Archive | April, 2012

Social Media Report

19 Apr

To promote my topics blog, I relied mainly on the tagging capabilities of Tumblr. What’s great about tags is that they allow bloggers to include their posts in a collection of other posts within the same topic. So when I posted about the band Hanson, I tagged the post so fans and other people browsing the Hanson tag could read, share and comment on it. This strategy worked well: Through tagging, my posts gained “likes” and “reblogs” on Tumblr, and my blog also gained a few followers over time.

I used Tumblr to connect with people before creating my posts, too. For example, before I wrote a post about Third Eye Blind, I reached out to fans of the band via Tumblr tags to ask them what they would include in a brief post that gave an overview of their favorite band. I got several helpful responses from people and a few followers from these kinds of posts alone.

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I used Facebook to advertise my posts as well, but I knew that there I would only be sharing among friends because of my privacy settings. Keeping that in mind, I only advertised the posts I knew would interest my friends so as not to flood anyone’s newsfeed. This strategy seemed to work, too: I got some good responses from friends and family. The downside of using my personal Facebook was that I couldn’t connect to a larger community than the people I’m friends with, but that’s why I didn’t use Facebook alone.

I think the most valuable thing about using social media to promote something like a blog is how easy it is for posts to go viral. Through Tumblr’s reblog function, for example, posts can be seen by hundreds of people, even if only a few reblog them, because of how the site is set up. If one person with 1,000 followers reblogs my posts, it’s possible I’ve reached at least 1,000 people without having that many followers of my own. Though none of my posts went viral, I generally saw an increased number of “likes” on my posts as time went on and people began to share them.

Social media is kind of like word-of-mouth for the Internet. Its advantages lie in the opportunity it gives people to talk with other people – strangers or not – about what they like and why they like it. If you’re well-spoken, entertaining and generally informative when using almost any kind of social media, people will respond to you, as long as you’ve made an effort to reach them through tagging or other kinds of promotion. 

Specialization, user experience important considerations for digital media

18 Apr

Digital media is all about choice. For example, you can choose to read news in an app on a smartphone or a Web browser on a laptop. You could also listen to it in a podcast. The point is, it’s up to you — which is why it’s important for journalists using digital media to connect with audiences understand that it’s not just about the content they produce; it’s also about how users get to that content.

Journalist and computer scientist Jonathan Stray says  journalism’s product should be more than the content of stories, which is a notion that deviates from many popular ideas that center on establishing whole new forms of writing for digital media. While he still strongly advocates new writing styles for the Web and practices such as adding in-text links to stories, Stray argues that the goal of journalism should be agency, not just information dissemination. He says it should endeavor to distribute niche-specific information to people who can use it to “change the world” the way they see fit. Instead of just publishing information journalists think “everyone” should know, Stray says journalists should find ways to deliver content to specific groups of people who will find that information most useful. But they should keep in mind how that information is going to get to people. They should understand why some users choose to consume media via smartphone app and some favor TV: Journalists’ intent should be to make those choices worth users’ while.

I think looking at digital journalism as a way to work with people instead of talking at them, so to speak, is a good way to approach many platforms already in place. Catering to the user’s experience, as Stray says, can be helpful in a way that publishing general information to mass audiences isn’t. If the goal is giving people the tools they need to receive (and put out their own) information, then digital journalism could become a new way of empowering the masses.

But in order to promote user agency, journalists must commit to keeping up with as many platforms as possible. The idea of the “total journalist,” as BBC’s Robert Peston puts it, is at once inspiring and exhausting. Considering all the different kinds of media Peston interacts with in a day is overwhelming: He contributes to more than 20 media programs on radio and TV each day, all while keeping up with a blog that he updates frequently. This kind of frenetic connected-ness may seem daunting now, but being a “total journalist” could give an edge to digital journalists that those in print and broadcast can never have: the option to specialize information to specific groups. Benefits of specialization could come in the form of  increased readership and more advertising revenue. Time will tell if such fragmentation will catch on, but in a world of unlimited choices, the more specific that information is, the more likely it may be to attract an audience.

Case Study 10: Wordle

18 Apr

My friends and I used to use word-cloud-creator Wordle to make 8.5-by-11-inch art for our dorm room walls. Now, journalists can use the tool to pinpoint frequently referred-to topics over time by putting a series of texts, such as successive States of the Union addresses, into the cloud creator. While Wordle still provides the option to spice up the words by playing with colors, fonts and text orientation, the idea behind it — categorizing words by size — is helpful in discerning main ideas of texts quickly. 

For example, in President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address, the words “Americans,” “jobs” and “people” stand out in the biggest fonts, meaning they were mentioned most frequently. In 2011, topics didn’t change much, but a notable addition was the word “new,” which appeared frequently enough to become one of the largest words in the cloud. A reason for the change could be a shift in policy change for Obama: He was trying to push forward new legislation, such as the health care act, and his focus was on the future. The president’s most recent State of the Union, which he gave in January, adds “energy” and “right” to the mix, perhaps indicating a focus-shift toward energy policies and frequent mention of the president’s ongoing battle with “the right.”

Without reading the full texts of each address, it is possible to discern their major themes by looking at a Wordle word cloud. The tool can save journalists time if all they’re looking for is an overview of topics; Wordle is not a statistically sound or expert-proven model for discovering trends, but it can be useful as a jumping-off point for stories that compare political addresses or even multiple stories about ongoing criminal trials or community issues. 

I think Wordle could also be useful to bloggers who want to check their own sites for frequent topics. If they want to figure out why they gained more “followers” during a certain period of time, for example, they can enter their URL in Wordle and find out if a dramatic topic-shift is the cause. If so, bloggers can orient their blogs toward topics they know their readers care about without going back through months of posts.

Social media must be personal to be effective

6 Apr

One of the greatest benefits of social media is its ability to personalize news. Telling stories in first-person, as bloggers often do, can help writers establish personas their readers can become attached to and recognize as that writer’s shtick or “brand.” Personality is an important part of social media, and it’s easy to establish a rapport with readers by making personal posts or interacting with them via comments and messages.

News organizations that are trying to stifle that connection, such as E.W. Scrippsjust don’t get how social media is supposed to work. Personality makes social media effective. People like hearing from other people, not faceless corporations. On my Facebook news feed, for example, people read stories on the Washington Post Social Reader app and then share them so the articles show up on my news feed. I’m more likely to click on these links that my friends recommend than random links to stories recommended by faceless, voiceless news blogs because I’m familiar with my friends’ tastes and trust their judgment. The same goes for bloggers who establish a rapport with readers: The more readers feel connected to a writer, the more likely they are to take their opinions and recommendations to heart.

While there is room to debate what should constitute the difference between personal and professional use of social media, when it comes to online journalism, personality is what’s going to sell it. I’ve noticed that well-known news sources that have Tumblrs often get positive feedback when their staffs decide to reblog pictures of kittens or leave comments snarky comments on a post. I came across a post yesterday, for example, that was an infographic about what the average American household bought in December 2011. the Newsweek Tumblr reblogged it and added, “Dear average Americans, please spend more on books, magazines and newspapers and less on alcohol. Your friend, Newsweek.” (The infographic showed that alcohol accounted for 0.9 percent of money spent while books, magazines and newspapers accounted for only 0.2 percent.)

Readers are more involved with the news process than ever as reporting becomes a collaborative process, and reporters reach out to readers via crowdsourcing and hashtags on Twitter. To get the conversation going, however, it’s good for journalists to be able to be candid and accessible. They are more likely to get a response by inviting comments and feedback than by keeping the conversation one-sided. Social media can also let the audience speak first. Browsing Twitter trending topics and sparing more than a passing glance to your Facebook news feed can unearth trends and dig up leads to stories people care about and bring to light issues you may have no been aware of. Understanding your audience and speaking your readers’ language is essential.

Google Trends and Google Correlate

Google Trends and Correlate are two examples of how the Internet has made research ridiculously simple. Just by entering a word in a search bar, years of data are simplified into a chart like the ones above and catered to your needs. The examples I chose were just for fun, but they nonetheless show the practicality of the tools.

The first chart shows how often actor Darren Criss’ name has been Googled in the last couple years. It is interesting to see what Google came up with for Criss, whose claim to fame was starring in a musical Harry Potter parody that went viral on YouTube before he landed a role on “Glee”: The trends directly relate to his exposure to the public eye. For the summer of 2010, when the Potter musical was becoming a hit, the numbers are modest, but when rumors of Criss’ casting on “Glee” begin to circulate, they jump. The trend peaks the day after Criss’ debut episode of “Glee” aired, and Google helpfully provides links to articles that surfaced around that time to explain the cause for the peaks in trending.

Google Correlate is great for searching for an initial relationship between two search terms. Correlation, as we know, does not equal causation, but if two terms are Googled together often enough, there may be a story idea buried in the data. I chose to enter “Harry Potter” into Google Correlate to see what it came up with, and, unsurprisingly, “muggle” was on the list. The chart shows that the search history for the terms is similar, but interestingly, there are small peaks where one is searched far more than the other. Correlate could be used to show the relationship between two concepts, ideas or events, but more research would need to be conducted before conclusions could be reached about causation.

 

Media Ride-Along: ChicagoTalks.org

5 Apr

ChicagoTalks.org is a nonprofit community news site. Affiliated with Columbia College Chicago, CT is built on citizen and student journalism, reporting on issues around Chicago.

Barbara Iverson, the site’s co-founder and co-publisher, started ChicagoTalks in 2006 after working on the English version of OhmyNews, a Korean news site that allowed people to register and submit stories for publication.

Iverson got funding from Knight’s J-Lab and help from Columbia College professor Suzanne McBride. Six years after its launch, ChicagoTalks continues to publish the work of many community members and Columbia College students and faculty.

Iverson said in an email that the college’s journalism students generally publish at least one story per semester, while graduate students publish at least four stories per semester. Submission is open to anyone, though, and stories frequently come from nonprofit groups in the area.

To ensure the quality of published work, teachers edit student work and select particularly good stories to submit to ChicagoTalks. Editors look at all stories before they are published to the site, verifying information with writers by phone or online. The student editor is the only paid employee.

“We don’t pay our contributors, but we use a Creative Commons license and everyone gets attribution for their work and retains all rights,” Iverson said.

ChicagoTalks is funded by donations. On the site, visitors can donate via the Kachingle service. In the fall, the site will work with a class at Columbia College called Virtual Newsroom in which students will study search engine optimization and CT’s metrics in order to experiment with advertising and revenue models Iverson has been considering.

SEO is important to ChicagoTalks, but Iverson emphasized the value of solid newsgathering in light of the site’s “hyperlocal” focus.

“We will publish stories if we think that someone in the community will benefit,” Iverson said. “However, (the site’s student reporters) understand that their reputation is tied to stories they publish.”

To market itself, ChicagoTalks shares links to similar sites and asks those sites to “share back.” Students who work on the site are taught to use social networks to advertise stories. CT cross-publishes with other local sites, such as the Beachwood Reporter, and it worked with the Chicago News Cooperative before CNC folded. One of the site’s stories was even published in the New York Times.

Because trends point to mobile devices and tablets taking over as the “method of choice” for consuming journalism, Iverson said ChicagoTalks will continue distributing content without a print component. CT routinely adds video, audio and Storify pieces to its stories.

ChicagoTalks is one of the only organizations of its kind in Chicago, so it doesn’t have much competition. Iverson has been able to pursue a growth strategy at her leisure. Her latest project is a collaboration with a DePaul University reporting class, which will contribute to the site in the same way Columbia College students do.

Storify post

4 Apr

Newsroom Overshare

News organizations should be ready to do what it takes to keep up with new media

4 Apr

It seems that the mantra newsrooms should be adopting these days is “adapt or die.” Evidence abounds that journalism + social media = more stories and more readers. For traditional print media to ignore these benefits is potentially fatal: Editors who haven’t caught on to the necessity of an online presence for their publications should spend less time counting column inches and more time on Google. You can bet their competition will be the first to pop up in the search results.

But once the content reaches the Web, how should it stay relevant? Using new media can mean testing strategies, such as aggregation, that challenge the values of traditional media. For example, can you always assume you have the answers your readers are looking for — as print media traditionally has done — or should you be the 34th Street Santa Clauses sending customers down the block to the guys who’ve got the goods? In Internet terms, this is the strategy behind linking and aggregation. Linking to a competitor may seem insane to journalists who have been in the business for decades, but when you know some guy’s done it better than you can, write up a quick post and link to his story. He may return the favor one day — and that’s what the sharing system of social media is all about. 

In a few years, there may be no more room in journalism for the so-called institutions that won’t adapt. In the old vs. new media debate, the news organizations willing to embrace Twitter feeds, crowdsourcing and real-time reporting in addition to the tried-and-true print methods are the ones with the fighting chance. Staying print-only will only limit readers’ choices. 

News organizations are no longer in charge of deciding where and how people get their news. These days, people are more likely to hear about breaking news from a friend’s tweet or Facebook status update than from glancing at the front page of The New York Times on a newsstand. Figuring out how to stay on readers’ radar as a source for up-to-the-instant news is essential to competing in the new-media world.

The words of caution for new media come in the form of practicality: How is new media sustainable? New York University professor Clay Shirky says, “News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free.” He argues that new institutions can arise from these new-media methods, but they may be unrecognizable. The crisis of news is now, he says, and people should be figuring out how to adapt for the future instead of willing the public to get back to the way things were.