News for Digital Journalists

June 22, 2012

Mashable contest: How has social media impacted your local community?

June 30 is Social Media Day, an annual celebration from Mashable, a popular tech news site. Today Mashable announced a contest that’s highly relevant to community news outlets that use social media…

“This year we want to dig deep and find out exactly how social media has affected your community,” writes Nina Frazier of Mashable. “Whether it’s using Twitter to break down barriers to your local government or creating new ways to communicate with your neighbors, let us know. We want to hear from you. How has social media impacted your local community?”

If you’ve got a good story to tell, write it up as a comment to Mashable’s contest announcement post. Mashable will select five of the most inspired answers as winners. Each will receive a 4G Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (a $300 value, you’ll need to get your own Verizon plan for it) as well as recognition from Mashable.

Mashable is hosting Social Media Day meetups in nearly 500 cities around the world. You can also host your own—and gain visibility for it by using the hashtag #SMday. Organizer tools available from the Social Media Day webpage.

(Disclosure: I already entered this contest to describe how YouTube videos and other social media turned outrage in Oakland, California over the 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant into a powerful local movement—and also sparked the founding of OaklandLocal, a community news site and platform I co-founded. But if you come up with a better story, more power to you!)

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

June 20, 2012

Knight announces six “networks” News Challenge Winners

This week the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the six winners of the first 2012 round of the Knight News Challenge. These projects leverage existing networks to create new ways to inform and engage communities…

The winners are:

  •, which aggregates live mobile video streams of breaking news events (via networks such as Ustream and TweetCaster) into an easily searchable world map.
  • After a tornado destroyed their Massachusetts home, two sisters created an online organizing platform that helps disaster-stricken communities quickly launch recovery efforts. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, enables communities to launch a website to ensure that heightened news attention translates into donations, volunteers and more.
  • A dashboard that tracks stories through social networks and across multiple news sites, to help newsrooms monitor what is resonating with readers and make smarter editorial decisions.
  • Watchup. This iPad app makes it easier and faster to find high-quality news videos. It also offers curated playlists which aggregates news reports into a simple interface.
  • Behavio. An open-source platform that turns phones into smart sensors of people’s real-world behavior, from how they use their phones to how they communicate. Funding will help programmers build apps with smarter sensors, create tools for journalists to uncover trends in community data, and launch a mobile application to help individuals explore data about their lives.
  • Tor Project. This longstanding project will leverage its vast network of volunteers to create a toolkit to help reporters communicate more safely with sources by using Tor’s secure Web browser, an anonymous upload utility, and more.

The deadline for applications for this year’s second News Challenge round (focused on Data) is tomorrow, June 21, noon EDT. Learn more and apply now.

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

June 12, 2012

New Facebook plugin for WordPress: Expand community engagement on your site

Many community and niche media websites rely on the WordPress content management system, and on Facebook as a key community engagement tool. A new plugin announced today makes it easier to integrate Facebook features into Wordpress sites…

According to Facebook engineer Matt Kelly, the Facebook for Wordpress plugin requires no coding skills to install or configure. It’s also mobile-friendly and supports internationalization (especially useful for many ethnic media outlets).

“Once the plugin is installed, you can cross-post content published to WordPress to your Facebook Timeline and the Facebook Pages you manage. You can also mention the names of Pages and friends as you post to further distribute your content.”

For instance, with this plugin installed, if you mention a Facebook friend in a post to your WordPress site, that post automatically appears on that friend’s Facebook timeline.

In addition to this plugin, Facebook also offers several WordPress widgets which can integrate Facebook commenting into your site, display a custom activity feed )so people can see their friends’ activity on your site) and more.

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

June 05, 2012

Knight invests in startup Umbel for better audience metrics

Who are your reaching with your news and information? Are you reaching who you want to reach? How can you convey this important data effectively to advertisers and funders? These are crucial questions for any for-profit or nonprofit publisher, large or small—especially community and niche media outlets.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently announced an investment in Umbel, a startup which aims to provide real-time audience information enhanced with data visualization…

According to Knight, Umbel “marries traditional research and big data analysis of social sources to give publishers real-time intelligence about the audiences that engage with them. With this information in hand, Umbel empowers publishers to convey their audience’s true value and brand preferences more effectively to advertisers and sponsors.”

Knight invested an undisclosed amount in Umbel’s $3.7 million Series A round of venture financing. This was done through the Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund—a new, early-stage venture fund dedicated to advancing media innovation.

Of course, one problem with using audience data as a sales tool is that it’s often boring and ugly—packaged in tables, bar charts, spreadsheets, or bullet points almost guaranteed to put an advertiser or funder to sleep. Also, only looking at the numbers can sometimes obscure the nuanced patterns of how audiences engage with publishers.

So far Umbel’s system is available only in private beta testing, so there aren’t many details on it. However, Umbel’s about page explains the key role data visualization plays in its system, and also shows an example graphic:

“In 1995 the first living organism’s genome was sequenced… The ability to identify and measure the traits of a genome provides insights to better understand organisms and powers the invention of new solutions that benefit us all. In 2011, Umbel sequenced the first Digital Genome. Measuring and identifying the traits of a digital organism will prove valuable for digital consumers, brands and publishers who want to understand and improve digital lives.”

Understanding patterns in media consumption and audience engagement is getting increasingly complex—especially as mobile devices are starting to take over as the most common way that people access the internet.

One especially thorny issue is recognizing how users shift their experience of your content across multiple devices over the course of a day or a week. A given user may tend to use a smartphone at certain times, a tablet at others, and a laptop or desktop computer at others.

Also, beyond merely consuming content, audience members can share it with their networks, add commentary or context, or directly engage with publishers about the content.

Understanding these and other patterns can help publishers craft strategies that keep pace with the needs and preferences of their digital (and increasingly mobile and multi-device) audiences—and craft advertising and sponsorship options that demonstrably complement how your audience engages with your content.

It’s unclear at this point how much Umbel might be taking mobile media or multi-device users into account. Gathering such data poses special technical challenges, compared to gathering data from how people access websites via computer. However, if Umbel’s data visualizations serve to more clearly illuminate important usage patterns, that would be a significant improvement upon the output of most audience metrics currently available.

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

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