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 Plurkshops.com 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 twello.com to monitter.com 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.

Dictionary.net 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.