Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Month: October 2009 Page 1 of 2

Facebook friends: Please stop spamming me

Whatever happened to Facebook friends actually being friends?

At one point not all that long ago, my Facebook friends were all people who I may not have considered “friends” in real life, but they at least knew me in some fashion. Whether we worked together at a past paper or went on the same school at some point, we had some binding life experience that brought us together on the social network. At the very least, we’ve met at least once – or maybe we follow one another on Twitter.

Lately, my Facebook friends are making me feel like just another number – even the ones who I consider real friends in the “real life network”.

A great deal of them are marketers – by profession, hobby or as a transitional job following a journalism layoff. Somehow, this means our Facebook friendship is little more than that of a spammer to spamee these days.

Every single day a Facebook friend of mine suggests I fan some client or employer of theirs. It used to be, I’d get fan suggestions about bands we both loved in school or groups based around inside jokes from “Arrested Development”.

Now, those same friends are asking me to fan companies I would have no obvious interest in (like Mommy sites), that are way out of my geographic area and aren’t even meant for people in my field (like political groups).

These former friends likely got their jobs based on their number of Facebook friends – and they spam each and every one of us with these stupid invites. I must have missed the marketing conference where they instructed everyone to sell their high school classmates, college friends and family members to anyone who shows them the money.

Social networking is supposed to be about connecting with old friends and making new ones. It can involve marketing products, but it takes individualized recommendations to be anything but spam.

I tolerate a lot from my Facebook friends – borderline-pornographic pregnancy photos, updates from parties I wasn’t invited to and constantly-shifting relationship statuses – but I won’t tolerate spam anymore. I’m going to start unfriending anyone who uses me to spam for their employers and clients. That’s not why I joined Facebook.

Marketing friends, I offer you an easy solution: Take ten minutes to set up friends groups in Facebook.

Go to Friends in the top menu of your Facebook home page and click on All Friends. On that page, click Create New List. Why don’t you be honest and name it the spam list? Look over your friends and select those to whom you actually want to market your product or business. Make sure your mom, your friend who now lives across the country and I are not on it.

Now when you send messages or invites, you can type in the name of that list and send it just to those people.

And finally, if you can’t make this decision about who to spam and who not to spam, maybe you shouldn’t be on Facebook at all. At the very least, you should do your real friends and family a favor and remove  all of them from your lists. You aren’t a real friend, anyway.

Confessional: Shameless page view ploys

Lest anyone think I’m casting stones without acknowledging my own sins, I decided to share a list of the shameless ploys I’ve used to get page views for my employers and blogs. What I’ve listed is hardly out of the ordinary for any website, but I still feel bad about it sometimes.

If I could go back to when I was in journalism school and share the following information with 2001 Mandy, she’d probably change majors. I won’t say when these stunts were done or who I worked for at the time – but it’s happened. I’ll repent for my sins someday.

Feel free to add your own or others you’ve seen in the comments.

Mandy’s Most Shameless Page View Ploys

  1. Built a photo gallery when a story would have better served the subject matter
  2. Changed the headline and summary to reflect something far more exciting/scandalous than the story’s subject.
  3. Published an online story that only has a paragraph of text and a link to a competitor’s story.
  4. Given premiere position to outrageous crime stories even though news judgment did not warrant it.
  5. Published link bait from the AP and other services even though it was out of our coverage area.
  6. Submitted news content to Digg and Fark before waiting for others to submit it.
  7. Picked the sexiest girl out of a photo gallery to feature for a gallery in a prominent news spot.
  8. Prominently featured crime stories/pet stories/disaster stories on the site long past their expiration date to keep getting page views.
  9. Linked together completely unrelated stories to draw views to unpopular content.
  10. Published content that is indistinguishable from advertising/press releases simply because it will get traffic.

More takes on web analytics for news

Aside from the past couple of rants about web analytics, here are a few other takes on the issue from bigger thinkers than me:

The Online Journalism review takes a look at all of the possible web analytics out there to explain what is what – and what could possibly be the best measure for engagement. One they don’t discuss much is time on site – which I think is one of the best true measures of engagement on a piece-by-piece basis.

On the flip side, the Nieman Lab says that web analytics make us as an industry overexaggerate the importance of the online audience compared to the print audience. I don’t really agree with the methodology, but it certainly makes a case for print getting more money from advertisers.

EConsultancy – a marketing blog of all places – calls out some of the worst ways to drive page views in a page view driven  market. This includes pagination, slideshows (Forbes, we’re looking at you) and self-linking.

Master New Media asks if web designers should optimize sites for page views or user experience. f course, we’d love to tell you you can have your cake and eat it too, but after doing a redesign on Cincinnati.Com last year, I’ve seen the beast – and it isn’t friendly to readers.

Do page views make us biased?

Aside from my little rant abut page views yesterday, there are far more reasons to seek another way to engage online audiences for the good of the overall product.

Eat Sleep Publish really lays out a great case against page view-driven news value. The author, Jason Preston,  suggests page view goals create a conflict of interest for news managers. As a daily online news manager for a metro news site, I can see where he’s coming from.

He notes that the overall value of a story to many news organization lies in how many page views it receives online. When everyone’s competing to not be the next laid off, it’s only natural for a reporter to write in such a way to get page views or for an editor to arrange placement for a story based on how many page views they think it might get (as opposed to its actual news value). The latter, I’ll admit, happens all of the time.

Does this make us, the newsroom types, in the employ of advertisers? Sure, we may not know who they are exactly – but does it represent a bias to push for them to make more off of ad impressions? Very intriguing food for thought. I’d be interested in hearing more opinions on this, people.

Can we forget about page views?

Working on the online side of daily newspapers for a little more than five years now, I’ve come to measure all manner of worth in terms of the almighty page view. That elusive metric is used to determine what stories are the “best” by newspaper execs everywhere – and it leads people like me to have our value to the company measured in daily traffic numbers (coming soon to therapist’s couch near you).

Of course, we use this measurement because it’s the only way we really know how to measure ad cpm. This method is about the closest we have to the way we measured advertising value in newspapers for generations, so we just stuck with it. Each reload or link-click is measured an an impression – even if it didn’t make an impression at all.

We as an industry need to rid ourselves of this antiquated view of internet value. Page views are a metric that means very little when you get right down to it. It doesn’t measure anyone’s engagement on a page, or even how many sets of eyeballs have scanned the headline. All it tells you is that someone clicked a link to this page or refreshed it on their screen. They might not have even scanned the page.

Call me crazy, but I say we need to move away from the almighty page view just to get back to the core of our business. We know news doesn’t make an impact by merely being spotted, it needs to be read (at least a little). If we really care about engaging our audience, we should measure actual engagement (in time on site) or at least the true number of visitors (unique users).

Why pat ourselves on the back for receiving hundreds of thousands of page views from 200 people who have loaded a webcam that auto-refreshes every 10-15 seconds? Is that engagement? Are they even really watching it at all?

More importantly, does anyone even care?

Recommended reading on start-ups, tech & social media

I’ve been all over the place with my reading of late. Here’s a few notable bits I wanted to pass on before this week really jumps off.

Journalists should fight for the rights of bloggers

That’s right, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Lots of journalists, bloggers and others who work to uncover the truth have been excited at the prospect of Congress finally passing a federal shield bill to prevent reporters from being forced to testify as to the identities of confidential sources. When it came out last week that the Senate version of the federal shield bill would exclude unpaid bloggers and citizen journalists, the enthusiasm was dampened (for some of us).

The Senate version of the bill limits the law’s protection to a very strict definition of a journalist. It would only apply to paid employees or contractors who work for publishers of various media and wire services. The House version, in contract, only limits the law to those who gather news “for a substantial portion of [their] livelihood or for substantial financial gain”.

The good folks at the Citizen Media Law Project suggest this exclusion is due to most senators’ unfamiliarity with citizen journalists. I daresay it also has to do with the fact that citizen journalists and bloggers are not going to get the backing of the big journalism organizations pushing the law in the first place. A lot of big media, I’d expect, would love to have exclusive protections to prevent bloggers and citizen journalists from scooping them on whistleblower-type stories.

In my opinion, the change seems to go against the entire premise for the law in the first place – and we should all be upset about it. To hell with competition from bloggers and unpaid journalists – we need all the watchdogs we can get as the numbers of professional journalists deplete.

Moreover, any professional journalist who agrees that the change should exclude unpaid bloggers should consider that most of us are one layoff away from becoming “unpaid journalists” ourselves. Consider those ex-newspaper employees out there starting their own operations from scratch…don’t your former colleagues deserve the same protection? Doesn’t anyone who’s uncovering the truth?

Aside from the limits of the protection, the White House is trying to push through changes that would make it so the shield does not apply in cases where the confidential source leaks information pertaining to national security. Stay tuned on that front – it just might have legs (or kill the bill altogether).

Blog Archive: Seen and Heard

Probably my favorite project, Seen and Heard was a popular blog on local people-watching on JSOnline from 2005 to 2007. In addition to my usual work duties, I wrote this first person narrative blog as a labor of love. Even though the JS site did not yet have blog technology that could support commenting, I got a tremendous amount of email every day in response to my posts.

It is no longer featured on the JS site following their redesign last year, but I have an archive link here that will need to do until I can archive it elsewhere for myself.

Seen and Heard Screenshot

Radio Feature: ‘Green Bean Casserole’

Although I was a regular producer for WKSU, my own voice very rarely actually appeared on the radio. Lucky for me, during the holidays I had more opportunity to get a piece of my own on the air. When the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in Akron, OH (in our coverage area) announced it would be inducting the inventor of the recipe for green bean casserole in November of 2003, I jumped at the chance to record a holiday feature.

I conducted the interviews, recorded the on-scene and studio audio and produced the entire piece in Cool Edit Pro.

This final product aired on Thanksgiving Day, 2003:

Green Bean Casserole

Daily news podcasts

I spear-headed the start of the Journal Sentinel‘s daily news podcast in 2006. It started with me or another member of the online staff writing, voicing and producing the podcast in Sound Edit Pro each night, but eventually I trained several copy editors to join in a daily rotation for podcasting.

Here are a couple of podcasts I voiced and produced myself during that time. Once I get the stupid Flash player to actually work on this site, I’ll have a pretty audio player to play them here.

Here’s one from February 6, 2007 and one from March 1, 2007.

Who got a say in WaPo’s social media policy?

Even aside from the Washington Post’s social media policy itself, the method of its distribution and construction is cause for concern.

As Steve Buttry notes, the organization shouldn’t have started with a closed policy decree, it should have started with internal conversations with staff about social media. The senior editor has been working on the policy without input from the newsroom or digital staff since May – and only told them about it the same day it was released.

Was there any talk with tenured Twitterati about the benefits they have of using Twitter in sourcing and story development? Did anyone consult with the ombudsman about the possibilities of using social media to address reader complaints and questions? Did anyone in the WaPo newsroom ever even get training or guidance of any kind on this issue in the months preceding the policy’s release? It doesn’t seem like it.

At my paper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, we have been lucky enough to have several open staff conversations about social media ethics and legalities. Our lawyer even came in for a session on the legal implications of using the likes of Twitter and Facebook, which was a huge help for those of us who train staffers in using the technology (yeah, that’s right, we have training).  Our editor is very open about his feelings on the technology (he’s in love with it) and encourages its use amongst reporters. We don’t have a policy, per se, but at least everyone talks about it.

WaPo, of all places, needs a lesson in transparency

Last Friday, the Washington Post internally released a social media policy for its staff that has had the news world buzzing. While it isn’t big news to release such a policy (many other papers have them too), for a paper with a reputation like that of the WaPo, you’d expect something a little less down on social networking. The policy applies to personal and professional accounts and has more than enough eyebrow-raising ‘dont’s’ that are sure to scare any staffer away from the social web. It already has.

To be fair, a great deal of the policy does focus on ethical issues most news staffs should have cleared up, such as remembering you’re always a journalist online and must follow the ethics of the profession even in social media and that anything online is public, even if you think it isn’t. The problem is, it also features a lot of warnings that seem to go against the very reason most journalists sign up in the first place.

Take the following gem:

Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting.

The very first thing I ever encourage reporters to do when they join Facebook or Twitter is to follow or friend the groups and individual sources they cover. They should be seeing what their sources are putting out there and use that medium to further interact as reporters. That’s the whole point – conversation, right? The policy does say they can do this with special permission and all that, but if WaPo reporters are anything like the nice people I work with every day, they’re going to drop all of their sourcing associations online immediately.

Another scary point of the policy is that it specifically says staff should tweet or otherwise communicate about internal newsroom issues or its company’s business decisions and they are forbidden from addressing any criticism of the organization. As Paid Content points out, that sort of policy would have prevented the mini-scandal over the WaPo’s paid schmooze events proposed by its publisher earlier this year – and it essentially makes transparency of the organization a punishable offense.

It’s transparency that is really what has been outlawed here – and that should concern journalists and consumers alike. In the age of social media, transparency is the new objectivity in a lot of ways (maybe eventually in entirety) – so why shut down the main avenue reporters have to show their work?

As the Posts’s tech writer Rob Pegoraro notes, reporters don’t just use Twitter to look cool, they use it as a public notebook to benefit readers and the organization at large. Without social media, he can’t easily answer a reader’s question in a public manner, provide links to related content or give readers a sense of who he is as a reporter in order to earn their trust.

I hope the WaPo eases up on this policy in the wake of the internal and external backlash. It’s really for the good of the entire industry following their lead that they sit down and consider how much they stand to lose from closing their doors to the outside world.

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