Friday, 30 December 2011

Shifting to Google Apps from Microsoft - not a trend... yet.

In its article A Microsoft Horror Story: Newspaper Chain Is Switching 8,500 Employees To Google Apps Business Insider says "this isn't the case of a small business switching from some legacy email system to Gmail while maintaining a huge Microsoft contract for Office and other products. This is a big company that seems anxious to move all its employees away from Microsoft products completely.
"One story doesn't make a trend -- there were cases of businesses moving off Microsoft to Linux and OpenOffice in the last decade, too, but Microsoft continued to grow its sales every year. And Microsoft can point to some case studies where customers chose Microsoft's cloud services after testing Google's.... [but] even ONE story like this should be enough to make Steve Ballmer and company sweat."
Trinity Mirror's move to Google Apps started with Media Wales two months ago and is still being rolled out across the rest of the group but (even as a hardened Google user) I have to say it makes life much easier than the old IBM suite. Sharing docs, and calendars, using Google Groups and having (almost) unlimited storage space for emails has been great; apparently  Google+ integration is also planned, which could have benefits in terms of using hangouts to boost - for example - in-house training.
It might not be a trend yet but look at what the Journal Register Company has achieved with the Ben Franklin Project publishing using purely free online tools and software.
Moving away from established brands to experiment with light-touch, third party apps is something that most publishers would have struggled to wrap their heads around a decade ago. Now, ownership  can be seen as a tie - look how many media companies are renting press space with rivals - and the ready ability of newsrooms to adapt free social online tools for storytelling is only helping the culture shift.
Personally, I'd imagine Microsoft are looking at the way things are moving with some concern. Be interesting to see what it does to arrest the shift.

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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Why UGC means never having to say you're sorry (apparently)

Perhaps I should just have one huge post on user-generated content that gets updated as merited because, to continue with the theme of UGC from the last update, this example shows what happens when a newspaper assumes everyone has the same knowledge and standards. 

Image: James Parks
The photograph on the right appeared in the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, recently - two trains, one new, one from bygone days of steam, captured barrelling along under a crisp blue sky. 
Taken by a 'trusted contributor' who submitted it to the newspaper, it was published on the front page of November 27 edition. 

Then, on December 17, the Standard-Examiner's Behind The Headlines column carried what amounts to a long explanation for misleading readers

In the column, staffer Andy Howell explains that the photograph was in fact a composite, Photoshopped by the person who submitted the image and published in good faith (albeit without checking) as a genuine shot instead of a cut-n-shunt of two photos. Howell states:
I believe the photographer did not set out to deceive us or the public. The end result was more a product of miscommunication and a naive misunderstanding on the photographer's part. It is also a cautionary tale for us and other newspapers as we rely more and more on citizen journalists and contributors...
The photo was taken by a "long-time train enthusiast", whose work had been published by the paper before, and who deliberately set out to capture two shots that would when manipulated, show the old and the new in harmony. 
The photographer believed that his composite image told a story in the best traditions of photo-journalism:
He shot separate photos of both trains and didn't think twice about overlaying the photos to create the composite image. He said he had read a column of mine where I explained that photojournalists try to tell a story with their images. To him, combining the photos was just a way of telling the story.
The column apologises for the deception (although one could question the depth of the apology after reading the whole column); it doesn't accept responsibility for checking the provenance of the image, however.

The big mistake James [the photographer] made was not telling us the image was a composite. If we had known, we might still have run it... and clearly identified it as such.... James is sorry he didn't tell us.
There should be a mea culpa from the newspaper at this point rather than a 'James is sorry' (the photographer misled by omission, not through an intention to deceive the newspaper).
The column says the lesson for us all is that "sincere motives can still lead to bad journalism". Actually, not checking sources leads to bad journalism, and readers know it - read the comments accompanying the column (90 of them last time I looked).

Mistakes happen all the time but when a publisher is dealing with people who supply work (in this case it appears the photographer provided it free - his 'payment' being to see his work published) it cannot take things at face value. It says:
...we need do a better job of educating the public as to the role and ethics of journalism if we want them to be regular contributors.
Possibly a simple (humble?) "We are sorry and we have tightened our procedures so this cannot happen again" rather than an explaination as to why the newspaper was not to blame would have played better with the audience.
Behind the Headlines state one of the principles of journalism is: Never Deceive Your Audience. Perhaps it should remember another: Check Your Sources.
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Thursday, 15 December 2011

UGC: It can't be a case of something for nothing

One of the Citizen Journalism Unconference pos...
Image via Wikipedia
Reading Maria Purdy Young's take on UGC (Citizen Journalism: Something for Nothing Won't Last Long) I remembered Bild's 2008 announcement that it planned to pebbledash basic digital cameras around its potential audience, to try and boost the paper's photographic network. 

According to Bild's picture editor, the newspaper now receives something like 4,000 photographs a day, and the service has led to nearly 1,000 lead stories. (More here, courtesy of Google Translate). 
The mind boggles as to how Bild process all that content pouring in, or whether they respond to everyone who makes a submission (I doubt it's possible)  but it really is the whole River of UGC idea that the regional press has been so intrigued by in recent years.

Bild is, of course, huge - 2.2m copies a day - with a vast audience and the amount of photos, tips and more it receives are correspondingly vast. 
But I remember thinking. at the time Bild and Lidl announced their plans, how wonderful it would be if only the Liverpool Daily Post could give free or peppercorn cost Flip cameras to people. 

Because, as Maria Purdy Young says, something for nothing won't last. In fact, something for nothing shouldn't last.
There should be an exchange - it doesn't mean a financial one but an acknowledgement that both sides are benefiting in some way. Flickr groups are a case in point; when David Higgerson and I worked in Liverpool we had to learn the nuances of running a group where some images were printed, free, in the newspaper.
Ultimately, it worked - the Flickr group members and the Post&Echo worked out a exchange/balance - but if we hadn't, I think the groups wouldn't be the effective, healthy communities they are today. 

There's a quote in the Purdy Young article: “CNN has been relatively forward-thinking in its approach to citizen journalism,” he said. “They mix iReport content (from unpaid citizen journalists) right in with the professional CNN content. But it’s not so simple as you hand a camera to someone and then you fire a journalist.” (it's attributed to someone named only as Myers, who isn't referenced elsewhere in the piece).

No doubt having your video in amongst the 'pro' news video will satisfy some contributors whereas others will feel short-changed. Either way, I doubt CNN worries about its UGC exchange balance too much - they aren't going to be dependent on the same contributors all the time. It's like the regional news organisations view of the nationals: They come in, trample over everything and leave, whereas we have to live with the consequences of our actions.

But for local papers, getting the balance right is crucial, and it will involve investment - cash, time, knowledge-sharing are just some of the things we will have to be prepared to exchange. 
Frankly, I think there could be a steep learning curve on this one.

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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Testing... testing... Some curation tools compared

Given that curation is the new black*, or at least a popular, effective way to tell stories, the number of tools caluclated to help with gathering and presenting information rises every week.

Since I have accounts with any number of them of them, albeit mostly unused, and happened to be using Storify for work today, I thought it might be interesting to run the rule over a few others. 

So, Storify, the one we're all using and loving was my weapon of choice for work, and I've embedded that one here (it will need a minute to load - more of that later).

For me, Storify offers great flexibility and is very user-friendly - the drag-n-drop approach is fast to pull together and it offers excellent sources. I also like the fact that it has a bookmarklet you can drag to your browser bar - one click and you're ready to start curating a swathe of information. 
However, it would be incredibly useful to be able to put date specifications on some sites (particularly Flickr and YouTube) as a lot of the returned media looks exciting but is historic.

 Also, it can take time for the widget to load. And if you've got a lot of content, it's l-o-n-g - by which I mean it takes up a lot of space on a webpage. Which, from a user point of view, has potential to be annoying - particularly if it's embedded mid-story.
From using CIL for liveblogging I know users on busy blogs complain content revelent to their interests is hard to find. I feel the same issue here - it would be nice to have the ability to put a * (or something a bit more sophisticated) next to, say, official sources or interesting links.

I joined Storyful years ago and I think it's an effective curation tool with lots of functionality (including date relevance) with the added bonus of being very handsome (Storify is, well, a bit functional by comparison). Here's the one I made.

 The search sources are the same, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Google and rss, with the ability to add links. I also like the Add A Section tool - it distinguishes a new strand of information and has the nice, newsy feel of a sub head. 
Storyful is huge, of course, and has professional curators doing paid for work (the curation around today's tragic grenade attacks in Belgium was extremely impressive.)
  Alas, Storyful curations exist on Storyful; you can't embed them anywhere. You can tweet and Facebook them but that's it. The lack of an embed code is for me, as a basic techie only, a shame. I like Storyful very much but I want to be able to post my creation elsewhere if necessary and that's just not possible.

Themeefy got off on the wrong foot by a) autotweeting that I'd joined without making it clear this would happen, and b) being less intuitive to work out than the others.

However, I only discovered this site at the weekend and got round to testing it last night so I may have been a bit frazzled and lacking in concentration. 
So, the idea is much along the lines of Storify - you get your menu alongside a space to create your 'magazine'. 

You can add social media (and it's got by far the largest number of sites available - the usual suspects plus several others from Wikipedia and Wordpress to Bibkosh (associated social media site) plus the ability to upload files and photos, and design a page from scratch with hyperlinks, text, photos and more.

I liked it, I have to say. The Themeefy I made is superficial (in my defence I was very time poor) but it worked well - it felt a little like Storybird - and it had the crucial embed ability, plus the usual social media link ups for publicising your work, and a 'comments on/off' option. 
I would like to be able to add more content to each of the pages more, so they had more of a feel; I couldn't work out how - or even if - that could be done. Having said that, the ability to create a unique page, with multimedia, was a useful feature.

A few others: 
Bundlr: Chrome bookmarklet, bookmark extension, collaboration with others, various social media integration, embeddable. 
Pearltrees: Blogged about this one before: I like it as a curation tool. Offers multi-collaboration, embeds,and the opportunity to open up sections so your tree has 'branches' dealing with specific topics. Beautiful to look at, frustratingly limiting to use. 

* Apologies to the Cliche Police; I really don't have an excuse.

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Friday, 9 December 2011

Do newspaper closures mean news deserts? Maybe... not

English: a picture taken in the desert of kuwa...
Image via Wikipedia
I was reading Tom Stites: Layoffs and cutbacks lead to a new world of news deserts this week* and it got me thinking about how (and whether) a newspaper really is intrinsic to the fabric of a community.

It is a thought-provoking piece, exploring the concept of news deserts - although Stites is discussing US newspapers, it could just as easily be applied to the closures of local newspapers in the UK. 

But it does strike me that, just because a newspaper closes, that doesn't mean news stops being reported - just that it's being reported differently, and by people who don't hold down mainstream media jobs.  
Niche sectors, like (biz), or How-Do (media/creative), hyperlocal blogs like Pits n Pots, spring to mind. Plus you've only got to look at the Talk About Local successes, and the even the emergence of n0tice (ok, it's in beta at the moment but I see a lot of people sharing things on other networks from there even at this early stage) as a forum for information sharing.

So while I understand the idea of news deserts I'm not sure it's a case of 'lose your newspaper, lose your news'. What did shock me though were the examples cited in the article - one US paper cutting back from 130 staff to 12 (that's 12 reporters - news-gatherers - by the way; it doesn't actually state how many production or other editorial staff were let go)  - it's hard to see how the vacuum can be filled swiftly and effectively. Nature may hate a vacuum but that's dozens of content creators who have just gone from the news machine. They aren't all going to suddenly decide to start a Patch blog for their area.

Stites writes: "Elites and the affluent are awash in information designed to serve them, but everyday people, who often grapple with significantly different concerns, are hungry for credible information they need to make their best life and citizenship decisions. Sadly, in many communities there’s just no oasis, no sustenance to be found — communities where the “new news ecosystem” is not a cliché but a desert."

Of course, when you're hungry you aren't so picky about what sort of food you get - if MacDonalds is the only place open, chances are that's where you'll head. 
The same holds true for information - you learn abot a big breaking story on Twitter Facebook and maybe head to MSM for more information - a news banquet if you like. 
I'm just not sure fast food news is what we should aspire to as a full time diet.

Part One:Tom Stites: Taking stock of the state of web journalism; Part Three:Tom Stites: Might the new web journalism model be neither for-profit nor nonprofit?
This post was first blogged on Diigo; other links I save are here
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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Your newspaper BMDs column is now live on Twitter

"FOR SALE" - a classified ad in a ne...
Image via Wikipedia
Long ago, when people tended to AskJeeves instead of just Asking, and citing Wikipedia as a source got you a newsdesk hairdrier (so, circa 1994), being rota-ed to do the Births, Deaths and Marriages scan was an envied job.

 Usually you were the early shift reporter, so you would potentially already have bagged at least one edition's on-day splash from calls, and then you were able to settle back and peruse around a dozen pages of arrivals, departures, public notices and classifieds in the name of Human Interest stories.

Once you found a decent lead lurking in the BMDs, there was often a friendly vicar (M&Ds), obliging undertaker (Ds) or several postings from proud family and friends (Bs) to help you track down your quarry, aided by the phone book and directory enquiries. Failing that,  an advertising colleague manning the classifieds ads booking might agree to look for the phone number of whomever had taken out the ad in the first place.

I landed any number of death knocks as a result of BMD trawls, and the Personal column always, even if it didn't generate any leads, provided brilliant entertainment. 
The Liverpool Echo death notices are legendary (one - genuinely - included the optimistic 'you've come back from worse than this' and I personally spotted one congratulaing the newly deceased on his son achieving a degree); in my first week on the paper I turned to the BMDs to find someone had announced the death of a loved one by publishing, with songwriting and musician credits and copyright, the lyrics to The Whole of the Moon. It took up an entire column. 

The family announcements columns offered possibly the best and most human face of newspapers; death notices and weddings on the two weekly titles I worked at were published free because they were considered news. For those of a certain vintage, buying a freshly-printed Tenby Observer or Western Telegraph from the front counter, the front page glance would be followed by a scanning of the annoucements - the old 'just checking I'm not dead' joke was obligatory. 

You have to pay for most announcements now, every penny counting of course, but maybe the reason they are so compelling is partly down to the fact that it's where the audience/customer has an element of editorial control, simply by dint of paying to publish.
People get to write and style their own entries, use the grammar they chose, the exact quotes, photos and length of the piece and, unlike ad features, they are usually of interest to at least several people.

Anyway, the thing that prompted this self-indulgent muse was a question from a journalism student whoe dissertation includes a consideration of whether Twitter is essential for journalists. 
I happened to say as part of my response that I thought maybe Twitter, Facebook and other social networks were the new BMDs - people take to them to announce major events in their lives, from livetweeting a birth  to a Facebook status update announcing the death of a loved one - and in the same way those announcements, public notices and classifieds were seen as essential reading by everyone in a newsroom, Twitter should be as well. 

Lives are recorded on YouTube videos and sometimes they go on to become stories in their own right; when Seesmic offered video threads I used to talk to a fellow poster, who lived in America and who had cystic fibrosis. Two days after our last contact, I learned of his death via Twitter. I've seen the passing anniversaries of his death being marked by tweets from others as well. 

Lots of people post announcements of a very personal nature, from new jobs to lost jobs, engagements to separations, and they do it online, via blogs, forums, social networks, photo-sharing sites... 
It's a rich vein of information and you don't even necessarily need to be an enthusiastic user of Twitter to exploit it. 
Twitter Lists are brilliant for sources, as are the social ranking sites like Peer Index  (I'm less sure about the ranking usefulness of such sites than I am their ability to list topic or geographic interestingness). Geographic Twitter searches, sites such as Monniter and Twibes are just some tools that can help.

If you didn't read the BMDs and announcements it didn't mean you were a poor journalist, just one who wasn't exploiting your sources to the full potential. Same goes for social networks now - you are missing out, even if you don't know it.

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