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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.

August 12 2012

13:45

August 06 2012

07:38

A case study in online journalism part 2: verification, SEO and collaboration (investigating the Olympic torch relay)

corporate Olympic torchbearers image

Having outlined some of the data journalism processes involved in the Olympic torch relay investigation, in part 2 I want to touch on how verification and ‘passive aggressive newsgathering’ played a role.

Verification: who’s who

Data in this story not only provided leads which needed verifying, but also helped verify leads from outside the data.

In one example, an anonymous tip-off suggested that both children of one particular executive were carrying the Olympic torch on different legs of the relay. A quick check against his name in the data suggested this was so: two girls with the same unusual surname were indeed carrying the torch. Neither mentioned the company or their father. But how could we confirm it?

The answer involved checking planning applications, Google Streetview, and a number of other sources, including newsletters from the private school that they both attended which identified the father.

In another example, I noticed that one torchbearer had mentioned running alongside two employees of Aggreko, who were paying for their torches. I searched for other employees, and found a cake shop which had created a celebratory cake for three of them. Having seen how some corporate sponsors used their places, I went on a hunch and looked up the board of directors, searching in the data first for the CEO Rupert Soames. His name turned up – with no nomination story. A search for other directors found that more than half the executive board were carrying torches – which turned out to be our story. The final step: a call to the company to get a reaction and confirmation.

The more that we knew about how torch relay places had been used, the easier it was to verify other torchbearers. As a pattern emerged of many coming from the telecomms industry, that helped focus the search – but we had to be aware that having suspicions ‘confirmed’ didn’t mean that the name itself was confirmed – it was simply that you were more likely to hit a match that you could verify.

Scepticism was important: at various times names seemed to match with individuals but you had to ask ‘Would that person not use his title? Why would he be nominated? Would he be that age now?’

Images helped – sometimes people used the same image that had been used elsewhere (you could match this with Google Images ‘match image’ feature, then refine the search). At other times you could match with public photos of the person as they carried the torch.

This post on identifying mystery torchbearers gives more detail.

Passive aggressive newsgathering

Alerts proved key to the investigation. Early on I signed up for daily alerts on any mention of the Olympic torch. 95% of stories were formulaic ‘local town/school/hero excited about torch’ reports, but occasionally key details would emerge in other pieces – particularly those from news organisations overseas.

Google Alerts for Olympic torch

It was from these that I learned how many places exactly Dow, Omega, Visa and others had, and how many were nominated. It was how I learned about torchbearers who were not even listed on the official site, about the ‘criteria’ that were supposed to be adhered to by some organisations, about public announcements of places which suggested a change from previous numbers, and more besides.

As I came across anything that looked interesting, I bookmarked and tagged it. Some would come in useful immediately, but most would only come in useful later when I came to write up the full story. Essentially, they were pieces of a jigsaw I was yet to put together.  (For example, this report mentioned that 2,500 employees were nominated within Dow for just 10 places. How must those employees feel when they find the company’s VP of Olympic operations took up one of the few places? Likewise, he fit a broader pattern of sponsorship managers carrying the torch)

I also subscribed to any mention of the torch relay in Parliament, and any mention in FOI requests.

SEO – making yourself findable

One of the things I always emphasise to my students is the importance of publishing early and often on a subject to maximise the opportunities for others in the field to find out – and get in touch. This story was no exception to this. From the earliest stages through to the last week of the relay, users stumbled across the site as they looked for information on the relay – and passed on their concerns and leads.

It was particularly important with a big public event like the Olympic torch relay, which generated a lot of interest among local people. In the first week of the investigation one photographer stumbled across the site because he was searching for the name of one of the torchbearers we had identified as coming from adidas. He passed on his photographs – but more importantly, made me aware that there may be photographs of other executives who had already carried the torch.

That led to the strongest image of the investigation – two executives exchanging a ‘torch kiss’ (shown at the top of this post) – which was in turn picked up by The Daily Mail.

Other leads kept coming. The tip-off about the executive’s daughters mentioned above; someone mentioning two more Aggreko directors – one of which had never been published on the official site, and the other had been listed and then removed. Questions about a Polish torchbearer who was not listed on the official site or, indeed, anywhere on the web other than the BBC’s torch relay liveblog. Challenges to one story we linkblogged, which led to further background that helped flesh out the processes behind the nominations given to universities.

When we published the ‘mystery torchbearers’ with The Guardian some got in touch to tell us who they were. In one case, that contact led to an interview which closed the book: Geoff Holt, the first quadriplegic to sail single-handed across the Atlantic Ocean.

Collaboration

I could have done this story the old-fashioned way: kept it to myself, done all the digging alone, and published one big story at the end.

It wouldn’t have been half as good. It wouldn’t have had the impact, it wouldn’t have had the range, and it would have missed key ingredients.

Collaboration was at the heart of this process. As soon as I started to unearth the adidas torchbearers I got in touch with The Guardian’s James Ball. His report the week after added reactions from some of the companies involved, and other torchbearers we’d simultaneously spotted. But James also noticed that one of Coca Cola’s torchbearers was a woman “who among other roles sits on a committee of the US’s Food and Drug Administration”.

It was collaborating with contacts in Staffordshire which helped point me to the ‘torch kiss’ image. They in turn followed up the story behind it (a credit for Help Me Investigate was taken out of the piece – it seems old habits die hard), and The Daily Mail followed up on that to get some further reaction and response (and no, they didn’t credit the Stoke Sentinel either). In Bournemouth and Sussex local journalists took up the baton (sorry), and the Times Higher did their angle.

We passed on leads to Ventnor Blog, whose users helped dig into a curious torchbearer running through the area. And we published a list of torchbearers missing stories in The Guardian, where users helped identify them.

Collaborating with an international mailing list for investigative journalists, I generated datasets of local torchbearers in Hungary, Italy, India, the Middle East, Germany, and Romania. German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel got in touch and helped trace some of the Germans.

And of course, within the Help Me Investigate network people were identifying mystery torchbearers, getting responses from sponsors, visualising data, and chasing interviews. One contributor in particular – Carol Miers – came on board halfway through and contributed some of the key elements of the final longform report – in particular the interview that opens the book, which I’ll talk about in the final part tomorrow.

07:38

A case study in online journalism part 2: verification, SEO and collaboration (investigating the Olympic torch relay)

corporate Olympic torchbearers image

Having outlined some of the data journalism processes involved in the Olympic torch relay investigation, in part 2 I want to touch on how verification and ‘passive aggressive newsgathering’ played a role.

Verification: who’s who

Data in this story not only provided leads which needed verifying, but also helped verify leads from outside the data.

In one example, an anonymous tip-off suggested that both children of one particular executive were carrying the Olympic torch on different legs of the relay. A quick check against his name in the data suggested this was so: two girls with the same unusual surname were indeed carrying the torch. Neither mentioned the company or their father. But how could we confirm it?

The answer involved checking planning applications, Google Streetview, and a number of other sources, including newsletters from the private school that they both attended which identified the father.

In another example, I noticed that one torchbearer had mentioned running alongside two employees of Aggreko, who were paying for their torches. I searched for other employees, and found a cake shop which had created a celebratory cake for three of them. Having seen how some corporate sponsors used their places, I went on a hunch and looked up the board of directors, searching in the data first for the CEO Rupert Soames. His name turned up – with no nomination story. A search for other directors found that more than half the executive board were carrying torches – which turned out to be our story. The final step: a call to the company to get a reaction and confirmation.

The more that we knew about how torch relay places had been used, the easier it was to verify other torchbearers. As a pattern emerged of many coming from the telecomms industry, that helped focus the search – but we had to be aware that having suspicions ‘confirmed’ didn’t mean that the name itself was confirmed – it was simply that you were more likely to hit a match that you could verify.

Scepticism was important: at various times names seemed to match with individuals but you had to ask ‘Would that person not use his title? Why would he be nominated? Would he be that age now?’

Images helped – sometimes people used the same image that had been used elsewhere (you could match this with Google Images ‘match image’ feature, then refine the search). At other times you could match with public photos of the person as they carried the torch.

This post on identifying mystery torchbearers gives more detail.

Passive aggressive newsgathering

Alerts proved key to the investigation. Early on I signed up for daily alerts on any mention of the Olympic torch. 95% of stories were formulaic ‘local town/school/hero excited about torch’ reports, but occasionally key details would emerge in other pieces – particularly those from news organisations overseas.

Google Alerts for Olympic torch

It was from these that I learned how many places exactly Dow, Omega, Visa and others had, and how many were nominated. It was how I learned about torchbearers who were not even listed on the official site, about the ‘criteria’ that were supposed to be adhered to by some organisations, about public announcements of places which suggested a change from previous numbers, and more besides.

As I came across anything that looked interesting, I bookmarked and tagged it. Some would come in useful immediately, but most would only come in useful later when I came to write up the full story. Essentially, they were pieces of a jigsaw I was yet to put together.  (For example, this report mentioned that 2,500 employees were nominated within Dow for just 10 places. How must those employees feel when they find the company’s VP of Olympic operations took up one of the few places? Likewise, he fit a broader pattern of sponsorship managers carrying the torch)

I also subscribed to any mention of the torch relay in Parliament, and any mention in FOI requests.

SEO – making yourself findable

One of the things I always emphasise to my students is the importance of publishing early and often on a subject to maximise the opportunities for others in the field to find out – and get in touch. This story was no exception to this. From the earliest stages through to the last week of the relay, users stumbled across the site as they looked for information on the relay – and passed on their concerns and leads.

It was particularly important with a big public event like the Olympic torch relay, which generated a lot of interest among local people. In the first week of the investigation one photographer stumbled across the site because he was searching for the name of one of the torchbearers we had identified as coming from adidas. He passed on his photographs – but more importantly, made me aware that there may be photographs of other executives who had already carried the torch.

That led to the strongest image of the investigation – two executives exchanging a ‘torch kiss’ (shown at the top of this post) – which was in turn picked up by The Daily Mail.

Other leads kept coming. The tip-off about the executive’s daughters mentioned above; someone mentioning two more Aggreko directors – one of which had never been published on the official site, and the other had been listed and then removed. Questions about a Polish torchbearer who was not listed on the official site or, indeed, anywhere on the web other than the BBC’s torch relay liveblog. Challenges to one story we linkblogged, which led to further background that helped flesh out the processes behind the nominations given to universities.

When we published the ‘mystery torchbearers’ with The Guardian some got in touch to tell us who they were. In one case, that contact led to an interview which closed the book: Geoff Holt, the first quadriplegic to sail single-handed across the Atlantic Ocean.

Collaboration

I could have done this story the old-fashioned way: kept it to myself, done all the digging alone, and published one big story at the end.

It wouldn’t have been half as good. It wouldn’t have had the impact, it wouldn’t have had the range, and it would have missed key ingredients.

Collaboration was at the heart of this process. As soon as I started to unearth the adidas torchbearers I got in touch with The Guardian’s James Ball. His report the week after added reactions from some of the companies involved, and other torchbearers we’d simultaneously spotted. But James also noticed that one of Coca Cola’s torchbearers was a woman “who among other roles sits on a committee of the US’s Food and Drug Administration”.

It was collaborating with contacts in Staffordshire which helped point me to the ‘torch kiss’ image. They in turn followed up the story behind it (a credit for Help Me Investigate was taken out of the piece – it seems old habits die hard), and The Daily Mail followed up on that to get some further reaction and response (and no, they didn’t credit the Stoke Sentinel either). In Bournemouth and Sussex local journalists took up the baton (sorry), and the Times Higher did their angle.

We passed on leads to Ventnor Blog, whose users helped dig into a curious torchbearer running through the area. And we published a list of torchbearers missing stories in The Guardian, where users helped identify them.

Collaborating with an international mailing list for investigative journalists, I generated datasets of local torchbearers in Hungary, Italy, India, the Middle East, Germany, and Romania. German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel got in touch and helped trace some of the Germans.

And of course, within the Help Me Investigate network people were identifying mystery torchbearers, getting responses from sponsors, visualising data, and chasing interviews. One contributor in particular – Carol Miers – came on board halfway through and contributed some of the key elements of the final longform report – in particular the interview that opens the book, which I’ll talk about in the final part tomorrow.

April 28 2012

06:32

SEO: TypePad blogs get more relevant with Zemanta recommendations

This blog is hosted by Typepad and I have started to evaluate its new Zemanta feature a couple of days ago. The links below have been automatically suggested and manually added by one click using Zemanta. It's easy to use. Time will see how and if it has impact on traffic as well.

ReadWriteWeb :: Life just got a little easier for bloggers who use TypePad. The hosted blogging platform announced that it is integrating Zemanta’s content recommendation tools into its service, which suggests links to related stories from across the Web. Zemanta also generates in-text links to related information. For instance, if you mention Mark Zuckerberg in a post, the platform will suggest linking to his Wikipedia entry. If it's about a movie, the IMBD and Rotten Tomatoes pages will be pulled in automatically.

Continue to read John Paul Titlow, www.readwriteweb.com

Tags: blogging SEO

March 30 2012

17:25

The reality of mixing the social graph with search engines: It doesn't work

Search Engine Land :: I’m having a bad day. Aside from my desktop crashing, we get another spate of “let’s blame SEO” to start my morning off. Robert Scoble uses that theme as a launching pad for a series of videos on how Facebook potentially could be a killer search engine — regardless of the fact he seems to have no clue that “social graph” or social networking mixing has been tried and abandoned with search. Having watched his videos, which have sparked much discussion, I’ll do some debunking, some educating for those who want more history of what’s been done in the area, plus I’ll swing around to that New York Times article today that ascribes super-ranking powers to SEO.

Continue to read Danny Sullivan, searchengineland.com

February 28 2012

09:12

8 common mistakes when writing for the web – and what to do about them

Image of post it notes by Anselm23 on FlickrImage by Anselm23 on Flickr

Here is a checklist covering 8 mistakes made repeatedly by first-time web writers, which I’ve put together for one of my classes. The idea is simple: if you answer ‘No’ to any of these, carry on to the accompanying guidance that follows underneath.

Checklist: are you doing the following?

  1. Getting straight to the most newsworthy, interesting piece of information in your first par?
  2. Linking to your source whenever you refer to a piece of information/fact?
  3. Linking phrases (e.g. “a report”) NOT putting in full URLs (e.g. “http://university.ac.uk/report”?
  4. Indenting quotes by using the blockquote option?
  5. Using brief pars – starting a new one for each new point?
  6. Using a literal headline that makes sense in search results and includes key words that people might be looking for, NOT general or punny headlines
  7. Splitting up your article with subheadings?
  8. Ending your post with a call to action and/or indication of what information is missing or what will happen next?

Solving it: 1. The first par

When you write the first draft of an article some people begin with a ‘warming up’ paragraph. Here’s a classic example:

“On Tuesday 14th February 2012, we went to the office of Bob Jones, for a brief discussion with a colleague…”


Ask yourself this: does your first par tell us anything new? Does it grab the reader and promise more? If it does neither then it needs rewriting.

Here are some examples of cutting to the key facts:

“A vice chancellor who sparked a political storm over his views on the social mix of degree students has been appointed England’s new university access tsar.”

Or, when your focus is an interview or guest post:

“Attempts to block the appointment of the new head of Offa, and changes to the tuition-fee regime, make higher education policy resemble an Alice-in-Wonderland world, says Mike Baker”

Or:

“A new London park, 70,000 volunteers, a home crowd spurring on British athletes… Sebastian Coe tells Emma Brockes why the 2012 Olympics are worth the money”

You can even start with the most colourful and attention-grabbing information gained in the interview, like so:

“If in February 1941 the commander of the German battlecruiser Gneisenau had decided to steam off and leave Peter Coe to his fate in an open lifeboat in the North Atlantic, the world might never have taken delivery of his son, Sebastian.”

In short, if your paragraph is warming up, chop it out entirely – and look at each paragraph to see which one is the best to start with. If your article is trying to cover more than one basic angle, consider splitting it into two separate, shorter, posts.

Don’t tell us how you got here

Another common mistake is to tell us about how you got to this point:

“At first I had this idea, and then X happened, and I realised Y, so I decided to write about what I’m about to write.”

Remember the reader doesn’t care how you got to this point – unless it’s a stunning story in itself. So cut to the chase instead:

“Here’s a list of some of the most informative and expert Twitter users in school sports”

Solving it: 2. and 3. Linking to your sources – and linking phrases, not URLs

Any mention of any information that you haven’t gathered in its raw form yourself should include a link to the source. For example:

“According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s official website, they define “non-completion” by…”

Should be linked to the source material as follows:

According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, they define “non-completion” by…”

Note that I’ve also removed “official website” – for two reasons:

  • Never link to a general homepage – always deep-link to the specific page containing the information or report you’re referring to
  • The link tells us it’s according to a webpage, you don’t need to repeat that

Here are some more examples:

  • “In September 2011 The Telegraph reported that…”
  • “John Smith told one blog that he…”
  • “While almost half of students don’t know about the policy…”
  • “Jane Jones said that”
  • “The head of teaching and learning at HEFCE is Heather Fry
  • “Michael Gove voted in favour of”

The more links your work contains, the more value it holds for users – it’s just good online journalism.

Solving it: 4. Formatting text: blockquotes, bullet lists, and subheadings

Online text is easier to read the more that it is broken up. Get to know the formatting panel just above the space where you write your post (shown below).

  • Use the quotation marks button to indent quotes.
  • Use bullet lists and numbered lists to break up your post when your content suits a list.
  • Select text and use the link button (the chain icon) to make it into a link
  • Use the ‘Format’ drop-down to create subheadings (Heading 2 is best – Heading 1 is used for the headline already)
  • If you’re pasting text from elsewhere (always put it in quotes!) use the ‘eraser’ icon to strip out formatting such as font, size, colour etc. (Or better still, paste it into the HTML view so no formatting is retained)


 

Solving it: 5. Splitting pars after every point is made

Compare the following:

“Firms and charities are to be invited to bid for a payment-by-results scheme to try to get “Neet” teenagers into work or training, in a project launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The £126m scheme is aimed at 55,000 teenagers in England with poor qualifications who are currently not in education, employment or training. Mr Clegg says it is about “getting them out of the living room, away from the telly and into the world of work”. Labour says it won’t help the majority.”

And this:

“Firms and charities are to be invited to bid for a payment-by-results scheme to try to get “Neet” teenagers into work or training, in a project launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

“The £126m scheme is aimed at 55,000 teenagers in England with poor qualifications who are currently not in education, employment or training.

“Mr Clegg says it is about “getting them out of the living room, away from the telly and into the world of work”.

“Labour says it won’t help the majority.”

That’s from the BBC, an exemplar of good web writing.

Try to keep pars short, and start new ones whenever a new point is being made.

Solving it: 6. and 7. Headlines and subheadings – keep them specific and literal

Imagine what your headline looks like in the middle of a bunch of search results, or on Twitter. Imagine what it looks like to someone who has never read your site before, doesn’t know you, or your culture, jokes and phrases.

Here’s an example of a bad headline:

Useful contacts for everyone

Again, imagine this in search engine results. Twitter contacts in what field? They’re clearly not for “everyone” but something specific – in this case, the Olympics, so this is much better:

20 essential Olympics Twitter contacts

Here’s one that’s even worse:

An Update

This tells us nothing unless we are already following the blog – and even then, it doesn’t tell us whether this is interesting or merely functional. Try this instead:

Update: unemployment up; Grayling’s 3 reasons; we want your questions!

Don’t be afraid of long headlines – look at how the Daily Mail use them (extremely successfully) on their website.

Try and use key words and phrases in your headline so that search engines understand what they’re about. This, for example, is bad:

Match report

This is much better:

Rooney scores 4 in Roma Champions League clash

…Because what will people be searching for? Rooney perhaps; Champions League; Roma. They might even be searching for “hat-trick” or “video”. Think of how people search, and write your headline to answer that (assuming your content does too).

Subheadings

The same rules apply to subheadings. These serve two purposes: to break up your text so people can find their place in them more easily; and to help search engines understand your content.

They should therefore be mini-headlines, with keywords relevant to the pars that follow.

Solving it: 8. Ending your post – online is interactive

One of the key ways in which online journalism differs from print or broadcast is that you are not dealing with an audience: you are dealing with potential collaborators and sources who can improve your journalism with a single comment.

The traditional way of ending articles, then – implying that the story is finished and the reader can move on to what’s on page 5 – does not apply.

Instead you should try to leave room for the user to contribute in some way. Here are some examples:

  • “This is the latest in a series of interviews with Olympic sponsors. You can read the rest here, and follow future updates on our Facebook page, Twitter account, and mailing list.”
  • “Next week we’ll be interviewing Graham Gordon on his role in the process. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask, please post a comment, or email us at…”
  • “Have we missed anything? Please let us know in the comments”
  • “What we still don’t know is how much of this money reached the clubs. If you can help us find out, get in touch at…”
  • “We’ll be discussing this at our next meetup at … – sign up to attend on our Meetup page.”
  • “We’re looking for people to contribute to the blog on this issue. If you’re interested, get in touch at…”

February 08 2012

20:44

Sky and BBC leave the field wide open to Twitter competitors

At first glance, Sky’s decision that its journalists should not retweet information that has “not been through the Sky News editorial process” and the BBC’s policy to prioritise filing “written copy into our newsroom as quickly as possible” seem logical.

For Sky it is about maintaining editorial control over all content produced by its staff. For the BBC, it seems to be about making sure that the newsroom, and by extension the wider organisation, takes priority over the individual.

But there are also blind spots in these strategies that they may come to regret.

Our content?

The Sky policy articulates an assumption about ‘content’ that’s worth picking apart.

We accept as journalists that what we produce is our responsibility. When it comes to retweeting, however, it’s not entirely clear what we are doing. Is that news production, in the same way that quoting a source is? Is it newsgathering, in the same way that you might repeat a lead to someone to find out their reaction? Or is it merely distribution?

The answer, as I’ve written before, is that retweeting can be, and often is, all three.

Writing about a similar policy at the Oregonian late last year, Steve Buttry made the point that retweets are not endorsements. Jeff Jarvis argued that they were “quotes”.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that (as I explain below), but I do think it’s illustrative: if Sky News were to prevent journalists from using any quote on air or online where they could not verify its factual basis, then nothing would get broadcast. Live interviews would be impossible.

The Sky policy, then, seems to treat retweets as pure distribution, and – crucially – to treat the tweet in isolation. Not as a quote, but as a story, consisting entirely of someone else’s content, which has not been through Sky editorial processes but which is branded or endorsed as Sky journalism.

There’s a lot to admire in the pride in their journalism that this shows – indeed, I would like to see the same rigour applied to the countless quotes that are printed and broadcast by all media without being compared with any evidence.
But do users really see retweets in the same way? And if they do, will they always do so?

Curation vs creation

There’s a second issue here which is more about hard commercial success. Research suggests that successful users of Twitter tend to combine curation with creation. Preventing journalists from retweeting  leaves them – and their employers – without a vital tool in their storytelling and distribution.

The tension surrounding retweeting can be illustrated in the difference between two broadcast journalists who use Twitter particularly effectively: Sky’s own Neal Mann, and NPR’s Andy Carvin. Andy retweets habitually as a way of seeking further information. Neal, as he explained in this Q&A with one of my classes, feels that he has a responsibility not to retweet information he cannot verify (from 2 mins in).

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But both combine curation with creation.

Network effects

A third issue that strikes me is how these policies fit uncomfortably alongside the networked ways that news is experienced now.

The BBC policy, for example, appears at first glance to prevent journalists from diving right into the story as it develops online. Although social media editor Chris Hamilton notes that they have “a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts”, this is coupled with the argument that:

“Our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.”

I’m not entirely convinced of this line, because there are a number of competing priorities that I want to understand more clearly.

Firstly, it implies that BBC colleagues are not watching each other on Twitter. If not, why not? Sky pioneered the use of Twitter as an internal newswire, and the man responsible, Julian March, is now doing something similar at ITV.

Then there’s that focus on “all our audiences” in opposition to those early adopter Twitter types. If news is “breaking news, an exclusive or any kind of urgent update”, being first on Twitter can give you strategic advantages that waiting for the six o’clock – or even typing a report that’s over 140 characters – won’t, for example:

  • Building a buzz (driving people to watch, listen to or search for the fuller story)
  • Establishing authority on Google (which ranks first reports over later ones)
  • Establishing the traditional authority in being known as the first to break the story
  • Making it easier for people on the scene to get in touch (if someone’s just experienced a newsworthy event or heard about it from someone who was, how likely is it that they search Twitter to see who else was there? You want to be the journalist they find and contact)

Everything at the same time

There’s another side to this, which is evidence of news organisations taking a strategic decision that, in a world of information overload, they should stop trying to be the first (an increasingly hard task), and instead seek to be more authoritative. To be able to say, confidently, “Every atom we distribute is confirmed”, or “We held back to do this spectacularly as a team”.

There’s value in that, and a lot to be admired. I’m not saying that these policies are inherently wrong. I don’t know the full thinking that went into them, or the subtleties of their implementation (as Rory Cellan-Jones illustrates in his example, which contrasts with what can actually happen). I don’t think there is a right and a wrong way to ‘do Twitter’. Every decision is a trade off, because so many factors are in play. I just wanted to explore some of those factors here.

As soon as you digitise information you remove the physical limitations that necessitated the traditional distinctions between the editorial processes of newsgathering, production, editing and distribution.

A single tweet can be doing all at the same time. Social media policies need to recognise this, and journalists need to be trained to understand the subtleties too.

January 16 2012

12:16

Sockpuppetry and Wikipedia – a PR transparency project

Wikipedia image by Octavio Rojas

Wikipedia image by Octavio Rojas

Last month you may have read the story of lobbyists editing Wikipedia entries to remove criticism of their clients and smear critics. The story was a follow-up to an undercover report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Independent on claims of political access by Bell Pottinger, written as a result of investigations by SEO expert Tim Ireland.

Ireland was particularly interested in reported boasts by executives that they could “manipulate Google results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour”. His subsequent digging resulted in the identification of a number of Wikipedia edits made by accounts that he was able to connect with Bell Pottinger, an investigation by Wikipedia itself, and the removal of edits made by suspect accounts (also discussed on Wikipedia itself here).

This month the story reverted to an old-fashioned he-said-she-said report on conflict between Wikipedia and the PR industry as Jimmy Wales spoke to Bell Pottinger employees and was criticised by co-founder Tim (Lord) Bell.

More insightfully, Bell’s lack of remorse has led Tim Ireland to launch a campaign to change the way the PR industry uses Wikipedia, by demonstrating directly to Lord Bell the dangers of trying to covertly shape public perception:

“Mr Bell needs to learn that the age of secret lobbying is over, and while it may be difficult to change the mind of someone as obstinate as he, I think we have a jolly good shot at changing the landscape that surrounds him in the attempt.

“I invite you to join an informal lobbying group with one simple demand; that PR companies/professionals declare any profile(s) they use to edit Wikipedia, name and link to them plainly in the ‘About Us’ section of their website, and link back to that same website from their Wikipedia profile(s).”

The lobbying group will be drawing attention to Bell Pottinger’s techniques by displacing some of the current top ten search results for ‘Tim Bell’ (“absurd puff pieces”) with “factually accurate and highly relevant material that Tim Bell would much rather faded into the distance” – specifically, the contents of an unauthorised biography of Bell, currently “largely invisible” to Google.

Ireland writes that:

“I am hoping that the prospect of dealing with an unknown number of anonymous account holders based in several different countries will help him to better appreciate his own position, if only to the extent of having him revise his policy on covert lobbying.”

…and from there to the rest of the PR industry.

It’s a fascinating campaign (Ireland’s been here before, using Google techniques to demonstrate factual inaccuracies to a Daily Mail journalist) and one that we should be watching closely. The PR industry is closely tied to the media industry, and sockpuppetry in all its forms is something journalists should do more than merely complain about.

It also highlights again how distribution has become a role of the journalist: if a particular piece of public interest reporting is largely invisible to Google, we should care about it.

January 13 2012

16:30

January 08 2012

19:11

2011: The year Google & Bing took away from SEOs & Publishers

Search Engine Land :: Increasingly over the years, search engines — Google in particular — have given more and more support to SEOs and publishers. But 2011 marked the first significant reversal that I can recall, with both linking and keyword data being withheld. Here’s what happened, why it matters and how publishers can push back if Google and Bing don’t change things.

Continue to read Danny Sullivan, searchengineland.com

Tags: BING Google SEO

December 21 2011

12:09

"author:" command no longer available on Google News - how to highlight journalists?

SERoundtable.com :: Google has dropped a feature on Google News to help you locate articles by authors. The feature was the author command and worked where you typed in the Google News search box, [author:firstname lastname]. Now when you search using that command, nothing is returned.

[Erik S. member of the Google News Team:] The author: search operator is no longer available. For author-specific Google News content, I would recommend use of the Authorship capabilities in Google News, introduced last month (see link below). Integration with Google+ circles means easier following and engagement between authors and readers.

Details - continue to read www.seroundtable.com

Highlighting journalists on Google - continue Google Help, googlenewsblog.blogspot.com

Tags: Google SEO

December 20 2011

20:28

Google "Freshness" update affects 35% of searches: winners & losers

If you've heard about Google Caffeine and Panda lately but still are sure what it means and how it impacts your journalistic work, this article by Jon Mitchell might help. SEO visibility is a term to describe the visibility of a site if you conduct a keyword search. Which position will your site have on Search Result Pages (SERP), if you type in term A?

ReadWriteWeb :: Searchmetrics has measured the impact of the "freshness" updates to Google's search ranking algorithm, which affected around 35% of all searches. By measuring SEO visibility, Searchmetrics found that a clear category of sites gained prominence as a result of the update, while the few sites that lost are all over the map.

Sites that benefited from the update tend to be content sites and brand sites with frequent updates.

Continue to read Jon Mitchell, www.readwriteweb.com

19:54

Is Google still as good as it used to be at finding what we're looking for?

I personally like Google's instant search. It helps me to faster finetune my search terms in order to find what I'm really looking for. Jon Mitchell's piece is interesting because he focuses on the impact of Google+ on search results, which helps to focus your efforts if you are in charge of your personal blog or any kind of news site.

ReadWriteWeb :: Google.com is still one of the cleanest, calmest sites on the Web. At least, it is before you start typing. At this point, you don't even have to hit enter before the page starts filling up with noise. Google has been hard at work on its core product this year. The changes have affected search quality in uneven ways.

This year, Google's Panda updates seemed careful and prudent, punishing sites who game the system for better page rank. This was also the year of social SEO, in which the +1 button began to affect search results. Google is also moving away from historical results and toward real-time search. Is Google still as good as it used to be at finding what we're looking for?

Continue to read Jon Mitchell, www.readwriteweb.com

October 24 2011

12:49

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively.

1. Format (“How?”)

We’re familiar with formats: the news in brief; the interview; the profile; the in-depth feature; and so on. They have their conventions and ingredients. If you’re writing a report you know that you will need a reaction quote, some context, and something to wrap it up (a quote; what happens next; etc.). If you’re doing an interview you’ll need to gather some colour about where it takes place, and how the interviewee reacts at various points.

Formats are often at their most powerful when they are subverted: a journalist who knows the format inside out can play with it, upsetting the reader’s expectations for the most impact. This is the tension between repetition and contrast that underlies not just journalism but good design, and even music.

As online journalism develops dozens of new formats have become available. Here are just a few:

  • the liveblog;
  • the audio slideshow;
  • the interactive map;
  • the app;
  • the podcast;
  • the explainer;
  • the portal;
  • the aggregator;
  • the gallery

Formats are chosen because they suit the thing being covered, its position in the publisher’s news environment, and the resources of the publisher.

Historically, for example, when a story first broke for most publishers a simple report was the only realistic option. But after that, they might commission a profile, interview, or deeper feature or package – if the interest and the resources warranted that.

The subject matter would also be a factor. A broadcaster might be more inclined to commission a package on a story if colourful characters or locations were involved and were accessible. They might also send a presenter down for a two-way.

These factors still come into play now we have access to a much wider range of formats – but a wider understanding of those formats is also needed.

  • Does the event take place over a geographical area, and users will want to see the movement or focus on a particular location? Then a map might be most appropriate.
  • Are things changing so fast that a traditional ‘story’ format is going to be inadequate? Then a liveblog may work better.
  • Is there a wealth of material out there being produced by witnesses? A gallery, portal or aggregator might all be good choices.
  • Have you secured an interview with a key character, and a set of locations or items that tell their own story? Is it an ongoing or recurring story? An audio slideshow or video interview may be the most powerful choice of format.
  • Are you on the scene and raw video of the event is going to have the most impact? Grab your phone and film – or stream.

2. Medium (“What?”)

Depending on what format has been chosen, the medium may be chosen for you too. But a podcast can be audio or video; a liveblog can involve text and multimedia; an app can be accessed on a phone, a webpage, a desktop widget, or Facebook.

This is not just about how you convey information about what’s going on (you’ll notice I avoid the use of ‘story’, as this is just one possible choice of format) but how the user accesses it and uses it.

A podcast may be accessed on the move; a Facebook app on mobile, in a social context; and so on. These are factors to consider as you produce your content.

3. Platform (“Where?”)

Likewise, the platforms where the content is to be distributed need careful consideration.

A liveblog’s reporting might be done through Twitter and aggregated on your own website. A map may be compiled in a Google spreadsheet but published through Google Maps and embedded on your blog.

An audioboo may have subscribers on iTunes or on the Audioboo app itself, and its autoposting feature may attract large numbers of listeners through Twitter.

Some call the choice of platform a choice of ‘channel’ but that does not do justice to the interactive and social nature of many of these platforms. Facebook or Twitter are not just channels for publishing live updates from a blog, but a place where people engage with you and with each other, exchanging information which can become part of your reporting (whether you want it to or not).

Your content strategy will need to take account of what happens on those platforms: which tweets are most retweeted or argued with; reacting to information posted in your blog or liveblog comments; and so on.

4. Scheduling (“When?”)

The choice of platform(s) will also influence your choice of timing. There will be different optimal times for publishing to Facebook, Twitter, email mailing lists, blogs, and websites.

There will also be optimal times for different formats (as the Washington Post found). A short news report may suit morning commuters; an audio slideshow or video may be best scheduled for the evening. Something humorous may play best on a Friday afternoon; something practical on a Wednesday afternoon once the user has moved past the early week slog.

Infographic: The Best Times To Post To Twitter & Facebook

This webcast on content strategy gives a particular insight into how they treat scheduling – not just across the day but across the week.

5. “Why?”

Print and broadcast rest on objectives so implicit that we barely think about them. The web, however, may have different objectives. Instead of attracting the widest numbers of readers, for example, we may want to engage users as much as possible.

That makes a big difference in any content strategy:

  • The rapid rise of liveblogs and explainers as a format can be partly explained by their stickiness when compared to traditional news articles.
  • Demand for video content has exceeded supply for some publishers because it is possible to embed advertising with content in a way which isn’t possible with text.
  • Infographics have exploded as they lend themselves so well to viral distribution.

Distribution is often one answer to ‘why?’, and introduces two elements I haven’t mentioned so far: search engine optimisation and social media optimisation. Blogs as a platform and text as a medium are generally better optimised for search engines, for example. But video and images are better optimised for social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And the timing of publishing might be informed by analytics of what people are searching for, updating Facebook about, or tweeting about right now.

The objective(s), of course, should recur as a consideration throughout all the stages above. And some stages will have different objectives: for distribution, for editorial quality, and for engagement.

Just to confuse things further, the objectives themselves are likely to change as the business models around online and multiplatform publishing evolve.

If I’m going to sum up all of the above in one line, then, it’s this: “Take nothing for granted.”

I’m looking for examples of content strategies for future editions of the book – please let me know if you’d like yours to be featured.


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: content strategy, facebook, formats, infographic, platforms, scheduling, SEO, smo, twitter, video
12:49

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively.

1. Format (“How?”)

We’re familiar with formats: the news in brief; the interview; the profile; the in-depth feature; and so on. They have their conventions and ingredients. If you’re writing a report you know that you will need a reaction quote, some context, and something to wrap it up (a quote; what happens next; etc.). If you’re doing an interview you’ll need to gather some colour about where it takes place, and how the interviewee reacts at various points.

Formats are often at their most powerful when they are subverted: a journalist who knows the format inside out can play with it, upsetting the reader’s expectations for the most impact. This is the tension between repetition and contrast that underlies not just journalism but good design, and even music.

As online journalism develops dozens of new formats have become available. Here are just a few:

  • the liveblog;
  • the audio slideshow;
  • the interactive map;
  • the app;
  • the podcast;
  • the explainer;
  • the portal;
  • the aggregator;
  • the gallery

Formats are chosen because they suit the thing being covered, its position in the publisher’s news environment, and the resources of the publisher.

Historically, for example, when a story first broke for most publishers a simple report was the only realistic option. But after that, they might commission a profile, interview, or deeper feature or package – if the interest and the resources warranted that.

The subject matter would also be a factor. A broadcaster might be more inclined to commission a package on a story if colourful characters or locations were involved and were accessible. They might also send a presenter down for a two-way.

These factors still come into play now we have access to a much wider range of formats – but a wider understanding of those formats is also needed.

  • Does the event take place over a geographical area, and users will want to see the movement or focus on a particular location? Then a map might be most appropriate.
  • Are things changing so fast that a traditional ‘story’ format is going to be inadequate? Then a liveblog may work better.
  • Is there a wealth of material out there being produced by witnesses? A gallery, portal or aggregator might all be good choices.
  • Have you secured an interview with a key character, and a set of locations or items that tell their own story? Is it an ongoing or recurring story? An audio slideshow or video interview may be the most powerful choice of format.
  • Are you on the scene and raw video of the event is going to have the most impact? Grab your phone and film – or stream.

2. Medium (“What?”)

Depending on what format has been chosen, the medium may be chosen for you too. But a podcast can be audio or video; a liveblog can involve text and multimedia; an app can be accessed on a phone, a webpage, a desktop widget, or Facebook.

This is not just about how you convey information about what’s going on (you’ll notice I avoid the use of ‘story’, as this is just one possible choice of format) but how the user accesses it and uses it.

A podcast may be accessed on the move; a Facebook app on mobile, in a social context; and so on. These are factors to consider as you produce your content.

3. Platform (“Where?”)

Likewise, the platforms where the content is to be distributed need careful consideration.

A liveblog’s reporting might be done through Twitter and aggregated on your own website. A map may be compiled in a Google spreadsheet but published through Google Maps and embedded on your blog.

An audioboo may have subscribers on iTunes or on the Audioboo app itself, and its autoposting feature may attract large numbers of listeners through Twitter.

Some call the choice of platform a choice of ‘channel’ but that does not do justice to the interactive and social nature of many of these platforms. Facebook or Twitter are not just channels for publishing live updates from a blog, but a place where people engage with you and with each other, exchanging information which can become part of your reporting (whether you want it to or not).

Your content strategy will need to take account of what happens on those platforms: which tweets are most retweeted or argued with; reacting to information posted in your blog or liveblog comments; and so on.

4. Scheduling (“When?”)

The choice of platform(s) will also influence your choice of timing. There will be different optimal times for publishing to Facebook, Twitter, email mailing lists, blogs, and websites.

There will also be optimal times for different formats (as the Washington Post found). A short news report may suit morning commuters; an audio slideshow or video may be best scheduled for the evening. Something humorous may play best on a Friday afternoon; something practical on a Wednesday afternoon once the user has moved past the early week slog.

Infographic: The Best Times To Post To Twitter & Facebook

This webcast on content strategy gives a particular insight into how they treat scheduling – not just across the day but across the week.

5. “Why?”

Print and broadcast rest on objectives so implicit that we barely think about them. The web, however, may have different objectives. Instead of attracting the widest numbers of readers, for example, we may want to engage users as much as possible.

That makes a big difference in any content strategy:

  • The rapid rise of liveblogs and explainers as a format can be partly explained by their stickiness when compared to traditional news articles.
  • Demand for video content has exceeded supply for some publishers because it is possible to embed advertising with content in a way which isn’t possible with text.
  • Infographics have exploded as they lend themselves so well to viral distribution.

Distribution is often one answer to ‘why?’, and introduces two elements I haven’t mentioned so far: search engine optimisation and social media optimisation. Blogs as a platform and text as a medium are generally better optimised for search engines, for example. But video and images are better optimised for social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And the timing of publishing might be informed by analytics of what people are searching for, updating Facebook about, or tweeting about right now.

The objective(s), of course, should recur as a consideration throughout all the stages above. And some stages will have different objectives: for distribution, for editorial quality, and for engagement.

Just to confuse things further, the objectives themselves are likely to change as the business models around online and multiplatform publishing evolve.

If I’m going to sum up all of the above in one line, then, it’s this: “Take nothing for granted.”

I’m looking for examples of content strategies for future editions of the book – please let me know if you’d like yours to be featured.


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: content strategy, facebook, formats, infographic, platforms, scheduling, SEO, smo, twitter, video
12:49

Choosing a strategy for content: 4 Ws and a H

Something interesting happened to journalism when it moved from print and broadcast to the web. Aspects of the process that we barely thought about started to be questioned: the ‘story’ itself seemed less than fundamental. Decisions that you didn’t need to make as a journalist – such as what medium you would use – were becoming part of the job.

In fact, a whole raft of new decisions now needed to be made.

For those launching a new online journalism project, these questions are now increasingly tackled with a content strategy, a phrase and approach which, it seems to me, began outside of the news industry (where the content strategy had been settled on so long ago that it became largely implicit) and has steadily been rediscovered by journalists and publishers.

‘Web first’, for example, is a content strategy; the Seattle Times’s decision to focus on creation, curation and community is a content strategy. Reed Business Information’s reshaping of its editorial structures is, in part, a content strategy:

Why does a journalist need a content strategy?

I’ve written previously about the style challenge facing journalists in a multi platform environment: where before a journalist had few decisions to make about how to treat a story (the medium was given, the formats limited, the story supreme), now it can be easy to let old habits restrict the power, quality and impact of reporting.

Below, I’ve tried to boil down these new decisions into 4 different types – and one overarching factor influencing them all. These are decisions that often have to be made quickly in the face of changing circumstances – I hope that fleshing them out in this way will help in making those decisions quicker and more effectively.

1. Format (“How?”)

We’re familiar with formats: the news in brief; the interview; the profile; the in-depth feature; and so on. They have their conventions and ingredients. If you’re writing a report you know that you will need a reaction quote, some context, and something to wrap it up (a quote; what happens next; etc.). If you’re doing an interview you’ll need to gather some colour about where it takes place, and how the interviewee reacts at various points.

Formats are often at their most powerful when they are subverted: a journalist who knows the format inside out can play with it, upsetting the reader’s expectations for the most impact. This is the tension between repetition and contrast that underlies not just journalism but good design, and even music.

As online journalism develops dozens of new formats have become available. Here are just a few:

  • the liveblog;
  • the audio slideshow;
  • the interactive map;
  • the app;
  • the podcast;
  • the explainer;
  • the portal;
  • the aggregator;
  • the gallery

Formats are chosen because they suit the thing being covered, its position in the publisher’s news environment, and the resources of the publisher.

Historically, for example, when a story first broke for most publishers a simple report was the only realistic option. But after that, they might commission a profile, interview, or deeper feature or package – if the interest and the resources warranted that.

The subject matter would also be a factor. A broadcaster might be more inclined to commission a package on a story if colourful characters or locations were involved and were accessible. They might also send a presenter down for a two-way.

These factors still come into play now we have access to a much wider range of formats – but a wider understanding of those formats is also needed.

  • Does the event take place over a geographical area, and users will want to see the movement or focus on a particular location? Then a map might be most appropriate.
  • Are things changing so fast that a traditional ‘story’ format is going to be inadequate? Then a liveblog may work better.
  • Is there a wealth of material out there being produced by witnesses? A gallery, portal or aggregator might all be good choices.
  • Have you secured an interview with a key character, and a set of locations or items that tell their own story? Is it an ongoing or recurring story? An audio slideshow or video interview may be the most powerful choice of format.
  • Are you on the scene and raw video of the event is going to have the most impact? Grab your phone and film – or stream.

2. Medium (“What?”)

Depending on what format has been chosen, the medium may be chosen for you too. But a podcast can be audio or video; a liveblog can involve text and multimedia; an app can be accessed on a phone, a webpage, a desktop widget, or Facebook.

This is not just about how you convey information about what’s going on (you’ll notice I avoid the use of ‘story’, as this is just one possible choice of format) but how the user accesses it and uses it.

A podcast may be accessed on the move; a Facebook app on mobile, in a social context; and so on. These are factors to consider as you produce your content.

3. Platform (“Where?”)

Likewise, the platforms where the content is to be distributed need careful consideration.

A liveblog’s reporting might be done through Twitter and aggregated on your own website. A map may be compiled in a Google spreadsheet but published through Google Maps and embedded on your blog.

An audioboo may have subscribers on iTunes or on the Audioboo app itself, and its autoposting feature may attract large numbers of listeners through Twitter.

Some call the choice of platform a choice of ‘channel’ but that does not do justice to the interactive and social nature of many of these platforms. Facebook or Twitter are not just channels for publishing live updates from a blog, but a place where people engage with you and with each other, exchanging information which can become part of your reporting (whether you want it to or not).

Your content strategy will need to take account of what happens on those platforms: which tweets are most retweeted or argued with; reacting to information posted in your blog or liveblog comments; and so on.

4. Scheduling (“When?”)

The choice of platform(s) will also influence your choice of timing. There will be different optimal times for publishing to Facebook, Twitter, email mailing lists, blogs, and websites.

There will also be optimal times for different formats (as the Washington Post found). A short news report may suit morning commuters; an audio slideshow or video may be best scheduled for the evening. Something humorous may play best on a Friday afternoon; something practical on a Wednesday afternoon once the user has moved past the early week slog.

Infographic: The Best Times To Post To Twitter & Facebook

This webcast on content strategy gives a particular insight into how they treat scheduling – not just across the day but across the week.

5. “Why?”

Print and broadcast rest on objectives so implicit that we barely think about them. The web, however, may have different objectives. Instead of attracting the widest numbers of readers, for example, we may want to engage users as much as possible.

That makes a big difference in any content strategy:

  • The rapid rise of liveblogs and explainers as a format can be partly explained by their stickiness when compared to traditional news articles.
  • Demand for video content has exceeded supply for some publishers because it is possible to embed advertising with content in a way which isn’t possible with text.
  • Infographics have exploded as they lend themselves so well to viral distribution.

Distribution is often one answer to ‘why?’, and introduces two elements I haven’t mentioned so far: search engine optimisation and social media optimisation. Blogs as a platform and text as a medium are generally better optimised for search engines, for example. But video and images are better optimised for social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And the timing of publishing might be informed by analytics of what people are searching for, updating Facebook about, or tweeting about right now.

The objective(s), of course, should recur as a consideration throughout all the stages above. And some stages will have different objectives: for distribution, for editorial quality, and for engagement.

Just to confuse things further, the objectives themselves are likely to change as the business models around online and multiplatform publishing evolve.

If I’m going to sum up all of the above in one line, then, it’s this: “Take nothing for granted.”

I’m looking for examples of content strategies for future editions of the book – please let me know if you’d like yours to be featured.


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: content strategy, facebook, formats, infographic, platforms, scheduling, SEO, smo, twitter, video

October 06 2011

16:00

The Newsonomics of f8

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

Is it declaration of war, or of peace, or is Mark Zuckerberg saying he just really Likes us all very, very much?

“No activity is too big or too small to share,” the 27-year-old proclaimed at the recent f8 announcement. “All your stories, all your life…. This is going to make it easy to share orders of magnitude more things than before.” (f8 sounds, oddly, like FATE, but I think my paranoia is kicking in.)

“Excuse me, have we met?” is one response.

Another response to Facebook’s Ticket, Timeline, and News Feed initiatives is to go dating. Some quite influential publishers are road-testing the new features, while others ponder a light commitment.

In 2011, U.S. dailies’ digital ad take will be about $3 billion and Facebook’s $2 billion.

They should be aware that Facebook is bent on world domination — having targeted businesses now run by Amazon, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Flipboard, Pulse, Pandora, Last.fm, and Flickr, as well as legacy news and information providers — in the latest move. (Forget debating Google’s “do no evil” mantra; Google’s sin may have been that it thought too small.) That’s audience, though not business, domination, as Facebook’s EMEA platform partnerships director, Christian Hernandez, told PaidContent. “[f8] is not a commercial decision.” Got it. And Google just wants to help us better organize our info.

Facebook’s f8 signals a next round of digital disruption. Remember Microsoft’s decade-old bid to become the hub of our entertainment lives, as evidenced by its futuristic Consumer Electronics Show displays? Facebook has taken that metaphor — and updated and socialized it.

This unabashed push to remake the digital world in its own image would seem like laughable megalomania coming from many other sources in the world. But it’s not megalomania if others act like you’re not crazy. In fact, our story takes strange turns as this megalomania, so far, seems quite magnanimous to publishers, as Facebook looks to some like the best available date, compared to the other ascendant audience resellers (Apple, Amazon, and Google).

As leading-edge publishers move away from destination-only strategies, they seek to colonize other habitable web environments; Facebook now looks like the friendliest clime, allowing publishers to keep all the revenue from ads they are selling within their Facebook apps. In addition, Facebook is providing aggregated data on user engagement — active users, likes, comments, post views, and post feedback.

Buy-in from such brands as the Washington Post, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Yahoo helps to place Facebook’s push into the “normal” scale of corporate behavior.

Why are news players playing along? What do they think is in it for them?

Let’s look at the newsonomics of f8 and of the new social whirl.

“Rather than incorporate Facebook features into our site, we’ve looked at incorporating our content into Facebook.”

Let’s start with the stark, Willie Sutton reason: you work with Facebook because that’s where the audience is. In the U.S., Facebook claims more as much as seven hours of average monthly usage; globally, that number is four hours plus. It’s where would-be readers hang out.

Worldwide, it claims an audience of 800 million.

If Facebook is the hang-out mall, newspaper and magazine sites are grocery stores. People go there when they need something — to find out what’s new — and then leave. The comparative average monthly usage of news sites runs five to 20 minutes per month.

So exposure to audience is the no-brainer, here. The question is: to what end?

Step back from the flurry of news company announcements, or from the behind-the-scenes 2012 strategies-in-the-making, and publishers cite three top goals:

  • Lower-cost development of audience, especially audience that may become core customers.
  • Digital advertising revenue growth.
  • Establishing a robust, growing stream of digital reader revenue.

So how might f8 innovations help those?

Let’s start with brand awareness. It’s a digital din out there, a survival-of-the-feistiest time. Consumers will come to rely on a handful or two of news brands, goes the theory. So best to be high in their consciousness, and Facebook omnipresence in people’s lives offers that possibility.

Adam Freeman, executive director of Commercial for Guardian News and Media, explains Guardian’s digital-first strategy here this way:

Our digital audience has grown to a phenomenal 50m+, but, with the best will in the world, chances are we are never going to outpace and outstrip Facebook’s audience size. So we see an opportunity in that — rather than incorporate Facebook features into our site, we’ve looked at incorporating our content into Facebook. There is an untapped audience within Facebook who may not be regularly encountering Guardian and Observer content, and we think our app increases the the visibility of our content in that space.

Of course that brand consciousness needs to be acted on, which leads us to…

Lower-cost traffic acquisition. Online, publishers have invested in search engine optimization and search engine marketing. SEO makes them more findable in organic search; SEM pays for high-level brand placement. In addition, they’ve done deals with portals over the years; the current Yahoo deals of swapping news stories for links is a major one for many.

Against, though, Facebook is simply social media optimization (“The newsonomics of social media optimization”).

It’s another route to pouring newer customers into the top end of news publishers’ audience funnel, hoping a few tumble out the bottom as paying, regular readers. And any readers can be monetized with advertising.

SMO’s relative economics are better than SEO or SEM. Not only is SMO cheaper than SEM, some publishers say it “performs” better. That performance is best measured by conversions (registrations, more pages read, digital sub buying), while for others the jury is still out. And, at best, audience development multiplies off these new relationships.

“These new Facebook users aren’t necessarily finding the brand in traditional ways, nor do they necessarily hold longstanding brand affinity,” says Jed Williams, analyst at BIA/Kelsey.

Their social graphs, curators/editors, recommendations, etc. are doing the pointing for them. So they do arrive at the very top of the proverbial funnel. And, as they interact with the publisher, with them in turn comes their social network. Potentially, the exponential network effects take off, and new audience continues to breed even more new audience. Original audience targets emerge, and the funnel continually expands. At least in the best case scenario, it does.

Sale of paid products: If you are now selling digital subscriptions, you’re doubly interested in customer acquisition. Now publishers can discover the percentage of new audience they can convert to paying customers, though that’s not an easy proposition to figure out. That percentage will be tiny, but it may be meaningful.

Out of the chute, digital circulation efforts have focused strongly on longstanding customers. Publishers have wanted to keep their print customers paying. They want to reduce print churn by taking away customers’ ability to get the news they get in the paper for free online. They want to change the psychology of long-term readers, giving them a new understanding: You pay for news, in print or digitally.

Facebook looks like it may become a top media-selling marketplace, along with Amazon and Apple.

That’s round one, 2011-2012, of the digital circulation wars. Round two necessitates bringing in new customers, especially younger ones who don’t have print habits and may not have much news brand loyalty.

That’s a key place Facebook fits in. It’s a potential hothouse of new, younger customers.

“It isn’t obvious that we can be successful with premium content on social,” notes Alisa Bowen, general manager of WSJ Digital Network. The Journal, while not participating in the f8 launch, already has a significant trial in place. The same holds true of the spate of other recent WSJ innovations, like WSJ Live and its iPad apps. “WSJ Everywhere,” Bowen says, “tests what we’re doing for people who never come to the website.”

As publishers create more one-off tablet and smartphone products (“The newsonomics of Kindle Singles”), Facebook looks like it may become a top media-selling marketplace, along with Amazon and Apple.

Advertising revenue: Facebook is still so bent on building audience that it is providing publishers their best ad deals. Publishers can sell ads for display within their Facebook apps — and keep all the revenue. No revenue share, thank you. (At least for now.)

Data: “In addition to serving adverts from our own partners in the app, we have highly detailed but anonymized data from Facebook covering demographics and usage,” says Freeman. “We also have our own analytics embedded in the pages on the app, which will help us understand how our content is used and shared within the Facebook Open Graph.”

Learning about social curation. Social filtering will be a standard feature of all news (unless we opt out) by 2015. It’s not hard to see why. It’s old village world-of-mouth, jet-propelled by technology. How social curation will work is a huge question; how can it best co-exist with editorial curation, for instance? That kind of learning is one other benefit f8 partners tell me they hope to gain.

The Facebook dance is a cautious one. News publishers’ experiences with web wunderkinds have not, in general, been great ones. Witness the ongoing battles over revenue share percentages, customer relationships, and customer data access that have characterized the soap-opera-like Apple/publisher public spats. Amazon’s new Kindle tablet re-lights the question of publisher/Amazon rev share and data sharing.

September 03 2011

15:44

Infographic - A "cosmic" snapshot of the stars of search marketing

SEO Blog :: Inspired by August’s famous Perseid meteor shower, the “Stars of Search” infographic spotlights some of the brightest lights in the SEO universe. James Anderson, SEO Blog, points out that this is not a complete list of the search industry’s most gifted personalities. Anderson: "We gathered the troops and grouped 24 people we felt influenced search the most. Several were interviewed and their responses were sharp, witty and a bit revealing at times."

History of Search Infographic

Continue to read James Anderson, www.seo.com

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