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December 22 2010

16:00

New tools and old rules on the sports desk: Making Twitter a part of covering the Denver Broncos

Editor’s Note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its winter issue, which focuses on changes in beat reporting. We’re highlighting a few entries that connect with subjects we follow in the Lab, but we encourage you to read the whole issue. In this piece Denver Post sportswriter Lindsay Jones talks about how Twitter became part of her day job.

My name is Lindsay Jones, and I am a Twitter-holic.

OK, I admit it. I didn’t take to this Twitter revolution right away. Soon after I joined The Denver Post in the summer of 2008 to be the beat reporter for the Denver Broncos, my editor asked me to tweet as part of my routine at training camp. Twitter wasn’t well known back then, and I remember wondering why anyone would possibly want to receive a 140-character message from training camp or during a nationally televised game.

I did it anyway, and boy, was I wrong.

By the next spring, Twitter — along with other social media — was playing a huge role in my coverage. Tweets were now as big a part of my job as filing stories for the paper, just as they were for my NFL sports writing colleagues. Twitter has completely changed the way we cover football, as I’m sure it has changed all other sports beats.

The Denver Post’s Broncos Twitter account was launched during my first training camp with the team. Since then close to 14,000 tweets have been sent — the majority from me. Nearly all relate directly or indirectly to the Broncos and the NFL, a combination of breaking news from me or my Post partners, analysis (particularly during games), and some back and forth with the public. Some are auto tweets from our Broncos and NFL print and online news stories, columns and analysis.

Keep reading »

December 15 2010

16:00

Juanita León on independent journalism and La Silla Vacía, one of Columbia’s first political blogs

Editor’s Note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its winter issue, which focuses on changes in beat reporting. We’re highlighting a few entries that connect with subjects we follow in the Lab, but we encourage you to read the whole issue. In this piece Juanita León, a 2007 Nieman Fellow, writes about creating a political news blog in Columbia.

I am convinced that the Internet is changing journalism in ways we never could have imagined only a few years ago. The idea of the reported story as being the basic unit of journalism is being shaken by the Web’s way of sharing information, and along with this change comes a rethinking about the concept of the beat itself.

A year and a half ago I set up an investigative political blog called La Silla Vacía (“The Empty Seat”). It is a website dedicated to covering how power is exercised in Colombia and, as such, it serves as a discussion platform about public issues in my country. With a staff of seven — and about 60 unpaid contributors — La Silla Vacía publishes stories that before we existed were not being told. They are the stories that lie behind the news media’s typical daily political reporting.

In the United States, political blogs are too numerous to count. But in Colombia, La Silla Vacía is the first such experiment with sustainable independent journalism. Here, news organizations are concentrated among a few business conglomerates and families with political backgrounds so a news reporting outlet set up by journalists is truly innovative.

Keep reading »

November 17 2010

19:30

The neverending broadcast: Frontline looks to expand its docs into a continual conversation

Frontline, PBS’s public affairs documentary series, has one of the best reputations in the business for the things that journalism values most highly: courageous reporting, artful storytelling, the kind of context-heavy narrative that treats stories not simply as stories, but as vehicles of wisdom. It’s a “news magazine” in the most meaningful sense of the term.

But even an institution like Frontline isn’t immune to the disruptions of the web. Which is to say, even an institution like Frontline stands to benefit from smart leveraging of the web. The program’s leadership team is rethinking its identity to marry what it’s always done well — produce fantastic broadcasts — with something that represents new territory: joining the continuous conversation of the web. To that end, Frontline will supplement its long-form documentaries with shorter, magazine-style pieces — which require a shorter turnaround time to produce — and with online-only investigations. (The site’s motto: “Thought-provoking journalism on air and online.”)

But it’s also expanding its editorial efforts beyond packaged investigations, hoping to shift its content in a more discursive direction. Which leads to a familiar question, but one that each organization has to tackle in its own way: How do you preserve your brand and your value while expanding your presence in the online world?

One tool Frontline is hoping can help answer that question: Twitter. And not just Twitter, the conversational medium — though “we really want to be part of the journalism conversation,” Frontline’s senior producer, Raney Aronson-Rath, told me — but also Twitter, the aggregator. This afternoon, Frontline rolled out four topic-focused Twitter accounts — “micro-feeds,” it’s calling them:

Conflict Zones & Critical Threats (@FrontlineCZCT), which covers national security and shares the series’ conflict-zone reporting;

Media Watchers (@FrontlineMW), which tracks news innovation and the changing landscape of journalism;

Investigations (@FrontlineINVSTG), which covers true crime, corruption, and justice — spotlighting the best investigative reporting by Frontline and other outlets; and

World (@FrontlineWRLD), which covers international affairs.

The topic-focused feeds are basically a beat system, applied to Twitter. They’re a way of leveraging one of the core strengths of Frontline’s journalism: its depth. Which is something that would be almost impossible for Frontline, Aronson-Rath notes, to achieve with a single feed. So “we decided that the best thing for us was to be really intentional about who we were going to reach out to and what kind of topics we were going to tweet about — and not just have it be a promotional tool.”

Each feed will be run by two-person teams, one from the editorial side and the other from the promotional — under the broad logic, Aronson-Rath notes, that those two broad fields are increasingly collapsing into each other. And, even more importantly, that “all the work that we do in the social media landscape is, by its very essence, editorial.” Even something as simple as a retweet is the result of an editorial decision — and one that requires the kind of contextual judgment that comes from deep knowledge of a given topic.

So Frontline’s feed runners, Aronson-Rath notes, “are also the people who have, historically, been working in those beats in Frontline’s broadcast work.” (Frontline communications manager Jessica Smith, for example, who’ll be helping to run the “Conflict Zones” feed, covered that area previously, in cultivating the conversation between Frontline and the national security blogosphere as a component of the program’s earlier web efforts.) In other words: “These guys know what they’re doing on these beats.”

To that end, the teams’ members will be charged with leveraging their knowledge to curate content from the collective resources of all of Frontline’s contributors — from reporters to producers, public media partners to internal staff — and, of course, from the contributors across the web. The teams will work collaboratively to produce their tweets (they’ll even sit next to each other to maximize the teamwork). And some feeds will contain not just curated content, but original reporting, as well. Frontline reporters Stephen Grey and Murray Smith are about to dispatch to Afghanistan; while they’re there, they’ll tweet from @FrontlineCZCT. (They’ll tweet from personal feeds, as well, which @FrontlineCZCT curators will pull into the Frontline-branded feed.)

The broad idea behind the new approach is that audiences identify with topics as much as they do with brands. And there’s also, of course, the recognition of the sea of material out there which is of interest to consumers, but which ends up, documentary filmmaking being what it is, on the cutting-room floor. The new approach, it’s hoped, will give Frontline fans a behind-the-scenes look into the film production process. “You wouldn’t actually know where Frontline’s reporting teams are right now,” Aronson-Rath points out. “You only know when we show up.” Now, though, “when a team goes into Afghanistan, we’re going to let you know where they are. We’re going to give you some intelligence about what they’re doing. And it’ll be a completely different level of a conversation, we’re hoping.”

It’ll also be a different level of engagement — for Frontline’s producers and its consumers. It’s a small way of expanding the idea of what a public affairs documentary is, and can be, in the digital world: a process, indeed, as much as a product. “We think,” Aronson-Rath says, “that this is going to help keep our stories alive.”

June 29 2010

08:00

Video: Guardian’s Beat Blogger for Cardiff: breaking the boundaries between blogger and journalist

It’s an modern day battle: journalist versus blogger. Often operating in the same field, but with very different aims and objectives, some traditional reporters are wary of this new breed of content creator. However, a new Beat-Blogger role, created by The Guardian, has brought the 2 fields closer together.

Having a local blogger based in several cities around the UK, The Guardian has given itself direct contact with the community, something a national paper would often overlook.

Hannah Waldram is the beat-blogger in Cardiff. At News:Rewired she told OJB more about how the new project is going, and how it has been accepted in the city.

February 23 2010

13:17

Spot.us unveils changes: Donate your time, follow updates

The crowdfunded journalism site Spot.us unveiled changes to the site today based on feedback from its users and writers. Users can now easily follow updates on a reporter’s pitch and donate their time or expertise to a story, instead of just their money.

The basic premise of Spot.us stays the same: Writers post a story pitch they’d like funding to cover. Site users can make small donations (many of which add up to cover big endeavors, like a $10,000 trip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). The new bells and whistles enhance this core functionality.

One improvement allows users to track a story from start to finish (rather than from pitch to then just finished product). Users can easily subscribe to blog post-style updates via email or RSS, or check them on the site.

“We’ve had that feature for a little bit now, but it’s kind of been overlooked because it’s buried within the pitches,” the site’s founder David Cohn told me yesterday.

The more prominent feature could also open new forms of storytelling on the site, including the possibility of daily news, or beat coverage. Reporters are free to use the tool however they wish. “When we publish a finished story, some of them have five to 15 blog posts which are just as, if not more interesting, than the finished story. So that’s why we wanted to find a way to feature those on the front page.”

Users can also donate their time and talents. Writers had told Spot.us that sometimes they need help with mundane reporting work, like scanning documents. Many reporters want help with photos. The idea was to allow writers to “make an open call for help on specific tasks.” It’s crowdsourcing, but on an individual basis.

“Now people can come together around developing a project,” Cohn told me. “[Spot.us is] really still trying to get reporters and contributors on an equal playing field.”

Cohn and I talked about how talent could also mean access. Need a photo from New Zealand for your piece? Just ask. (Proof of concept: I once needed some photos of Alaska’s Kenai River, an improbable task for a blogger stuck in Washington, D.C. Luckily, a loyal Talking Points Memo reader gladly helped me out.)

Cohn also noted that Spot.us has created a new embedable widget that can promote an individual pitch. He hopes to one day make donations possible within the widget itself.

“Releasing this stuff, it’s the start of a new phase for development.”

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