Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Year Revolutions

I don't go a bundle on end-of-year navel gazing, and I'm not one for New Year resolutions but there are a few resolutions I wouldn't mind others trying out for 2009...

1. Industry commentators. Resolution: To sound a little less pompous and gleeful when writing about job cuts/profit falls/closures. To stop constantly harping on about why newspapers must fail, and start writing about what they would do to reinvent a still-profitable industry.

2. Newspaper advertising teams. Resolution: Spend a little time considering what you are offering as part of digital packages. Offering a blog to every client prepared to put their hand in their pocket for a solus is not always the best option.

3. Newsroom types. Resolution: Learn the need to CommuniCATE - Conversation, Accountability, Transparency, Engagement. By creating communities and being open and involved with them, by making our brands relevant and real to people, rather than remote names, and by seeking information rather than seeking to impart wisdom, we can grow.

4. Journalists. Resolution: Consider why you became a journalist and then ask yourself the question 'How can I best tell this story in a way that informs, entertains and challenges readers?' Sometimes, only 800 words will do; but there are so many more ways to share what you've found out now. Experiment, seek reader advice and welcome feedback, share your experiences with colleagues. And have fun... Otherwise, what's the point?

5. Readers. Resolution: Bear with us during this time of interrupted service. Please. Because we care, we are trying, and we are actually better at what we do that a lot of you give us credit for. Because when we get it right we do it so well, and because we announced your birth, your 18th, your wedding, your children's safe arrival... need I go on?

Like I said, I don't do resolutions. But I do make promises to myself from time to time and, since it's just us here, I'll tell you what I've promised myself.
In 2009 I will: Laugh more; See more daylight; Listen properly to others when they tell me things; Be willing to accept some ideas just fail.
And I will, above all, continue to love newspapers and be grateful that, 20 years ago, some editor was rash enough to agree to give me a job.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Reader, I banned him...

Sam Shepherd recently wrote a thought-provoking blog post on how the issue of readers' robust (but accurate and valid) views on online article.
After all, the age of engagement and interactivity means a reporter can get fairly instant feedback, good and bad, on an article once it appears online, either via comments or forums.

But sometimes the feedback is neither constructive, useful or even fair, and we don't necessarily like to acknowledge the fact that an invitation to interact can - for some people - be interpreted as giving them carte blanche to have a go.
Interaction is not invitation to post trollish, petty or vindictive behaviour and allowing it to go unchallenged means we are not considering the impact it might have on other members of our online community.

Sometimes forum members are rude or offensive, and then get offended when this is pointed out to them. I don't think there's much hope when you're dealing with someone like that; when a forumite starts calling you a Nazi for editing swearing out of their comment, you're probably beyond the realms of a rational argument.

I recently sent a message to a forum member whose post was basically constructed around the argument: "I'm not racist but..." (and I'm sure you can fill in the rest of the sentence). I sent him a private message saying it was racist, it was not acceptable on our forum and if he persisted an interim ban would be winging its way to him. I never heard back and he hasn't posted since. You know what? That suits me just fine.

At one point during the Sean Mercer trial, the Coveritlive software had a bit of a hiccup and the liveblog couldn't be updated for a couple of hours - and as a result we also couldn't post a message to say we were having problems. We had a couple of followers posting comments asking what was happening, and then one that said: "This is useless; if you can't do it properly, don't bother doing it at all".

Now, I tried to put myself in that poster's position: s/he was engrossed in the real-time reporting of an important trial when, suddenly and without explanation, the river of content dried up.
So I suppose I can see why their comment was full of annoyance, frustration and disappointment but I still think they were rude and thoughtless.
We were three weeks into a trial that had been constantly and consistently liveblogged; it must have been patently obvious that there was a technical problem. After that problem was fixed we posted an explanation and apology on the blog. Did we hear back from the poster? Did we hell.

There's a balance to be struck between interaction - robust conversation, lively debate, responsibility and ownership - and allowing mischief-makers to dominate a conversation. Newspapers want people to engage and interact with us but shouldn't become so wrapped up in it that insults, hostility or rudeness go unchallenged - whether it's directed at a staff member, the newspaper or another forum user.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Flickr group widget

Can't think why I haven't done a widget of the Daily Post's Flickr group before but I had two minutes spare and so I made one up quickly.
And it did, literally, take two minutes. It's one of the easiest ways of sharing content and it also brightens up my iGoogle. Good old Widgetbox...
I think this is a brilliant way of serving up the images; be interesting to see if the group members like it too

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Testing BubblePLY on video news stories

When I was a young reporter on a paper Down South a colleague once revealed, in hushed tones, that: "Our IT system puts the 'IT' in shit".
Not necessarily fair, but very funny... and sometimes trying to work with new web apps on internal system set-ups designed to be suspicious can lead to exasperations.
This week a colleague spent a frustratingly long amount of time trying to upload a video interview done of a Flip by a reporter, only to find out...
a) the software wasn't loaded on her machine
b) she couldn't load it because of various IT lockdowns...

So, knowing I'd somehow managed to load the Flip software, she asked me to give it a try.
I managed to upload it, send it to my Youtube channel where it was converted to the necessary FLV file, and she was then able to put it on our website.
Convoluted and time-consuming but it worked... and it meant I also had a spare news video on my YouTube channel to play around. So I thought I'd have a go with a site I've been eyeing for a while without having time to do anything with it- BubblePly.

BublePLY has recently been tweaked to allow live links, full control over fonts and more use of images, and you can use your own, or just put a video url in the search facility and layer the data on top of it. The original doesn't change but you can embed the new version, or link to it, as you want.
Having (very quickly) tried it out I found it pretty straightforward to use:

Then I tried it on a Qik film I'd live-streamed earlier this year and copied to YouTube, and while the film quality isn't a patch on the Flip video, I prefer it:

This is probably one of the most user-friendly tools I've come across, and it's very effective. It was simply a case of copying a link, adding some texts and links, and then copying the code to embed. I like this - it's an effective, fast and easy way of telling a story, and sharing it quickly.
There's only one downside - BubblePLY doesn't work on my office computer!

Spam irritations

Why would someone think the comment section of a blog about journalism is the best place to flog energy-saving lightbulbs?
I was tidying up this site the other day when I noticed a few extra comments on posts - and there they were - a whole bunch of spammy comments exhorting people to try a different kind of illumination in their homes.
I deleted some but lost interest after a while - which means the spammer has won I guess, but life is too damn short sometimes - and so they are still peppered around the archives.
I guess it could be worse - I know that some bloggers fight a major battle against spam comments every day - but it's still a bit weird. I mean, who reads a spam comment and thinks: "But that's so true! I do need to consider a new home lighting system/lose 10lbs of stomach fat/win a million dollars by posting my bank details..." etc etc?
Still, if I leave the key in my door, in a metaphorical Web 2.0-ish way, I guess some people are going to come in and mess around with the furniture. So long as they don't actually break anything, I can live with it.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Achieving a more transparent newsroom

Sometimes it's easy to forget how far away the ethos of Web 2.0 is from traditional journalism.
As a trainee I learned I had to always protect my sources of information; there's an unwritten rule that a journalist should generally imply the story on the front page has been obtained purely through painstaking, journalistic endeavour.

This is why, I think, some journalists feel what they do is a public service (rendering unto the reader Enlightenment?) We assume it's our job to know, to be first, and we can be deeply suspicious of alternative sources of information (just ask any journalist their view of the local rival paper and you'll see what I mean).

So the Web 2.0 idea of sharing knowledge, linking, exchanging information and ideas, can be a hard concept to grasp. In your average newsroom, knowing more than your colleague can increase your influence, both internally and externally - so why would anyone cede some of their power by going public with sources, especially websites, that others could then use?

The Daily Post's front page today was found on - a Freedom of Information website which UCLAN's Andy Dickinson has been highlighting in his training courses with Trinity Mirror.

In the case of the 'bullying' story, a member of the public had submitted an FOI question which was duly responded to. The reporter then sought various comments on the information provided, and wrote up the story.
Then he credited the website where he found it, and the original person who had submitted the question. The panel, in print and online, reads:

How the figures were revealed
THE figures were released after a member of the public made a Freedom of Information request. Stephen Gradwick used democracy website to submit the enquiry. The original request, all letters and emails and the council's response can be found at

I know some of our colleagues have been confused by our decision to do this. Why would we blatently tell people that it wasn't 100% ours? why would we admit that we found and used information someone else (gasp - not a journalist!) had set in train?

Well, we did it because it was in everyone's interest to say where it had come from.
We found the information sitting on a public website. Any of our readers could have used it; how many were aware of its existance is another matter.
I think it's fair to say that, as a result of us crediting the origin of the story, those who were unaware of this site's existance before now knows:
a) S/he can use it to obtain information
b) It works
c) Their question may get picked up and highlighted by the Daily Post

In short, everyone's a winner. Except for Liverpool council in this case, who probably wish's parent site, had never thought of the whole FOI-made-easy idea...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Sharing videos on Twitter with Ffwd

My heart sank when I opened up the Google Reader after a busy few days; more than 1,500 items is way too many to be able to keep on top of with a quick scan through.
So I weighed up the work/life balance and MAAR-ed without a backward glance - apart from Mashable's feed, which is always worth a quick delve.
And so it proved again, tipping me off to an interesting tweak to video-sharing site Ffwd.

Among other things, Ffwd lets you import videos to your online library from various locations - Youtube, Break, Spike, MySpace, MetaCafe,, and Daily Motion - or upload your own from Youtube and Vodpod.
Once in your library, you can share them with friends, by sending them links. And now users can cross-post to Twitter when sharing a video.

That sounded like something that might work with our Daily Post YouTube and Twitter accounts so I signed up to see if/how it worked.

First I embedded two videos that had gone on our website that day (one from our YouTube channel, one from a blog embed) into my library.
Then I was ready to share the video.
Obviously you have to share a video with someone, so I needed to find a willing victim - in this case the Echo's design editor, Gary Bainbridge.
He's accustomed to being my guinea pig on such random tests that he merely shrugged resignedly and joined.
I shared a video with him (of Rafa's Champion's League press conference; Gary's an Evertonian) wrote my message in the text box alongside and almost instantly it appeared in my Twitter stream:

It doesn't appear as an @ tweet though - just a standalone message that also cross-posts to my Facebook status and Friendfeed.
If I had sent it out as the Liverpool Daily Post, as opposed to myself, it would have been published in the Daily Post's LFC Twitter stream. It's a simple way of alerting an audience to new content, although I wouldn't say it was any more effective than tweeting a shortened url to the YouTube channel.

What it does do however (although Ffwd stresses it is not a social network) is give users the opportunity to share content quickly among themselves, while building their own online library/channels of content. That means the Rafa video has a new market in which to get picked up and send on; it also means, I think, that the addition of an unobtrusive LDP logo on the film could be useful.
So, interesting, potentially useful and free to join and use. Worth investigating further I think.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Flickr: The Book

I've learned so much about online communities and interaction from the Daily Post's Flickr group. I've written about it before and I'm fairly sure I will in the future, as I think Flickr is a wonderful example of collaborative story-telling.

But the reason I've been immersed in Flickr this week is because a group of us are working on a new book featuring the work of the group. It's being designed by Trinity Mirror's SportMedia department, and will feature several pages of work by the Post & Echo photographers, followed by substantially more pages of seriously wonderful images from the Flickr group.

The aim is to capture the essence of European Capital of Culture Year, and all the usual suspects are there (La Princess, the Tall Ships, Brouhaha, Macca at Anfield) but the UGC element gives it more depth, more... heart.
I think the difference is that the Flickr photographers weren't running to a tight schedule, covering the event for two papers, up against a deadline and with another job to get to. They were immersed in the event, spectator and recorder (sometimes participant); they were capturing the essence of the performance, rather than faithfully portraying an event.

So we have, for example, a beautiful shot of a Tall Ship sailing past the Liver Building taken by a Post & Echo photographer whose brief was to show readers what was happening.
Alongside it is a Flickr photo of a father and his young son, grabbing a five minute sit-down amid all the excitement of the day and sharing an ice cream. This image was uploaded the Flickr group and sat amid other photos of flying pennants, the Mexican ship's maharishi band and throngs of visitors. It was a part of a multi-dimensional tapestry that comprehensively depicted an exciting day on the Liverpool waterfront.

The Flickr photographs are not better than the professional photographers, nor is the reverse true; they compliment each other. We use Flickr photos in the paper every week, credit the photographer and link back, but the book feels different. We couldn't have done it without the co-operation of the Flickr members, and that makes it special.

The book will, I think, bring pleasure to a lot of people and - perhaps more importantly - raise money for our Liverpool Unites charity. We contacted the Flickr group for permission (via a posting on the discussion board and, once photos had been selected, individually) and the warmth of the responses to the idea was really something. Interestingly, everyone chose to be bylined under their 'real' names, not their Flickr names.

For me, this project has offered some clue to new, exciting ways newspapers can work with communities to create something new, lasting and valuable for readers. We could have produced a book of 2008 using staff images only and it would have been a quality publication. But collaborating with the Flickr group to tell the story of a special year feels so much more satisfying and is, I think, a more appropriate tribute.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Testing FineTuna

I've been playing around with a new web app that lets you upload, comment on and share photos easily.
It's called FineTuna and it is such a simple way of telling a story.

I've tried it out on a photo of the Yellow Submarine outside Liverpool John Lennon Airport (which was taken by Neil Shenton from the Daily Post's Flickr group).
Basically, you select the image you want - either using a url or uploading direct from your computer - add notes wherever you choose on the photo, you can also draw lines (I circled the rusty spot on the sub and wrote a note saying it could do with a lick of paint) and then emailed it to my Gmail account. A link arrived which took me to the page with my annotated photo. I could then add my own notes and send it on to... well, anyone really.

I love this idea. It's so quick and easy - perfect for covering a breaking news event; it would take seconds for a photographer at, for example, a major road crash, to upload an image, annotate with their own eyewitness account of what appeared to be happening, and email the link to the office. It would work brilliantly for liveblogging events and I think it could even work for certain crowdsourcing scenarios, where experts on, say, a specific forum, could annotate a relevant image with their own views. And you can install it as a FireFox extension.
It's refreshing to have a real 'does what it says on the tin' new tool to play around with. Finetuna is, I think, an app that has masses of story-telling potential and it's one I hope we can play around with in future.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

I'm a mechanic!

I follow Amy Gahran on Twitter, and she's a constant source of information and humour. I'm a fan of the way she operates and thinks, and so I subscribe to her feed in my Google Reader. Last month she brought me tales of naked Trick or Treaters, this week I learn, courtesy of her blog, that I am a Mechanic.

That doesn't mean I've turned my back on the high-paying, easy life of a regional newspaper journalist. It is, apparently, the type of blog I write. Using the Typealyzer tool I discovered that as the author of Headlines and Deadlines I am type ISTP aka The Mechanics.

Next time someone asks me what's going on in my head I'm going to point them at this blog post, as Typealyzer provided a handy diagram of it...

Apparently, as a Mechanic, I am:
* Independent and problem-solving
* Good at responding to challenges that arise spontaneously
* Prefer to think things out for myself and avoid inter-personal conflicts.
* Enjoy working with other independent and highly skilled people
* Often like seek fun and action both in work and personal life.

I'm happy to learn that Mechanics enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars, less thrilled to discover I'm in the wrong career - I should have gone for the Police or Fire Service according to Typealyzer.
So, while I would have loved for it to tell me I'm the artistic, inspiration type apparently I'm a 'roll up the sleeves, pitch in when there's a crisis' kinda gal. Interesting (although less in tune with my Belbin findings) and possibly not really that representative of me. Because this is a blog about me learning things, and trying ideas and apps out, rather than my high-flying thoughts on life, the universe and everything.
So I've put the Typealyzer widget on this site to see if/how it changes, depending on whether I'm writing practical posts, or simply banging on about things.
Still, come the revolution I'm sure there will be a market for people who enjoy driving race cars and the like, so at least I've always got a fall-back position.

(Mechanic Photo: CGill, Flickr)

Thursday, 6 November 2008

I posted a message on Twitter today...

... because I thought this feature on one of our Flickr group members was so good it was worth sharing.
And then I got this message back...

And you know what? I was so wrapped up in the idea of the Post getting a story out of our Flickr group that it never occurred to me that all we were doing was telling the tale again.
It took Nick Booth (@podnosh) a second to read my tweet and see the flaw in it.

It gave me a bit of a pause actually. Because I like to think that I'm all up with the idea of sharing, engagement, communities, and newspapers. But really, all I did was spot a story on Flickr, suggest to a writer that he get in touch with the photographer; they collaborated, and then it got published in my paper.
I lifted it, if you like, in the same way we might spot the germ of a story in a national and expand on it. (Although the feature is Link City and there are hyperlinks on the web version to the Flickr page).

So I guess I didn't pay close enough attention to Here Comes Everybody after all. It's not nice to get something wrong, but I'm chalking this one down to a learning experience, and have posted a message on our Flickr group's board suggesting that if they have a story we could follow up they might want to let us know. Fingers crossed, we'll have some more stories like Hobgrumble's to share with our readers.

To twist the film's line "There are eight million stories in the internet. This has been one of them" ...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

No escape...

I'm bored of the US election, of Lewis Hamilton (yes, it was exciting but it was on Sunday), of Clarkson's latest gaff and of Ross&Brand, but there's no escape.
Because between bloggers, my Google Reader, Twitter and Plurk, I'm getting the news even if I don't want it.
Which got me thinking: In a networked world, is there any way of avoiding being kept informed?
If I don't want to watch the TV it's a straight deal - I turn it off and I feel happy it's not intruding in my time.
But if I ignore my online social networks then I'm depriving myself of interesting conversation (which I can participate in or observe), useful links, banter, encouragement... I feel like I'm missing out. (Of course, in the case of Plurk's ridiculous karma rating I also get penalised for not participating, but frankly that's too irritating to make me take any notice).
And even if I opt not to look, I get sent things via Digg, Mento, Delicious that are simply too damn interesting not to get involved with. And then I send on Shouts, or comment on Mento links, or retweet an interesting link - and so the cycle continues.
Social networks are the greatest defence against ignorance I've come across. It's just too anti-social not to get involved.
So a networked world may be the greatest defence against ignorance there is. It's certainly the biggest time-thief. Now, I've just been send a video link of how to survive a zombie attack, so I have to go...

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Links and the marketing of Darren Farley

This video of Scouser Darren Farley running through his LFC impressions, filmed by a mate on a mobile phone, went up on YouTube on 10 October 2008...

And within just 10 days this has happened...

Today, searching Google, the man is all over the web; from fan sites and bloggers, to the Post & Echo websites, Sky Sports and Radio 5 (where an upcoming interview with him is one of the homepage promos)... Frankly, Darren Farley is inescapable.

The interesting thing is, his star was rising to ascendancy before the media really picked up on him. The Post & Echo sites posted a video interview with him last Friday but it had taken all week to track him down and then find an opportunity where he was free. It shows just how much our online users can influence the content newspapers serve up for their readers.
Thousands of people have already watched him on YouTube, commented on his performance and even sent VT responses to him; they didn't need the media to point them at it.

I guess the Football Factor shouldn't be ignored in the rise and rise of Darren Farley - LFC is, after all, one of the biggest clubs in the world with an international army of fans - but the Magic of Linking would seem to be the real key to his success.
His YouTube video has been linked to from fan blogs, fan forums, fan websites, by YouTubers who favourited it, sent it on via Facebook et al...
The majority of those linking to it credit where they found the clip too.

How often do you hear the phrase 'the media built X up just to knock them down'? Now people can build their own icons (or individuals can build their own brands) without going near a corporate news outlet, whether newspaper, TV, radio or online. It's free and it's extremely easy.

People marketed the Darren Farley brand without him even having to ask them. He's clear that he wants his impressions to become a career, and by posting his video he got the greatest recruitment agency in the world acting on his behalf; the Web 2.0 collective.
It would have cost a fortune to market himself; if he'd rang Radio 5 and offered his services I'm betting the phone would have gone down within 30 seconds, now he's one of their 'must listen' interviews - thanks to the Internet community using links.

So, what does it mean for newspapers? For me, it underlines how imperative it is for journalists to use social media sites to spot trends and stories. Dipping into forums, using Twitter as a matter of course (not just when you're covering an event) and following blogs should be viewed as essential. I think reporters need to view it in the same light as they do the on-the-hour phone calls to the emergency services.
There are a wealth of stories on the web, we just need to know how to find them. And how to let other people find them for us.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Our own worst enemy?

Here are some cheery words for journalists, courtesy of Michael Wolff, founder of Newser: "The advice [to journalists] is probably not to get up for work today, sleep in and, you know, hope your retirement account will take care of you."

If I wasn't already downcast by that little spot of advice, these two overheard comments would have certainly done the trick:
1. "I don't get paid any more money for doing it" [ie: Why would I pass on information about a news-relevant YouTube video].
2. "Personally I think it's a bit much that we're having to learn to do this" [ie: Why must I learn how to upload a breaking news story to the web rather than have someone do it for me.]

This, to me, says more about how far we are from achieving that fabled goal of a multimedia newsroom than doomy articles on the 'Collapse of the Newspaper Industry'. It says that very people surrounded by industry changes are unable or unwilling to know which way the wind is blowing. They are like monks in a Scriptorium, painstakingly labouring away at their copying, all the while knowing that the abbot has bought one of those new-fangled printing presses.

I don't know if some in the industry are genuinely hostile to the prospect of change, or whether their fear of what it might mean manifests itself as hostility. I suspect for most it would be the latter explaination - but why would you compromise your career by baulking at opportunities to adapt?
As journalists we have been using tools for years. I had to learn shorthand for my job; on my first paper I took and developed my own photos. I have to say, acquiring those skills has never made me feel I was exploited by some Gradgrind-esque employer.

The ability to break stories online, create visuals and record interviews as podcasts is surely just an extension of said tools.
That's not to say I don't believe increasing skills should go unrewarded in terms of promotion or renumeration, I do. But I also think that, just as you would expect a paramedic to be trained the latest skills and familiar with the equipment he uses, a journalist should be familiar with the tools of story-telling, whether that's a Flip videocamera or knowledge of how to upload content.

If you want to be first, beat the competition, and simply work for the best, most successful news outlet (and why wouldn't you want your company to be successful; if not for the pride then at least for the job security?) you'd surely see the sense in grasping the nettle.

Perhaps the true litmus test of a multimedia newsroom would be for a reporter to feel the same pride in seeing their story ranked first by online reader hits as they would in getting the print splash. When someone congratulates a colleague for having a top show in the web stats, then maybe we can measure how the mindset is changing.

A final thought: The features team on a former paper of mine retired to the library with a couple of bottles of wine once a week, for a gentle afternoon of forward planning. The arrival of a new editor, filled with ideas for platforms, soon saw their workload upped to preclude the possibility of a booze-fuelled afternoon.
Today, the library where they once glugged their way through the latest fashion shoot ideas no longer exists; it's all automatically archived online. The features team, however, is still intact.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog comments can be the new 'Letters to the Editor'

The letters page of a daily newspaper is the most mixed of mixed bags.
Various papers I've worked for had different approaches to it; some banned 'round robin' type endorsement letters ostensibly written by celebs ('hello, I'm Gloria Hunniford and I'd like everyone from Southampton to get behind National Gut Week), others stuck them on the page with a murmur of relief that some of the gaping space had been filled.
Some resorted to getting staff to write letters when there weren't enough to fill a page and one (the South Wales Argus - take a bow for honesty, folks) only ran a letters page if there were enough local letters to fill one.

If a news story attracts maybe six letters we tend to see it as a major talking point; it merits follow ups and, sometimes, a letters page special. Then we're all very pleased about how we've engaged readers in debate.
So, if six letters mean a news story has engaged readers, what do we make of this blog post about Steve Coogan's 'woeful' show at the Echo Arena in Liverpool?

To say it's provoked debate is a serious understatement: 37 comments and counting on the blog; the online statistics show it's the most viewed news story on our site at the moment.
The post itself was run in the paper as a review, uploaded to the LDP website as a review and also placed on the Comedy Blog (with a cross-ref from the online review). It's a fascinating debate being held between readers, some of whom are responding to Vicky Anderson, some to each other. It's wonderful to see an article take on such a life and identity of its own.

And more than that, it's generating content for the newspaper too. After all, a great debate doesn't just have to exist online - we're taking it into print tomorrow, by reverse publishing the blog comments. We'll also be asking Mr Coogan for a response. Be interesting to see what, if anything, comes back from 'his people'...

The Coogan review is, as far as I'm concerned, important for a number of reasons:
1. It effectively puts paid to any argument that only people from outside the circulation area read newspaper's online sites. The comments here have been posted by local people who attended the show. Whether they enjoyed it or not, they are from our circulation area.

2. People want to interact through blogs. Would these posters have written a letter to the editor? I'm willing to bet not one of them would have put pen to paper (also, we received just two emailed responses). All the comments were posted directly onto the blog. Search analysis showed that people were actively looking for somewhere to comment - typical search terms were 'Coogan + review', which would indicate the blog post was being discussed and people were then going online to find it. I find that very interesting.

3. A blog post is potentially more valuable to users than stories that are seeded by newspapers on their forums in the hope of sparking debate. These posters could have gone to our online forum, but then they would have had to join, if they weren't already members, fill in the form and accept the verification email, start a topic and write an opinion. Here, they simply entered a conversation already initiated by the blog post.

4. Blogs can create content. We aren't reverse publishing these comments to fill space, we're sharing a conversation created by a review on a blog, and we are looking to move that debate on - not only have the comments themselves become a story, they also demonstrate the need for the subject (in this case Steve Coogan) to respond. Forums can work in the same way but the posts here, in the main, lend themselves to publication more readily.

It's got me wondering if we should try running a 'news' blog, with reporters posting versions of stories, along with their own observations. It would be interesting to see what sort of reaction we got from readers. Of course, such an action would also reopen the 'enabling comments under stories' debate, and all the associated legal discussions that surrounds that.
But newspapers are there to provoke debate; if readers demonstrate that they want to discuss stories and events on blogs, when surely our websites have to reflect that?

UPDATE: The Independent picked up on the Coogan blog row today; it's the p3 lead and the Editor's Choice online. The Daily Mail also reported it. While both saw fit to mention the debate was kicked off by a blog post, neither saw the need to link to it. How poor...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Web 2.0 and brands

Gary Vaynerchuk, of Wine Library, gave a talk on Building Personal Brand Within the Social Media Landscape at the recent Web 2.0 Expo NY. He's a bit shrill at times but it's worth presevering I think.

Here are some of his points:

Becoming a brand

"The place where we play is very real and it is a massive opportunity. We are going through a gold rush of branding; in the old days to become a brand you needed a lot of mainstream media attention. But now, if you get talked about enough, on all these social webs and blogs, you can get there. You can build your company's brand."

Social media and brand equity
"When you have brand equity anything can happen. What is imperitive to me right now is using the tools. Lots of people say to me 'which tools should I use: Should I use Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku?'
"Which tools should I use? ALL of them. Your user-base, and the people that connect to you - you need to connect to them any way you can, everywhere you can, as often as you can. That is essential"

"Get out there and network. The only way to succeed now is to be completely transparent - completely. Everything is exposed, everything you do, so your legacy is your ultimate life. It’s all you got and you can build so much on that."

Anyway, the full talk is here. Newspaper people - journalists, advertising staff, marketing (particuarly marketing!) should pay attention to Garybecause the fundamental message that comes across is just how self-sufficient Web 2.0 allows everyone to be.
Scary stuff? Maybe I should have saved this post for Hallowe'en...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

New Dipity - me likee

While I was in New York my invite to preview the upcoming incarnation of Dipity dropped in the inbox. Which sorta killed me, as I wanted to start playing with it immediately - but I had Manhattan's shops all around me.
In the end Manhattan (and my marriage) won but now I'm back home I've had a chance to look around the new Dipity and I like it a lot - especially the extra embed options, the fact that it can display full screen, and the added services that can be fed into a timeline.
I also can't wait for the new Twitter feed to go live - that will be a great way to display a breaking news story.
So, while I start playing around with things (and I have big plans for Liverpool and Everton timelines this week) I've skivved off a proper blog update for a couple of days. Instead, here's a Dipity timeline (anonymous but not created by me) of the the Wall Street Crash. Take it from me, I didn't see a single stockbroker who appeared to be even considering tightening his or her (Gucci) belt.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Learning from liveblogging

I'd love to know how many of the UK's regional newspapers have run liveblogs this year; it seems as though real-time coverage and participation in almost everything (public spectacles, event TV, sports, political rallies to name a few) is on the increase when it was hardly in evidence 12 months ago.

I've been pondering this as the Newspaper Society is planning an article on the Post & Echo's liveblogs, and contacted me for some information, plus I also received an email from CoverItLive's Keith McSuprren with links to two liveblogs of the Emmys.

The New York Times liveblogged the event on its TV Decoder blog. It reminded me of the Guardian's entertaining television liveblogs and has great knock-about comments from readers/viewers who are interacting with the host and each other.

Canada's National Post used CIL to liveblog and the contrast is quite apparent.
It engages the post-event reader just as much as those participating at the time - it's compelling, entertaining and, possibly a more attractive commercial option for sponsors as well.
The posted comments show how invested the online audience was in the Times' offering but it just doesn't have the same longevity, or presence, as the Post's.

The Post & Echo run liveblogs fairly regularly; the last one saw me part-hosting the whiteknuckle ride that was the Everton FC v Standard Leige UEFA cup match. I was only doing a 30 minute stint but it was incredibly intensive.
The footie liveblogs are great for fans without access to radios or TV (some are overseas, some trapped at work on a night shift) and their demand for information is relentless - believe me, if you think ringing in copy on deadline to a news editor is intense, try finding the team sheets for a UEFA cup match with a clamouring audience.

So, some things I've learned to make my liveblogging easier:

Preparation is vital
Before you start, ensure you've banked information your readers are likely need so you can upload it with minimal delay. For the Tall Ships that meant knowing links to any webcams and shuttlebus times in advance; for La Machine, a timetable of the giant Spider's performances. Being able to respond very quickly to queries on these issues (which tend to come right at the beginning) sends a message to your audience that your blog is the source of information they need. You'll get constant queries for this information and can just refer them to the top of the blog.

State your objectives for readers
Newcomers don't necessarily know what a liveblog is, they may have just Googled some keywords in an attempt to find information and wound up on the blog. So a welcome and introduction which states exactly what's going on then users' expectation levels are set. For example, football fans won't expect kick-by-kick coverage but will understand it offers broad reporting, colour, photos and fan banter.

Advertise your activities
Share what you're doing with the liveblog. As in 'Our photographer is downloading the images now - they should be up here in the next 5 minutes' or 'we're planning to live-stream this event starting at xpm'... it lets users know there's a structure in place for the coverage and makes the liveblog feel more as-it-happens. You can also plug upcoming related content in the newspaper, let people know how they can get involved or point them towards photosales.

Remember it's a LIVEblog
Some liveblog software have timelines to show what time comments are posted. If there are lengthy gaps between when you post, promote readers' comments or upload content the existing audience could start leaving and new arrivals might not bother hanging around. If things quieten down it can be a good time to ask questions, promote a poll, or maybe post some links to relevant copy on yours or other websites. If you don't keep it looking fresh and active you're inviting a 'is this thing on?' comment appearing from a reader...

You can't please everybody
I feel an obligation to blog readers when I'm either filing for a liveblog or helping produce one. After all, we've offered them a service, they've bothered to come and use it, so we have to listen to their opinions, criticisms and observations.
There's no point ignoring critical comments or refusing to upload them; accept not everyone will like what your doing and let those that do respond. I think every liveblog I've been involved with has attracted at least one comment along the lines of how useless newspapers are now compared to what they were, and how we should be doing real journalism.
Don't post defensive replies - it looks petty, and blog readers are just as likely to shout down the naysayer for you. And don't promote comments that contain language you'd refuse to accept in the printed paper.

Blog readers want images
They really do and if you fail to deliver they may well get annoyed; the clamour for images on a liveblog of an event is daunting at times.
During the La Machine liveblog our Flickr group photos were an invaluable resource - as was the special text line for spectators to send their cameraphone pix. YouTube is great - a recent search for Steven Gerrard produced a host of (very professional!) '10 greatest Gerrard goals' type video packages, which the BBC and SKY may not be too happy about but hey... liveblog readers waiting for kick-off would love to have a link to them. Livestreaming is a great option; readers aren't too fussed about the quality - they just want to experience something as it happens.

So those are some of the things I've learned while liveblogging. Personally I love doing them - you really feel a part of the event you're covering, you're providing a service that people enjoy, appreciate and get involved with, and it means you get to break news. It's also a great way to change minds in the newsroom about the value of interaction - when you ask something and a response is straight away, it brings home the fact that newspapers have an audience with answers as well as questions.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Networking and the tools of the job...

It started, as so many things do nowadays, with a tweet. Mark Commerford suggested to me there was a blog post in social networks and the different ways a journalist might use them - and keep track of them.
So I sat down and started thinking about what network tools I use most often, and what for - I haven't included things like Evernote or Shozu as, while I use them a lot, I don't see them as interactive.
Some of these are old favourites, others are new and shiny (to me at least), but all have passed my 'Does it get results' test' which is basically:

1. Is it a) easy to join and b) easy to use?
2. Does it make my job easier?
3. Is it simple to share with others?

I don't expect sites to be free but if they are that's a plus; if sites are gimmicky, fiddly to use, spam me or my friends I stop using them. This is an ever-changing, always-growing list but (to borrow a line from Stephen King) it's my Blue Ribbon for now:
I've run three polls on this site and am impressed by not only the number of vote responses but also by the geotagging facility and the quality of the comments posted. The Post now uses it frequently and it's performed well. Less labour-intensive (although also less detailed) than Survey Monkey, it's quick and dirty, you won't necessarily get a high local response rate unless it's plugged well to online readers, but it's a fast, user-friendly tool that has an option to embed the poll or a widget of it on your site.
I'm also testing PollDaddy as an alternative option.

Bambuser just edges it on Qik for me. Call me fickle but Qik has let me down - ie disconnected for no reason - once too often when it counted. I also like the fact that Bambuser doesn't demand I hold the N95 horizontally all the time, the geotagging, the ability to have conversations with other users as you stream, and the fact that I can use it with a webcam. It's embeddable and pings Twitter when you stream.
Also, Bambuser's Mathias Wiberg took the trouble to ring me the night before the Post liveblogged its day-in-the-life - to check we had everything necessary to stream and to wish us luck - which I thought was pretty amazing of him and said a lot about their view of customers.

Not so much a network as a network facilitator but still the best liveblogging software I've tried; it is about as simple for readers to use and interact with the host and each other as possible. We've experimented with some other apps (and discoveries included the fact that Scribblelive would be good for covering a court case but didn't really offer interaction)but CiL has the best functionality. You can embed it, brand it, recruit promoters, bypass moderation of trusted posters, run polls, add photos, video... it really is an excellent, self-contained operation.
Personally I'd also like the ability to delete a post from the blog once you've uploaded it (accidents happen) and to be able to upload sound files direct, rather than just links.

This is an essential, not just for saving items I've found, but also for catching up on what others in my network think is important. I use Delicious every day; I like Mento for the ability to send comments and reactions around a network, alert me to new links via Gmail and post automatically to Delicious as well, but the simple businesslike aproach of Delicious is hard to beat.

Brings together networks, mashes them up and allows you to share the finished product without contacts. Lots of people use Dipity for life-streaming; I like to use it, and Dipity's TimeTube, to share stories. Embeddable and with the facility to update as required, it's versatile, practical and looks good.

All the time; from the Creative Commons pool to Daily Post's Flickr group to just dipping in and reminding myself that trolls don't lurk in every community, this is an everyday essential. I've tracked down new contacts using Flickrmail (it's an unthreatening way of introducing yourself - people can have a quick look at your photostream, bio and groups and get an insight into your character and intentions) and found several stories via the Post's Flickr group. These are the people who tend to have a camera at the right place, at the right time, and they enjoy sharing and interacting. It's a wonderful resource.
I use Ping sparingly; I just think posting the same message across around 10 different social networks is the equivalent of opening a door and shouting something controversial into a busy room, then leaving without hearing what the response is. It's the Web 2.0 equivalent of Knock Down Ginger and often when I see people have posted via Ping I don't know the best place to respond to them. So I don't tend to respond (my close friends are the exception to this rule.)
I use Ping about once a week, to highlight something work-related (more rarely to send out something blog-related) such as a poll or a new web section and send it to Twitter, Plurk, Brightkite, Pownce, Jaiku, Tumblr, Facebook status updates, and Friendfeed.

Plurk is an everyday staple - I use it for crowdsourcing, polls, sharing photos/videos/links and getting instant threaded reaction; if people think Twitter is good for earthquake news they should follow the Japan-based SemiPro on Plurk. Coupled with BrightKite it's also good for area-specific crowdsourcing and for getting tips from fellow locals. I also love the sessions, which are threaded topics (a recent useful workshop was on how to move blog hosts) which include links, videos and Q&As. I mute any conversations I'm not interested in, ignore the karma ratings, rigorously ignore Plurk's 'stranger-danger' friends advice and Mark All As Read whenever I feel overwhelmed by chatter. Many of the people I talk to regularly on Plurk aren't connected to jouranlism in any way, and it's refreshing to get a non-industry take on things.

Threaded video conversations, private video conversations, random people from all around the world expressing opinions face-to-face, embedding options - it's a nice way to do business I think. I like a site that can combine lengthy debates about the state of the economy with considered questions about whether to buy a bottle of wine or just go for beer.
Friendly, engaging and packed with experts and/or eccentrics, I found using Seesmic helped me understand the need to put in something of yourself when you use a network. As a journalist I'm used to being the eternal observer; Seesmic makes you particpate, and look 'em in the eye as you do so.

Spinvox turns voice into text. This means I no longer drive home with 21 missed calls from 121 and, more importantly, allows me to speak to this blog direct (it even titles it), send a 'blast message' to friends and contacts, speak a memo to Gmail via my mobile and update Twitter, Jaiku and Facebook simultaneously. It's a great time-saving tool and something I use every day in one form or other.

Twitter is the best; even the Fail Whale can't tarnish its gleam for me in terms of network, news gathering, information sharing... the works. It's the first site I log onto when I go online and it is home to myriad tweeple whose opinions I respect. It's a place to share links, photos, thoughts, blog posts or live streams. (although I can live without the Dr Who tweets) and every day I learn at least one new thing of relevance to my job through it.
I like Jaiku but I love Twitter - it's my favourite network and my most useful, while the side apps, from to are simple, fast and effective. I use it to crowdsource, publicise stuff I or the paper have been up to, seek advice, micro-blog, post photos, post links, and have a laugh - and I get to follow the thoughts of some seriously influential and smart media types.

Not just there for Ninja Cat videos - I set up a YouTube Channel for my videos as a learning exercise but it's interesting how many different communities and local experts are online. When staff videos of La Machine weren't loading properly in the office it was YouTube that came to the rescue for the Liveblog - both as standalones and as a Dipity TimeTube of videos. It's a network packed with experts too, many of whom have their own channels, and its use as a crowdsourcing tool (particuarly coupled with Seesmic) shouldn't be underestimated.

Yahoo Pipes
This, according to the blurb, is: "a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web".
Well, I'm calling it a network because - in my opinion - a pipe brings together networks (forums, blogs, tweets) sources and information, which you can then share. Since my Road to Damascus experience with pipes, courtesy of Paul Bradshaw's ace tutorial, I've been either building them or tweaking existing pipes to make them more effective. Firefox tells me it's my third most used site this week (Twitter and the Daily Post beat it) which says something, I feel.

Those are the networks I rely on most heavily; I use BrightKite, Jaiku, Tumblr et al but not with the same frequency, success or even interest. Some of the networks on here will be supplanted by others I'm sure - guess I can always update it as necessary. But as a journalist I like these tools, they make my job easier and more interesting, and I get to meet some cool people along the way.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Why the deadline isn't 'Now'

I suspect most of us find it comforting to work to a deadline; it's satisfying to cross a mental finishing line and feel a job is completed. But a deadline is a also a mindset... and that's not the most useful thing for a journalist to possess right now. has this to say about the word Deadline:

Now, I wasn't aware about the shooting issue (although I know some subs who would be happy to see the reintroduction of this) but I think "1. the latest time for finishing something" is part of the problem.
It says that, effectively, a deadline is a limit - a point beyond which the work cannot and must not continue; something that marks ceasation of a thought process, an action, an inspiration, a possibility. It is a restriction.

There are two phrases relating to internet journalism that seriously drive me mad - "The deadline is now" and "First, second or nowhere".
I hate these soundbites (that's all they are - no one really talks like this when they are being earnest) and I want everyone else to as well. This is why:

The Deadline Is Now
This is the phrase most likely to be uttered by the person who believes it least. It the last resort of an online humbug; someone who doesn't understand a fundamental truth about the internet - the deadline isn't now because there is no deadline.
A story should be growing all the time, changing all the time, and if the newspaper is working with the online world well enough the story has, in some shape or form, been out there since the first seed of an idea was planted. The internet community has been a part of the article in some way (a poll vote, a web forum, a Twitter stream, whatever) and plays as important a role as the reporter writing it.
Deadlines hold us back; they make us think we're first with the story when really we're just the the first we know about with the story. Whether it's someone from the public gallery in that big court trial broadcasting the outcome afterwards on the bus, or a local blogger with the right connection to the right person at the right time, someone else always knows. And they always, always share that knowledge. It's just newspapers that hang onto knowledge until we judge the time is right to share; we are Knowledge Misers and the public will no longer accept us doling out snippets when it suits us.

First, Second, or Nowhere
The phrase 'First, Second or Nowhere' is often linked to 'The Deadline Is Now' and, chillingly, may even be used in the same sentence.
Yes SEO is important but so is being honest and providing exactly the information your readers are looking for, not luring them in like some kind of online Anglerfish, only to disappoint them with some spurious link or half-baked optimisation phrases. I think SEO is what the great Dilbert would describe as a 'weasel' word; it sounds good while not really meaning much at all.
From my point of view, I'd rather talk about online clarity, as in: Is it clear to visitors what this story is about? Search Engine Optimisation sounds good but what it means is that you're playing to the bot's rules - you are colluding with Google or your audience's browser of choice to entice readers.
The shortest route to the top of the Google search ranking is to publish what you know as soon as you know it and to label what the story is about with as much clarity as possible. Then link to whichever external sources are relevant, create a Google map or embed a YouTube video if it helps tell the story (Google likes helping friends of Google), and encourage as much interactivity around the story as you can, so more members of the online community are linking back to you.
Thinking about attracting people rather web crawlers when we plan our articles and upload them should improve the quality of hits to the site, as well as the quantity. After all, I get at least 10 hits a day from people looking for cartoon avatars to use on Twitter, but it doesn't mean my blog post is of the slightest use to them.

Those are the two phrases that I'd like to ban from a newsroom (hmm - maybe I should think about calling this blog something else?) but it would be good to know what other weasel words are out there...

Tweet Cloud

The nice thing about my Tweet Cloud - as far as I'm concerned - is that my friends are in the biggest type, which makes them my most frequent and important tweets. That's how it should be...

Sunday, 7 September 2008

A Dipity TimeTube of La Princess

And another great excuse to use Dipity... this time it's the TimeTube application that I'm trying out. This has taken all the YouTube videos with the keywords I selected (La Princess, La Machine) and worked it into an embeddable display of videos.
This is a really nice way of displaying the giant spider videos in one place - I'm going to try to embed it on the live blog now; fingers crossed it works.
I've used the small format of TimeTube here for display purposes - the customary larger embed was also available but I found when I posted the Everton FC Timeline here it didn't display well on the blog because of all my 'furniture'.
The full-size La Princess TimeTube is here

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Giant spider in liverpool

La Princess left the Echo Arena on Friday night and moved through the crowds to the Pier Head - walking straight past me.
It was an amazing experience...

... but what made it even more brilliant was that reporting the event on the hoof was so simple. Along with VJs for the Post&Echo at the event, I texted tweet updates to Twitter which were scooped by by the digital editor for the live blog of the event. Photos were sent via Twitpic and instantly transfered as were links to my N95's live stream to Qik.
Personally, I think phones like these are as essential for a reporter as a notebook now - a multimedia newspaper has to be prepared to invest in the tools that allow the journalist to do their job as speedily as possible. I know the Birmingham Post & Mail staff have all got N95s now and I'm looking foward to hearing how they get on, and how they use them.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Lifecycle of a News Story

I rediscovered a link on my Delicious recently, called the Lifecycle of a Blog, from Wired, which traces how a post goes from the author's keyboard through the system into a subscriber's RSS reader. It's here if you're interested.

Anyway, that sent me off on a bit of a tangent; I started wondering about the lifecycle of a news story, and how online tools have improved the ways journalists can source, tell and share our news. And of course, how we can get our audience to be a part of it.
I want to create a presentation for reporters on the subject so I've gathered some thoughts on the potential ways of sourcing, presenting and sharing news articles here. If you have suggestions please add as it would help me illustrate my point:

Step One
Reporter gets potential story (Web 1.0)
Via: Phone call or meeting with contact; letter to the editor; email; comment on the newspaper's web forum; item in a publication or website; video on YouTube; punter walking in to the front office and asking to speak to a journalist.

Reporter gets potential story (Web 2.0)
Via: Any of the above PLUS link posted on a social network; RSS feed of news and message board posts;status update or link on a micro-blog; Twitter search;search of blog posts;comment on the reporter's blog; online forums; email/post/link via the reporter or newspaper's Facebook page; a podcast; online searches;threaded video debate; an incident live-streamed onto a website.

Step Two

Reporter researches story (Web 1.0)
Phones/meets contacts to verify information; searches Google for background/experts; finds expert and emails questions; includes response in article; sets up photo opportunity with picture desk; writes article and sends to newsdesk.

Reporter researches story (Web 2.0)
Crowdsources idea using social networks; uses blog searches and blog translators to find posts and experts worldwide; uses own blog to post developing and ask for input and suggestions from readers; sets up online survey and poll (promotes these using links to it from own blog, Facebook page and online forums); posts links and questions on specialist messageboards; searches social bookmarking tools for related issues; uses video discussion site to seek views; records telephone interview for podcast; collates findings and discusses package with print and digital news editors; films video report; begins writing detailed, analytical article for print product, accompanied by quality images - some found by picturedesk searching photo-sharing websites' Creative Commons pool.

Step Three
Presentation (Web 1.0)
Newsdesk checks copy, adds come-on for readers to send their views via email or letter to the editor, or via the onlinjavascript:void(0)e forum, sends to subs for layout on page. Content and photo uploaded onto website following morning after publication of print product.

Presentation (Web 2.0)
Copy checked by newsdesk for content, style and reporter's email, phone number, blog url, keywords for tagging and postcode for geo-tagging, along with relevant links; sent to subs for layout on page; package uploaded to website; link placed to story in newspaper's forum; copy chunked online to hold readers' interest; video report embedded in online version; image slideshow with reporter's voiceover; downloadable podcast offered; reporter blogs on outcome of story and links to associated news stories and external blog posts; words, links, video and images combined in Dipity timeline and embedded on website; updates with links posted on social networks; video report uploaded to newspaper's YouTube Channel; images placed on newspaper's Flickr group; reporter hosts readers' Q&A with expert in online chatroom hosted by newspaper; article leads the morning and midday news bulletins on newspaper website; Googlemap offers locator plus internal and external links to associated issues.

Step Four

Sharing the story (Web 1.0)
Newspaper sold on streets for around 12 hours; shovelware story and images remains on website's main page until overtaken by more news; readers may find it using search facility in future; radio may pick up story and report (without crediting source); forum members debate issue briefly; readers discuss story with family, friends or colleagues.

Sharing the story (Web 2.0)
Newspaper sold on streets for around 12 hours; online news story has an SEO-ed headline to ensure maximum visibility in searches; story and links seeded on appropriate websites; RSS subscribers sent article and links to associated content; headline and link to content promoted via Twitter feed; article included on e-newsletter sent to subscribers with link back to website; placed on news widget for readers to add to their own webpage; video report on newspaper's website, YouTube and embedded on Facebook page and reporter's blog; online package promoted on website front page with links; web forum moderator encourages comments and promotes topic; content highlighted on social bookmarking sites; content features in the 'top 5' of web blurb in following day's newspaper.
In addition to this online readers might: Share the article by emailing links to contacts; post their views on external message boards and link back; blog about the article and link; Tweet and link; save it to their own social bookmarks or Digg existing version; join the newspaper's Flickr group, Facebook page; forward e-newsletters; add the news widget; or just talk about it...

Step Five
What next (Web 1.0)
Forum comments might be reverse published in a 'From Our Forums' column; potential ring in from reader with a follow-up tip.

What next (Web 2.0)
Reporter monitors: Blog traffic for activity and routes; uses online search tools - for alerts, external messageboards, Tweets and blog posts - to see who, where and how the article is being discussed; comments and reactions arrive via blog, external forums and newspaper's own, social networks, YouTube ratings, video debate sites, Twitter...
Reporter gets several new lines of investigation and begins using online tools again to research these emerging stories.

I had no idea when I started doing this how thin the 'old' opportunities for investigating stories would look compared to the tools at our disposal now; it's quite stark really. It drives home just how important mastering these tools is for journalists as our industry continues to develop and change.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Building a Yahoo Pipe

Today is a good day; I have successfully built a working Yahoo Pipe.
It's not especially pretty but it is, I think, quite clever; it filters all the latest news, photos and quality blog posts from the world of Fashion for the Girls Behaving Stylishly team to place on their blog as a widget, and to help them spot trends quickly without having to trawl the web.
Building a pipe is nowhere near as complicated as it looks and as an information-sharing tool for journalists it has myriad possibilities.

The reason I finally got around to building a pipe was that I spent a day on a training course run by Paul Bradshaw, whose post on building Yahoo Pipes mashups is here.
Paul walked the class through every step of building a pipe and successfully de-mystified the whole process to such an extent that, in addition to the Liverpool FC pipe I created in class, I logged at home and created the fashion one.

How I did it:
1. Registered with Yahoo Pipes (as with Flickr, you need a Yahoo id to use it) and clicked 'Create a Pipe on the homepage

2. Dragged a 'Fetch Feed' onto the graph area. It then looked like this:

3. Ran advanced searches through Google news for 'fashion', 'style' and 'models', narrowing the search parameters by using the search field filters

4. Once I was happy with my Google news results I right-clicked the RSS feed and scrolled to the 'Copy Link Location':

5. Returning to my pipe, I right clicked in the url space of the Fetch Feed box and pasted my Google News RSS link

6. Next step: Find some fashionista-type blogs. I went to and searched for 'fashion'. It found me some fashion blogs but also threw up related tags including one for 'fashion experts' which seemed promising; clicking that link took me to host of blogs by fashion experts. I right-clicked on Subscribe and copied the url to the Pipe feed as before.
Then I added a Flickr feed from the Pipes menu and a 'Union' from the 'Operators' section on the left, to link all my pipes into one. Finally, I took a 'Filter' and a 'Unique' from 'Operators' to screen out sweary and/or duplicate posts, and added a 'truncate' option to the fashion pipe so I only get the latest updates.

The next step is to make a widget for the pipe using (I'm thinking leopard print for the background).
Of course, the easiest thing is to share the knowledge so the rest of the team can build their own Yahoo Pipe and put it a Reader to easily follow breaking news and events in the areas they cover.
So, Yahoo Pipes may look forbidding but it's definitely worth having exploring; it is much, much easier than it looks.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

How to SEO a blog post

Honestly... sometimes I do think that I should just follow the Daily Mail and write blog posts that tell how Britney Spears is launching a new line in panties which Paris Hilton is going to model.
Yes, in the wonderful world of SEO the three above phrases picked out in bold would almost guarantee a good show on the sought-after Google front page. Which is why so many stories on the Mail's website contain phrases like "Young women of Britney Spears' age may have little naked ambition to own a car..." etc, etc...
I have experienced my own little SEO phenomenon in the past week or so, thanks to a post earlier this year about cartoon avatars on Twitter
Look at this:

It's not even as if it's a big issue - it just talks about a day when Twitter users swapped their usual avatars for cartoons (mine was Carwash the Cat, from Willo-the-Whisp).
But around 10 days ago there was a second outbreak of cartoon avatar-itis, and people were obviously using search engines to either find out why, or to find a potential avatar.
Unfortunately for them, my 'Cartoon Avatars on Twitter' blog post was unintentionally SEO-ed to fit their queries and so absolutely throngs of people ended up visiting my blog, only to find out it was of no use to them whatsover.
Still, it's an interesting example of why a 'does what it says on the tin' webhead works far better than a carefully-constructed, punny newspaper headline.
And, fox that I am, I've even SEO-ed this post's header so anyone looking to find out how SEO can help their blog could well end up here.
If you do - hello! sorry I dragged you here just to make a point; but it worked, didn't it...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Mobile post sent by Alison using Utterzreply-count Replies.  mp3

Everton FC's stadium plan for Kirkby on Dipity

This took a couple of hours and I had hundreds of stories and photos to choose from. I've just used an intro and then linked back to the story on
I've blogged about how much I liked the idea of using Dipity to tell stories before, so I figured I ought to put my money where my mouth was...
Videos are being embedded separately - if I hadn't been doing this for the website I would have also included independent bloggers, other websites and news sources as well, but this is such an incredibly controversial issue I kept it simple, using only Post and Echo copy and images.
Still, I think it looks quite good:

Saturday, 16 August 2008

I'm really starting to like Brightkite...

I can't really contribute much to the raging debate on Twitter and UK SMS withdrawal on a personal level as I'm probably one of the few that doesn't mind paying something towards receiving update tweets on my phone.
I have only a handful of people on SMS alert updates to the phone anyway - I use Twibble for DMs and occasional updates, and I use m.twitter a lot too but SMS... not so much.

But it's a real nuisance for the Liverpool Daily Post and other regional newspapers who use Twitter to update readers on everything from football signings to business news updates, as found out when they asked some of us for views.

Anyway, the big question is: What will newspapers who use Twitter to update readers do now?
Personally, I think it's a pretty short term problem for the media, and for Twitter users in general. There is aways the Next Thing on the horizon; right now I'm using Twitter still but I love Jaiku and I only wish more people I knew were using it(I'm 'alisongow' if anyone wants to add me!). Jaiku's invites-only phase is really dragging on - get moving, please, Google...

I'm also a big fan of Plurk, which has introduced me to everything from the existance of ace website to the wonderful Plurkshops, threaded discussions about everything from moving blog platforms to building your own website. Online tutorials with conversations - just great!

But right now I'm finding Brightkite a increasingly interesting addition to the social media/microblogging/sharing platform. I've been on it for ages without really using it - but in the past couple of weeks that's changed completely.
The reason for my renewed interest is simple - more people on Merseyside are arriving.

As Brightkite is all about what contacts in your area are up to it gets a bit echo-y if there are only a couple of you signed in. And (ho hum) Brightkite is still invitation-only so growth has been slow.
But in recent weeks it's started to take off; today I was browsing in the Apple store at the same time as a fellow Brightkiter - I realised when I logged on (there's wifi at the Costa Coffee in Bold St!) and he'd posted a note, which I then replied to, and a little conversation started.

Brightkite has potential to be a really exciting social network: it's local, specific, offers microblogging, status-updates and photo-posts; offers mobile updating and allows comment conversations between users. I like it a lot and when I'm out and about in Liverpool I update my location, and share news - sometimes photos too. I like telling people that I ate lunch at Delifonseca and it was great... I also like knowing that a Brightkite mate has just run 18 miles and is taking an ice bath for his aches and pains.

I guess some regional newspapers are looking at Facebook, looking at their online forums and thinking "hmmm... mash-up time! let's get a local social network going".
The thing is, these networks already exist - from Brightkite, to Flickr groups to forums to blog networks, to area-specific websites - and many of them are extremely well established.
For newspapers to compete with these their social networks must offer something different if people are to visit, remain and then return. I think Brightkite could well be a useful pointer in setting up an area-specific network with plenty of functionality and interaction. Now, it just needs to stop being invitation-only...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

When should newspapers break exclusive stories online?

How does a newspaper define an Exclusive? Is it a story it has to itself; a story it publishes before anyone else, or - on occasions - a story the publisher is sole owner of because, frankly, no other media outlet cares?

The Online Dictionary defines exclusive as:
* Not divided or shared with others
* Excluding much or all; especially all but a particular group or minority
* Single: not divided among or brought to bear on more than one object or objective

Interesting definitions... particularly as the words 'excellent', 'interesting' or even 'good' are conspicuous by their absence. And yet, for newspapers, that is how we regard an Exclusive; as a 'good' story - something interesting. But how often does an Exclusive story turn out to be 'this is a great story that you simply cannot afford to miss'.(On the occasions that definition might apply it can also morph into a 'World Exclusive'.)

Exclusive can also sometimes mean: 'We've got this... no one else has... um, we think... although that might change in the hours between us designing the front page and the paper being distributed..."

I was involved in some fairly lengthy discussions this week which, essentially, revolved around what was an Exclusive. And during a break I indulged in the Web 2.0 equivalent of askin' the Magic 8 Ball; I called on Twitter.

The tweet read: Debating the issue should newspapers break exclusive court cases online or wait to go to print. Twitter - your thoughts please?
Obviously those on Twitter would be more likely to be biased towards web-publish first, but the reasons posters supplied were very strong: "There is an expectation now that things go online first"; "You will get the respect of your readers for immediacy and increased followers" (a good point - build readers online, build advertiser interest); "break 'em online - how many people buy a paper to see a court story you know is exclusive"...

"How can a court case be exclusive? It's a public hearing" was another point raised.
Now, Patrick Smith from Press Gazette has considered the 'contemporaneous court reporting online' issue in an excellent post here.
I want to consider when papers should break stories online first - starting with the problems inherent in that phrase when papers should break stories online first.

For me, the continuing distinction between a newspaper's print and online products is just another extension of the 'journalist as gatekeeper' debate - when do we decide to share things with our readers and when do we let them have (some) information? This, I think, is the reason the US citizen journalist blogger industry is so strong - they get the information, push it out there and collaborate with their readers who interact through comments; through social networks blog news posts can take on a life of their own.

At the most basic level, when I posted a tweet about a serious road accident near my home on Tuesday night, I was depriving my newspaper of an exclusive. But that's social media - people who witness incidents now don't automatically tell their local paper; they update their blog, their status, share links, photos or videos online - this is what we are up against and what we have to be able to compete with. This is also a phenomenon that is only going to grow. Exclusive is an empty word unless you can prove that no other person knows about the story - that it hasn't been shared on a forum, Twitter, a MySpace page, a niche blog.

The question is, do readers prize exclusives more than they prize information? Would being a part of the conversation - through comments, related links or perhaps tracing the geographical development of a story via a map - be more valuable to them than the fact no other news outlet had that particular tale?
If the answer is yes, then where does that leave the printed page? Well, for me it leaves us with a choice: We can break the exclusive any way we can - get our multimedia brands associated with being first and best for pushing the story out there; Or we can hang on, keep promoting our print exclusives, and try to protect the print product for as long as possible.

These aren't easy choices - these just don't exist in the changing world of Newspaper Journalism. But the fact is that 'Exclusive' on a splash page won't halt the decline of our print readership.
'Exclusive' has been a word much loved by newspapers for decades but, funnily enough, it means far more to us than our readers. It's our badge of honour - our little dig at the competition. If we insist on holding back our exclusives, we may just be digging our own grave.