The Social Media Wire Brings The Immediacy, You Bring the Feedback

We news folks tend to deal in fact – that is, what is reported and verified. Most of what you find on news sites (the good ones, anyway) is in this realm. Increasingly making an appearance in people’s news consumption habits are social media like Twitter and YouTube – that which may not be verified, but it is immediate and, for better or worse, largely unfiltered.

It is the desire to capture both actual and factual news that pushed Digital First Media to build the Social Media Wire, which made its public beta debut on the New Haven Register this week.

Social Media Wire on nhregister.comCombining selected local Twitter accounts, social searches, news feeds, blogs and videos, the Social Media Wire gives our readers a new way to find and interact with immediate local news from a variety of sources (yes, including competitors).

This concept was one that originally started back at TBD, where the community engagement team dreamed up a vision of a constantly-moving feed of local, social news called TBDNow. In the time since TBD’s original staff split up, many of us have tried to get TBDNow built. On my very first day at Digital First, I was told we were finally going to do it – and I just couldn’t wait to see it come to life.

CrowdyNews, a social news vendor out of the Netherlands, helped us to adapt the original TBDNow wish list into a tangible beta product. Is it perfect? No. We’ve got a lot of tweaking to do. But it’s a start.

We’ll learn, over time, exactly which keywords produce the best results in our neighborhood. We’ll find which blogs and news sites have crappy RSS feeds we should avoid – and which hidden gems might be most useful for our readers. We’ll see who has the most to offer on Twitter, and who could stand to be trimmed from our topic rolls.

There’s certainly work to be done on fine-tuning the user experience… and that’s where I hope you can come in. Please visit nhregister.com and click around our widgets on the home page and section fronts and spend a few minutes on the full-page Social Media Wire.

Let me know what you think could make the user experience better, which feeds should be added or removed, etc. in the comments, or contact me via Twitter, Facebook or email. As with any beta product, we need all the eyeballs and feedback we can get.

Posted in DFM, My Work | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Introducing Digital First’s Curation Team: Now on to the Hard Part

Following a month of non-stop activity featuring dozens of applicant blog posts, applications and interviews via occasionally spotty Google Hangout connections, I’m pleased to announce that the Digital First curation team is locked and loaded.

Julie Westfall will be joining Digital First as the curation team leader.  Angela Carter and Karen Workman, two of DFM’s local superstars, will be moving to new roles as curators.

I was familiar with all three of these remarkable journalists before I ever began hiring for these positions. They were selected because they each had a vision for what could be done – and none of them are the type to be scared off by such a vague concept as “go be a curation team”.

Steve Buttry and I interviewed A LOT of really amazing applicants. We heard a lot of really innovative and interesting ideas on curation tools and strategy from journalists and non-journalists both inside and outside Digital First. You guys didn’t make our choices easy, but I’m confident we’ve got a killer team here.

Julie Westfall

Julie Westfall

I am excited to get back to working with Julie Westfall, who was, in my opinion, the engine that drove TBD’s daily news coverage. Sitting across from her for most of our short time there, I was constantly amazed at how she just never seemed to stop. Julie had a vision for how our news could be better and faster and she worked tirelessly to see that vision come to life.  She was always tinkering with the tools we had or brainstorming the tools she wanted to see if there could be a better way to tell our stories.

Julie was responsible for shaping a lot of the excellent breaking news coverage TBD came to be known for.  When a gunman took hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters about a month into TBD’s existence, Julie grabbed the reins and led our site through what was arguably its national and regional debut. She also served in the thankless role of maintaining the often-difficult relationship between TBD and WJLA TV – for which I personally think she could have gotten a Nobel Peace Prize if that relationship hadn’t ended in such a spectacularly sad way.

But it wasn’t our work history that got Julie into this job, but rather it was her continuing ideas for how online news could be made better. Julie still has a vision for how we can develop new and better ways to tell stories online.  We need someone with that vision to help our team craft dynamic, interesting and useful news resources for our local sites.  It helps that Julie’s pretty familiar with forging her own path in this crazy digital journalism world – she held experimental roles at TBD and KPCC – because we need her to shape this team from an idea into a key part of Digital First’s news strategy.

Angi Carter

Angi Carter

I knew Angi Carter by reputation long before we actually met upon my visit to the New Haven Register‘s newsroom a couple of months ago. As an inaugural member of Digital First’s ideaLab, Angi had already made her mark as an innovator and communicator within the company.

Angi had been a city-side and business reporter for years before taking on the role of community engagement in her newsroom. When you meet her, it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been in that role for years. She’s a natural.

From the time I joined the company, I knew Angi to be an ever-willing guinea pig for digital news projects. When Digital First teamed up with NYU’s Studio 20 and The Guardian for Citizen’s Agenda, Angi was enthusiastically on board, guiding the Register’s engagement around the 2012 elections. When DFM launched its first national news project, American Homecomings, Angi was right there in the thick of it, helping to curate content for the site. She’s always among the first in the company to experiment with new tools and brainstorm new ways to use the tools we already have at our disposal.

Not surprisingly, Angi also went the extra mile with her ideaLab project. Originally it was thought that ideaLab activities would take up a designated amount of hours each week but Angi made it the focus of her everyday work. She also contributed the equipment she receives as an ideaLab participant to the Register’s overall engagement efforts like conducting a Community Needs Assessment, holding public online news meetings and growing the Register’s community blog network.

When this curation team is in full swing, we’re going to need Angi’s organizational skills to guide us on breaking news and long-term projects. She has a habit of planning the details far out in advance of planned news events. Take New Haven’s coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care decision: When the decision came down, the site had a live chat with experts on the case all ready to go.

Karen Workman

Karen Workman

I don’t know Karen Workman well yet, but I know a great deal about her work.  She started her career as an editorial assistant at the Oakland Press, where went on to become a reporter and, later, community engagement editor. When she took interest in this position, Karen wrote a report full of ideas for how the DFM curation team could best benefit our local newsrooms.  She’d know, as she’s already sort of been doing it.

Working the early morning shift at the Press, Karen noticed that DFM’s Michigan newsrooms were all curating stories and videos from the same sites each day. She  took the initiative to change the system to be more efficient. This past spring, she started a curation team for the Michigan newspapers to better utilize the time of the newsrooms’ small staffs.

As an early adopter of new tools in her newsroom, Karen’s also proven herself to be a natural teacher. What started as helping her colleagues learn SEO, social media and digital tools has turned into a much larger effort to educate journalists at other DFM papers. Karen’s patience and talent for explanation is really going to come in handy as a DFM curator, as we’ll be helping all of our local newsrooms with their own curation efforts.

Karen was also part of the first class of ideaLab participants. She’s using her project to build a sense of community amongst members of the Oakland Press’ blogger network. Aside from bringing a disparate group of bloggers together in person and online, Karen’s also setting up workshops they want and need to bolster their own skill sets.

I’m pretty sure Karen and I are going to get along just fine, as she’s a fellow animal lover (even if she prefers dogs).  She writes The Dog Blog, a care and training blog for dog owners – and she’s also got a really cute Lab/pit bull mix with a great name (Sensibull).

This curation team will be getting to work the last week of this month….just in time to start experimenting with curation around the Olympic Games. These three women will have a lot of logistics to figure out, tools to break and workflows to hammer out  – but I have full confidence they are more than up to the challenge. I can hardly wait to get started.

Posted in DFM | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

As Outsourced News Grows, Local Newsrooms Should Promote ‘Buying Local’

Over the weekend, This American Life broadcast a story about the hyperlocal news company Journatic, introducing the reading public to the idea of local news produced offshore. Journatic’s success should worry local news producers, but their growing presence also presents us with a huge opportunity in our local markets.

If you aren’t familiar, Journatic uses a largely foreign workforce to assemble local data, rewrite press releases and parrot online obituaries for eventual publication on local and hyperlocal news sites from likes of the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle and Newsday. These writers – who aren’t even given the dignity of being called writers by the company’s founder in the TAL broadcast – make very, very little money to produce this work. These briefs and announcements are created at the fraction of the cost of a news aide or editorial assistant in the local newsrooms – jobs that, you my have noticed, barely exist in our business anymore.

The real outrage and new info in the radio broadcast was that Journatic employees are producing local news essentially disguised as local reporters. Their stories have fake bylines, their writers given Americanized aliases. When they actually do call to contact a source for a quote, they cover up where they are calling from:

“We’ve been told time and time again to protect the Journatic identity.” When calling on a story, employees must say they’re calling on behalf of the newspaper Journatic works for and even acquire a temporary phone number with a local area code. “We are basically lying to our sources,” he said.

A Tremendous Opportunity

So should local newsrooms be worried about offshore journalism like this? Absolutely they should. But exposure of Journatic and their ilk also provides those of us who work in local news with a tremendous opportunity. It is up to us to show our readers where we’re coming from.

“Buying American” and “Shopping Local” have become a priority to some American consumers on goods from clothes to veggies – so why not newspapers? We should encourage our readers to “Read Local”.

For local journalists, there is no better time to show our readers that we are them. We live in the same neighborhoods. We shop at the same grocery stores. We attend the same local festivals and root for the same football teams. Our kids attend the same schools. We may have even gone to high school together.

It’s taken us a few years, but local journalists are starting to shake off that long-held belief that we as people aren’t an important element of our news. We’re becoming more comfortable showing personality in our tweets, opening up our Facebook pages, writing blogs alongside our traditional reporting. It’s not to say that our personal lives need to be an open book, or even that our readers care about the mundane details of our days, but we can find ways to show our connections to the community:

  • Don’t feel like you have to be all business on social media, if you have observations to make about your city or the people in it in your off-time, go for it. Be open about who you are, with a photo and your real name – unlike this Twitter account that may or may not represent Journatic.
  • Write or contribute to a local blog – and be yourself there. It might be on your beat, or it might not. Maybe the local cops reporter can explore his gardening hobby with a blog. Perhaps a sportswriter would want to pitch in on a parenting blog.
  • Hold live chats with your readers. You could do this using software like CoveritLive or ScribbleLive, on Twitter, Facebook or even just in the comments are of your website. Take their questions and ask your own. Be yourself.
  • Meet your readers in person. Either on your own or as a publication, hold or attend events where you will meet your readers face-to-face. Maybe you would want to offer some public office hours or hold reader meetups. Spend some time manning the paper’s booth at a local festival. Or you could follow the lead of some of our papers at Digital First and take your newsroom out to the public.

Sure, it sounds awfully simplistic to say that these small actions can save local journalism — but it’s certainly a start. By showing up in person to cover that city council meeting or taking that reader’s question, you show that you are a part of the community. If you get good story ideas and source leads from these interactions, all the better.

Being there will give us more than any outsourced news factory could ever hope to replicate. This is our strength – and we need to take better advantage of it.

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

TechCrunch Writer Demonstrates How NOT to Engage Readers

Alexia Tsotsis’ highly unprofessional rants against “old media” and eventually her site’s own readers lead to a highly professional discussion amongst journalists about dealing with our critics on the web.

TechCrunch Writer Demonstrates How NOT to Engage Readers

Alexia Tsotsis' highly unprofessional rants against "old media" and eventually her site's own readers lead to a highly professional discussion amongst journalists about dealing with our critics on the web.

Storified by Mandy Jenkins · Tue, Jun 26 2012 23:32:09

TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis claimed she downed a couple of bottles of wine before blogging an interview with Flipboard CEO Mike McCue regarding the app's paywalled partnership with The New York Times -- and it certainly seemed that way. Aside from using several choice words in a rant against the Times and newspapers in general, Tsotsis also served as her own cautionary tale as to how NOT to interact with your readers.
Exhibit #1 of how NOT to interact with your readers, via the mess that is this @techcrunch post http://tcrn.ch/LvRKno http://pic.twitter.com/NGttRdklMandy Jenkins
It isn't "refreshing" or "blunt" to tell a reader to "go F--- themselves", it's immature and you shouldn't be employed as a journalistMandy Jenkins
Predictably, many journalists and readers were shocked not only by the language of the post itself, but also the many comments by the author like that shown in the screenshot shared above. 
There's something to be said for a well executed, profanity-laden, you-are-all-assholes, middle-fingers up post. Tsotsis' post was not that.Brett Sandusky
A pretty arrogant resignation letter from Alexia Tsotsis: http://techcrunch.com/2012/06/25/die-less-slow/Alex Coley
@egorski @mjenkins Probably also not good practice to be working after "the downing of tonight’s two bottles of wine."Alicia Caldwell
@mjenkins Yikes. Yikes, yikes, yikes.Kevin Loker
@mjenkins that whole article is a trainwreck. I don't know what they were thinking.Adam Schweigert
@mjenkins I'd likely be fired if I did that. Temptation is high sometimes, but you have to be professional.Kim McDaniel
@mjenkins @techcrunch Don't know that I've ever been that drunk. I know I'm old school but some things you just don't do, no matter the urgePhilip Heron
Aside from all of our collective outrage (which I'm sure would have just set off Ms. Tsotsis), it did bring up a great discussion on Twitter about interacting with our critics. 
"Thanks for the feedback" is always safe. MT @mjenkins: How NOT to interact with your readers http://tcrn.ch/LvRKno http://pic.twitter.com/knG6XBuIEric Gorski
@mjenkins What do you do if a reader attacks your integrity, honesty & professional work, & insisting on calling your media org a "cult?"Alex Howard
@digiphile You certainly don't do that. I've heard some of the worst from readers - and that response is no excuseMandy Jenkins
@mjenkins Yes, I know. And agree. But deciding how to respond is difficult. One of the very few times I've ever devided to block someone.Alex Howard
@digiphile I've been threatened, insulted, feared for my safety...but you have to keep responses professional. Always. No matter what.Mandy Jenkins
Many of us have our own strategy as to how and how we react to criticism. Some remarks, particularly those from trolls that have no real intent aside from trying to cause hurt feelings, don't merit a response.  
@digiphile Been there. Depends on the tone whether a measured response is warranted or you just ignore it. @mjenkinsKim McDaniel
@tivogirl @digiphile Exactly! Some comments do not merit responseMandy Jenkins
@tivogirl @mjenkins I'm finally getting better at ignoring some comments, if warranted. It's not something that comes at all naturally to meAlex Howard
@digiphile @mjenkins Most of the time, those are the people you can't reason with, so why bother.Ruth Bazinet
@AnnaTarkov @mjenkins @tivogirl With limited time in the day and oh-so-many-good things to write & cover, choosing wisely is key.Alex Howard
@digiphile It is tough - you want to respond. But have to recognize when some ppl just want to vent or be jerks. Not worth it. @mjenkinsKim McDaniel
@digiphile Right. I engage critics initially to determine if there's hope for a civil debate. If there's not, I'm out. @mjenkins @tivogirlAnna Tarkov
@baznet @mjenkins For me, it's because some of time, it is worth bothering. And those relationships incrementally build over time.Alex Howard
@digiphile @mjenkins Totally understood. I hope that it's a fruitful engagement & the effort was worth it.Ruth Bazinet
To sum it up, the key is figuring out not only how to tell the ones that merit reaction from those that do not, but also how to tamper down your own high emotions in these situations.
Admit it, sometimes we'd all like to tell our readers to shove it...but we can't. And we won't. Take a deep breath. Take a walk. Take a day if need be... then respond.

Posted in Community Engagement | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Exploring the Role of Curation and Curators in the Newsroom

What do you think when you hear the term “curation”? Do you roll your eyes at the “future of news” talking head types likely posing the word to you (like right now)? Or does your mind reel with the possibilities?

Source: Page One CuratorUnder the strictest definition of the term, curation is what journalists have been doing since before Gutenberg. We’ve always been responsible for collecting bits of information and reassembling it in a way that makes sense to our readers, but now we have so many more tools to use and streams to incorporate. It’s hardly a new idea, just a new way going about doing it.

Curation is a huge part of Digital First Media‘s plans. I/We see it as a way to give our readers a well-wounded view of a story or topic, while also freeing up our local staffs to do the original reporting they do best. It is with this in mind that I, along with my esteemed boss, Steve Buttry, will soon be hiring a national curation team comprised of a team leader and two curation editors.

While I do have something of a loose job description put together for these positions, the people who we’ll be hiring here will be trailblazers. Like a lot of us who are taking on experimental new roles, they’ll be determining (and always re-evaluating) what tools, practices and stories will work best for them and the company, rather than following directions from the top.

If you dare to wonder what a curation editor might do — we’d like to hear from you. Even if you aren’t necessarily interested in one of these jobs, I’d like to hear your thoughts on how curation and curators might best help you and/or your newsroom best serve readers.

Some ideas we’ll be exploring:

  • How should we provide curation around big national stories, where primary coverage will be handled either by our staffs or by our content partners?
  • How should be capitalize on local stories that might have national appeal?
  • How should we curate the social conversation around the day’s big “talker” stories in a way that would interest even those who aren’t on social media?
  • How should we help local newsrooms in their curation efforts without just taking it over?
  • What curation tools should we use? Which do YOU use?
  • What kind of content should we curate? Is there anything we should avoid?
  • How should we evaluate, verify and attribute content we curate?

You can join in the conversation in the comments below, on Steve’s related blog post, on Twitter (#DFMcuration) or, if you prefer to keep your ideas and interest confidential, feel free to use this private form.

A few details that may be helpful (this and more from Steve):

The curation team will be part of Project Thunderdome, which will handle national content for the websites of 75 daily newspapers of Digital First Media (scattered across 18 states), as well as some niche content that may be used by the sites of our weekly papers.

I look forward to seeing where this conversation takes us.

Posted in DFM | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Journalists Are Getting the Hang of These Twitter Hoaxes

Earlier today, it took less than 20 minutes for  journalists to figure out and expose a well-known Twitter prankster’s fake report on the death of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. At one time – not even a few months ago – I’d say it’d be likely this hoax wouldn’t have been caught before lots of news orgs had reported the “news”.

I see it as a sign we’re getting better at this verification business.

 

 

* I feel this deserved a special shoutout to Anthony De Rosa, who is the unfortunate example of a journalist biting on a bad hoax in my regular verification training slides. Now he’s included here on the side of good.

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Defense of Crowdsourcing: You Get Out What You Put Into It

Yesterday, Dashiell Bennett via Atlantic Wire* brought some pointing-and-laughing to the plight of  Darren Rovell, a CNBC sports business reporter who was burned by a source he found via crowdsourcing and then pouted publicly online about it.

Bennett, however, takes a leap that defies logic: He blames the act of crowdsourcing for this error. Blaming crowdsourcing for failed reporting is akin to blaming phones and email – it’s merely a method to find sources, the end result still requires actual work.

Last fall, Rovell asked his Twitter followers how the NBA lockout was affecting their businesses. He received a response from a man who claimed to be the head of an escort service catering to NBA players and fans who noted that his business was down 30%. After a few questions over email, Rovell added the source’s comments to his story. As it turns out, said source was a high schooler punking this reporter. (Wait, high schoolers watch CNBC???)

Here was Bennett’s break-down of what happened:

Rovell was done in by two classic journalism mistakes. The first, less obvious one, is that crowdsourcing is a lousy way to gather news. As Rovell himself suggests in his CNBC mea culpa… people will say almost anything if they think it might end up in print, and people you don’t know and never meet can’t really be trusted. It happens to lots of people, because it’s very tempting to rely on these kinds of tips. The information comes so easily, but it needs to be taken with twice the amount of salt. The second is a more traditional maxim: If a story is too good to check, it probably isn’t true.

Well, he’s right on one count: You really can’t trust information that you get from any source anywhere – via crowdsourcing or otherwise – so you have to do a little reporting and fact-checking on things like this. He is wrong, however, to suggest that this somehow proves that crowdsourcing in and of itself is a lousy practice for journalists. In actuality, crowdsourcing can be a very effective way to find sources, but it’s what you do with those sources that determines the outcome of the story.

Crowdsourcing wasn’t Rovell’s problem, failing to take a couple of extra steps to find out if this too-good-too-be-true source was for real was his problem. Had he even called this guy on the phone and asked a few key questions, the kid’s story would have likely fallen apart in a matter of minutes.

Not that Rovell helps his case by including this in his “apology”:

He duped me. Shame on me. I apologize to my readers.

As a result I will do fewer stories on the real life impact of big events which I do think the public enjoys.

There will always be people out there who want their 15 minutes of fame and not really care how they get there.

The lesson was not “I shouldn’t accept anonymous sources I interview over email at face value”, it was “I’m not talking to you people ever again.” Sigh.

Reporters should take his story to heart as a cautionary tale, it shouldn’t scare people off from crowdsourcing altogether. Instead, note these basic steps of verification for all hot tips you receive as a reporter:

1. Evaluate the credibility of the source

2. Follow up on the information with reporting – including interviewing the source

3. Evaluate the credibility of the information 

4. Corroborate the info you receive against other sources

5. Evaluate your options based on the info you have

 

Here are some resources that might help you find your own verification process:

 

* Yes, I realize that in merely responding to this opinion post,  I’m falling directly into Atlantic Wire’s trap (also known as Forbes and Gawker Media’s trap), but it has to be said.

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Women in Journalism: Be not afraid, for we are taking over

If you’ve ever read this blog, you know that I am anything but a downer about the future of media – in fact, I’m bonafide psyched about it. It is because of this that I ended up giving something of a pep talk/call to arms to the Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association at the Pennsylvania Press Conference this past Saturday.

I haven’t really done any extemporaneous speaking since I was last required to as part of a college honors class, but I had a lot of fun doing it and I wanted to share it here with you. Obviously, these are the prepared remarks and I deviated a little bit in real-time (h/t to Steve Buttry for giving me the idea to post it here).

It’s great to look out at this crowd and see so many women working in this business – and who seem to know what fashion was like in the 1930s.

Admittedly I haven’t been in the business as long as some of you, but journalism in the past 10 years has felt like dog years to many of us – we’re all aging seven years with every one that passes. Everything keeps changing so fast. As soon as you learn one newsroom system or social media tool or pick up the latest lingo, another has come along to take its place.

When I first graduated from college, newsrooms were already cutting back instead of hiring. For me at least, this prompted an immediate career change. Instead of being a reporter as I’d always wanted, I decided to work on the web. There were tons of jobs out there for people who knew basic html, had journalism skills and were willing to adapt.

And thank God I did, I have no idea what I’d have been doing otherwise. (Between you and me, I really wasn’t a very good reporter anyway – mostly because I hate using phones)

I recently attended a reunion for those who worked at Kent State University’s student newspaper. Of those who attended school with me, I’d estimate less than 10% are still working as journalists. Some never even started. Many have been laid off in recent years, myself included.

It was at this reunion that one of my friends, one of those former journalists, took me aside. He’d heard I’ve been teaching journalism students at Georgetown University.

He says to me, “How can you give these kids hope? There’s nothing out here for them. There aren’t enough jobs for all of us that are already journalists.”

There is some truth in there. Enrollment in journalism schools continues to rise even as more traditional journalism jobs are disappearing.

But he is wrong. Journalism isn’t dying, it’s just changing. There’s a lot of reason to hope – not just for the kids still in school, but for the rest of us too. It IS a terrifying time to be a journalist, but it is also a very exciting time to be a journalist.

While the past few years have seen cuts in traditional newsrooms, there have been new ones starting up. We have new local and hyperlocal news sites and new investigative teams at the likes of ProPublica and the Texas Tribune.

We also have data geniuses and programming geniuses — all of these people we may not have recognized as journalists in years past — but they are out there working to reimagine journalism for the future. They’re making new tools to make our jobs easier – creating new ways to tell stories and, yes, make money.

Aside from all of that, this is an exciting time to be a woman in journalism.

Women are filling journalism schools faster than men. We have more women in our newsrooms than ever before – with hopefully more to rise in the ranks in the nest few years. Hell, we have a woman leading the New York Times, for crying out loud!

We also have many women among those striking out on their own to cover news the way they want.

Take Arianna Huffington. Whatever you may think of her, you have to admit she’s very smart.

In The Huffington Post, she created a booming media business that is changing the way we do journalism on the web. They found a formula that makes good journalism possible. It isn’t always elegant, but it works:

Cute cats + celebrities/ weird news = $ for reporters

And this investment in reporting paid off. The HuffPost won its first Pulitzer this year.

On a much smaller scale, there are other women making a successful go of it on their own.

Women like Tracy Record, who way back in 2005 — which is ancient history in internet years — started a personal blog about her neighborhood in West Seattle. In late 2007, Tracy quit her job as a TV news producer to work full-time for West Seattle Blog while her husband sold ads.

West Seattle Blog grew into a hyperlocal powerhouse that inspired other journalists to strike out on their own.

Tracy isn’t exactly cracking open Watergate, but she provides news that clearly matters to those who live there. With the aid of reader tips and paid freelancers, WSB covers local crime, traffic, business development – and even lost pets.

By mid-2008, the site made enough to support Tracy’s family, making it Seattle’s first self-sustaining online local news site.

All of this certainly wasn’t easy. Tracy and her family worked up to 20 hours a day for years to keep the site updated and filled with ads. She didn’t take a vacation until August 2009, when she could pay people to keep an eye on things back home.

But she did it by training her journalism skills on something she truly cared about – and it showed to her readers. Her engagement in the community – in person and online – drove readers to trust her to know what’s happening. It’s kind of old fashioned, if you think about it.

Back on this side of the country, we have Laura Amico, who runs the site Homicide Watch in Washington, D.C.

When Laura moved to DC with her husband, Chris, there wasn’t exactly a plethora of reporting jobs available. A crime reporter by trade, she was disappointed in the lack of local crime coverage. So she decided to change that.

In the fall of 2010, she launched Homicide Watch, a blog dedicated to covering every homicide in Washington D.C. — from crime to conviction. Laura sought to put a face and a story to many victims whose deaths went largely unrecorded by local media.

Using source documents, social networking and original reporting, Homicide Watch has become one of the nation’s most exhaustive resources on violent crime.

Probably more importantly, Laura’s work the family members and friends of crime victims a place to share their grief.

This spring, the site drew record page views of 20,000 page views a day.

If Laura were working within a larger news organization, she might not have gotten the resources or the time to run a project this big. By doing it on her own, with the aid of donations, grants and other sources, she was able to tackle this project her way.

And all this hard work has paid off, Laura will soon be heading to Harvard, where she was awarded a Neiman Fellowship for journalism.

These women are just two of the many out there doing news their own way – outside the traditional system. Now I’m not here to tell you that you all need to go out and start new websites or invent some new journalism tool (though it’d be cool if some of you did). What I’m saying is that so long as there are people with the will and the know-how, there will be journalism. And so long as we have women willing to step up and, if need be, go it alone – we’ll have female journalists running the newsrooms of the future.

So what can you do to help?

1. Push for more women to take on leadership roles in your newsroom. Support your female coworkers and competitors – because their successes are yours, too.

2. Speak up in news meetings, even if you aren’t an editor. Push to get your ideas heard both inside the newsroom and out in your community.

3. Don’t take no for an answer. On a panel aimed at female freelancers earlier this week in New York, a news website editor said he found male freelancers much more likely to follow up on a rejected story pitch with more pitches. Female freelancers, he said, he rarely heard from again. Don’t stand for that. You guys aren’t quitters.

4. Get out of your comfort zone and stay competitive. Do some freelancing outside of your beat area – maybe in something you wish you knew more about. Learn some basic programming. Start a blog, even if it is just to experiment.

5. Promote your expertise on social media. As women, we hesitate to sing our own praises – when we should be shouting from the rooftops to bring attention to the work we’re doing. We can’t afford to stay too quiet, lest all of those men on Twitter overpower us.

6. And finally, if you’re a veteran journalist, become a mentor to a young woman. Point her toward data journalism or beats in business and government — areas still dominated by men. Help her career develop – and you can probably learn quite a bit from one another.

If we support one another’s big thoughts and downplay our fears. If we occasionally dare to go out on a limb – maybe it won’t be such big news the next time a woman takes over a major media organization. Continue reading

Posted in Industry News & Notes, Presentations, Rants | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

When CoveritLive hands you lemons, make workaround Kool-Aid

The online media world was in one helluva tizzy late Wednesday and early Thursday when someone discovered that CoveritLive, the live publishing interface used by many brands and news organizations, was no longer offering free accounts. Many of us have been using the ad-supported version of CiL to hold reader chats and publish liveblogs for years now – and we were quite surprised. With several big conferences and annual news events coming up, news orgs will need some alternatives in place very quickly.

As of Wednesday, CoveritLive’s trial/free plan allows for only 25 “clicks” (whatever those are) per month, with all other plans charging per “click” with a capped limit each month. In other words – this is no longer a viable option for most newsrooms.

Eds note 2:17 p.m.: I’ve been told by a social journalism contact that CiL will be free and ad-free until July 1. (Not independently verified)

Having only recently posted my praises of CoveritLive, I felt compelled to help by pulling together a list of alternative workarounds for live chats and liveblogging.

If you have a suggestion to add to this list, please share it in the comments or submit it here.

 

If You Intend to Pay Anyway

ScribbleLive is probably CoveritLive’s best-known competitor in this space. ScribbleLive is a paid service used by many news organizations for live coverage, especially those in the tech world, and its functionality is quite similar to that of CiL.

 

No-Cost Workarounds

You don’t have the resources or the time to set up a whole new deal with a new vendor? OK, here’s some things you could try.

Note: This is a quick post, I intend to edit and add more suggestions below as I find or receive them. 

Use your Existing CMS or Blogs

Call it low-tech, but if you have a website with a CMS or a blog, you have a liveblog (albeit a slower, manual model). We used to do this all of the time for liveblogging stories at TBD and it works fine if you set up an easy-to-follow system of posting.

Quick to-do: Start a new entry in your website’s CMS or your blog with the basic info you have for the breaking story or topic you’re tracking. When you have an update to add to this liveblog, put it above the last post, indicate it as an update with a timestamp like so.

 

Live Tweet and Display/Curate

It’s time to take your liveblogging to Twitter by either using your existing personal or newsroom Twitter account or setting up a special handle just for live tweets. To make sure those readers who aren’t on Twitter can still see the live postings on your site, you’ll need to do some quick curation.

For in-the-moment tweets, you could opt to use a simple Twitter widget embed to show this account’s tweets or display a hashtag search. If you want to keep the tweets on your site and in order, you’ll need to do some quick curation and publication in a tool like Storify. If you have the time and resources, you might opt for a more selective “liveblog” by live-curating tweets and other elements in Storify. You could embed the beginning of the live curation in a post on your site and all new updates you publish within Storify will automatically publish to that entry without refreshing.

 

Build Your Own Using Google Docs

My Digital First colleague Ivan Lajara, who always has an answer for such problems, mocked up a liveblog in Google Docs. Using the Docs “Publish to Web” feature, you can embed a live document inside your site or, for faster updates in a near-live format, put an iframe around the live document. He noted that text, URLs and images from Google Drive seem to work fine here, though users will likely have to refresh to see changes and it won’t be easily viewed on mobile devices. If you use the iframe method, be careful, as it is truly live and users will be able to see you typing as you edit.

Quick how-to from Ivan: Set up a regular Google Doc and make it public. To put an iframe around it using

<iframe src=”HERE GOES THE URL OF YOUR GOOGLE DOC” name=”frame1″ scrolling=”auto” frameborder=”no” align=”center” height = “1000px” width = “600px”></iframe>

If you try something like this on your own, drop me a tweet or comment and let me know.

 

More:

Elana Zak posted about a few other CiL alternatives over at 10,000 Words. She highlighted live blogging tools G-Snap, Wordfaire and WordPress’ own liveblogging plugin.

 

Live Chat Workarounds

Use Facebook chats

You could hold a basic chat int he comments within a Facebook post. It isn’t the most elegant process in the world, but at least everyone knows how to use it. If you’d want to archive this chat, you could opt to save all of the pieces in Storify using either their Facebook page search or (as I would recommend) their browser plugin for Chrome Firefox or Safari.

There are also several Facebook apps out there (I know of Clobby, what else?) to allow brands to hold on-page chats with fans. I haven’t used this method before, so I can’t speak to it, but it exists (if you have info on it, let me know).

 

Use Livestream/UStream chats

If you have video capabilities, sites like UStream and Livestream are great for engaging in chats with readers. You can embed the live video stream into your site and allow comments via the sites’ built-in social stream functionality. A downside? You can’t moderate the comments.

 

Use Google+ Hangouts On Air

Google+ Hangouts are great, their original downside was that only 10 people could participate. Hangouts have recently gotten an upgrade thanks to the newish ability to broadcast the live chat using YouTube. If you’d like to try it, check out how the New York Times uses this tool.

To add in questions from viewers to this chat, you might opt to pair it with Google+ page comments, Twitter, Facebook and/or a liveblog entry to collect comments.

 

Live-curate a social media chat 

Using similar methods as I described above with live tweets, you could pull together a chat on- and off-site using Twitter or Facebook coupled with Twitter and/or Storify embeds. You might want to set up a special Twitter account just for live chats, as things could get a bit crazy for your followers.

If you only care to display the chat as it happens live, you could use a Twitter widget embed to show either a hashtag search or just the tweets of the newsroom chat Twitter account and those of the involved panelists.  That chat “host” could re-tweet questions from followers and, for those readers not on Twitter, could share questions sent in via on-site comments or email as tweets.

If you want a more curated experience (or you want to archive the chat), you could use Storify during or after the chat. To do this, you’ll need to set up and embed the Storify in advance. When the chat starts, you can start pulling in the tweeted questions, answers and comments within Storify. Hit “publish” often to send the updates to your site.

 

More:

Cbox is a social chat product that embeds into your site. You can customize the look and feel and it seems pretty intuitive at a first glance. There is a free ad-supported version with the choice to upgrade to an ad-free version.

Chatroll is another social chat plugin that has a nice look and works in HTML5 (mobile FTW). It allows users to log in with Twitter, Facebook or chat as a guest. (Hat tips to Jen Lee Reeves)

Sunlight Live is an open-sourced live tool created by Sunlight Labs. I don’t know much about it, so I’m gonna tell you to bug Joshua Hatch for more info, as he made this suggestion to me.

 

 

If you have a suggestion to add to this list, please share it in the comments or submit it here.

Posted in Community Engagement, How Tos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Growing Your Audience: Advice from Bloggers and Readers

I’m giving a workshop to the Digital Ninjas at the New Haven Register at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) today about engaging and growing blog audience. If you’d like to follow along when it starts, it’ll be online on Chris March’s blog.

I’ve been crowdsourcing some advice from the bloggers and blog readers in my social networks to include in today’s talk. Got something to add? Leave  comment or tweet me @mjenkins.

Advice for Bloggers: How to Grow Your Audience

Crowdsourced advice from the bloggers in my social networks as to how journalists could take their lead in growing their own audiences. Got suggestions? Tweet me at @mjenkins.

Storified by Mandy Jenkins · Tue, May 22 2012 10:52:45

@mjenkins @tiffany agreed. write good content and the readers will come. marketing your blog should always be secondary to good content.u street girl
@mjenkins write good shit that people want to read. so many blogs neglect this critical step. #curmudgeonTiffany Bridge
@mjenkins NIP SLIPS.Mike Byhoff
@mjenkins Scoops, interview interesting people w/large social followings, take great photos, meet other bloggers/journalists in person.Noah Chestnut

UPDATE: Slides from today’s presentation are after the jump.

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Posted in Community Engagement, Presentations | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are Facebook’s Social Reader Apps on the Decline – and Why?

The past couple of days have been a whirlwind of conversation between journalism thinkers over a reportedly huge drop in users for many news leaders’ Facebook social sharing apps in the month of April.

Some tech watchers and news app experts blame this drop in users’ fatigue with the “frictionless sharing” these apps encourage on Facebook – thus telling all your friends you read that HuffPost article about Kim Kardashian. On the other hand, many of those sites who are running these apps cite a recent rejiggering of how Facebook displays these social sharing results in the newsfeed for the decline.

As I’m still trying to wrap my head around how real these user numbers really are and exactly what could be behind them, all I can offer here is a look at my own ongoing research on the subject. Here’s the best articles dissecting this subject I’ver found so far (in reverse-chronological order). I hope this might help those of you who, like me, are just trying to keep up with What This All Means.

Posted in Facebook, Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kick It Old School: Engaging Your Community Through Live Chats

The live chat is, in a sense, the original social media – the Arthur Crudup to Twitter and Facebook’s Elvis Presley. I think I set up and conducted my first live chat in 2004, when I was a fledgling web producer at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The technology has evolved somewhat, but the idea remains the same: Get readers into a virtual room with reporters, experts and newsmakers to ask questions directly.

Back in the day, we used the earliest incarnations of CoveritLive to hold text-based chats with readers. Nowadays, newsrooms have a lot more options to do this, including Google+ Hangouts, UStream, Twitter chats, Facebook chats and enhanced text-based options via ScribbleLive and CoveritLive.

In my recent travels for Digital First, I’ve been teaching a little bit about liveblogging and chats – and learning a lot, too. In what I hope will become something of a regular thing here at ZJ, I’d like to highlight the work of some of my DFM colleagues and pass along best practices and how-tos for any other journalists who’d like to try out what they’re doing.

At the York Daily Record (in York, Pa., birthplace of the peppermint patty with the same name), business reporter Lauren Boyer has become a community fixture. While she’s active on social media, her best successes have come from a couple of older-school engagement tactics: Live chats and real-life meetups.

In early February, Lauren started organizing weekly CoveritLive chats with members of the community, beginning with a live chat with a local CPA firm to kick off tax season.

“This initial effort had only 30 live readers — but they posted A LOT of very specific questions about their income tax filings,” Lauren says. “This motivated me to keep it up, figuring the quality of the discussion — providing a public service to those few readers who tuned in — was more important at the beginning as people start to catch on.”

Lauren says a Valentine’s Day-themed chat featuring a local dating coach was the most engaged effort she’s seen so far. This particular edition had about 55 participants and was replayed nearly 200 times, making it one of the most-viewed stories on YDR.com.

Just last week, one of Lauren’s YDR colleagues, Sean Adkins, shared a particularly notable success story.  Following a live chat with a local staffing firm, a local reader sent in her resume and was later offered a job earning $40K (now that’s community service!).

There are probably many opportunities for your newsroom to take advantage of free or inexpensive live chat tools. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • If a reporter has a big investigation or enterprise story published that got people talking, hold a chat with that reporter and/or some of the newsmakers involved in the story.
  • Hold regular chats with your reporters and columnists. When I worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer, we had chats almost daily with a staff member. From the TV writer to the food critic and the various sports reporters, all of these chats were on a regular schedule and usually got a lot of participation.
  • Open up a chat for your readers and staff to dish live during the big game/debate/local event.
  • Hold chats with experts in your community on topics of interest like taxes, health care, pet care, gardening, relationship advice, cooking, etc
  • Invite one or more local bloggers to participate in a chat about local issues or their blogging subjects.

Here are a few more ideas from CoveritLive.

 

More:

Live Chat Best Practices

Step-by-Step Directions to Setting Up A CoveritLive Chat

Matt Thompson’s tips on using CoveritLive for liveblogging and chats

 

This may be an old hat to some of you (much like the phrase “old hat”), so please share your experiences with live chats in the comments area. What tools do you use for your chats? What topics and people have worked best for you? What best practices could you share?

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Posted in Community Engagement | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments