Thursday, 30 December 2010

Using search tools to inform news-gathering: Some data and examples

Back in October I wrote a guest blog post for Glyn Mottishead's online and mobile journalism blog for his students, about how site searches could be a useful tool for journalists, I found the draft post again in my Google Docs the other day and thought, since some things had moved on since that was written, it merited a repost.
So, with apologies to Glyn for repeating myself, here's an updated version:

Monday, 20 December 2010

The power of saying yes: The Register Citizen Open Newsroom project

I am fascinated by what's going on at the Register Citizen Open Newsroom Project - I genuinely can't stop thinking about it. I'll read one of the team's blog posts, look at some videos of opening day, and then go about my usual daily whatevers. Then, a while later, I find myself back reading another blog post by or about the project, looking at some more videos or photos, and still I am fascinated/impressed/jealous/desperate to steal their idea and do it too.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Links for 19/12/10 (bookmarking in a post-Delicious world)

My world shifted on its axis last week with the news Delicious was closing. That state of affairs has now moved to to Delicious is not closing, it's simply breaking up with Yahoo, and has won custody of the dog, or something,
Whatever. The upshot is that my trust in Delicious as the guardian of my social bookmarks has been irrevocably damaged and I'm not getting into that kind of exclusive relationship again. Yup, I'm going to be a social bookmark butterfly. I will still use Delicious, but its not my sole site. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

"A new kind of thinking is required..."

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseI read Judy Sims' excoriating blog post on (some) newspaper execs today; it struck a chord with me in the light of my last post on five things I thought newspapers should do next year as she also has an issue with the iPad goldrush:
"So along come the steering committees, working committees, pay walls and subscription models and the dream that consumers will be willing to pay for their rarified opinions despite the countless free alternatives.  And along come the $30 million iPad apps that attempt to recreate scarcity by rolling back the clock to when news was a once-a-day occurrence and the public didn’t expect to comment, contribute or find links"
 You can read the full article here. If you happen to be a newspaper executive, I suggest you move anything breakable off your desk first...

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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Five things regional newspapers should aim for in 2011

How do you answer this question...
What do regional newspapers need to do in 2011? less than 100 words?
It taxed my brain sorely last week when Peter Sands asked me for a few pars in response to include in his annual newsletter; I eventually sent back this:

Don’t waste time and energy wondering how to charge for news online; readers won’t pay for commodity news, and unique content has a half-life of 30 seconds. Instead, build thriving, engaged communities that can be commercialised by marketing and advertising teams, growing relationships across all platforms through data-capture, collaborative reporting, contextual and behavioural ads, crowdsourcing, linking and conversation.

"I want to write for the New York Times..."

I think this little Xtranormal skit has gone around the world twice now but it did make me Laugh Out Loud twice.

Much as I like Xtranormal, I hadn't used it in a while because it was pretty limited but when I logged in again today I see there are a host of new character types added in. It would be nice to upload audio though - the text-to-voice is distracting for all the wrong reasons.

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Monday, 22 November 2010

Giving readers data means stories don't have endings - just evolutions

I found this from the New York Times interesting not just because of the high levels of engagement that it led to, but also because readers were actively comparing the respective results, as well as the data they had used to reach their conclusions.
The idea of data never really coming to an end - once a conclusion is reached, the conclusion is scrutinised and new data around that produced - is almost overwhelming in it's implications for the lifecycle of news. Quite simply, data can evolve and move forward for as long as someone is prepared to scrutinise it I guess.

In my work, we have found when we run surveys online (particularly sports) readers want a very detailed breakdown of responses and numbers - they want all the detailed statistics that come out of a survey (ideally with visualisations of some form - even a basic bar chart) if it is to have value.  It reminds me of what my old Maths exam papers used to say - SHOW YOUR WORK.

As the Times highlighted*:
..."many readers asked for a tabulation of the responses, and taken together, they offer a glimpse of specific preferences within two groups: those who far prefer spending cuts, and those who want to mix cuts with tax increases. The responses also point to a deep divide between those two sides, illustrating why a solution is difficult"...
Some weeks ago a Liverpool Echo survey of LFC fans accidentally missed out on of the questions in the big results round-up. We had several stern comments from readers who wanted to know why a question was missing and what the results had been (not just the number of votes, but how many had voted, skipped the question etc). When we realised, and restored the missing information with an apology, we had more posts from readers marking their appreciation that they had been listened to and the data provided.

So, not enough to just tell - you have to show how you got there too. Not exactly an earth-shattering conclusion, I know, but both examples made an impression on me. A lesson to carry forward with me, I think.

* Big hat-tip to Doreen Marchionni who first flagged the NY Times article and reader demands for information on her Journalism as a Conversation blog. She observes: "Online news audiences not only love to hear it but perceive such interactivity as contributing to a story’s credibility". I agree.

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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Tips, tools, hints and advice: Reflecting on a presentation to LJMU journalism students

Today was spent talking with students.
First up were two groups of PR students from Edge Hill university, whom I spent the morning chatting to about the working ways of newspapers and journalists, and the different opportunities for PR professionals to operate more effectively in multimedia.
Then, in the afternoon, I headed over to Liverpool John Moores University to talk to 3rd year journalism students about my job, how newspapers and reporters operate (and how they should operate in an ideal world) the tools we use, ways to build their brand as individuals, options they could consider if they were looking to start up as entrepreneurial journalists and the opportunities and bear traps of job interviews and work experience. I've uploaded my presentation to Slideshare and embedded further down this post*.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from the future is ours – 2020 Vision What will the media look like in 2020

The future is ours – 2020 Vision
What will the media look like in 2020? An opportunity for senior editors to outline their vision for the media in the future.
Chaired by: Alastair Stewart, Presenter, ITV News
John Mullin, Editor, Independent on Sunday
Maria McGeoghan, Editor, Manchester Evening News
Douglas McCabe, Press and Online Analyst, Enders Analysis
Jodie Ginsberg, Bureau Chief UK and Ireland, Reuters

Monday, 15 November 2010

Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from Winning Online and In Print session, Presentation and Q&A with Martin Clarke, Publisher, MailOnline

Notes from Winning Online and In Print session at Society of Editors conference 2010
Presentation and Q&A with Martin Clarke, Publisher, MailOnline.
MailOnline 10% of traffic via Facebook; it is second biggest referrer to the site after Google.
Re sending links via Facebook: "The costs of serving page to someone who doesn't come back is marginal but if she gets six links in a week she will probably become one of our online readers. I don't know why the web go for monthly users - it means nothing compared to daily users. We are reaching millions more than we used to and reading content from a paper they don't normally buy is not going go make them less likely to buy it.

Society of Editors conference 2010: Notes from the What is the Audience sesision

What is our audience - Chaired by: Steve Hewlett, Presenter, The Media Show, BBC Radio 4
Jim Chisholm, Media consultant and analyst
Mike Ironside, Chief Executive, National Readership Survey
Stewart Purvis, Professor of Television Journalism, City University London

Monday, 8 November 2010

Making newspapers - as addictive as ever

An illustration of the box juggling pattern.Image via WikipediaThis hasn't been the most updated blog recently but that's because, for a while, I found myself doing two jobs. I'm back doing just the one now but it's a bit different to what I've been doing for the past two years. To start with it left me somewhat mentally taxed, and not a little perplexed.
This demanding new job is... making newspapers.
My usual job as executive editor, digital, sees me editing print titles on an ad hoc basis (and the Echo on a Sunday rota) but generally my multimedia day is more weighted towards the web, mobile, online journalism and online strategies or projects. But for the past month I've been on a job swap with the executive editor, Echo, and for a chunk of that time, due to absences, I was also engaged in day-to-day digital editrixery as well.
All this was set, Margaret Mitchell-style, against a backdrop of the Liverpool FC club sale/saga - a frenzy that sent reader usage spiralling upwards and led to near record print and online figures.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Test boo (and an updated rant...)

Nothing worth saying or hearing

31.10.10 UPDATED...
THAT didn't really work particularly well. It was supposed to be an audio post, sent via Pixelpipe to Audioboo but seems to have gone everywhere else as well (without the audio clip).
I've been relying a lot more on Pixelpipe to send things in recent months, and since my phone stopped working properly, I suspect it's going to become a really important app for me. However, this test demonstrates that I need to fix my settings and check my routing tags...

The phone saga is very annying.
My Nokia N86 flatlined a couple of weeks ago - it worked as a phone but that was about it and since I use it least as a phone it was, for me, pretty pointless.
After being sent around in circles by Carphone Warehouse for a frustrating weekend I finally found a CW shop with a Nokia Guy who could, apparently, fix it if I left it there.

Five days later the phone returned, allegedly fixed. Although actually it isn't - the email is still not working properly.
I really don't want to have to send it back again, and I can work around the problems by using Gravity and Pixelpipe to upload, but it's bloody annoying that something I'm stuck with for another 12 months (and which was Not Cheap) has become flaky after 12 months. My phone is an important part of my job, and I've always championed Nokia (and I cannot fault the N86 camera) but, frankly, I give up.
Phew! nothing like a little mis-posted Audioboo to set off a rant, is there?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The virtual shop window

There is a story - and I'm told it's not apocryphal - that the Liverpool Echo used to employ a man whose sole reason for existence was to tell advertisers to go away.
 Apparently, in the dim and distant past (I believe this means the 1960s but certainly there are old timers who remember the phenomenon) people wanting to place adverts in that night's Echo would be queuing in the front reception area in the hope of winning a slot.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

My First Death Knock

This whole post is apropos of nothing in particular, it's the type of story every journalist has, but I found myself thinking about it recently and so I wrote it down.
There are a few set questions anyone applying for a job in journalism gets asked at interview - among them is a request to summarise what they would do if Newsdesk sent them out on The Knock - which usually means a death knock. (Update 1.10.10: Andy Dickinson raises the growing issue of 'Facebook plundering v human contact' debate here)

My first successful death knock was a boat; not on a boat, you understand, but the actual storm-crushed remains of a fishing vessel whose owner was still missing at sea, days later.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Websites and apps I really need to find the time to explore further

Time is a precious resource. There is never any of it to spare during the working day; it zips past at weekends at super speed and creaks by during meetings and dental appointments at a glacial pace. All this means there are various online sites and applications that I don't have time to do anything with; or, if I do have the time, I am in an Inappropriate Place, like a Coffee Nation franchise (with 20 minutes wifi only, the tightwads) or on a train.

So I spend a lot of time saving things to my bookmarks with tags like 'must try' or 'to do' or 'looks good' that sit there untouched for, well, some time. Tonight I inched a couple of steps in the right direction - I opened my bookmarks and had a sort through. There were several apps launched as the Next Big Thing that had quietly died without ever becoming even the Next Little Thing, others than I had just incorporated into my daily use without conscious effort, and a few that I have as much chance of ever understanding and using as I do of flying to the moon.
But there were also several apps and websites I know I should make the time to try out properly. Some of them look very complicated to set up but I suspect a bit of planing at the outset will, ultimately, be rewarding.

Crowdmap - Real time mapping of crowd coverage of events/incidents. I signed up ages ago but have done nothing with it since other than create one map I later deactivated. Needs a project of some sort and I will have to get my head around what that might be. The examples on the site are all about disasters and natural incidents but I had hoped to use it for the Mathew Street Festival coverage. Events conspired against me on that one but it's definitely an app for the future.

Amplify - seems to be a cross-posting content clipper with aggregation, social media and multimedia integration. You get your own email address to post through and the microblog function gives you 1,000 characters and there's a blog platform as well. Beyond joining up recently and adding some Twitter friends, I've done nothing with it. Worthy pursuing though, I feel.

iMacros for Firefox - installed, running merrily away in the background of my browser. I do NOTHING with it. I couldn't even remember what it was for, but as it was filed in my 'very useful' bookmarks folder so I'm pretty sure it is one I should have a proper play with. Basically it does this: "It sits in your Firefox toolbar, and lets you record tasks whether they are oft-performed web development tasks, or simple tasks such as opening a series of tabs you use each day". So it's a time saver - once I have the time to use it.

Outwit - again, installed and sat at the top of my browser, a constant silent taunt to my inability to just knuckle down and learn how to use it. Outwit trawls and collates content so you don't have to; download its Hub (general content) Images or Docs and it dozens of data recognition and extraction functions fitting in a Firefox extension.

TimeFlow Analytical Timeline - a visualisation tool for temporal data, it does everything from plotting  events over time on a scrollable, horizontal timeline to allowing users to aggregate data by headers in the data sets, offers various views and seems, in short, to be useful.

The OS Open Space API - need I say more?

Maptube - for viewing, sharing, mixing and mashing maps online. I did actually use this (at least a year ago) and it is NOT complicated. But it does suffer from not being something I particularly connected with and so I forget it's there as a content creation option. Again, one for a project I guess.

deviantART Muro -
Digital drawing programme that also has collaboration options built in. Loved this when I did a quick test but never went back to try it again. Must go back and explore further.

Simile - In terms of welcoming the new user, a site with the sub-heading
Semantic Interoperability of Metadata and Information in unLike Environments is not exactly reaching out with open arms to love you. But wait! there's more; Simile also "seeks to enhance inter-operability among digital assets, schemata/vocabularies/ontologies, metadata, and services. A key challenge is that the collections which must inter-operate are often distributed across individual, community, and institutional stores. We seek to be able to provide end-user services by drawing upon the assets, schemata/vocabularies/ontologies, and metadata held in such stores". On reflection, I now know exactly why I saved it but never did anything with the site. However, it is a really useful repository of myriad applications and addons, so I will be revisiting it in the future. With my dictionary.

Soup - blog/aggregator/pinger. On revisiting it now, I don't understand why some people rave about Soup; still, at least that's one I don't need to worry about finding the time to learn more about. Unless you know differently?

Socialmarker -a pan-site tool for adding web pages
to social bookmarking and social news sites. There is a Firefox addon but since mine currently include Share on Posterous (occasionally used) Share on Tumblr (rarely used) Import to Mendeley (never used) and Share on Cliqset (used once to test) I don't think it's going to make any difference if I add it. However, I do think this is a site worth me spending a bit of time using before I decide whether or not it's a keeper.

Stripgenerator - (below) used it once twice, loved it. Never had sufficient time or wit to return - but I still think it's a great site and one I should use more. Ditto Xtranormal.

* The quote is, of course, Douglas Adams. 
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Sunday, 19 September 2010

Meeting friends from Norwegian newsrooms

I had the pleasure of meeting a group of print and broadcast journalists from Norway who dropped by the Post&Echo offices on Friday, while they were on a union-led, team-building outing to Liverpool.

Lars Johnsten, of Drammens Tidende, contacted me to suggest meeting up after a mutual acquaintance (whom I first met and admired on Twitter before making Real World contact at the News Rewired conference earlier this year), journalist and blogger Kristine Lowe, hooked us up.
And I'm so glad she did. 

It was fascinating to talk about the issues and developments in the industry, and get their take on things - cutbacks, newspaper ownership, paywalls and what (if any) content you could conceivably charge for. Lars' paper has just developed an iPad app and I will be very interested to see how that takes off. Likewise, they were interested to know how the newsroom operates having taken out a production tier, with reporters writing onto electronic pages and no sub editors. 

I snapped a quick photo of some of them discussing Saturday's front page design with editor Alastair Machray and designer Richard Irvine...

Norwegian journos visiting the Echo

It brought home to me - yet again - how my work as a journalist, and my day-to-day job - has been enriched by social media. Without Twitter and blogging, we would never have had that point-of-contact and this random meeting - which really enlivened a Friday afternoon - would probably have never happened.
It's a small point, but it's one I do well to remind my self of. And it's a nice example to have up my sleeve if I'm asked (as still occasionally happens) what the returns are for the time invested in social media. Making real life friends is a pretty good return, I'd say.
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Thursday, 16 September 2010

No laughing matter...

Mistakes happen. Twenty years on I still remember the Editor's Hairdrier I got for leaving the letter 'l' out of a front page news story on public rail works, and I have (occasionally) felt a little swell of gratitude for Microsoft Word after its suggestions saved my blushes.
But this little slip was too good not to save and - now that some months have passed - share. It's from one of my local weekly papers and it did make me smile...

 ...Which is more than can be said for George's leg, I guess.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Getting over a blogging breakdown

Dear Blog, 

I'm sorry I've been away; it's not that I don't care, it's just that I have had very little to say for myself and you, Blog, are partly to blame for that.
You see, when I first hooked up with you and gave you your name, I also saddled you with a mission statement - the rather ponderous
Thoughts on changing times for journalism and newspapers that still sits just beneath your title today (although that may change soon). And lately I haven't had many thoughts about journalism or newspapers, at least not any that would stand sharing.

Because recently, Blog, I have found it increasingly hard to negotiate the choppy waters of 'changing times'; I have, if you like, lost my compass. I have striven to be optimistic about newspapers and the future but sometimes the words rang very hollow indeed.

Like, I'm interested in data journalism, visualisations and applications but I don't think it's the sole rock on which a business should be founded. I'm interested in apps but I think probably mobile web is just as important if less headline-grabbing, I'm interested in story-telling yet I'm bored of big reads - but if you hit me with nothing but headlines and push Slow Journalism off the page, I feel superficial and guilty that I don't care enough to read 3,000 words of deathless prose.

So I'm afraid I've been ignoring you, Blog, but if it makes you feel better, you aren't the only one. I deserted my other online playgrounds too - even the BFF ones like Twitter, and Google Reader, and Delicious. Not only did I have nothing to say, I didn't want to hear anything interesting from anyone else either. Because it might not make a difference to how I felt, and that would mean that the estrangement was probably going to become permanent. 

What changed things was, randomly, a delayed hair appointment. I was stuck in a coffee shop with wifi, waiting for the clock hands to move, when I logged onto Twitter and instead of my recent lurking, I gatecrashed a conversation between Nigel Barlow, Jo Wadsworth and Andy Dickinson. The subject interested me, and within a few tweets the conversation had grown to include thoughts from Glyn Mottishead, Sue Llewellyn, Sam Shepherd and Mary Hamilton

It grew into a really interesting debate - the type of thing you'd like to move into the real world and accompany with some ale - and it reminded me how valuable my online networks people and conversations are to me. It reminded me, Blog, that I started you so I could have conversations with myself and others about journo stuff I was trying out, and thoughts or half-baked ideas I'd had; I realised that going dark was just another way of sulking because the Utopia I had in mind when I started blogging in 2008 hadn't panned out. 

The Panning Out is still going on, and it's going to continue for a long time - in fact, it's never going to stop. It will just move on to the next thing, and the changes will keep happening. The trick is not to start longing for and end to change, I guess, because newspapers and journalism stopped changing for a long time and that is, in part, what's led to the current crisis. 

Anyway, Blog, that's all I wanted to say. I'm sorry I stopped talking to you, and I hope we can move on from our brief falling out. If it makes you feel better, I had a catch up with my mate Neil MacDonald earlier and he revealed, unprompted, that he'd had a blogging crisis and had ground to a halt. I see he's over it now though. I'm not quite, but I think I'm getting there. 

Love always, 

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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Site searches - tttttttttttttttttttttttttttttoo baffling for words

Several times a day, an automated message drops into my inbox telling me the most searched for terms on the Liverpool Echo site.
It's an idea we appropriated from the Manchester Evening News a while ago and, as well as just being an informative overview of what users are looking for, it's proved popular with newsdesk types as it can give a heads-up on a story we don't know about.

We use analytics all the time to look at what is popular on the site, but the automated search-terms round-up will often flag up a name that's being repeatedly searched for; if we don't recognise that name, it may well be connected to a news story - we've found out the names of fatal rta victims before they were released by the police through friends searching for the story by name on the site.

We've also had some random ones - The World being searched for in the latest one is a cruise liner that visited Liverpool at the weekend but how do you explain the phrase 'knicker sniffer' being the top searched for term on the site recently? There wasn't a court case because we checked, but there were dozens of searches for it. Police could offer no enlightenment either... but I bet there will be a court case coming up in the near future involving that term (although probably in slightly more legalese).

But today's is a little baffling:

That's 'tttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt' and 'tttttttttttttttttttttttttttsssssssssssssss', just to be clear. No way it could be a repeated, random elbow on a keyboard surely? But we've puzzled and come up blank. Answers on a postcard please.

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Thursday, 12 August 2010 could be an inspiring approach to hyperlocal news

I nosed around the newly-launched website today, and came away a bit of a fan-girl.
TBD, which is from the same brains as Politico, is a real foray into hyperlocal journalism and could just be one of the models the rest of us in mainstream media end up emulating.

It offers local news and community information from Metropolitan Washington DC, has reporters, editors, producers, and 'community-outreach specialists' (a  new one on me) to produce original journalism, curate news from other media - mainstream and independent (I'm including local bloggers in independent media; after all, they're creating content) and engage audiences. 

There's a detailed review of the site and its genesis on the Huffington Post (see the links at the bottom of this) but I don't agree with their idea that journalists will be watching this with concern. I think a lot of us will be looking at it and thinking 'that's exactly what we need to do'. Ultimately, it could inspire better things.

It’s very new but already I really like this site, both from the point of view of a journalist and that of a user; it’s how I think local news company websites should aim to operate. I can certainly understand why US industry watchers say the Washington Post is eyeballing it. 

I like it as a journalist because:
  • It’s seriously packed with news, features and information
  • It’s packed with news happening right now (truly  - the homepage splash changed every time I reloaded the page)
  • It updates constantly
  • It has loads of sources of information - both from TBD staffers, mainstream media, social networks, bloggers and users
  • It’s an active site - doesn’t rely on feeds/UGC
  • It ‘gets’ hyperlocal
  • It does live fact-checking

I like it as a user because:

  • It’s easy - news, features, sport and essentials. Plus a great site map.
  • No flashing ads, no massive rollovers, no banners with tiny close signs
  • Pithy articles, eye catching video, good images
  • It lets me choose my local news
  • Live fact-checking (yes, its still great)
  • Excellent commuter information
  • I feel involved
  • It’s thought about what mobile apps users might value

In fact, the more I wandered around the site the more I found to like. It doesn’t have a big news corporation feel to it, and maybe that’s what’s so attractive. It offers the slick, polished set up of a MSM company without feeling unwieldy and over-designed. I think the residents of Metropolitan Washington DC are very lucky.

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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Graphs, charts and tools to monitor your Twitter growth and reach

After Hanoi-based Steve Jackson (@ourman) tweeted "Is there any online software that will turn your Twitter activity into a graph?" I had a look through recommendations he received in reply and I thought I'd give them a try, alongside some of the ones I use regularly, or ones I've stumbled across and meant to use.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Infographic: the information explosion

Lovely infographic to pore over here from Wikibon..
It forecasts consumer generated content, how it will impact on business - and where all this information will be stored.

The last section 'Who's responsible for the content' is particularly interesting;  if enterprise is responsible for the content created, they have to find a way of storing it (and a way of paying for that storage.Will the Library of Congress really be so keen to shoulder the burden of storing every tweet if the usage continues to grow (it's just notched up its 20 billionth tweet)?
The infographic highlights an IDC estimate that, in 10 years time, business transactions on the internet (B2B and B2C) will reach 450 billion per day. That is a boggling amount of data.

A final point (and far less boggling) is the US language and UK landmark mashup on this infographic which sees the pitch at Wembley Stadium becoming 'the field'...

Information Explosion & Cloud Storage
Via: Wikibon

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Some conflicting thoughts on Facebook

Facebook logo
Facebook has been on my mind this week.
 First of all it published some advice to the Meeja on how journalists can get the most out of using the social network which, while a little heavy on the exclaimation marks, seems useful and has some good pointers. It's a best practice guide for reporters who want to know more about using Facebook in a professional capacity, to promote their work, seek feedback, guage public opinion, crowdsource ideas and more. Plus it allows them keep their personal/professional networking somewhat separate (we've all seen examples of what happens when Facebook Status Goes Bad).

Then, via Paul Bradshaw's OJB, I came across a blog post on the BBC College of Journalism site that made me reconsider all of the above.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Learning story-telling from developers and designers

An article in Poynters Online about the communications gap that exists between journalists and programmers struck a chord with me today.
It’s a liveblog debate on the issue, with contributions from academics, journalists and developers, and the full discussion is here but to give a flavour of the issue, here’s the paragraph that initially caught my eye:

It's oversimplified to call it a right-brain, left-brain difference, but it's clear that while programmers and journalists need each other, they don't always find it easy to work together. Differences in project needs and personal styles can add to the disconnect.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Freedom of Information Act: not the only option, but sometimes the only known option

I'd guess a lot of people are in the dark about who to speak to when trying to obtain information about something other than bin deliveries or council surgeries.
They also have no real idea how to go about finding out, short of ringing the local council switchboard (IF they can find such a general number) and, consequently, a number of them turn to the Freedom of Information Act.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Making a 3D Photosynth and Microsoft ICE panorama

Image representing Photosynth as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase
I've been meaning to play with Photosynth for a while... over a year actually;  Steve Clayton ran through the idea at TEDx Liverpool in 2009 but I stowed it away in the 'things to investigate' file and only got round to remembering it after it was mentioned again at the recent news:rewired conference.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Using comic strip tools to create content

Here's a quick idea for some fun website content that takes seconds to make, and which can really personalise a story and make it sing a little... add a bespoke comic strip.
This is my attempt, using Stripgenerator - it took me a couple of minutes from signing up to designing a character, to completing my first strip:

I wish... by alisongow

Or you can see it in its natural habitat, complete with sharing and rating abilities, title and description, at this link.

Anyway, this one is obviously not reportage (although I'm fairly sure I've channelled my cat's fondest wish accurately) but I do like it as an option for web journalists who want to add a bit of spark to an article or blog post, or who fancy having a daily strip in the best traditions of those ol' dead tree publications.

Stripgenerator offers free or paid for options. On the free one you get a selection of stock human and 'beings' characters - from dogs to aliens - plus limited build-your-own options which are automatically saved as 'my characters'. You drag and drop characters, objects, shapes, text or thought bubbles into your selected frames, title, tag and publish. Then you can share on various social networks, or embed. Plus, you could always make it, screengrab it and use it in print should you wish.

And it's not the only one - there are several comic-creating sites I have yet to explore but plan too, like Pixton and Toondoo and I'm currently experimenting with a full-on page turner using the Comic Labs Extreme website (which is for kids but I'm not proud - I'm uploading my own photos and video to use instead).
So, not rocket science or Pulitzer-winning perhaps, but a nice addition to have, nonetheless.

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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Visualising data: are the statistics provided always the right ones to use?

It was Liverpool's first Social Media Cafe Liverpool #smcliv last night and I'd be amazed, given the way it went, if there wasn't another one taking place very shortly.
I was one of the speakers (report of the evening will be on my work blog later today) but this post is a bit different; I wanted to write some  thoughts out of my head about data, and journalism, and how - for me, at least - it's very easy to get lost in what makes a Really Awesome Visualisation, when what it should be about is information. Sometimes I need to remind myself, statistics are not the whole story.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Pew Director: How news consumption has changed since 2000

Really interesting presentation from Lee Rainie, the Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, on the latest data and trends at the Newhouse School’s MOB (“Monetizing Online Business”) Conference.
The slides cover everything from how the 'media ecosystem' has been changed by digital developments to how Americans share news, participate and day-part.
The implications section is particularly interesting and I noted with interest Implication 4 -
Much news is a commodity and consumers displaying[sic] a classic response: They don't want to pay for something that is abundant

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Friday, 25 June 2010

Journalists and customers service: News Rewired conference

I'm at the News Rewired (#newsrw) conference organised by today. It's only the second session of the morning but there seems to be a real underlying theme for me: you can have all the tools and great content in the world but if you don't look after your customers you may as well give up now.

MSN's Peter Bale revealed in his opening keynote that the portal site now has an editorial code of conduct that can be viewed by users, and this tone was continued in the mobile session I sat attended.
Both Michael Targett, of Flightglobal, and Miriam Warren, of Yelp, made constant reference to the need to listen to feedback from audiences and to react positively to criticism and learn from it.

The session I'm in now is building online buzz and Tony Curzon Price of OpenData is saying journalists are not very good at blogging because they aren't used to the interaction with audiences.
I think that's a sweeping generalisation but the theme continues...

Sent from my iPod

Posted via email from Alison Gow

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Poshest invite *ever*

Poshest invite *ever*
Originally uploaded by Alison'spix
As a journalist, I get all manner of exciting things in the post. I've been sent bread (thanks, Warburtons), vodka (can't remember...hic), myriad self-published books, and - once - a pair of paper knickers.

But this is possibly the most classy thing I've been sent - an invite to Peckforton Castle, in Cheshire, newly-reinvented as a spa. The paper was so thick it took ages to get it to lie flat for a photo. And look - it even comes complete with it's own wax seal; I'd never seen a proper one before.

And no, I'm not going.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Publishing addresses of police officer defendents - a little help from the High Court

When a police officer is in the dock, you can practically bet your house on an attempt by their brief to get the accused's name/address/case details concealed. So anyone who has fumed from the press bench and attempted to catch the clerk's eye to lodge a protest as lawyers representing serving police officers try to stop public information being reported, will probably rejoice at this precedent-setting decision made by the High Court.

Media Lawyer reports on the case of two senior police officers, who were facing trial on criminal charges, and made a failed attempt to overturn a decision by magistrates that their addresses should be given in open court and published.

Surrey Police Chief Superintendent Adrian Harper, Divisional Commander for East Surrey, and Superintendent Jonathan Johncox, of the West Surrey division, sought an order under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 for their home addresses to be withheld from the public, and for the media to be banned from reporting them, when they appeared before magistrates at Aldershot in August last year on charges connected of misconduct charges relating to alleged speeding offences.

The magistrates refused to make the order, and the men's addresses were read out in open court. But on the evening of the hearing the two officers obtained a temporary injunction from Mr Justice Jack banning publication of their addresses. They also applied for Judicial Review of the magistrates' decision, and an order continuing the ban imposed by Mr Justice Jack.

But the Administrative Court rejected their application, saying that they had failed to show any justification for interfering with the principle of open justice.

Lord Justice Pill said: "There is, in my judgment, a burden on the claimants to establish not only that the derogation they seek is in the circumstances a very limited one but also that there is a justification in the particular case for interfering at all with the principle of open justice.

"In my judgment, they have failed to do so ... If there is a risk, it would not in the circumstances be enhanced by publication of addresses. On the information the claimants give, any approach to them is likely to be a targeted one which would not be deterred by the need to discover a home address.

"While the charges against the claimants are serious they are unlikely to provoke that response by vigilantes which occasionally occurs in some categories of offence, for example, charges involving abuse of young children.

"Moreover, it is inconceivable that these or other police officers would be deterred from performing their duties if it is known that their addresses would be disclosed in circumstances such as the present. I would accept that the proper performance of police duties is, for present purposes, an integral part of the administration of justice but I can see no adverse impact in this case."

Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights was not engaged, he said.

Neither was there any procedural defect in the way in which the magistrates had dealt with the application - the issues were clear, and detailed reasons for their decision were not required, Lord Justice Pill said, adding: "On analysis, I would have found it very surprising if they had reached a different decision."

Mrs Justice Rafferty agreed. The application for judicial review was refused and the order made by Mr Justice Jack discharged.

* Honourable mention in despatches to Guy Vassall-Adams, of PA, who argued at the hearing that it was for those seeking to defeat or limit the open justice principle to prove the necessity of doing so, and ‘a person's address was an integral part of his identity’.

R (Harper) and R (Johncox) v Aldershot Magistrates Court, with the Press Association, Surrey and Berkshire Media, and the CPS, Hampshire, as interested parties.

Full details from Media Lawyer are here

Posted via email from Alison Gow

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Why it's time to throw away the dummy (or whatever it's called in your newsroom)

If you know what this is...

...the chances are you've brushed up against newsdesk or page design in a newsroom at some point. Everywhere I've worked it's been called something different - The Book, The Plan, The Dummy, the Flatplan - but recently I've started wondering if it should be called The Box, because we think inside it.

Friday, 21 May 2010

"Your mascots are worse than our mascots... And... and... YOU SMELL!"

There's nothing like the sweet tang of revenge and Canada's National Post is in gleeful form after the London 2012 Olympic mascots were revealed, with no less than four articles dedicated to poking fun:
Olympic mascots: Who’s laughing now, London? 
and, finally,

Although I'm not picking on the National Post here - I think a Copyright: All Media is probably appropriate given that most newspapers took time out to laugh at the new mascots. But it did strike strick me than two long articles and two galleries dedicated to some not-very-interesting-news was taking piqued national pride a little far. 

But then, the grievance had been treasured up for a couple of months: I was skiing near Whistler during the opening of the 2010 games and the world's media (including Canada's) were reporting fears that this year's Games would be green for all the wrong reasons.
At Whistler, the base is often rainy and snowfree but higher up is snowsure, and snow was being helicoptered in for the low-lying cross-country trails.
TV broadcasters (US, Canadian, UK) set up camp on the snow-lite base and reporters employed patented black-edged voices to deliver doomy reports about the lack of snow. Which was followed - within days of the opening ceremony - by doomy black-edged voice reports about too  much snow affecting the downhill.

Personally I thought the 2010 games were immense, and the whole country seemed to throw itself behind the Olympics. Their mascots were ok - they really weren't great though, and I speak as someone who bought all three for my (distinctly underwhelmed) young nieces. Apparently they were derieded by the UK press - a quick search failed to throw up any articles but I can well believe there was some sneering.

Now Canada's press is having its revenge and loving every minute, and it's all done in the grandest tradition of journalism; there is nothing that exists that we can't mock or knock in some way. Apart from, maybe, Stephen Fry - everyone seems to love him. 
The same thing happened in Liverpool when the city won Capital of Culture. I think now we can all acknowledges it was an overwhelming success, but the tired old cliches -stolen hubcaps, trackies, 'calm down, calm down' and (of course) the 'Festival of Litter' were bandied around by UK press who seemed determined not to let Liverpool succeed (Sunday Times Culture section, I'm looking at you).

When we can't inform, we editorialise - frequently in a way that diminishes us in some way. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius - Swifter, Higher, Stronger. Maybe newspapers should consider a universal motto of their own - Inrideo, Duco, Minutum.

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