We always check out each and every image, video or key contact before we broadcast them, to make sure they are genuine and to resolve any copyright issues. When it’s impossible to do that – such as with content sent from Iran or Burma, when contacting the contributors is very hard to do or might put them in danger, we interrogate the images, using BBC colleagues who know the area and the story to help identify them.

Read the full post here…Similar Posts:



February 24 2010

11:07

The paradox of the BBC, objectivity, and UGC

Last week I took a group of MA Online Journalism students to visit the BBC’s User Generated Content Hub. It was a hugely informative conversation about how the biggest team of its kind in the world manages an enormous flow of texts, comments, images and other media (If you want to see more, Caroline Beavon has video of the whole thing, while I recorded a couple of Audioboos answering questions posed via Twitter).

As we were discussing the changing nature of the hub – it is increasingly looking to engage with users beyond the core BBC audience – it became apparent that there is a paradox at the heart of what the BBC does here – and by extension, any UGC effort. And it’s a paradox around objectivity and neutrality.

I’ve often felt that the BBC is slightly hamstrung in its social media efforts by its requirement to remain objective. Objectivity makes it harder to stimulate conversations. You can start them – but once they get going, you have to remain on the sidelines, expressing no opinion either way.

I’ve written before on how online journalists should be a mix of the ideal party host and ideal party guest. Staying on the sidelines allows you to play the host, but restricts your ability to truly perform the ‘guest’ role.

The Switzerland of social media

But what I realised during this visit was that objectivity also makes it easier to attract contributions in the first place. Striving to remain neutral in any conversation means that (most) people see your space as ’safe’ for whatever they have to contribute.

Carrying the analogy further, in this case the BBC is like a warehouse party where the host has gathered an enormous crowd but you’re not entirely sure who they are or whether they like you.

Perhaps the problem here is the catch-all phrase ‘UGC’ (which the BBC’s Matthew Eltringham dislikes). The BBC is perhaps better positioned than any other news organisation to act as a focal point for certain types of UGC – raw footage, witness texts and other generic news event-related other material – largely because it strives to achieve a neutral position.

On the other hand, organisations with a defined ideological leaning have an advantage in other types of UGC- for example, ’sticky’ conversation such as comment threads – because they can lay their cards on the table, get stuck in and inspire the sorts of strong reactions that stimulate debate.

The BBC, for those types of content, is reliant on users to perform that role.

In short, it’s an ecosystem with a place for both the BBC and news organisations on all points of the political spectrum.

To simplify enormously, the BBC’s objectivity gives it an advantage as a neutral ground for submitting content; left- or right-leaning news websites have an advantage in being able to stir opinion – but they will always have a smaller audience for that.

Enormous thanks to Matthew Eltringham and Trushar Barot for welcoming the students to the BBC, as well as their conversation and insights.

January 19 2010

09:47

Technology is not a strategy: it’s a tool

Here’s another draft section from the book chapter on UGC I’m currently writing which I’d welcome your input on. I’m particularly interested in any other objectives you can think of that news organisations have for using UGC – or the strategies adopted to achieve those.

A common mistake made when first venturing into user generated content is to focus on the technology, rather than the reasons for using it. “We need to have our own social network!” someone shouts. But why? And, indeed, how do you do so successfully?

A useful framework to draw on when thinking about how you approach UGC is the POST process for social media strategy outlined by Forrester Research (Bernoff, 2007). This involves identifying:

  • People: who are your audience (or intended audience), and what social media (e.g. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, forums, etc.) do they use? Equally important, why do they use social media?
  • Objectives: what do you want to achieve through using UGC
  • Strategy: how are you going to achieve that? How will relationships with users change?
  • Technology: only when you’ve explored the first three steps can you decide which technologies to use

Some common objectives for UGC and strategies associated with those are listed below:

Objective Example UGC strategies Users spend longer on our site
  • Give users something to do around content, e.g. comments, vote, etc.
  • Find out what users want to do with UGC and allow them to do that on-site
  • Acknowledge and respond to UGC
  • Showcase UGC on other platforms, e.g. print, broadcast
  • Create a positive atmosphere around UGC – prevent aggressive users scaring others away
Attract more users to our site
  • Help users to promote their own and other UGC
  • Allow users to cross-publish UGC from our site to others and vice versa
  • Allow users to create their own UGC from our own raw or finished materials
Get to the stories before our competitors
  • Monitor UGC on other sites
  • Monitor mentions of keywords such as ‘earthquake’, etc.
  • Become part of and contribute to online UGC communities
  • Provide live feeds pulling content from UGC sites*
Increase the amount of content on our site
  • Make it easy for users to contribute material to the site
  • Make it useful
  • Make it fun
  • Provide rewards for contributing – social or financial
Improve the editorial quality of our work
  • Provide UGC space for users to highlight errors, contribute updates
  • Ensure that we attract the right contributors in terms of skills, expertise, contacts, etc.
  • Involve users from the earliest stages of production

Can you add any more? What strategies have you used around UGC?

January 15 2010

14:27

What is User Generated Content?

The following is a brief section from a book I’m writing on online journalism. I’m publishing it here to invite your thoughts on anything you think I might be missing…

There is a long history of audience involvement in news production, from letters to the editor and readers’ photos, to radio and television phone-ins, and texts from viewers being shown at the bottom of the screen.

For many producers and editors, user generated content is seen – and often treated – as a continuation of this tradition. However, there are two key features of user generated content online that make it a qualitatively different proposition.

Firstly, unlike print and broadcast, on the web users do not need to send something to the mainstream media for it to be distributed to an audience: a member of the public can upload a video to YouTube with the potential to reach millions. They can share photos with people all over the world. They can provide unedited commentary on any topic they choose, and publish it, regularly, on a forum or blog.

Quite often they are simply sharing with an online community of other people with similar interests. But sometimes they will find themselves with larger audiences than a traditional publisher because of the high quality of the material, its expertise, or its impact.

Indeed, one of the challenges for media organisations is to find a way to tap into blog platforms, forums, and video and photo sharing websites, rather than trying to persuade people to send material to their news websites as well. For some this has meant setting up groups on the likes of Flickr, LinkedIn and Facebook to communicate with users on their own territory.

The second key difference with user generated content online is that there are no limitations on the space that it can occupy. Indeed, whole sites can be given over to your audience and, indeed, are. The Telegraph, Sun and Express all host social networks where readers can publish photos and blog posts, and talk on forums. The Guardian’s CommentIsFree website provides a platform where dozens of non-journalist experts blog about the issues of the day. And an increasing number of regional newspapers provide similar spaces for people to blog their analysis of local issues under their news brand, while numerous specialist magazines host forums with hundreds of members exchanging opinions and experiences every day. On the multimedia side, Sky and the BBC provide online galleries where users can upload hundreds of photos and videos.

The term User Generated Content itself is perhaps too general a term to be particularly useful to journalists. It can refer to anything from a comment posted by a one-time anonymous website visitor, to a 37-minute documentary that one of your readers spent ten years researching. The most accurate definition might simply be that user generated content is “material your organisation has not commissioned and paid for”. In which case, most of the time when we’re talking about UGC,we need to talk in more specific terms.

November 26 2009

18:20

UGC guidelines stress importance of media literacy


The set of guidelines about user-generated content produced by industry body, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA), aims to help broadcasters get the most out of working with the audience.

The guidelines, available as a PDF, cover familiar ground on concerns about quality of the content and potential legal issues. It acknowledges that:

The most apparent benefit for broadcasters of using UGC is that it provides free access to material which they might not otherwise obtain. The most obvious examples are footage of breaking news stories. Recent high profile examples include the post election riots in Iran and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

But the guidelines also seek to broaden the way journalists think about UGC, and suggests that it is a way of promoting greater media democracy:

While encouraging ‘better quality’ UGC (however that may be defined) might appear a worthwhile aim, pursuing this goal alone could serve only to further amplify the voices of the better resourced members of the audience and further marginalise the poor and disempowered. The aim of these guidelines, therefore, is to provide guidance on how to encourage a greater diversity of material from a wider range of voices: material that serves both the public and commercial needs of broadcasters and the viewing and democratic needs of the widest possible audience.

The advice focuses not just on how to handle UGC, but also on the issue of media and information literacy. It argues that news organisations would benefit from promoting greater media literacy, by strengthening relationships with audiences and countering claims that UGC is just a way of getting free content.

This is an important part of the equation that is often ignored in the discussion of UGC. The people formerly known as the audience have the tools to report on events around them, but the media can play a part in helping people understand how to “seek, use and create media content”.

UNESCO defines media literacy as the ability to “interpret and make informed judgments as users of information and media, as well as to become skilful creators and producers of information and media messages in their own right”.

Journalism is considered as vital to a functioning democracy, by providing citizens with the news and information they need to make informed decisions. In a participatory media ecosystem, part of this role is providing citizens with the skills and competences to evaluate and create media.

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