News Leadership 3.0

May 25, 2009

Topics pages 101

Steve Yelvington drafts an excellent list of features for topics pages on your news site

In “A tale of two audiences (and beatblogging and topics pages)”, Steve Yelvington looks at the two major groups of users for news Web sites: The far flung occasional users who may visit once or twice a month and the loyalists who visit 20 times or more per month.
Yelvington journalistic prescriptions for serving each group.
The occasional users need topics pages, and Yelvington has this nifty list of features:

The topics page is the piece that offers the greatest opportunity to connect with the big circle. A good topics page has several obvious components:

  1. An editorially crafted synopsis. Who/what is this about? Why should I care? You won’t get the answers by throwing together a link barn and calling it a day. This is where a reporter’s expertise pays off.
  2. Images, maps, or infographics. A picture is worth a thousand words, so choose the best that help a casual visitor understand the framework surrounding a story.
  3. Links to Web resources. Be part of the Web, not just on the Web.
  4. Links to conversation. If this is significant, won’t people be talking about it? Where do I find them?
  5. Links to multimedia components.
  6. Links to incremental coverage. Let the drill-down begin.
  7. Who covers this topic? How can I reach this person?

Done well, the topics page provides the casual, occasional user with a gentle, almost encyclopedic introduction to the topic (public issue, person, place, thing). But the regular, loyal user benefits too.

And there is more for the loyalists: the beat blog.

The beat blog focuses on the small circle, offering speed, depth and conversation among the reporter and people with high interest in the subject matter. While regular users are the primary beneficiaries, there is a secondary benefit to the casual user: the reporter gets better at his or her job. Better leads, better feedback, better ideas can lead to more interesting journalism.

May 10, 2009

Social media class: Engaging users with news

A Webinar with JD Lasica and more sites to explore are featured this week in KDMC’s class on social networks for news organizations

This is a busy week for the KDMC class, “Using Social Media to Build Audience.”

On Tuesday, social media pioneer JD Lasica presents a Webinar, “Social Networks: Engaging Users with News,” that explores how news organizations are using social media tools on their Web sites. It’s not too late to sign up at News University. The Webinar starts at 2 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday and will last about one hour. We hope to have time for a few questions at the end.

JD also chose five sites for class participants to explore this week. Here are his picks:

NEWWEST - This site, covering the Rocky Mountain West and run by Jonathan Weber, former editor of the Industry Standard, is setting the bar for innovative journalism for organizations with few resources. News managers hold training workshops as a supplemental revenue source. You won’t find the phrase “citizen journalism” here, but they regularly engage readers throughout the site, including a Flickr photo gallery.

POLITICO - This startup took the political mediasphere by storm last year with scoops, smart analysis, a lean staff, clean design, use of video on the front page, and a fair amount of mirth and opinion. Blogs and polls are front and center.

TECHCRUNCH - This upstart has supplanted the San Jose Mercury News and CNET as the go-to place for all things tech. The vibrant comments on each article, where the authors mix it up with readers, are a good starting point for conversation.

APPSFORDEMOCRACY - This is a great site for seeing the creative technological ferment bubbling up from the grassroots. See if any of the proposed projects resonate with you and your staff.

- This Ning site, developed by NPR’s Andy Carvin and dozens of readers over the course of a weekend, is now a permanent site that serves a singular function well. Carvin is now looking into whether such projects can be engineered at a local level. (Note: Ning is a free social application.)



April 12, 2009

Reporting on Facebook

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist the popular social networking tool for ideas and sources

Leadership 3.0 contributor Chris Krewson, executive editor/online news at The Philadelphia Inquirer, says Facebook is gaining traction in newsrooms as a reporting tool. Krewson asked Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Monica Yant Kinney, who has been using Facebook for two years, to explain how she integrated the social networking tool into her routine. She is one of a growing number of journalists who use social networks to augment their reporting. Monica Yant Kinney offers a great primer for reportings.

When I joined Facebook, I made a few rules for myself: 1) Accept every person who “friended” me—since you never know who could turn out to be an valuable source. 2) Post status updates openly, honestly and frequently - since the whole point of social networking is to foster a more personal interaction with readers than the printed newspaper allows. 3) And above all else, be open to the possibilities that this new tool offers.

Nearly two years later, I’m approaching 1,000 friends - most of whom I’ve never met, but many of whom have proven to be incredible assets in my column-gathering.

My “friends” include Villanova students & savvy stay-at-home moms, a Main Line psychologist, an a professional harpist, two ministers, an airport baggage supervisor, a suburban PA mayor, a retired city cop, a South Jersey Home Depot worker, scores of passionate advocates, a handful of musicians and artists and last, but never least, the NJ Weedman.

By rough estimate, I’ve written a half-dozen columns that were either directly inspired by Facebook connections. Here’s how I use it:

1) Lurk. Listen. Pipe up. Observe. The more time I spend checking out what other people are talking about and commenting on their musings, the more I know what I should be writing about. Early on, I honed in on a few people who seem to be frequent FB posters and very plugged into their communities. Queen Bees and Alpha Males exist in our midst. Tap into their world and you’ll have a slew of new ideas.

Example: I’ve never been a big fan of personal columns, but the more time I spend on FB, the more I realize that intelligent professionals are interested in talking and mocking their kids and parenting. As a result, I’ve become more willing to do pieces about myself and my foibles when the subject warrants - ie: a look at the princess phenomena when the movie “Enchanted” came out last year; watching the Inauguration with my 5-year-old to write about how children have never known a time when a black man couldn’t be president.

2) Post my columns and the work of other writers as a way to draw more eyeballs to Posting everything I write on FB and Twitter also allows my online network to immediately weigh in and converse with each other about the topic of the day. Often, this results in back-and-forths that can lead to follow-up columns.

For example: After a FB friend mused about there being a dearth of good-news pieces about the Philadelphia schools, I engaged in her in a conversation that led to a great tip - a group of Roxborough/Manayunk parents were slowly, but surely, returning to the local public school after years of sending their kids to expensive private education far from where they live. Most of the initial reporting was conducted on FB and Twitter.

3) Ask. Routinely ask the masses what we’re missing, what we should be covering. With layoffs and cutbacks, the Inquirer’s reach is not what it used to be. Wide swaths of our readership area go uncovered, or barely noticed. FB and Twitter can help us be where we’re not - and know where to go. But you have to be willing to be bombarded with tips and complaints from the universe. And you have to show your friends the courtesy of a response. This is not a one-way street.

For example: After colleagues reported that then-State Sen. Vince Fumo was paying a mere pittance in property taxes on his mansion in Spring Garden, I had an idea to write about the fact that I paid far more for my tiny house in Haddonfield. Checked in with a few other South Jersey friends to take their temperature on the subject. The response was swift. Voila - instant comic column, and later, a WHY commentary on the same subject.

I have a column in the works about a group of blind golfers - the tip came from the father of one of the boys. I did one a few months ago about the dilemmas of Morrisville school district - the tip came from a FB friend who had read a previous piece I did and wanted to offer a contrarian view. My FB inbox holds another four or five evergreens that I plan to do at some point in the future.

Finally, find your electronic comfort zone and stay there. You can be too active on FB, too pushy, too intrusive, too friendly. Post, interact, inquire. But don’t abuse the medium or the relationships. Don’t friend every last one of another person’s friends or you’ll look desperate. Don’t be irresponsibly nosy. Don’t get mean or personal. And for God’s sake, remember that everything you say and do is out there, for the world to absorb, forever. Think before you type.

For example: I’m friends w/ one of my teenage babysitters, but I don’t violate her space. We use FB to communicate and I realize I’m her
oldest “friend.” If/when I need to tap into her adolescent world, I will ask, politely. But to do so otherwise seems wrong to me.

(Krewson also posted this article also on, the site of the Online News Association.)

April 09, 2009

Tools of engagement: Relevance, community, passon

The founder of NewsCloud says news organizations need to “continuially heighten their sense of relevant reporting” to engage online communities

I wrote earlier this week about two experiments on Facebook that hope to engage young people in news. The Facebook application was developed by NewsCloud. In the course of reporting on that, I asked NewsCloud founder Jeff Reifman for his ideas about how news organizations can engage people in news. Here is some of that e-mail conversation:

Q. Do you have any advice for news organizations about social networks?

Reifman: “News is still news. Mainstream news organizations need to continually heighten their sense of relevant reporting. How did this recent financial meltdown happen? How did we end up at war in Iraq with no WMDs? The fourth estate’s shortcomings in raising awareness for these issues dulls readers’ sense for the value of journalism. I touched on this in ‘Placing Hot Dish in the Context of Newspaper Industry Turmoil.’ I often think journalism is too soft on the power of corporations and the history and rise of this power. It’s hard for them to be relevant when the issues facing the economy have a lot to do with subjects they haven’t covered well e.g. the rise of corporate power, it’s history legacy and corporate lobbying, etc.”

“For smaller news organizations, it’s critical to focus on developing community online through tools like the HotDish/MnDaily application.”

Q. How should they think about engaging with them?

Reifman: “Do a lot of focus groups to find out what your audience wants - and give them those features and ways to be connected. If you build a sticky online community, you’ll maintain a broad audience for your reporting and provide more value to advertisers.

“Start by getting to know them with focus groups, in person, on the phone calls - some email surveys. Ask them to suggest features, report bugs, etc. Use an iterative software development cycle so you plan to launch early, improve often. Organizations that try to do one big software release every three years often struggle.

Q.What are the barriers to effective use of social networks to disseminate news?

“Go where people are - Facebook has 200M users now. It’s an obvious place to experiment. But, building technology for Facebook is challenging - just like any web site endeavor but the platform evolves much more quickly requiring an ongoing investment. e.g. Facebook regularly changes features. Things stop working if you don’t regularly update your code.

Managing technology well is hard. I think it’s important for many journalism organizations to acknowledge that this isn’t an area of expertise for them and they need to hire technology teams like they would personally interview a surgeon or a roofer for their home. They need to be even more careful, strategic and long term oriented in making tech decisions - especially as their budgets decline. Using open source tools like our Facebook application are a way to efficiently leverage existing work and reduce costs/risks. But there is a tension - build too early and you may fail - wait too long and you may miss the window in this rapidly changing media environment.

“In general, do small tests, see what works, invest small at first, get lots of feedback, iterate. Your product development and launch planning should be iterative not monolithic. Keep journalists and technologists working together - don’t separate them. Look for partners with experience in social networks - they’ve learned the hard lessons already.

“Getting past the clutter is also hard - e.g. there are 45000+ Facebook applications… Facebook has made it harder and harder for your application to be spread virally. So it goes back to building a great community - meeting their needs and delivering relevant news.

“Internet users are overstimulated. It’s hard to reach them. We’ve had a very hard time marketing climate news to 16-25 year olds - buying these new eyeballs is expensive right now. What is your angle? What are you passionate about that you want to report to people? Why should your audience choose you?”

Q. What outcomes are you hoping to see from the experiments with Hot Dish and The Daily on Facebook?

Reifman: “We are already learning a lot about the kinds of features and concepts that work well inside of Facebook. For example, our discussion threads grew when we added a feature that delivered notifications to readers whenever someone replied to their story or comment. I hope to apply these lessons as we continue to improve the application, work with other partners and release it to the open source community.

“I’ve written a detailed blog post about how mission-driven organizations can leverage these tools. I’d like to see more coalitions using these tools together.
9See “Applying Hot Dish Technology to Online Organizing.”)

Q. Can other news organizations use your Facebook application?
Reifman: NewsCloud will release the open source code for the application on May 11
“We’ll refresh it with additional documentation and changes based on feedback from the development community at the end of May. We’ve tried to make it simple and easy to customize - but it is a very complex application. Running it requires a moderate technology capacity in your organization. It’s much more difficult than say setting up a blog or Facebook page or creating a basic website or installing a drupal plugin, but developers should find it straightforward to install and customize. NewsCloud is also available to offer consulting services to assist or run the package - there may be opportunities for mission driven organizations or specific communities to participate in our social media research.”

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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