News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Social Media

December 29, 2009

Government 2.0: What’s in it for local news?

The fast-growing Government 2.0 movement could create opportunities for news orgs to get more local news and engagement without necessarily having to write more traditional stories.

(This is the fourth in a series of guest posts by Amy Gahran about how news organizations and other institutions can implement the findings of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.This joint project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute Communications and Society program produced the report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age”. Read more articles in this series.)

By Amy Gahran

Local governments are the source of much local news—yet often they do a notoriously poor job of communicating with community members and news organizations. This is starting to change as more governments become open to experimenting with new tools for sharing info and engaging community members. image

Monitoring and getting involved with these experiments can yield new opportunities to for local news. This content could be more engaging and less labor-intensive than traditional reporting.

The key to making this cooperation work is connecting with people in government who are eager and able to try new approaches to public transparency and engagement. The Government 2.0 (Gov2.0) movement is a great place to find allies for strengthening communities and local news.

Recommendation 4 in the Knight Commission Report is:

“Require government at all levels to operate transparently, facilitate easy and low-cost access to public records, and make civic and social data available in standardized formats that support the productive public use of such data.”

The Knight report suggests some ways to approach this by strengthening and more fully implementing public information rules, open meeting rules, and open courtrooms. These are also passions of government employees and officials involved in Gov2.0.

Gov2.0 is a movement among government employees, as well as other interested people, to apply the strengths of social networking and Web 2.0 tools to all levels of government. The goal is to create systems for public transparency, participation, and collaboration. Although Gov2.0 first gained momentum among federal employees, it’s quickly spreading through many state and local governments.

In fact, in coming years local government may be where much of the Gov2.0 action is. Mark Drapeau, a leading Gov2.0 practitioner, recently listed “local governments as experiments” as the first of his top five Gov2.0 predictions for 2010-12. Gartner analyst Andrea DiMaio agrees and notes:

“Indeed we have seen and will see the best from local authorities. Not because they are necessarily smarter or bolder, but because they are—by their nature—much closer to ‘real’ communities. The issues they deal with are local in nature and touch citizens more directly: parks, waste collection, traffic, environment, safety.”

ACTION STEPS: CONNECTING WITH GOV2.0 PEOPLE

1. Go where they are. The Gov2.0 community has some important gathering places online. Joining these communities, finding participants and projects near you, and getting involved in their conversations and events can help you find mutually beneficial opportunities to experiment.

GovLoop is your first stop to connect with the Government 2.0 crowd. This community includes people from all levels of government, so search it to find groups, blogs, and members from your region (or who are discussing larger issues that have strong local angles for you). To find local GovLoop members, try searching for your city and state in this format: Oakland, CA. Selectively friending local GovLoop members and asking about their current Government 2.0 projects or interests can be a good way to break the ice. This guide to searching GovLoop can help you find other useful info in GovLoop.

Also, GovFresh features the best of US Gov 2.0 news, TV, ideas, and live feeds of government social media activity.

2. Attend Gov2.0 events in person or online. CityCamp is a participant-organized “unconference” about practicing Gov 2.0 at the local level. It will be held Jan 23-24, 2010 in Chicago. Someone attending from a news org might volunteer to run a session on how local media can complement local Gov2.0 efforts. For discussion, this group has a forum/mailing list, in-progress agenda, Facebook Group, and GovLoop group. Also, on Twitter, you can follow @CityCamp or watch the hashtag #citycamp.

Similarly, Gov2.0 Expo 2010 will be held May 25-27 in Washington, DC. This is part of O’Reilly Media’s high-profile Gov2.0 Summit event series. This will probably have a heavy federal government focus, so it might be most appropriate for national or major metro daily news orgs to attend.

3. Build on existing efforts. Most people involved in Government 2.0 already have projects in mind or in progress: data or documents they’d like to improve access to, easier channels for public participation, etc. In general, it’s probably easiest to work with what they’re already doing, rather than invent projects from scratch.

Once you assess which Government 2.0 projects are already in the works in your region, consider opportunities where using your news site and/or social media presence as a platform could enhance these efforts—while also providing relevant newsworthy content, and building community loyalty to your brand.

Possible results. Cooperating on Gov2.0 projects might be as simple as selectively retweeting local government Twitter items, or periodically excerpting content from their Facebook fan page or group onto yours.

Or imagine a local government decides to set up a site like Manor Labs where community members can submit ideas, rate them, and be rewarded for innovation. A local news organization might run a regular feature highlighting the best-rated submissions—thus increasing participation by reaching more of the community, and spurring constructive local discussion. A more automated approach might be to embed on the news site a widget that provides some of the civic site’s functionality.

You’ll only really start to see the possibilities for collaborating with more open, engaged, online-savvy governments once you start talking with the Gov2.0 community. These are creative, friendly people, eager to engage. And in many cases, the prospect of cooperation with or support from local media could tip Gov2.0 projects from ideas into reality.

Previously:

Community info building blocks: What do you already have?

Teamwork: Collaborating to build a community dashboard

Civic topic pages: Boost local traffic, democracy

January 05, 2010

Make key government documents easier to find, understand

“Who will cover city hall?” That’s a common (and valid) lament about the decline of the news business. If shrinking the void of local civic news is important to your news organization and local communities, there’s something you can do about it—even if you no longer have the resources to cover city hall the way you once did…

(This is part of a series of guest posts by Amy Gahran. Amy is looking how news organizations and other institutions can implement the findings of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, This joint project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute Communications and Society program produced the report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” Read more articles in this series.) By Amy Gahran

Some free online tools and a little editorial savvy can go a long way. They can’t replace the value of full-time reporters covering local government—but they can help citizens understand what’s happening, what’s important, and what their options are. image

The great wall between government and citizens is made out of paper. Most important government information is packaged in the form of print documents—either on actual paper, or digital versions thereof. This is especially true for local governments.

The Knight Commission report made this recommendation:

“Require government at all levels to operate transparently, facilitate easy and low-cost access to public records…”

Right now, the standard print-focused approach to government online publishing presents two major obstacles to citizen engagement:

  • Pretty hard to find. Governments almost always publish their documents online in the form of PDF files. If you’re lucky, these are generated from the word processing software in which they were written, so the text can be searched. However, often online government documents are scans of printouts so the content is not searchable. Most site search engines have trouble indexing PDF files, which means people searching a government site often miss the info they seek, even if it exists on the site. Even worse, files are often buried in confusing, complex navigation schemes—and it’s not unusual to see multiple versions of the same document. So: Digging for online government documents might be as frustrating as searching.
  • REALLY hard to read! Once you do find the government document you want, understanding what it means is a challenge. Bureaucratic language, unexplained acronyms, unclear references, and just plain awful writing quickly cause debilitating eye-glaze. Reporters are accustomed to decrypting bureaucratese—but most people outside of newsrooms, law offices, and government are flummoxed by it.

The reality is, governments are unlikely to significantly change anytime soon how they publish documents. This represents an opportunity for other players (especially news orgs) to both strengthen communities and benefit from community attention and goodwill by making key government documents easier to find and understand.

Free and low-cost online tools that allow the sharing and embedding of documents from within a web browser are the key to this strategy. Scribd and Docstoc are two of the most popular tools, but other options include Issuu, HubPages, and more.

These tools are the foundation of a new experiment by OaklandLocal.com, a newly launched community news and information hub serving Oakland, California. (Disclosure: I am a senior editor on this site.)

On Jan. 4, Oakland Local founder Susan Mernit published the first in a series of “City Translator” articles. This story offered a plain-language “translation” of the agenda for an Oakland City Council meeting. This article included the original agenda document, which Mernit posted to Scribd.com and then embedded in the Oakland Local story.

Mernit started her article with a summary of which issues were likely to be “hot” at the meeting, plus a quick summary of the more ordinarily procedural matters to be covered. As her series evolves, she’ll experiment with varying format and level of detail, to see what works best for her community.

Embedding a shared document is as easy as embedding a YouTube video. The document services provide embed HTML code for each document uploaded. You simply copy that and past it into the HTML view of your content management system. Here’s an example of how an embedded document looks and works:

1 5 2010 Concurrent Meeting of the Oakland Redevelopment Agency City Council 10-01-05 Meeting Agenda  

Why embed a document? A plain-language summary and context is a good starting point for engagement, but it’s not enough. Embedding the document through a service like Scribd is so easy and visually appealing that there’s no reason not to do it. Especially since government documents are free to use, and since government web sites are notoriously convoluted and changeable. It’s a far better service to simply hand the correct document to your site’s visitors, without making them click anywhere.

Furthermore, allowing people to see the original document right in the browser (without having to download a file, launch a different program, or open a separate browser tab), is especially helpful for online visitors who are not tech-savvy—which is probably most visitors to mainstream news sites, especially local news.

News organizations regularly peruse many government documents, simply to keep abreast of what’s happening locally. Most of these documents never get covered. In fact, the only value the news org (and the community) get from this ongoing research process is when a traditional story gets written.

Through her City Translator approach, Mernit was able to quickly share with the community her assessment of the council meeting agenda—and thus get publishing mileage out of a task she would have done anyway (reading the agenda).

What if news orgs started running more items formatted similar to the City Translator? These would be low-overhead resource pieces, not conventional “stories.” They would be assessments of selected documents that best indicate the “pulse” of local government, with the actual documents embedded. They’d be teaching tools, explaining some nuances of how to find, understand, and use these documents for civic participation. They could also link to (or embed) related key documents as warranted, such as staff or committee reports, audit reports, case filings, etc.

The point is to make the most of the resources you’ve got, plus free simple tools and tasks you’re already doing, in order to better bridge the gap of local civic coverage. This strategy is one option for continuing to cover city hall in some meaningful way and help citizens stay informed and involved. It won’t replace traditional news stories, but it’s far better than de facto abdication of routine civic coverage.

As with most things in online media, if you’re not sure whether this approach would serve your news org or community well: Experiment! Pick just a few key documents, perhaps related to especially contentious local issues, and see what works.

Just make sure you highlight this new content on your home page, section pages, and e-mail/social media alerts. Don’t make the mistake of many local governments and expect people to hunt for it. The more you position civic content as a service, rather than a product, the more likely it will support your goals.

Previously:

Community info building blocks: What do you already have?

Teamwork: Collaborating to build a community dashboard

Civic topic pages: Boost local traffic, democracy

Government 2.0: What’s in it for local news?

January 14, 2010

10 lessons from NPR’s digital transformation

Ellen Weiss, VP News at National Public Radio describes what she and her organization have learned about change in the past two years

(USC journalism graduate student Nikki Usher sat in on the Knight Digital Media Center’s Strategic Leadership Summit for Public Radio Stations, held last month in conjunction with National Public Radio and funded by Knight Foundation. I asked her to write about key takeaways.)

By Nikki Usher

National Public Radio is clearly an organization looking to make radical transformations as it moves from being a radio network to a multiplatform news provider.

What has NPR learned from trying to rethink its digital strategy? Ellen Weiss, Senior Vice President for News offered ten lessons from two years in the change trenches that may be useful to other news organizations:

1. There is no end state. The transition will take a long time and no one anywhere has figured this all out. For the transition to happen, managers have to be part of the conversation.

2. Be realistic about how much multimedia you can handle
and train for. Writing is multimedia when you are a broadcast organization.  NPR brought its training back to reality - away from video and to things people could take back to their jobs: how to take a good picture, what’s the mix of writing, blog writing, writing for the web vs. writing for print.

3. Communicate.Weiss held three Q&A sessions a month to help explain to staffers the plans and the process and to give staff a chance to ask questions.

4. Test and learn. Repeat.  Stop things that aren’t working. Realize that lots of people through the organization are going to do things differently and try new things in different ways. Don’t be afraid to reorganize the newsroom (NPR has done this - twice). Be strategic about every hire you have.

5. Do not play into Web versus radio competition.
(Or, to extend on Ellen’s thoughts, for other newsrooms, Web v. print, or web v. broadcast). Geography matters.  Seat people together. Bring digital and editorial staff together. Remind people they are delivering the audience, not one audience versus another audience.

6. Demonstrate your affection and enthusiasm for digital work. People will follow your lead, if you acknowledge the good work.

7. Make tough decisions about what you want to stop.
NPR stopped the Bryant Park Project, but started Planet Money. Planet Money, a big success, benefited from Weiss and others willingness to let the podcast/blog experiment and develop into what it is now.

8. Be transparent about metrics
and educate your staff. Counter the fear that work is going to be driven by getting the hottest number or different editorial standards.

9. Listen to people’s concerns
, don’t try to downplay them. Look for early adapters. Weiss won’t accept anyone not writing for web, but when it comes to social media, she trusts that buzz in the newsroom will build and grab people interested in it.

10. Have reasonable expectations
. You can’t do everything, pick a few things and try to do them well. Give people the support they need to do these things well.


Weiss and two other NPR executives, Kinsey Wilson, senior vice president and general manager for digital news, and Dick Meyer, NPR’s executive editor for news, shared some of their visions with the public radio group.

They stressed the importance of NPR being more than a destination site with multimedia like CNN or the Washington Post. NPR’s focus is on being a nimble site adapted to the new forms of the Internet that recognizes the advantages of audio, social media, niche sites/verticals and mobile platforms.

A big step for NPR has been to produce continuous news and information in what Kinsey Wilson called “real time” or the “price of information on the real clock not on programming time,” an effort which has taken 18 months of Knight training, retraining and hiring staff, and rethinking digital strategy. The goal is not to “match CNN” but to have NPR’s own sensibility and story selection to breaking news on internet time.

January 21, 2010

Don’t “over Twitter” and other social media tips for news organizations

Media strategist Steve Safran says news organizations must straddle two worlds - the traditional one of producing news and the new one as a player on social networks. Here are his tips for success.

(USC journalism graduate student Nikki Usher sat in on the Knight Digital Media Center’s Strategic Leadership Summit for Public Radio Stations, held last month in conjunction with National Public Radio and funded by Knight Foundation. I asked her to write about key takeaways.)

By Nikki Usher

Steve Safran, a media strategist at Media Reinvent, offered key take-home lessons for news organizations looking to improve their online presence:

1. The Twitter Effect.

Safran advised public radio stations not to get bogged down in numbers of Twitter followers. He highlighted Boston public radio station WBUR, which has 4,300 or so followers. But, Safran pointed out, Twitterers have “spheres of influence.”
The average twitter user, according to Safran, has 126 followers. WBUR has 4,385 followers, but if all of them retweet, that means another 552,510 people may pay attention to WBUR. In a magic world, if all those people retweeted WBUR, you could get 69 million WBUR mentions. “Small beginnings are OK,” he said.
Safran’s number one tip for Twitterers: don’t over tweet. Keep it short, and don’t over promote.
“Audiences want their information as micro as possible,” Safran said. “You are using other people’s mobile text money, so make it worth their money.”

2. Media 1.0 vs. Media 2.0

News organizations are in a funny spot. They are original content providers and they must play in social media.
Media 1.0 is: one way, mass media, top/down, a closed network,  (e.g. not sharing APIs, no comments on a site), hierarchical, passive, macromedia, and bundled.
Media 2.0 is: interactive, direct, bottom-up, open network, collaborative, active, micromedia, and self- bundling.
News organizations shouldn’t get rid of media 1.0 - that’s what audience come to them for - but they do need to change. Safran offered the word “simulpath” - how to keep changes occurring while things are already in progress.
He suggested:
* Unbundle content for consumption anywhere
* Build interactive applications into brand extension platforms
* Make content available for mobile distribution
* Create widgets to provide content on other Web sites in the market
* Own RSS and offer many feeds
* Launch a branded RSS reader

3. Connecting outside the news organization

News organizations, thanks to the world of Media 2.0, aren’t in their own mass media world anymore. Instead, they are part of a larger information ecosystem. And they are also part of a local community.
Safran stressed the importance of a news organization becoming a local information hub as well as an aggregator for content by users.
He suggested news organizations organize local bloggers and the local Web, build and maintain a database of local Web sites, help users create participatory content, and build standalone, niche web sites.
Niche channels are key, as Safran pointed out. “Blogs are the single best search engine optimized content out there.”
His final suggestion for news organizations was to “aggregate, aggregate, aggregate.”

4. Building hits and attracting users

“You don’t want to be best radio web site - you want to be best multimedia outlet,” Safran told public radio executives.
What does that mean for news organizations? It means giving audiences news as it happens in new and novel ways - especially in times of breaking news. Consider new blogs, mashups, and simply blowing up home pages, as CBS8 did with the California Wildfires a couple of years ago. 
And news orgs shouldn’t be afraid to be the gathering place for competing information sites, such as adding feeds from the LA Fire Department.
The web also means writing differently. Search engine optimization, according to Safran, isn’t a magical science. It’s just using easily googled words over and over again so that your site comes up first - if you’re writing about a local fire, include the name, place and site of the fire so anyone searching for information will stumble upon it.
“Keywords are marketing,” Safran said.
He offered some key suggestions:
* Write literal headlines
* Think: How would my friends search this?
* Link out like crazy: Start with two links per story
* Keep updating as the story changes
* Use lots of RSS feeds
Safran reminded public radio leaders most traffic comes from search or aggregators, not from using the home page as a destination. So news outlets are really competing to be the RSS feed of choice.

March 29, 2010

The Bee aggregates local online news sources with a new network, Sacramento Connect

With a little help from training at Knight Digital Media Center, The Sacramento Bee launches a lively network of sites and blogs that connects its users to other news sources and to each other

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, few established news organizations were thinking about befriending local news start ups and many probably wished they’d go away.

My own January 2009 post encouraging news organizations to make friends with local start ups and link to their content got lost the a fierce debate about whether aggregators were driving traffic to established sites or taking it away.

So today it’s exciting to see The Sacramento Bee in California launch Sacramento Connect, “a network of high-quality news providers and bloggers in the Sacramento region.”

“From my view, Sacramento Connect is a contemporary way to carry out some familiar aims of a newspaper: Pointing readers to interesting and useful information and connecting people to community life,” Bee Editor Melanie Sill said in a note to readers Sunday.

Sacramento Connect (@saconnect on Twitter) has a friendly feel and it is loaded with social features. Users can tailor the content they see according to their interests and they can easily share stories with others via e-mail or a social network site. More on site features. The network is starting with about a dozen partners and expects to grow, reports Tom Negrete, Bee managing editor for online.

I take some pride in playing a small role in Sacramento Connect. I designed and led KDMC’s 2009 class on Social Media Strategy for News Organizations that brought editors including Sill together with social media experts including Paul Gillin and JD Lasica. The Sacramento network was The Bee’s class project. Teams from 13 newspaper organizations participated in a a 10-week online class on Social Media Strategy for News Organizations, planned a social media project with a coach supplied by the center, and then convened with other editors in Los Angeles to hone and present those plans.

Early in the class, I made a point of assigning readings articles about the value of aggregation and linking. Susan Mernit joined the faculty and coached Sacramento on their project. (Report on the class. My blog posts from class. Read posts earliest first if you want to get a sense of the progression of the class.)

Another class participant, The Wichita Eagle, is getting ready to launch a local network as well. Sacramento and Wichita are not alone. Fueled by money from the Knight Foundation, several major news organizations, including The Miami Herald and The Charlotte Observer (another participant in the ‘09 class) are partnering with local sites in a project sponsored by J-Lab.

Some new partnerships go beyond linking. The Seattle Times is collaborating with hyper local partners to cover the news and produce enterprise reporting. Several of the projects envision sharing advertising.

ACTION STEPS

- If your organization wants to get started on a project like this, here’s a screencast that Paul Gillin put together on some ways to find local sites and blogs in your area.

- Also check out Placeblogger and J-Lab’s map and database. Additionally, I am creating a shorter list that screens for and categorizes the more promising sites.

- Try some of our other KDMC learning exercises about social media.

April 08, 2010

Engagement: A job for every journalist

Among emerging roles for journalists and news organizations, engaging online communities around news and information is vital. Here are some leads and encouragement for journalists and newsrooms who want to give it a try

There has been a lot of good writing and discussion lately about a new role for news providers: community engagement. I want to summarize key points and point to other posts about the topic and offer a few thoughts.

Voice of San Diego got the ball rolling last week when it posted an opening for an engagement editor:

“The pioneering news organization voiceofsandiego.org wants someone to revolutionize how it presents its content and engages the San Diego community. You will find creative ways—from e-mail to blogs to twitter and more—to deliver our service to San Diegans. You will also be a new age opinion editor, sparking dynamic debates and discussions on the site. And you will be a guide to our service, helping our users find the needed context to keep up with the complex local issues that determine San Diego’s quality of life.”

Steve Buttry then elaborated on his new role as Community Engagement Editor for Allbritton Communications’s soon-to-start local news site in Washington, D.C. Buttry said he hopes all of the journalists on the staff of this new organization will work on engagement. His team of six will help the newsroom up its game by coaching and performing jobs that don’t fit into more traditional news gathering and editing roles. “For instance, we will recruit and work with a network of bloggers in our metro area. On some community events that our staff won’t be covering, we will aggregate and curate content provided by the community or provide some platforms for the community to provide the coverage. Where our staff is covering an event, we will supplement that coverage by finding and soliciting community contributions,” Buttry said.

Finally, if you are interested in getting into the game, I recommend Angela Connor’s “18 Rules of Community Engagement.” Here is Angela’s presentation at KDMC’s recent Knight Community Information Challenge Boot Camp for Knight Foundation grantees who are developing news and engagement projects.

I have this additional advice for newsrooms that under take community engagement efforts:
- Be clear about your goals and how you will measure them. Be mindful that numbers may not tell the story. Often, engagement is not about drawing large numbers. It is about building a smaller community of loyal users, contributors and partners in your news endeavor.
- Don’t confused engagement editor with social media editor. Social media may be part of the engagement job but there’s a lot more to it, as Buttry notes.
- Assign or hire an engagement editor who will challenge staff and newsroom leaders alike. Let that person experiment even if it makes others uncomfortable. Help that person carry the message across the newsroom - help her articulate it and make it clear to everyone that you want the staff to listen and act.

May 25, 2010

PEJ New Media study: Good social media research, questionable claims on blogs and news

This week, Pew’s Project on Excellence in Journalism published a new study: New Media, Old Media: How blogs and social media agendas relate and differ from the traditional press. This intriguing study covers several bases, including a comparison of which types of news stories get shared most across blogs and social media (particularly YouTube and Twitter).

The report’s second paragraph illustrates the key strengths and weaknesses of this research effort: “While most original reporting still comes from traditional journalists, technology makes it increasingly possible for the actions of citizens to influence a story’s total impact.”

If you’re reading, citing, or reporting on this study, it helps to understand some key context about how this research was done, and what kind of news it does and does not cover…

By Amy Gahran

PEJ’s research into how citizen actions can influence a news story’s impact looks pretty solid, and is quite interesting. Some highlights:

  • Peer sharing is a key primary news source. “44% of online news users get news at least a few times a week through e-mails, automatic updates or posts from social networking sites.”
  • People share different types of news through different channels. “Of the 29 weeks that we tracked all three social platforms, blogs, Twitter and YouTube shared the same top story just once. That was the week of June 15-19, 2009, when the protests that followed the Iranian elections led on all three.”
  • Social media attention is fleeting. “On blogs, 53% of the lead stories in a given week stay on the list no more than three days. On Twitter that is true of 72% of lead stories, and more than half (52%) are on the list for just 24 hours.


Blogs and news: PEJ’s questionable data sources.


The “Blogosphere” section of the PEJ report includes this assertion:

“Despite the unconventional agenda of bloggers, traditional media still provides the vast majority of their information. More than 99% of the stories linked to came from legacy outlets like newspapers and broadcast networks. American legacy outlets made up 75% of all items. Web-only sites, on the other hand, made up less than 1% of the links in the blogosphere.” (Emphasis added.)

This finding has led to some headlines such as Blogs depend on traditional media (The Australian), New Media Loves to Link to Old Media—Almost Exclusively (TheWrap)

This made me wonder: Which blogs was PEJ checking for this study? The report’s methodology section explains:

”...To study new and social media, PEJ wanted to be able to include as wide a range of outlets as possible. For unlike the traditional press, blogs and social media pages reach into the millions and change daily as new ones emerge and other dissolve. In exploring various options, we saw value combining the work of some sites that specialize in tracking these outlets continuously with our own coding scheme and analytics.

“Two prominent Web tracking sites, Technorati and Icerocket, monitor millions of blogs and pieces of social media, using the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. The website Tweetmeme uses a similar method to monitor the popular links on the social networking site Twitter.

“Each of these sites offers lists of the most linked-to news stories based on the number of blogs, tweets, or other pages that link to them. PEJ does not determine what constitutes a ‘news’ story (as opposed to some other topic), but rather relies on the classifications used by each of the tracking sites.

“A PEJ staff member manually captured the lists from each site every weekday between 9 and 10 am ET. From those lists, the top five linked to articles were captured for further analysis by PEJ staff.

“Through July 3, 2009, PEJ captured information about blogs from both Technorati and Icerocket. However, the relevant component of Technorati’s site stopped working in early July and has been down ever since. Therefore, the 26 NMI reports beginning the week of July 6-10 only included blog data from Icerocket.”

A close look at PEJ’s chosen resources for blog data reveal some significant potential flaws.

Technorati’s “What’s Popular” section is no longer available on that blog aggregator’s site. The most recent version of that page available from the Internet Archive shows that the “What’s Popular” section once featured “news stories people are talking about right now, ordered by new links to news sites in the last 48 hours.” Those references to “news stories” and “news sites,” and the nature of the links listed there, indicate that in this section Technorati focused specifically on blog posts that discussed or expanded upon content produced by mainstream news.

Similarly, Icerocket says its Top News Stories section showcases “Top stories posted in the blogosphere, measured by new links to Official News Sources in the last 48 hours.” In other words, this is a list of links to stories published by mainstream news outlets that are getting the most links from recent blog posts.

Icerocket’s Top News Stories differs from its Top Blog Posts section. Top Blog Posts lists “Top stories being discussed in the blogosphere right now.” When you scan this list of links, you’ll see some posts from mainstream news organizations (like Boston.com and the Wall St. Journal’s All Things D tech news site). But you’ll also see posts from sites like Google’s Adsense blog, or The Anchoress blog on First Things (a site published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life), or the Clean Techies blog.

If PEJ’s goal was to gauge the prevalence of original news reporting in the blogosphere, it might have done better to include Icerocket’s Top Blog Posts in its research base, rather than Top News Stories. Even better, they might have gathered data from Google Blogs.

PEJ apparently chose to count blog links coming mainly from a preselected portion of the blogosphere that focuses mainly on what mainstream news orgs are talking about. Given that context, it’s not surprising that they found that 99% of the outbound links from those blogs led to traditional news stories.

...But it’s probably a stretch for PEJ to make the blanket claim, based on this data, that bloggers (in general, not just those blogs in particular) rely on traditional media for the vast majority of their information. Or that “most original reporting still comes from traditional journalists.”

Both of those assertions may or may not be true; PEJ’s research simply is not sufficient to support them.

The Disconnect: What is “news”?


I suspect that part of the problem here is terminology and convention, rather than substance.

We’ve all been immersed in a culture where, for more than a century, when most people said “the news” they really meant “content produced by news organizations.” That’s an easily discernible category—but it’s circular reasoning to basically say, “news is whatever news organizations do.”

For instance, Schneier on Security (an independent blog by globally recognized security expert Bruce Schneier), frequently features quite significant original news and analysis. But it’s not generally called a “news blog.”

Resources such as Icerocket’s Top News Stories which focus on the ripple effects of mainstream media are completely appropriate if that’s what you’re trying to measure. But if you’re trying to gauge instances of original reporting across the blogosphere or social media, Icerocket’s Top Blog Posts or Google Blogs might be a more appropriate data resource.

There are all kinds of news out there, coming from all kinds of places. Many of the sources from which journalists gathered news are now publishing their own news and analysis directly. They’re not waiting to be quoted by a news organization. They’re being found and shared directly, via blogs and social media.

PEJ’s research on the impact of social media on the dissemination of news is valuable, and I recommend reading it. Just be aware that people share many kinds of news, big and small, for many reasons. Linking and sharing is clearly a fast-growing channel for news discovery, and news ventures should understand and capitalize on that mechanism.

But also, recognize that “the news” is becoming less and less defined by what news organizations produce. Traditional news orgs are still a big part of the news picture—but other news sources matter too, and they’re growing. Increasingly, news is becoming more about the “long tail” than the “top story.”

July 20, 2010

With Sacramento Connect, The Bee taps the power of partnerships

In a guest post, Sacramento Bee Editor Melanie Sill (an alumni of KDMC’s Leadership program) describes how her news organization created a network of local blogs.

By Melanie Sill
In April, with just a little fanfare, The Sacramento Bee launched a social media and blog network called Sacramento Connect. We signed up 18 blogs and web sites for the “alpha’ launch, with a mission captured in the name: Connecting The Bee with some of the best of a rich regional blog and website landscape.

Unlike other new products, Sacramento Connect launched as a version 1 instead of a polished final product. We knew we would build the network by learning as we went.

The premise: By connecting other content providers with The Bee through Sacramento Connect, we could all benefit. The Bee and partner sites could all reach people who might not otherwise come to our sites. By increasing readership of our content, we could increase our advertising success. The Sacramento Connect landing page and “related content” links on sacbee.com could also give readers a way to spot some of the best of the local web, including sites that might never come up on a Google search.

Three months later, we’ve learned a great deal and are moving toward the beta launch of Sacramento Connect in a few weeks.

The network notion began perking at The Bee in the summer of 2009. Along with almost a dozen other newspapers, we sent a team to the KDMC Leadership seminar in Los Angeles and benefited from the new media expertise and skeptical, yet constructive, grilling offered by several KDMC-provided coaches. They asked the right questions: Why would anyone use this network? Why would bloggers want to take part? How would The Bee make money? What about mobile, and social?

Stealing time amid other projects, The Bee team pursued Sacramento Connect and developed some answers. Key leaders included Blaine Wasylkiw, digital media director, and Sean McMahon, digital product development manager, along with Tom Negrete, managing editor for production/ digital content. By launch in April, we had decided to use a toolbar (located at the bottom of a user’s Web browser) to deliver several key functions: social media connection, linkage between partner content (including Bee stories) and an appealing new advertising position across the network.

Over several months, Negrete and McMahon developed connections with local bloggers and web site operators, The Bee team also compiled a list of well over 400 blogs of interest in the Sacramento region - by dint of geographic focus or content specialty—that will provide a companion directory to the SacBee premium partner network.

We screened the blogs and required a few simple standards: no anonymous blogs, regular posts, generally profanity-free posting and so forth. To be part of the network, all partners had to do was install a bit of javascript in their site code. Our sacbee.com team took on the duties of identifying partner content to “feature,” posting to SacConnect’s Twitter and Facebook feeds and highlighting content in other ways.
A few blogs turned down The Bee’s invitation to join Sacramento Connect—which is free for partners, but offers no payment or revenue share.  Some wanted a revenue guarantee; a couple were wary of being swallowed up or exploited. Most, however, were delighted to join, especially with some technical help. We were selective for the first group, looking for geographic and content variety.

Launch was greeted enthusiastically. Readers who commented liked the network concept. Metrics tracking showed immediate use of the “Share” function of the toolbar, and the rich media format of the ad position got attention from some advertising customers. Ad revenue was steady, though modest, from the outset, through the toolbar and ads served on sacbee.com pages. Page views, “shares” from the toolbar, revenue and other metrics were established at the outset, and we’re pleased by progress.

The greatest lesson wasn’t about technology. It was this: Sacramento Connect’s successes and potential spring from the network effect—the activity and involvement of partners and the value of connections among them and The Bee. Partners share insights about their readers, subject matter and the local communities they cover. They ask questions about blogging and technology. They have offered praise and critiques of The Bee and sacbee.com, and have contributed content ideas.

The Bee, in turn, has highlighted partner blogs in print and at sacbee.com, and developed a Sacramento Connect widget on story pages to link topic-related partner content. Many blog partners were delighted to see their sites featured in the print paper. We’ve experimented with cross-publishing on a tiny scale (a happy hour guide); that’s gone well and we see promise to build on that via freelance or cooperative arrangements.

In late June, The Bee hosted a SacConnect launch partner mixer, which drew about 35 people for wine, food and mingling. With the number of blog partners up to 70-plus, The Bee is developing a new Sacramento Connect home page to provide better search, navigation and content highlighting; new categories for local media, home and garden and food and wine, and a faster-loading, more nimble toolbar. The site’s mobile interface will launch as part of the beta phase.

We’re also naming a community manager
to work with network partners, Bee news, advertising and marketing colleagues and others to develop Sacramento Connect into a rich content network that helps link The Bee to people’s interests, passions and digital community connections. So far it has been a win-win. Stay tuned.

April 28, 2011

Storify launches public beta: Curation is a core news skill

Word has been spreading about the intriguing online curation tool Storify. So far only a select group of private beta users have been able to use it. This week Storify entered its public beta phase, so now anyone can try it.

Here’s why every newsroom should learn to use a curation tool like this…

By Amy Gahran

News has always been social. People talk about current events, share links, offer opinions and context, and provide their own content. This happens through social media, blogs, media-sharing sites, and other digital channels. Storify allows you to choose key elements from this ongoing stream of content to construct a curated story-like narrative, Legos-style.

Curation is quickly becoming a core skill for news professionals. It involves recognizing that news and journalism are, and always have been, a collaborative process between reporters, sources, and communities.

By finding sources, choosing quotes, and framing context, journalists have always been engaging in a curatorial process. However, the result of that curation was packaged into a narrative story format—mainly because of the constraints of print and broadcast media.

Digital curation starts with learning the value of retweeting selectively, participating in Flickr photo pools, creating YouTube playlists, using Facebook for engagement and more. Tools like Storify allow you to to pull together a narrative that spans multiple services and platforms. It’s an especially valuable tool for telling a story in progress. The product is a work that is itself linkable and embeddable—which means, your story is easy to share.

Recently the Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) announced that one of its 18 newsroom positions will be dedicated to digital curation. It’ll be interesting to see if other news organizations follow this lead.

Storify is not the only digital curation tool out there. ScribbleLive is a similar tool designed to integrate more thoroughly with news sites. And undoubtedly there will be other entrants to this field.

The key is to start experimenting NOW with digital curation, using whichever tools are available to you. Newsrooms should foster this skill with a eye not just toward storytelling, but engagement.

Experience with digital curation increases career and business options for journalists and news organizations. But in newsrooms that are not keen on adopting digital curation tools, journalists can—and should—experiment with independent projects.

Digital curation tools will evolve. Users—perhaps especially journalists—will strongly influence this evolution.

Best practices. Recently, Staci Baird, a journalism instructor at San Francisco State University posted her guidelines for using Storify for news. She touched on this topic in her talk at the recent KDMC Mobile Symposium.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 05, 2011

Relying on Facebook for engagement: Risky for news organizations and journalists?

Last week I attended an event for journalists at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters featuring a panel of journalists discussing how they use Facebook. Founding Salon.com editor Scott Rosenberg also was there, and this week he wrote a blog post exploring whether journalists and news organizations should be wary about depending too heavily on Facebook for their public engagement…

By Amy Gahran

In his post, Why journalists should think twice about Facebook, Rosenberg noted that many journalists and news orgs are engaging with their audiences, or at least have a presence on, Facebook.

According to Rosenberg: “Everything that journalists are doing on Facebook today… is stuff they could just as easily do on their own websites. So why are they doing it on Facebook? One answer is obvious: That’s where the people are!

“But there are other answers to the question, too. Many publications find that their interactions with their readers on Facebook are more civil and valuable than those that take place on their own websites. That, they typically believe, is because Facebook makes users log in with their real names and identities. Finally, individual journalists increasingly find it valuable to build their social-media networks as a hedge against the collapse of the institutions they work for.”

So what’s the problem?

Rosenberg continued: “Today Facebook is a private company that is almost certainly going to sell stock to the public before long. ...For the moment it appears to be trying hard to operate as a neutral and open public platform.

“...That won’t last forever. There are plenty of people waiting to cash in on Facebook’s success, ...They will expect the company to fulfill its inevitable destiny—and ‘monetize’ the hell out of all the relationship-building we’re doing on its pages. This is the landscape onto which today’s journalists are blithely dancing.

“By moving so much of the conversation away from their own websites and out to Facebook, media companies are basically saying, ‘We did a lousy job of engaging readers under our own roof, so we’re going to encourage it to happen on someone else’s turf.’”

With the exploding and near-universal popularity of social media services, news organizations can no longer afford to appear uninterested in engagement. Having some sort of social media presence has become a benchmark of credibility.

For that reason, I do think news orgs should have a strong presence in the social media that are popular with their communities. But don’t make this an excuse to slack off on adapting your own tools, culture, and systems to engage more effectively on your own digital “turf.”

As Rosenberg noted in a response to a comment: “To the extent that news organizations invest in making their own websites great environments for their journalists and users to interact, they are adding value to their sites… To the extent that news organizations invest in turning Facebook into the place where they connect with their readers, they are adding value to Facebook.”


Other possible Facebook risks

The architecture of Facebook is also still mostly a “walled garden”—much of the content and interaction is not easily or universally findable or linkable. This is appropriate for interpersonal social networking, but it makes less sense from a publisher’s perspective. It can make valuable content associated with your brand harder to find, track, and keep.

Also, as Peter Evans-Greenwood commented on Rosenberg’s article: “At what point will Facebook decide that anyone ‘doing business’ on Facebook should pay, and not just the people transacting? One day you might wake up (probably not long after Facebook goes public) and find that you need a ‘Professional Account’ if you, as a professional journalist, want to continue interacting your community. And remember, Facebook gets to define what ‘professional journalist’ means.”

...Which means that the issue of who “owns” a journalist’s Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or other social media connections isn’t necessarily just a matter of agreements between news orgs and their staff (another contentious issue which arose that evening). Facebook, Twitter, and other services could change those rules as well.


Pulling Facebook into your site

Some news organizations are using Facebook in a different way: Replacing their own commenting systems with the Facebook Comments plugin. This may improve the user experience. But this approach means all comments now “live” on Facebook’s servers—where that content may or may not be archived and indexed effectively.

Also, Facebook can modify its distributed commenting experience at any time—by, say, inserting its own ads into the comment streams that appear on news sites.

Six months ago, Facebook commenting was fully implemented on three San Francisco Bay Area papers owned by MediaNews Group: MercuryNews.com, ContraCostaTimes.com, and SiliconValley.com. (See their Reader FAQ and Commenting tools and tips.)

George Kelly, online coordinator for the Contra Costa Times, notes that the switch to Facebook comments on those sites hasn’t yielded a huge overall improvement in the quality of public discourse.

“It’s surprising,” said Kelly. “I’d thought that using Facebook comments would make people less likely to pop off, provide less incentive to say rude or cruel things. And quality has gone up slightly on some stories, ones that give people more pause. But on higher-traffic stories (like crime briefs and sports or politics and government) quality’s wobbly.”

He did notice one intriguing change with the switch to Facebook comments: Grieving friends and relatives are now speaking up more often in the comments to news stories about deaths or crime.

“They’re less inclined to share their feelings with reporters, but they’ll show up there to post their wishes or sentiments—or hit back at people speaking off-the-cuff,” said Kelly. “They did this before we switched to Facebook comments, but it feels different now. It’s part of a space where people feel more comfortable being social, sharing more of themselves publicly.”

If Facebook were to start inserting its own ads into comment threads on news sites, “Our marketing and editorial staff would want to talk about it—but I don’t know that there’d be a rush to switch away to another third-party commenting tool like Disqus or Topix,” said Kelly.

Switching third-party commenting services also poses a risk: You might lose comments that were made via the original service. “That would be something to figure out, a hurdle to leap,” said Kelly. “You don’t want to just wipe the slate clean.”


Keep your engagement options open

In general, social media is a valuable complement to news sites, and it can even make sense to integrate that experience directly into your site. The trick is to not rely too heavily on any one social media service to provide, or host, most of your online engagement for you.

Expect that public tastes in social media will evolve, as will individual social media services. Fostering useful engagement directly on your own site is a good way to hedge against possible future vagaries in social media trends.

After all, it’s still possible that Facebook and Twitter might someday go the route of Friendster.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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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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