Monthly Archives: February 2007

I love MEN (for purely journalistic reasons)

MEN April 19 07Sorry, I couldn’t resist that headline. The Manchester Evening News (MEN) has been relaunched and – forgive me for not knowing which bits are new and which are not, but this really does look very good. Aside from the lovely clean navigation there’s clearly some attention been paid to the strengths of the web:

  • Have Your Say is one of the top boxes
  • There’s a ‘most read/commented’ box as well;
  • ‘your pictures’ and ‘your comments’ are prominent links,
  • there’s a raft of blogs.
  • There’s a ‘community’ section,
  • and audio and video (yes, they’re under ‘interactivity’ which isn’t really that true, but where else would they put it?). At the moment this is still ‘journalist reads headlines over still images’ but at least they’re plugging the forums (not that I could find them). The audio shows promise – an interview with Michael Ball includes a link to the full 12 minute audio.

MediaWeek reports the site has also dumped pop-ups:

“As part of the revamp, which has been a year in development, the site will also introduce more user- generated content and simplify its navigation after complaints it was too cluttered.
“The MEN’s head of online editorial, Sarah Hartley, said the dumping of pop-up and pop-under ads was a big move for the site.”

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Citizen journalism discussion

There’s a fairly lengthy discussion about citizen journalism available over at the BBC’s Digital Planet. It’s entry-level stuff – if you’ve heard the phrases “filtering role” and “democratisation” you’ve heard most of it before, although Bill Thomson’s distinction between user generated content (UGC) and citizen journalism (CJ) is interesting: UGC has no commercial value; CJ does.

Five reasons for audio journalism: actuality, debate, emotion, background, podcast

I’ve been grappling further with the issue of audio journalism and podcasting, and discussing the issue with ‘ podcasting expert’ Andrew Dubber. What is beginning to emerge from our discussions (audio versions in full below) includes the idea that audio does three things particularly well:

  • Actuality – the feeling of being there
  • Debate – the opportunity to interject, the tone of voice, another level
  • Emotion – the tone of the voice communicating more than words alone

What’s more, if the purpose of journalism is to convey what is happening, argues Dubber, then audio becomes a primary way of making your audience face the story.

There are other advantages to audio. It’s easier to edit than video – “it’s linear”. It’s less intrusive than a video camera if you want to record events.

Then we come across a fourth thing that audio can do well –

  • Providing background – in other words, next to an edited text interview the journalist can post the interview in full (what is sometimes called ‘wild footage’) much more quickly than if they were to transcribe the whole thing.

So here’s a question: should the online journalist just take a video camera with a view to only taking the audio track? “If you carry around a hammer everything’s going to look like a nail,” Dubber says – you run the risk of overlooking the audio in your search for images.

The fifth use of audio is really about distribution:

  • Podcasting. It’s about convenience – time shifting, people not having to visit your website.

But it’s also how the podcaster imagines their audience, about intimacy – “not announcement but conversation”. We should be thinking about the medium when we produce content, rather than producing content (e.g. newspaper news) which we stuff into different sized tubes.

So here’s some ideas: environment is important. The sound of heavy machinery behind an interview with a factory worker, for instance, or of field wildlife for a story about GM crops.

Leave the office, forget about the studio, and go out to record your podcast – ‘the sound of stuff happening’

Podcast #1: audio journalism (http://www.zshare.net/audio/dubber01_audiojourno-mp3.html)

Podcast #2: wild footage (http://www.zshare.net/audio/dubber02_wildfootage-mp3.html)

Podcast #3: podcasting (http://www.zshare.net/audio/dubber03_podcasting-mp3.html)

Mobile phone journalism: less is more

Interesting piece at MediaPost about producing media for mobile phones (subscription required):

“Launches like the new InStyle Mobile magazine, the free FastLane mobile TV channel on Sprint, and the Toyota-branded entertainment for the FJ Cruiser all suggest a new theme for mobile: if less is more, then more of less is even better. Each of these applications offers bucketloads of very short but diverse content, much more than most users will consume in a single drive-by viewing. In a medium where it is hard enough to get someone’s attention at all, these programmers are betting that volume and variety will keep us coming back. “

Let the Daily Mail know you care about comment integrity

It seems the Daily Mail aren’t keen on criticism. According to Martin Belam, his comment posted on a Daily Mail story, ‘ Suicide generation: five-year-olds calling helpline‘, was edited to remove a line criticising the paper’s reporting:

The published comment reads:

“If you actually read the report ChildLine issued, it does not say that suicidal five year olds called ChildLine. It says that there were 42 phone calls by children between the ages of 5 AND 11. The other 96% of suicidal calls were by children 12 and over – which whilst it is still very sad.
– Martin Belam, Salzburg, Austria”

As Martin points out, he “appears to trail off mid-sentence. What I actually submitted was:

“The other 96% of suicidal calls were by children 12 and over – which whilst it is still very sad is nowhere near the picture of suicidal 5 year olds portrayed in this article.”

This is cowardly, against the spirit in which comments are invited, and I can’t think of any excuse the Mail can give. Space isn’t an issue here, nor is offensiveness or even grammar. If their only reason is to protect the ‘good name’ of their paper, they’ve scored a big own goal – as censoring commenters will create more bad publicity than any comment itself would. And that starts here – I invite you to go to the story and post a comment of your own criticising their comment ‘moderation‘. Will they publish them?

MSNBC.com shows how to do the citizen journalism thing

FirstPerson, an MSNBC.com project, looks like one of the best mainstream CJ projects I’ve ever seen, combining a number of imaginative requests for user generated content and backing them up with editorial support and filtering, user votes to “engender a sense of ownership and loyalty”, and exposure on TV, as MediaPost reports:

“In recent weeks, FirstPerson tied in with NBC Nightly News’ feature “Trading Places,” a series of reports on adult children caring for their aging parents. Viewers submitted more than 6,000 videos, stories, and photos to FirstPerson editors about dealing with the issue. “

And by the way:

“MSNBC.com isn’t the only news organization introducing reader-generated multimedia content.

“Last week, The New York Times initiated a similar feature for its “Weddings and Celebrations” page by inviting readers to submit videos on the newspaper’s Web site. The video of newly engaged couples will become part of the “How We Met” series, marking the first time the site has published user-generated video.

“Times staffers screen all video submissions. And like MSNBC.com, the paper also has a site that invites auto enthusiasts to post photos and personal stories about their collectible cars. Readers can rate each other’s autos and post comments at collectiblecars.nytimes.com.

“CNN.com has “I Report,” in which consumers can send their stories and video reports to the news organization. The Feb. 26 series of reports delivered weather-related video reports from regular folks around the country.”

Create an RSS feed for your site (or others)

A colleague has introduced me to FeedYes, a service that will create an RSS feed for your site, or indeed for sites you wish had one. Very useful for people running an indie news service who don’t have the time to get to grips with XML.

Clarification: this service is most useful for sites with no RSS or XML component at all. If you run a blog, for instance, most blog services include XML feeds by default, so you shouldn’t need this.