Storify post

4 Apr

Newsroom Overshare

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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. 

Journalists and Facebook: Keep it personal

4 Apr

Journalists and Facebook are a near-perfect match. It’s a dream come true for finding sources: People are willing to share all kinds of information about themselves for free on a site that can be accessed anywhere in the world at any time of day. They can be reached by personal message or public post. They are likely to spell their own names correctly, so fact-checking is made that much easier. But Facebook also provides tools and opportunities to engage people that other social networks haven’t quite caught up to.

Asking questions and inviting people to share opinions can be a great way for journalists to engage their Facebook friends and get people talking. With the responses, journalists can get a feel for how people feel about certain topics — the key here, however, is having a diverse “friends list.” “Friending” people in the community can make it easier to put a finger on issues they care about, and journalists can come up with story ideas based on responses to simple questions such as, “What’s the No. 1 thing you wish your city commissioners would pay attention to?”

Tools, such as the Journalists on Facebook page, allow journalists to cater the site to their needs. By pooling resources and sharing tips, journalists can create a community of information that can be shared in seconds. The Subscribe tool, which allows users to subscribe to a person’s news feed without actually friending them, can be useful to journalists and readers alike: With it, readers can get journalists’ updates and links to stories, but journalists don’t have to worry about the implications of friending potential sources.

I’ve promoted by personal blog with status updates that include links to my blog, which I have on two sites: Tumblr and WordPress. In the updates, I keep my tone casual and make sure my voice comes through; after all, when I post a status update, I know I’m reaching my friends and family. It would be strange if I were suddenly formal (“Please take a moment to visit my blog, which can be found here…”), so I kept it light (“You’ve probably all heard me talk about them before, but if you want to know why I go on about my favorite band so much, read this blog post!”). The results were immediate: Two people “liked” the update almost as soon as I posted it.

Personality is a huge component of social media, and on Facebook, you are the product. The more you can sell your own persona, the better. People respond to people — simple as that.

Case Study 9: Avoiding unintentional bias

4 Apr

As a general rule, a good check against unintentional bias is having multiple editors for stories. Questions of bias and the weight of using one word/phrase over another arise in newsrooms all the time, and the more voices in the discussion, the better. There’s no telling how certain phrases/omissions/you name it will be interpreted by readers, and writers and editors should be prepared to question everything they write and edit. They should look at it from as many angles as possible to ensure published copy is as clean and objective as possible.

In the case of this story of a grandfather intentionally killing his daughter and her family, the question of how many people were killed – and, essentially, who counts as a person – is one that can at least be worked around, if not answered outright.

As an editor of this story, instead of headlining it, “Grandfather charged in blaze that killed 3,” I would make the headline something like, “Grandfather charged in blaze that killed family” (or “Man charged in blaze that killed family,” if space is an issue). Doing so eliminates the issue of saying in the headline how many people were killed, which may be “cheating” somewhat, but in this case, I don’t think it’s necessary. The fact that this man killed his own family is the story. I think it’s important to explain the full situation and why the grandfather is being charged with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional homicide of an unborn child, but that can be left for later in the story.

28 Mar

Case Study 8

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.