Archive | March, 2012
28 Mar

Case Study 8

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Putting digital news first can help publications stay competitive

28 Mar

Keeping publications competitive these days means putting as much content online as possible. Potential readers are only a Google search away, but they have to be “wooed”: Why should they visit your site as opposed to someone else’s?

Attracting readers is the goal of many online publications, and making sure the content your publication is producing is what readers want is very important. So why not have them chime in and write exactly what they ask for? If getting pre-publication feedback on a story idea means losing an exclusive, the payoff has to be long-term. The question must be: If by allowing readers to shape the stories we can ensure they will be interested in our content, isn’t it more important to keep a loyal, enthusiastic and involved readership than to beat the newspapers to a story?

A major downside of this method, I think, is the extra time it takes to listen to all these other people weigh in on stories. Getting reader commentary may save reporters some work (finding sources for stories would probably be a lot easier, for example), but the time it would take to weigh the commentary and chose from the dozens of perspectives offered could be overwhelming if the story is large.

On the other hand, tools such as Twitter and blog sites make submitting stories to news sources unnecessary. If someone who is not a journalist witnesses an event, feels like he or she has enough information to report accurately on it and decides to share it to the world via social media, that person has the power to do so. It may be more practical to forward the information to a news source in order to get the story out to more people, but that doesn’t have to be the first step.

The fact is, news is distributed faster and, generally, more efficiently online, so digital news should be the top priority of news organizations if they want to be competitive. However, just because the content comes out online does not mean it should drastically differ from print versions. Digital and print versions of publications should be of the same quality; one should not outshine the other. Sports Illustrated, for example, does not have a “digital department” and instead has the same group of people producing content for digital and print versions of the magazine. Having the same group of people working on all formats of publication ensures consistency in quality, brand and voice.

The Atlantic has been able to revolutionize its role in modern journalism by placing emphasis on its digital component instead of print. The magazine’s editors say its “platform for voices” that defines its style is better suited to the Web, where “strong individual voices get heard.” Readers may not be regular subscribers to the magazine, for example, and may only stumble across it via a search engine; in this sense, the Atlantic is well-suited to attracting a variety of readers by posting content that will bring in niches of new readers.

Online publishing allows writers to think about how to reach niche audiences. With so many potential readers on the Web, writers don’t need to worry as much about producing stories that appeal to broad audiences. In fact, putting out short, pithy stories that appeal only to certain audience may be to their advantage: Many people now personalize the news they read, meaning they streamline what they read online and only seek out what interests them. Promoting these smaller-audience stories via social media can attract audiences that print versions just can’t reach.

Putting online content first allows publications to stay up-to-the-minute instead of changing only day-to-day, and catering to readers — at least to some extent — can help draw traffic that could benefit print sales in the long run by building loyal audiences.

Storify Review

23 Mar

I think Charles Arthur’s story “O HAI SEXISM” is a great example of the Web-friendly format of storytelling via Storify. In addition to its provocative headline (which is what made me read it in the first place — using Internet-speak shows Arthur knows who his audience is), the story is organized in a way that’s really easy to follow. Arthur uses the entire conversation, which took place in @ replies, and he does a good job of letting the tweets speak for themselves in small portions and then following up with clarifying text. He also periodically sums up the events of the story up to that point, making sure readers are following what exactly is going on.

Interestingly, Arthur doesn’t attempt to report the story objectively. He’s reacting along with his readers: At many points in the story, I found myself rolling my eyes or actually saying, “WHAT?” aloud, and sure enough, particularly inflammatory tweets were followed up by Arthur’s commentary, articulating some of my feelings on the discussion. I appreciated being able to read the entire exchange, which allowed me to form my own opinions about what was going on, but reading them in the context of Arthur’s commentary no doubt made the story more accessible when I didn’t understand a term used or a situation that was alluded to.

Twitter still a great tool for journalists, as long as accuracy is checked

21 Mar

Social media have given amplifiers to the voices of the world more than any tool that’s come before. Twitter is the epitome of that effect: A constant stream of short bursts of information and anecdotes flows from Twitter into the Web’s collective consciousness, allowing anyone at anytime to access the thoughts and ideas of people across the world. Journalists have several choices when using Twitter, and almost all of them seem like good ideas (and many, in fact, are) at the outset. It may be the case, however, that Twitter creates extra work for journalists rather than simplifying their jobs.

Twitter is one of the best ways journalists can get feedback and story ideas from sources and readers in real time. Using Twitter for crowdsourcing is popular among many media outlets; almost all major news sources ask their audiences to supply information when breaking news happens. The question is, however, how can news media trust the information they gather from the masses? How do they verify claims made by so-called men-on-the-street when citizen sources are the only sources for news? Not all of them do, it seems, as has been verified by numerous high-profile screw-ups by major news organizations, such as CBSSports.com’s Paterno mishap

The fact is, Twitter is a newswire for journalists and readers alike. We rely a lot on our peers — more so than on major news outlets, in some ways — to keep us abreast of what’s happening in our communities. The “real person” feel of Twitter, meaning it’s comprised mostly of people sharing their thoughts and feelings in addition to information, is a big draw for many people because it plays up the social aspect of sharing information, much like co-workers meeting up at the water cooler  for a midday debriefing. 

Some argue that the more people who use Twitter, the better: There will be a higher chance to access accurate information when it can be confirmed by multiple sources. Confirming beyond that still seems to be an issue; it seems Twitter is most effective in gleaning information about breaking news in its early stages. For journalists, one of the most powerful ways Twitter can be used is to gauge readers’ reaction to events and stories. To get a quick comment from a source, journalists need only tweet a question, assign it an appropriate hashtag and let the “Twittosphere” work its magic. Journalists can also assign Twitters they follow to different lists, dividing them by political affiliation or type of organization, perhaps, in order to streamline newsfeeds for easy access to an overview of opinions. 

Twitter’s usefulness and potential in journalism seems to have grown exponentially in only the last couple years, and it doesn’t seem to be showing signs of weakness. If anything, microblogging seems to be growing in popularity, and the general consensus among savvy journalists is if you’re not on Twitter, you’ve already missed the boat. How journalists and their employers will continue to adjust to its capabilities and penchant for speed over accuracy remains to be seen.

Twitter Story

21 Mar

Here’s a brief conversation I overheard in the Alligator’s newsroom tonight. I really can’t make this up: https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/agtrovershare.

Twitter and Breaking News

21 Mar

What I find most baffling about this case is that the BBC and RTE stories are almost completely factually different. One says 47 people were injured, the other says 64. One says one person was killed, the other says two. If I were trying to follow this story as it was happening and discern what exactly was going on, I would be clueless.

It seems that one organization has tried to check facts as best it can with officials, and one has simply relied on Twitter followers to share what they think they know about the situation.

@BBCBreakingNews was using Twitter to crowdsource for information pertaining to the incident. Because the information about the grenade-throwing appeared after a tweet was posted asking for followers to share what they know, it is reasonable to assume the BBC Twitter got many responses and put them together, resulting in a vague tweet about explosives being thrown with at least one person dead. It is unclear how or if the people in charge of the BBC Twitter checked out the claims made by their followers with sources beyond media. However, that does not seem to matter to the number of people who retweeted the initial post immediately, seeming to not question the legitimacy of the claim.

RTE seems to have made an attempt to verify the claims, citing police as sources in its article. The article published at the BBC cites only witnesses, media and TV images.

I think that because BBC is a widely known, well-respected news source, people are less likely to question the legitimacy of the information it puts out, even if it does not cite official sources. While crowdsourcing can be a useful tool in breaking-news situations, it cannot always be relied upon for accurate information. What it is best used for, I think, is getting a quick, rough picture of a situation before official reports come in.

Case Study 7: Live-tweeting

18 Mar

I’ve never thought about live-tweeting a conversation I’ve happened to overhear. But I have thought about sharing such a conversation later on with friends; in fact, I’m sure I’ve done so on more than one occasion.

I find the case of Andy Boyle’s scrupulous documentation of the breakup of strangers amusing more than anything else. It’s really not that different than overhearing an a funny conversation and repeating it later to friends. The couple was in a public place having a loud discussion, and when that happens, are people just supposed to cover their ears? Pretend they can’t hear and understand what’s going on? Maybe. But not everyone thinks like that, and clearly, Andy Boyle doesn’t. He saw an opportunity to capture true-to-life absurdity and ran with it. He knew his followers would find this encounter amusing, so he shared it. He just happened to do it in real time. 

The question of ethics, for me, lies in whether he should have tweeted the photos and audio of the couple without consulting them. I still think he’s within his rights to take the photos and audio because the couple is in public, but I don’t think he should have. The story is told in such a way that he doesn’t really need that kind of evidence to back it up, anyway; I could see the situation unfolding in my head just fine. Besides, I think it’s more interesting when the couple remains anonymous. People can apply their own ideas about who they think these people are.