News Leadership 3.0

September 09, 2009

In Charlotte,  a local Twitter directory

The Charlotte Observer sees opportunity in social media and Twitter is one piece of its strategy

Roger Cohen, meet Jeff Elder.
Cohen is a respected New York Times reporter who resists the notion that Twitter has a place in journalism. Jeff Elder is social media columnist at the Charlotte Observer who sees promise and opportunity in embracing Twitter and other social media.
Elder, who spent the past year exploring social media as a Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University,  says his organization wants to “harness the power and juice of social media” via Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. (Editors from the Observer participated in KDMC’s social media strategy class earlier this year.)
A new directory for Charlotte residents and businesses on Twitter is part of the Observer’s social media initiative.
Elder estimates there are 3,000 people on Twitter in Charlotte and he and Innovation Editor Steve Gunn want to give them a virtual place to talk to one another and to them.
Launched a few weeks ago, the directory immediately drew more than 500 sign ups and now is approaching 700 with little promotion since the launch. Elder says the Observer staff now is figuring out how to categorize the directory to make it easier to find like interests.
Elder also likes the idea that the directory and other initiatives will help “elevate the social media community so establishment media can see this is important.”
Elder believes established news organizations have a significant role to play in social networks. “They still need us to elevate the dialog,” he said.
Traditional journalists will need to shift their attitudes and reshape their roles to adapt to social media. As Elder said: “Unless you believe that the dialog is worthwhile, I don’t think you’re going to be able to use it.
His own job is shifting considerably—from someone who mostly writes about social media and how to use it (here is his recommendation of local people to follow on Twitter) to someone who draws story material from user tweets, Facebook comments and e-mails (here is a column on how the health care debate exploded on Facebook.)
Elder says he spends a considerable amount of time helping newbies with social media but believes the time is worth it. “You have to go out there and give stuff and it comes back around ... Newspapers don’t like to hear that.”
Meanwhile, Cohen and other traditional journalists who reject social media as the medium of the unwashed might be better off developing their understanding of social media and learning how journalists like Elder are experimenting with these new and widely used communication tools.
It’s another example of a split I see among journalists. Some focus on the past and how to defend it (and I don’t dismiss how much is being lost). Others are looking forward and trying to figure out a future.
It doesn’t have to be either-or, but helping invent the future sure sounds more productive, and more fun. I’m pleased to say that I know dozens of news organizations around the country like Charlotte that are doing just that.

May 14, 2009

Social media: Tapping people and tools

JD Lascia explores how news organizations are using social media to engage people in sharing and conversation

JD Lasica’s Webinar, “Engaging Users with News” was rich with examples of news organizations doing just that. I recommend you take a look at the entire NewsU replay ($24.95). A pdf of his slides is available free of charge.
The Webinar on Tuesday, sponsored by Knight Digital Media Center and News University, underscored several points that bear repeating:
- Free Web tools and services are available in abundance. Whether it’s Seismic for video, Flickr for photo aggregation, or Ning for an instant social network, cost is no longer a barrier to adopting social tools.
- People do want to share. JD’s examples of a map mashup featuring photos of the Minneapolis bridge collapse and NewWest’s photo sharing group on Flickr underscored that point. Also, NPR’s Hurricane Information Center that relied on volunteers during Hurricane Gustav (and used Ning to create the network).
- Local experts are more than sources. Linking experts and users directly is a valuable service a news platform can provide. One example: Linking to the blog of a wildfire expert. -
- Social media is all about sharing and conversation. A news organization can be a community platform for that.
- Social media is a job for everyone in the newsroom, from the top editor on down. I am convinced that the only way to fully appreciate the power of social media is by using it. Even if you don’t like a specific tool or service, figure out how others are using it and way. Use that information to inform your online media strategy.
As Lasica said: “We’re not talking about a social media beat. It’s really got to be ingrained into the newsroom culture that everyone now is part of this greater social media ecosystem and you’ve to go find ways to get hooks into these networks.”

April 23, 2009

Help for news organizations that collaborate with communities

Publish2 asks: How can newsrooms do a better job collaborating with their communities to produce higher quality journalism and conversations?

Here’s a new post from regular guest Chris O’Brien, who interviewed Publish2’s Scott Karp about the start-ups new “Digital Sunlight” tools for journalists

By Chris O’Brien

Since launching last year, news start-up Publish2 has been trying to be a catalyst for getting more journalists to embrace the practice of linking to other peoples’ content. That’s a big enough challenge, especially since, as we’ve seen recently, “aggregator” remains a dirty word in some corners of the newsroom.

But even as Publish2 has been making progress in selling the value of link journalism,  co-founder Scott Karp said the company is about to tackle another fundamental problem: How can newsrooms do a better job collaborating with their communities to produce higher quality journalism and conversations?

In February, Publish2 announced that it’s trying to solve this puzzle by developing a new set of tools called “Digital Sunlight.” 

“We’re taking Publish2 beyond links, and into what we call ‘collaborative journalism,’” Karp said. “We wanted to continue to expand our usefulness to journalists in the editorial realm to do things that help produce more reporting.”

To understand how that might work, let’s first look at what Publish2 does today. I first met Karp about a year ago and have chatted with him several times since as the Publish2 platform has developed. And I’ve been using it for several months to power a “Recommended” section at The Next Newsroom Project site.

The first thing to note is that Publish2 is designed specifically to serve journalists, one of several things that sets it apart from Yahoo’s Delicious.com social bookmarking service. That will obviously be expanding, to include non-newsroom contributors when Digital Sunlight rolls out. 

Today, a journalist signs up for a free account. When they’re reading a story on the Web that they want to share, they can paste the link into their Publish2 account and add as much or as little information as they want. I’ve added a Publish2 button to my Firefox Browser which makes this process even faster. It also gives you the options of sending the link out via Twitter.

As you build lists of links, you have several options as to how to use them. You can embed a Publish2 widget on your Web site or blog. Or you can select a few links and export them as a blog post. This is where I have come to really appreciate Publish2, because it offers me more control over creating the headline for the link-post, where Delicious just creates a generic header that says “Links” and the date, something not very SEO friendly.

The other main feature Publish2 offers is the ability to follow other journalists in the Publish2 network, and create groups around various topics or publications, and invite other journalists to contribute. So journalists help other journalists build lists of links.

Here’s what I like about Publish2, and aggregation in general.

Even with all the search and social tools for finding news and information, the Web still presents a fundamental challenge to consumers that hasn’t been completely solved: How do I find the best stuff? Aggregating and curating links is an opportunity for newsrooms to help their community solve that problem and serve them in a different way.

Next, local news organizations should be trying to become the main source of news and information online about their communities. So pulling together all the best links about your area can only help build that reputation as the go-to place for local information.

Here’s the other important piece. The Publish2 model recognizes that most journalists are already operating at full capacity. The last thing most people in a newsroom want to hear is that there’s some other new thing for them to work into their daily routines. But journalists are reading stuff all day online, so with basically one click they can share the best stuff and create new value without a lot of extra heavy lifting.

For one example of this in action, check out the Chicago Tribune’s Col. Tribune Recommends box on the right of their breaking news blog.

The Digital Sunlight tools will build on this collaborative linking model.

Karp said the idea grew out of an e-mail exchange he had with Howard Weaver, who is an advisor to Publish2. They were discussing how the stimulus bill would be one of the largest “follow the money” stories for investigative journalists. But was there some way to turn this into a widespread collaborative journalism projects? The money will be flowing into thousands of communities, far too many for just newsrooms to track.

The general lament is that newsrooms are shrinking and there will be less journalism. But there’s still a feeling that we want to do it all ourselves. Those things are going to going to collide here,” Karp said.

At the same time, newsrooms have struggled to really develop models that have produced meaningful contributions from communities on a regular basis. Digital Sunlight will be designed to allow newsrooms to create a structured way to work with members of the community to gather news and information that would be then be open and shared.

“There’s a really small number of people who are motivated to do the work outside the newsroom,” Karp said. “But what a larger number of people may be able to do is contribute information. Think of it as a tip line. What if we could get information flowing in that the newsrooms wanted to report on, in a highly structured way?”

Publish2 is currently building a Web form that newsrooms can customize to fit different topics. The form would be attached to various stories or topic pages in the same way comments and forums are now. The form would lay out different questions or categories of information that newsroom is seeking. Those forms would then feed into a database journalists could then access, verify information, and build it into stories.

The database wouldn’t be published, but rather it would become a set of information and leads for people in the newsroom to verify, or to guide their reporting. Ideally, that database will also be shared across newsrooms. Karp acknowledges that this will be a “radical idea.”

Karp hopes that this will improve reporting, but also the conversations happening on news sites. “There’s the endless debate about the value of comments on the story,” Karp said. “The problem is whether you ask the wrong questions. Rather than asking people to just sound off, let’s try asking, ‘What do you know?’”

As for timing, the Publish2 team is still developing the tools. Karp’s blog post announcing the project said, “...we are baking as fast as we can and will have an update shortly.”

Another work in progress is Publish2’s business model. The company raised $2.75 million in venture capital in March 2008. And Karp said they still have plenty of “runway” with that money.

February 13, 2009

Weekend reading

Links: Growth in use of micro-blogging tools such as Twitter, survival guide to going digital

Alan Mutter offers a rich recipe for struggling news-gathering companies in “Can newspapers transition to digital?

Mindy McAdams launches a highly practical series called “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency.”

Pew finds “Mobile Americans Increasingly Take to Tweeting.” (link via @stevebuttry on Twitter.)

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

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