News Leadership 3.0

July 01, 2009

BlogHer: Keeping the conversation civil

The mega network of women bloggers fosters a clean online conversation with clear guidelines and engaged users. “The Internet is perfect for passionate debate about issues people really care about. However, these debates must stop short of abusive behavior ...  if the community is going to thrive,” says CEO Lisa Stone

I still hear complaints from journalists at established news organizations about vile comments posted on their sites and the amount of time they spend monitoring them (either before or after the comments go live). Sadly, the frustration gets between journalists and communities they need to engage.

BlogHer is a network of women bloggers that reaches about 14 million women each month. With thousands of bloggers and such a large audience, you might expect a deluge of problematic comments, right?

Not so, says BlogHer CEO Lisa Stone. Other than SPAM, take downs are fairly rare, Stone says. She believes having clear guidelines for comments and engaging users in helping enforce them is key. Guidelines, Stone emphasizes, not rules that limit expression.

“The First Amendment is a key part of my personal religion as a journalist. And I don’t believe in a universal code of conduct for all sites on the Internet—sites on the Iraq war should not be held to the same standards as sites about children’s programming.

“That said, my experience working with women online since 1997 has convinced me that Web conversations are consistently more predictable and valuable to a community if they are moderated within certain guidelines. I’ve learned that civil disagreement should be encouraged. The Internet is perfect for passionate debate about issues people really care about. However, these debates must stop short of abusive behavior (harassment, abuse, stalking) if the community is going to thrive.”

Stone wrote the BlogHer guidelines in 2005, when she and two colleagues founded the network. She says they still work today. In “What are your community guidelines?” BlogHer explains its commitment to civil discourse and describes types of comments that are unacceptable and will be taken down. It’s a fairly long list with specifics.

Stone says they work for BlogHer’s bloggers and for the site’s advertisers as well.

The site’s content management system (Drupal) makes it “easy for any user to report content that violates these guidelines. And that’s the key. If you have an engaged community, where members care about the environment and conversation, users will help moderate and protect the space. Our amazing contributing editors have always reinforced our guidelines, but the guardians now are our users.”

I see an important distinction here. BlogHer sought to create a community around blogs and comments and has succeeded in growing it and making money from it. I suspect many traditional journalists still see comments as a sideshow to be tolerated rather than a main event. I think that perspective has to change before news sites can achieve anything close to a robust, civil conversation. Unfortunately, newsroom staff reductions make that ever more challenging.

In addition to guidelines, there are other practices that help foster good conversation online. I recommend this post by Mark Potts for details.

(Thanks to Susan Mernit for pointing out BlogHer’s guidelines.)

June 23, 2009

A news entrepreneur lives her obsession and makes it pay

In a guest post, Julia Scott of BargainBabe.com offers tips for news entrepreneurs. BargainBabe.com helps people save money on everyday expenses.

Knight Digital Media Center recently hosted a bootcamp for news entrepreneurs. Most were start ups in the making, but Julia Scott’s BargainBabe.com is up and running. I asked Julia to share a few lessons and tips from her experience so far.
Scott says she is “a cheapskate by nature and a journalist by training.” She makes a living off her savvy-spending BargainBabe.com.

By Julia Scott

I left my job as a reporter/blogger/columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News in January 2009. Now I work for myself as a blogger at BargainBabe.com, which helps people save money on everyday expenses. In almost six months of working for myself I’ve learned a few things.

- The customer is no longer the reader. My site is free to visitors but I make money by syndicating my content and selling advertising. As a print reporter, my primary goal was to serve readers. In business, you answer to the people who pay you - your customers. As an entrepreneurial journalist, I combine both priorities: meeting reader needs and serving customers. Without both, I won’t survive.

- Social media is as important as everyone says it is, but also because it’s free. I’m bootstrapping BargainBabe.com not just because I’m frugal, but because I have little money to invest in my business. If you are an entrepreneurial journalist, you will find yourself in the same moneyless boat. You need to be on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to gain new readers and develop your brand in the Internet age, but also because it costs nothing. No publicity is bad publicity, but free publicity is even better.

- Learn from failures. Working independently means forcing yourself to find successes in each misstep, because otherwise it really is too depressing. You’ve got no one to gripe and vent and commiserate with. Plus, self-doubt can kill your tolerance for risk. And without taking chances and pursuing many, many opportunities, you probably won’t be successful. Instead of carrying out failures, create successes from them by taking away a lesson or remembering what you did well.

- Do what you do best. The internet will run you over unless you are hyper-efficient. Not only are 100 people or more doing something just like you, many of them are probably doing it better. You could spend all day running after a story a rival beat you on, or you could link to it and move on. Figure out what can you alone offer and crank that out. Do what you do best, and link to the rest.

- Forget loving what you do, you’ve got to be obsessed with your job. That means telling every person you meet about your site, constantly forging business relationships, and living your brand. When people ask what I do I take it as an opportunity to recruit a new reader by telling them about BargainBabe.com and passing out one of my hot pink fliers. I write my own press releases partly because PR firms are so expensive, but also because I can’t pay anyone to be as passionate about my business as I am.Harness your passion for your business and share it with the world.

June 15, 2009

Miami Herald: New blog channel brings order, fosters connections in the local blogosphere

In a guest post, Herald editor Shelley Acoca describes MiamiHerald.com’s latest online initiative - a South Florida Blogs channel that links 280 blogs

Note: I’m excited about that more and more news organizations are looking to aggregate local blogs and community news sites. News organizations can play a major role in fostering public debate and building and sharing Web traffic if they seek out and partner with local citizens who also are bringing news, information and debate to their communities. So I asked Shelley Acoca, Instant News Editor at the Miami Herald, to write this guest post about the Herald’s just-launched South Florida Blogs network.


By Shelley Acoca

MiamiHerald.com launches its South Florida Blogs channel this week, pulling together 280 blogs as a guide to the region’s growing blogosphere. The idea was to build a network that would give MiamiHerald.com users a quick look at what was happening in South Florida’s blogosphere and help to drive traffic to the dozens of blogs in the area, as well as building content for our website and developing a relationship with local bloggers.

Here’s how Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal describes the effort in note to readers:

“The local blogosphere produces some of the most lively, irreverent, edgy commentary you’ll find in South Florida on just about every topic imaginable, from politics to the arts, sports to the media, food to sex.

“It’s such a sprawling universe it’s hard to navigate, search and keep up with for all but the most dedicated readers. That’s why The Miami Herald launched a sharp new guide to 280 South Florida blogs this week that I think you’ll want to spend time with.”

Herald Multimedia Editor Rick Hirsch and I started working on the idea nearly a year ago. As the concept was developed, we began talking with David Mastio, a former USA Today journalist who founded BlogNetNews, a company that develops community blog networks for newspapers and others. The company had successfully launched networks that were along the lines of what we hoped to build in South Florida - objective RSS aggregations of locally based blogs presented by category.

I began working with Mastio in April to compile a list of the nearly 300 blogs that network contains as it launches.  Local bloggers were invited in to offer up their opinions on the beta version; they were asked to be frank and let us know what they thought didn’t work, as well as what they liked. We incorporated their thoughts into the version we launched, and based our FAQ on their questions.

Overall, the beta groups response was positive. Several of them—Carlos Miller, Dayngr and MustangBobby - posted their thoughts after our 90 minute meeting. A couple of others who were invited to the meeting but couldn’t make it - Rick from The South Florida Daily Blog and Bill from Random Pixels and Loose Talk from Miami Beach - also shared their thoughts with us privately and on their blogs. Romenesko linked to Carlos’ Miller’s blog, bringing lots of eyes to the beta version of the page.

What they liked best:
- Widgets they could use to enhance their own blogs.
- The idea of helping build the already thriving community.
- The archive search that allows users to find posts dating back 60 days

They also helped troubleshoot problems: Some of the blogging platforms weren’t allowing the feeds to go through; some of the widgets needed tweaking. And they suggested other bloggers and categories to add to the channel.

Our hope is the page will grow over time and help users to get a more comprehensive view of what’s happening in our region. And we’ll continue to enhance the site as we get more feedback from bloggers and other users.

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.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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