Monthly Archives: March 2009

3 weeks in: launching a Midlands environmental news site

3 weeks ago my class of online journalism students were introduced to the website they were going to be working on: BirminghamRecycled.co.uk – environmental news for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The site has been built by final year journalism degree student Kasper Sorensen, who studied the online journalism module last year.

In building and running the service Kasper has done a number of clever, networked things I thought I should highlight. They include:

  • Creating a Delicious network for the site – every journalist in the team has a Delicious account; this gathers together all of the useful webpages that journalists are bookmarking
  • Tweetgrid of all journalists’ tweets – again, every journalist has a Twitter account. This pulls them all together.
  • Twitter account @bhamrecycled
  • Kasper sent the whole team an OPML file of subscriptions to RSS feeds of searches for every Midlands area and environmentally related keywords. In other words, journalists could import this into their Google Reader and at a stroke be monitoring any mention of certain key words (e.g. ‘pollution’, ‘recycling’) in Birmingham areas.
  • He also shared a Google calendar of relevant events

The site itself is clever too.

  • The About page has a list of all contributing journalists with individual RSS feeds.
  • In addition, each author has a link to their own profile page which not only displays their articles but pulls Twitter tweets, Delicious bookmarks and blog posts.

Kasper wanted to explicitly follow a Mashable-style model rather than a traditional news service: he felt an overly formal appearance would undermine his attempts to build a community around the site.

And community is key. When unveiling the site to the journalists Kasper made the following presentation – a wonderful distillation of how journalists need to approach news in a networked world:

Do Daily Express search suggestions reveal editorial agenda?

Which comes first? A newspaper’s agenda or its readers’ interest in those subjects? The search suggestions at Express.co.uk give a revealing insight into either what its readers are searching for or what the Express wants them to be interested in.

The screenshot below, first published on this blog, is a photomontage of the search box on the Express site. Every time you reload the Express search page, a different ‘example search’ is shown. The list seems to suggest a certain editorial agenda …

Daily Express search suggestions

Daily Express search suggestions

Continue reading

#CollegeJourn comes to Europe

The widely respected #CollegeJourn is coming to Europe. #CollegeJourn was established as the real-time online discussion for members of the college journalism community in the US. But it runs in the early hours of Monday mornings, which often stops people from this side of the Atlantic attending.

So Sunderland journalism student Josh Halliday, editor for www.injournalism.co.uk, is launching a chat for Europe at a more amenable hour. #CollegeJourn Europe will launch this Sunday 22nd March at 8pm GMT.

Josh said: “It’s  a great chance for those in journalism education who are either worried or excited about the state of journalism today to come along and see what others think.”

If you want to share some ideas for the discussion in advance, you can send any topic suggestions towards the #collegejourn hashtag on Twitter, to Josh directly or the deceptively named @florida_mike. To read more about plans and topics that might come up then take a read over at Josh’s blog.

The mission of #CollegeJourn is to provide a meaningful and resourceful forum of conversation for college journalists. University journalists, journalism professors, and journalism professionals, are all welcome. Josh is hoping to attract some big names in j-education to the opening debate. The chat takes place in Meebo. Put it in your diary now, and spread the word.

External links: the 8 stages of linking out denial

Do you have a link problem? You can handle linking. It’s just one post/article/page without a link. You can link whenever you want to. Or can you?

Where are you on this scale …? (Originally posted here.)

1 Don’t link to anyone

Link to other sites? But people will leave my site. They won’t click on my ads. They won’t read other pages. I’ll leak page rank. No way.

2 Add URLs but don’t make them hyperlinks

OK, that’s a bit ridiculous. If I’m talking about other organisations, I can’t pretend they don’t have a website. I know, I’ll put web addresses in. But i won’t make them hyperlinks. Brilliant, yes?

3 Add an ‘external links’ box

Even I’m finding that no hyperlink thing annoying when I go back to an old page and have to copy and paste the damn things.

I suppose I should have some links on my page. I’ll put them in a box. Over there (down a bit …). I’m going to use some sort of internal redirect or annoying javascript, though, to make sure I don’t pass any page rank. Mwah, hah hah.

4 Put some links in the copy

I don’t seem to be getting many inbound links. I guess I’m not playing fair. I know, I’ll sort out my workflow so that it’s possible to add links easily inside the actual copy. But I’m still not passing any pagerank. I’m going to put “rel=nofollow” on every link.

5 Give my users some google juice

Commenters seem thin on the ground. Maybe I’ll let them link to their own sites. I’ll use some annoying javascript to hide the links from google though. Most of my commenters are probably spammers, and I can’t trust them to police their own community, after all.

6 Link when I have to. And remove nofollow and any other annoying tricks

That seemed to make everyone happier. There are a few proper links on my pages. And people seem to want to link to me now that I’m playing fair with my links.

7 Acknowledge my sources

Oops. Spoke to soon. Been outed as pinching someone else’s idea and not attributing it. From now on, I’m going to make sure I always link to everyone I should.

8 Enlightenment: Make linking part & parcel of what I do

Internet. Inter as in inter-connected. Net as in network.

I get it now. I’m going to become a trusted source for information and advice, AND of what else people should read elsewhere on the internet. Blimey, more and more people are visiting my site and linking to it. Continue reading

Why don’t newspaper websites embed ads in cartoons?

Image by Matt Buck for http://www.computing.co.uk

Image by Matt Buck for http://www.computing.co.uk

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation‘s biannual meeting. Like most content creators, cartoonists are struggling to adapt to how the web is changing their livelihoods – while also finding themselves increasingly marginalised by publishers focused on what they see as their core product: news.

As I’ve written previously, I think cartoons are massively overlooked in online news production. They have potential international appeal, are unique and – importantly – unlike text, when people redistribute it you can keep the advertising with it.

So why don’t newspapers embed advertising in cartoons?

They do with video and audio, after all – and video advertising is proving to be particularly successful for many newspapers.

Of course, there are obvious editorial and branding issues. I can’t imagine an advert for high-class perfume next to an over-corpulent caricature of Gordon Brown. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t possibilities.

As one of the cartoonists pointed out, imagine the advertising potential next to golf cartoons.

Now, imagine you positively encourage users to share that cartoon; help them embed it elsewhere, or personalise it.

Isn’t that a market advertisers would want?

Image by Matt Buck for http://www.computing.co.uk

Could moderators collect potential leads from comments?

Guardian community moderator Todd Nash* makes an interesting suggestion on his blog about the difficulties journalists face in wading through comments on their stories:

“there is potential for news stories to come out of user activity on newspaper websites. Yet, as far as I know, it is not a particularly well-utlised area. Time is clearly an issue here. How many journalists have time to scroll through all of their comments to search for something that could well resemble a needle in a haystack? It was commented that, ironically, freelancers may make better use of this resource as their need for that next story is greater than their staff member counterparts.

“The moderation team at guardian.co.uk now has a Twitter feed @GuardianVoices which highlights good individual comments and interesting debate. Could they be used as a tool to collect potential leads? After all, moderators will already be reading the majority of content of the publication they work for. However, it would require a rather different mindset to look out for story leads compared to the more usual role of finding and removing offensive content.”

It’s an idea worth considering – although, as Todd himself concludes:

“Increased interactivity with users builds trust, which in turn produces a higher class of debate and, with it, more opportunities for follow-up articles. Perhaps it is now time for the journalists to take inspiration from their communities as well.”

That aside, could this work? Could moderators work to identify leads?

*Disclosure: he’s also a former student of mine

Use a crowd, gain an expert

Karthika Muthukumaraswamy on how crowdsourcing experiments in journalism need to learn from their commercial counterparts – and how the end results could bring financial rewards for everyone.

The crowd has done a great deal for journalism: it has counted the number of SUVs on the streets of New York City, determined Bill Clinton’s financial impact on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and offered valuable suggestions to transform an impoverished Ugandan village.

Ever since journalism jumped on the crowdsourcing bandwagon following innovative business models in T-shirt designing and problem solving, it has been baffled by the intensity of crowd response. Consequently, the media’s implementation of it has lacked the selection process that is essential to use crowdsourcing to its fullest potential.

There are only so many T-shirts that Threadless can make and sell; there are only so many solutions to Innocentive’s complex problems; and there are only so many photographs that iStockphoto consumers will purchase. Continue reading