Monthly Archives: February 2005

Story leads from messageboards

Keyword: . Here’s a great example of a messageboard posting that a savvy journalist could pick up on and turn into a story: Bolton Wanderers fans complaining of poor ticket arrangements for the FA Cup game on Saturday (itself newsworthy due to the low turnout). I won’t add my own experiences of ordering tickets for Bham City away only to find that they’d never processed it. Oh well, I just did.

Why journalists should use RSS

Keyword: . The internet really is a gift for the lazy journalist – but for the lazy journalist who’s prepared to put in a little work now to be extra lazy later, it’s heaven.

Take RSS (Really Simple Syndication). RSS allows you to subscribe (free) to ‘news feeds’ for a particular site or blog, that can then be displayed on a single page – or, if visiting one website rather than dozens is too much work, it can even be emailed to you.

The first thing you’ll need is an RSS reader like the web-based Bloglines or the PC-based RSS Reader (you can find a list of others here). If you use My Yahoo! that also now allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds.

With that done, all you need to do is find the RSS feeds for the websites you’re using – if they have one. Look for an icon on the site that allows you to subscribe – for instance this one:

Subscribe with Bloglines

Or, more commonly, this one:

When you click on the XML icon you may see a page full of code. Don’t worry. Just copy the web address of that page and paste it into your RSS reader when it asks for the feed address. (more info about that XML icon here)

Even if there isn’t an icon, if it’s a blog, chances are it has a feed, as most blogging sites have RSS built in – for Blogger blogs, for example, just add /atom.xml on the end of the site address (this blog’s RSS feed, for example, is at http://ojournalism.blogspot.com/atom.xml). Bloglines also has a helpful facility when you click on ‘Add’ that allows you just to type in the ‘user’ of the blog that you want to subscribe to (the ‘user’ for this blog is ‘ojournalism’).

In truth it’s a lot more complicated to explain than it is to actually do. Once you’ve subscribed to Bloglines, for example, you can put a button on your toolbar that says ‘Subscribe with Bloglines’. When you find a useful blog or news site, you just click that button and confirm your subscription to the particular news feed.

If you use Firefox, it’s even easier, as an orange icon appears in the bottom right corner of the browser whenever there is an RSS feed – just click on it to add it to your favourites as a news feed.

A little bit of time spent getting to grips with this can save hours of browsing.

Debating the end of journalism

Keyword: . Unsubtly titled ‘The Fall and Fall of Journalism’, an event in London at the end of the month will debate “whether the traditional role of journalists is being usurped by simply anyone who has access to a digital camera, camcorder and the internet.” It continues “This debate will explore the new phenomena of citizen reporting, blogging and other new technology/new media-enabled reporting.” Some interesting speakers.

A magazine about blogging?

Keyword: , . Particularly humourous posting regarding a magazine about blogging. This must be one of the most stupid ideas I’ve heard in a while. The mag is web-based rather than print-based, and you’d think any publication about blogging would be thinking of taking full advantage of the medium. Instead they publish in PDF format. And, as Rex says, “a magazine about blogging is about as appealing as a magazine about talking on the telephone. Or a magazine about using a fax machine.” Now there’s an idea…

359 foods recalled – the online angle

Keyword: . The story that broke this week about the hundreds of food products that had to be recalled because they contained an illegal ingredient was a perfect opportunity for the use of the internet. Broadcasters unable to provide the full list on air could refer viewers to their website – and to their credit, they did.

Strangely, however, the BBC’s list was in PDF format, making it inaccessible to some, as well as preventing it being searchable – although they did also link to the Food Agency’s table-format HTML version. ITV simply listed all 359 products as one very ugly list – not particularly easy to browse.

The Guardian’s report took the easy option of linking to the Food Agency’s list, as did The Independent, The Mirror, and The Sun (whose article is illustrated by so many images that it almost qualifies as a cartoon). The Telegraph provided extra links to Pot Noodle and the statement from Premier Foods.

A little extra thought and one of those institutions could have made a searchable database of that list – creating massive traffic for their site. The Guardian did think to position the story within the wider issue of food concerns but missed the opportunity to help their readers find out if they have the affected foods (admittedly this is also something that the Food Agency should have done).

As a last note, I was particularly amused at the response from a Food Agency spokesperson to the question as to what concerned consumers should do. ‘Take the food to the supermarket where they bought it’, was the response. What? All of it? Every single item the person is concerned about? Give that person a pay rise.

Writing for the Web

Keyword: . I have a mantra that I repeat whenever talking about writing on the Web: brevity, scannability, interactivity.

The first – brevity – comes in the writing: write in short sentences, in short paragraphs that each only cover one concept. This not only helps the person reading on-screen, but also helps them scan the article for the salient points.

Scannability comes when you edit the article: break it up with subheadings where you can; use bullet or numbered lists where appropriate. Again, this helps the reader find what they want to without having to concentrate too hard.

Interactivity at its most simple level comes at the end of the article: links. At the least, link to your sources; at the best, link to where your reader might want to go next: related articles, definitions, places to donate, places to contribute or discuss. You should imagine yourself in their place and anticipate their needs.

A good exercise is to take a particularly cumbersome, badly edited article, and edit it for the web. Thanks to one of my students for introducing me to this one from the Jewish Post website.

This fails on every count. Brevity? Try overlong pars. Scannability? Fat chance – no subheadings, and the article is spread over several pages with no signposting as to which page you’re on. Interactivity? A massive opportunity wasted, with no links – and this is an article that could have linked to organisations, more depth on the issues involved, further articles – the list goes on.

So here’s my challenge: edit the aforementioned article and post it on your blog – then post your link as a comment on this posting.

New contextual search tool from Yahoo!

Keyword: , . Search Engine Watch reports on Yahoo’s new contextual search tool, Y!Q: “[It] lets you use all or part of a web page you’re viewing as the source of a search query. Simply highlight relevant portions of text on the page and run a “related search,” and Y!Q analyzes the page, extracts the most relevant concepts and uses those as inputs.”

Find out more about the service – and install it – on Yahoo!’s introductory page.

Blogs of the new online journalists

Keyword: . My online journalism students have started their own blogs, with their first postings focusing on online journalism itself. Some very good postings worth checking out:

Simone Dixon: Music to your Screens (http://simoned.blogspot.com/)
Siobhan Erangey: readmeidomakesense
Lisa Groom’s Hello (some thinking on the blog name?)
Dean Heeley and Dean Heeley Online (http://deanheeleyonline.blogspot.com/)
Hayley Longdin’s I know best
Gareth Main: Music Monstrosity (http://music-monstrosity.blogspot.com/)
Claire Morrall: Claire’s blog
Andy’s Link To Hollywood
Mark’s ListenNow
Sarah Shirley’s Pink Ladies
Stephanie Stephanides: fashionista blog
Ben Williams: Positive Thought
Sian Wilson: ListenToSian
Kureha Kudo’s blog
Simon Williams: Heeb and Heeb Travel (http://heeb-travel.blogspot.com/)
Rebecca Smith: Beccy’s thoughts
Florence (Wing Shan) Fok’s Women & Health

Salon founder steps down

Keyword: . Salon, one of the earliest online magazines, is a particularly interesting case study in online publishing. Founded in 1995, it had both surfed the online bubble (to mix metaphors), and charged for access. In the title link the NYT reports on the departure of its founder, David Talbot.

To quote at length (seeing as the NYT requires registration and, most likely in future, payment):

“A former newspaperman at The San Francisco Examiner, Mr. Talbot sensed a significant business opportunity when the Web began to flourish and became one of its chief evangelists. At the time, the Web was seen not only as a utility for consumers, but as a potential giant killer as well. “Dead-tree” journalism would go the way of typewriters, the theory went, and nimble, lippy sources of information like Salon, and its chief competitor, Slate [my link], would become the must-click option for those in search of up-to-the-minute information.

“In the beginning, Salon staked a claim on cultural coverage, publishing as much as a book review a day, tart media reporting and a sex column by Courtney Weaver that was followed breathlessly by thousands. At the end of the 1990’s, the site began to add political news to its mix, some of which opened eyes at other, significantly larger news organizations. Salon was the first publication to point out why it was that Representative Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, should not have been throwing stones during the Monica Lewinsky affair. It also played a significant role in revealing some of the allegedly anti-competitive practices of Clear Channel, and broke the news that the White House was pressuring broadcasters to insert anti-drug messages into programming. More recently, Salon raised significant and lasting questions about President Bush’s National Guard service.”

Tip: take a trip to Archive.org to see how both sites (Slate and Salon) have changed over the years.