Monthly Archives: August 2009

What happened when Sky News took images from Twitter

Holy crap police man shot at Southwark tube station! on Twitpic

When Sky News needed a picture to illustrate a shooting at Waterloo Station, they found what they needed on Twitter: a photo of the crime scene taken by Joe Neale and posted to Twitter using Twitpic (used above, with permission).

Just one problem: they didn’t bother to tell Joe. Continue reading

The Guardian kicks off the local data landgrab

Tonight I’ve been speaking at a Guardian-sponsored event in Birmingham: a special meetup of the Birmingham Social Media Cafe doubling as a sort-of-build-up-to-a-Hack Day.

And I think it’s a very significant event indeed.

For years I’ve lectured newspaper execs on the value of data and why they needed to get their APIs in order.

Now The Guardian is about to prove just why it is so important, and in the process take first-mover advantage in an area the regionals – and maybe even the BBC – assumed was theirs.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: The Guardian has long led the way in the UK on database journalism, particularly with its Data Blog and this year’s Open Platform. But this initial move into regional data journalism is a wise one indeed: data becomes more relevant the more personal it is, and local data just tends to be more personal.

Reaching out to those with access to that data, and the ability and knowledge to pick through it, makes perfect sense. But it also means treading on regional toes, and it will be interesting to see how (and indeed if) regional newspapers and broadcasters react.

Cobbling together some sort of regional API would be a welcome start – but is not going to be enough alone: The Guardian have spent years building a reputation in technology circles for their understanding of the web. As The Guardian’s Michael Brunton-Spall pointed out tonight, theirs is the only newspaper to offer ‘full fat’ RSS feeds that allow you to read full articles on an RSS reader – not to mention customisable URLs that allow you to build your own feeds based on combinations of tags, authors and categories. And Open Platform is one of the most, well – open news platforms in the world.

So if other news operations want to compete in this arena, they’ll need to make cultural efforts, not just technical ones.

There are few people in those organisations who truly understand why they should want to compete. They may see it in the context of the mutterings about a move by Guardian Media Group (GMG) into hyperlocal media, but that could be a different kettle of fish entirely (a red herring of sorts if you want to mix metaphors).

These early moves on the data side of things are about more than the prospect of launching competing web publications. It means the Guardian (rather than the GMG) is well positioned to provide a platform for a bottom-up network of hyperlocal sites, to become, in short, a Press Association for the 21st century, catering for a grassroots journalism movement filling ever-increasing holes in the regional news map: not just feeding national and international news to local and specialist websites, but pulling data the other way (although that doesn’t mean there isn’t scope to meet GMG hyperlocal plans in the middle). They have competition here from MSN Local and Reuters’ Open Calais, but I’ve not seen evidence of the same cultural efforts from that direction.

It’s very early days, but things move fast in this sphere. A cry is being taken up that all news organisations need to heed: “Raw data now!“.

The age of “My” news

The Huffington Post went social yesterday. Well, more social than it already was.

Personalize, personalize, personalize, said the world of Web 2.0 to news organizations, and they did. Last year, the New York Times came up with TimesPeople, so users could recommend their favorite articles to other readers, and post links directly to social networks such as Facebook. The Washington Post launched MyWashingtonPost, which basically functions like a glorified RSS feature. MyTelegraph, perhaps the most impressive customization service from a newspaper, allows people to set up profile pages, form elaborate networks with fellow readers, and even blog on the Telegraph’s site.

Almost ever since Salon started bought the then-groundbreaking “Well” online community in the eighties, new media entities have been about building online communities around their sites. And news organizations realized–albeit slowly–that the best way to build a loyal reader base online was to not only connect to their readers, but also to connect their readers to other readers.

As J.D. Lasica noted way back in 2002, personalization is–and should be–an intrinsic feature of the Internet medium. In a world where every news site is offering almost the same kind of information (with few exceptions) and cutting-edge multimedia technology, what can make one Web site special? The people, and the ability connect with other people.

“By recognizing the importance of serving hundreds of different readerships simultaneously, online publications are moving toward a higher order of individualized news. No longer can they afford to treat readers as undifferentiated, generalized, lumpen masses,” Lasica wrote in a related piece.

TimesPeople and MyTelegrpah, while admirable ideas in their own right (especially for news Web sites that started by looking like near facsimiles of their print versions), however, come with the requirement that people spend plenty of time on the site, picking their favorite stories, sharing their views on those stories, and connecting with people that might like the same stories.

The Huffington Post is taking this one step further by teaming up with Facebook, linking readers to their Facebook friends, and allowing users to publish their Huffpost activities on their Facebook walls. Like all the personality tests they take and crops they plant in Farmville weren’t enough! But there is some advantage to this. It comes close to the concept of integrating online identities and bringing them to one place: the universal sign-in and network portability that many Internet pundits have insisted should be implemented in order to allow cross-interaction among various social media platforms.

Most personalized news features allow readers to search for their Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but they don’t offer a way to actually integrate the two networks.  Consequently, this involves exclusively spending time on the newspaper’s Web site to form a community or interact with fellow users. Now, if you had a choice between spending a few hours on MyWashingtonPost or Facebook, which would you choose? And how many different media sites do you want to sign into at the start of your day? Hell, I’m just glad TweetDeck allows me to keep track of Facebook and Twitter in one place. And the number of new visitors a page would gain from linking to Facebook would probably offset the time spent by a single user on the site itself.

TimesPeople does allow users to sync up to their Facebook profiles, but in keeping with the NYT’s prioritization of “information” over social networking, the site does not allow users to have much more on their profiles than a name and a location.

HuffPost Social news is also quite a leap from news organizations generating noninteractive Facebook pages that merely feed fans with links to their latest stories (the same counterproductive way in which many use Twitter), with readers occasionally discussing stories of interest to them on discussion boards.

Of course, as with anything else, there are two schools of thought about such personalization, customization, individualization of news consumption. Some believe that it might fragment an already fragmented audience in the new media world.

But, if anything, integrating Web site audiences with social networks should help consolidate these virtual and real communities. Chances are, many of your Facebook friends are people you know–and have known—in real life, in contrast to the exclusively online people you interact with on blogs and discussion forums. This is a way to bring those groups together, defragment the so-called “online-offline” divide. Many of the causes I’ve signed up for on Facebook, for instance, are tangible ones, to save the libraries in the city I live in or promote gay rights at a rally: offline events that can make a difference to the community.

Ultralocal blogs update and a new local directory: nutshell.org.uk

Last week Paul Bradshaw and I launched an exercise (background) last week to identify and map as many “ultralocal” (*) blogs and websites as possible.

We have had almost 140 blogs and websites added, albeit with a certain amount of “creative marketing” in the mix, which will reduce the total – depending on the criteria used by each person using the data.

There are so many blogs which can be called “local”, with a wide range of purposes, that I think we are likely to end up with a series of directories rather than a single monolithic website. Otherwise the directory might become so large as to be unmaintainable.

Life in a Nutshell

I have an interest in independent commentary and a movement to rebuild politics from the grassroots upwards. I think a key to this is to react to the recent political scandals by seeking a broader, more rounded view of politics, rather than either rejecting or ignoring political life.

So I’m kicking off with a directory – called Nutshell – based on the following criteria:

* Sites focused on a defined and identified area or community.
* Sites edited and controlled from within that area or community.
* Sites which are editorially independent.

I’m also listing local websites (such as forums) which are not on a blog platform, local aggregators, local directories and networks of sites which are centrally managed.

20090817-new-nutshell-local-blog-directory-launches

Nutshell is built using WordPress, but I’d hope in the future to move to a platform which will enable website-managers to create their own accounts and edit their own details.

Wrapping Up

I’m expecting other directories to be coming along, I hope including one from Talk about Local listing the 150 sites that the project aims to help set up as they are created.

And someone needs to create a Google map of the sites submitted.

Watch this space.

New business models for journalism – CUNY provides plenty of numbers

So, students at CUNY have delivered their much-awaited New Business Models for journalism – four in total, that aim to answer “What happens to journalism in a top-25 metro market if a newspaper fades away. Can journalism be sustained? And how?”

The post introducing the models is surprisingly succinct: the real work has gone into 3 spreadsheets which are linked to under each heading (there are only 3 as 2 of the business models have been presented together).

Each model has a separate post which is equally succinct, but invite comments. They are:

Much credit goes to CUNY. Although this has the luxury of being funded by the Knight and McCormick Foundations, it is always going to attract much criticism. And I’m not going to shy from being critical: I’m disappointed. Continue reading

Is this the model for charging for online newspapers?

I recently argued that bundling or adding value was the most likely way Rupert Murdoch would succeed in charging for his newspapers online. And now I’ve spotted that the Times / Sunday Times are already doing that with their Culture section (apologies if you already knew this – first posted here).

Over at culture.timesplus.co.uk is Culture+, described as “an exclusive programme of arts and entertainment rewards for subscribers of The Times and The Sunday Times.”

By subscribing to the paper version of the Times and getting it delivered to your door each day, you get these benefits:

  • Free, exclusive Art Fund membership giving you free entry to hundreds of charging museums, galleries and historic properties across the UK and 50% off entry to many major exhibitions. (The normal price of this is over £30.)
  • Priority booking for the most talked about plays, shows and exhibitions.
  • See the latest films first, and free.
  • Free, discounted and two for one tickets to selected shows and events.
  • Competitions & free downloads.
  • Invitations to exclusive Culture+ events.
  • Discounts from Culture+ partners.
  • Regular e-mail updates featuring cultural picks and exclusive Culture+ offers
  • A membership card for use at events, as there may be other discounts and privileges for Culture+ members

The Guardian appears to be considering something similar.

Imagine you got a similar list of benefits when subscribing to an online version of those papers. Would people pay for that?

Opportunities for local news blogs: Trends in Blogging

In the last year or so there have been a number of new blog / news sites developing which provide commentary for a geographically identified area, covering politics but also giving a more rounded view of life in the area.

The site which has drawn my attention recently is The Lichfield Blog, which I mention on the Wardman Wire or on Twitter (follow me to keep up to date) from time to time. There are examples of sites with a similar ethos established for some time, including some personal blogs, and I’d mention Londonist and Dave Hill’s Clapton Pond Blog (Hackney), but also sites such as Created in Birmingham (Birmingham Arts, mainly) and Curley’s Corner Shop (South Tyneside).

Some areas have a range of local blogs. The tiny Isle of Thanet, for example, has Bignews Margate, Thanet Life and Thanet Online, in addition to the more idiosyncratic Thanet Coast Life, Eastcliff Richard and even Naked in Thanet. It’s worth noting that – once again – this set of blogs are all edited by men.

And if you think that Thanet is small to have all those local blogs, try the Plight of Pleasley Hill, an ultra-local blog specifically created to foster community in an area of 3 or 4 streets in the Nottinghamshire village of Pleasley Hill, near Mansfield. I did a podcast interview with Mark Jones, who has triggered the project, for the Politalks podcast. One interesting point is how the creation of a website has helped “institutionalise” a small group internally, but also how it can help externally in the process of persuading large bureaucracies (e.g., the local council) to engage with the group.

Some of those sites have political stances, and some don’t. The common factor is that they provide coverage of local life and grounded politics, and don’t pay unnecessary attention to the Westminster Punch and Judy show.

Occasionally “ultra-local” has been used to refer to areas the size of a London Borough, or a provincial city. I’d suggest that we need to think in *much* smaller areas. I wonder if the one-horse-town newspaper of settlers’ America, but written by local people for themselves, is where we are going to end up, and then with sites covering larger communities, areas and specialist themes which are able to draw an audience.

I’d suggest that there is also a new opportunity opening up for these independent commentary and reporting sites due to a pair of current trends:

  • The drive by national media sites to find new ways of persuading their readers to pay for parts of their web content – pay-walls, charges for special services and anything else they can dream up. As the editor of an independent “politics and life” commentary site with a number of excellent contributors, I can’t wait for the age of “Pay 4 Polly” to arrive.
  • The continuing liquidation of our local newspapers and regional media.

Locally focused blogs with a more rounded coverage may provide an answer to consistent criticisms made of “the political blogosphere”:

  • Political bloggers only do partisan politics (which is wrong, but it can sometimes look as if it is true).
  • There is too much coverage of the Westminster Village (which is right, but someone has to do it, and it is the place where many decisions are made).

I think group blogs with varied teams of contributors may be best placed to provide a decent level of coverage and draw a good readership, while competing effectively with other media outlets. That is a trend we have seen in the political blog niche over several years – the sites which have established themselves and maintain a position as key sites have developed progressively larger teams of editors, and provided a wider range of commentary and services.

A team of contributors allows a site to benefit from the presence of real enthusiasts in each area of reporting, from the minutiae of the Council Meetings to Arts Events at the local galleries.

I’m developing a list of sites aiming to rounded provide coverage of a defined local area, town, or community. If you run a good one, or know of one, please could you drop me a line via the Contact Form on the Wardman Wire. Alternatively, use the form below:

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(Note: if you want to know more about local news blogs in general rather than what I think can be done with them, the go-to place is Talk About Local.)

Gatewatching for local news

Among the many good things about Internet news consumption is the fact that audiences can seek any sort of information to suit their interests and inclinations. No longer stifled by editorial, corporate or advertiser monopoly, readers browse everything from obscure blogs to mainstream news sites to get the information they want.

Ever since Internet media started going mainstream, however, many have raised the question of whether this vast and tolerant space is causing people to replace news that informs and educates with that which merely entertains. One has only to look at the slew of sensational Internet videos that go viral, or the latest online reiteration of Jessica Simpson’s gaffe to accept that this is a legitimate concern. In addition, people have more options than ever before to confine themselves to fragmented communities and echo chambers to get the news they want in lieu of what they need.

As Charlie Beckett points out in Supermedia, while the diversity provided by the Internet with regard to information dissemination is important, it also tends to further the divide between those looking for real, relevant information and those who merely want instant gratification through the latest celebrity gossip.

Of course, blaming new media for its endless possibilities would be sort of like blaming that decadent chocolate cake for existing. Just because it is there, doesn’t mean you need to seek it.

This has been a more major concern with regard to local news. Citizens might tend to focus on the latest iPhone application released by Apple at the expense of important news happening at home – information that would be vital to them as contributors to a democracy.

But while lack of reader interest is a problem, it is often spurred on by scarcity of engaging content from news organizations – if all a local paper can provide is a string of wire service accounts and press releases, how do they expect to keep readers motivated? This was hard enough to accept in an age where the newspaper or the evening news broadcast was the only source of information. It is simply untenable in the Web 2.0 world, where readers can get actual, eyewitness accounts from their Twitter followers and view firsthand pictures through Flickr groups. In other words, in this age of social media and online networks, local journalists seem almost out of touch with the community they live in.

The question then is, can residents of a community do well as their own gatewatchers?

The New York-based site NYC.is, which functions as a “Digg” for the city and its surrounding areas is trying to do just that. “Our goal is to connect bloggers, independent reporters and activists in different parts of the five boroughs, rewarding the best work by sending it traffic and increasing potential for impact,” reads the mission statement.

I got a chance to talk to Susannah Vila, a graduate student at Columbia University, who launched the site. “The inspiration behind the concept is [it provides] ways of democratizing the Web.  This was part of what excited me about making the site,” she says.

Readers themselves direct attention to local news that they deem important, while also channeling traffic to independent bloggers, regional Web sites and mainstream sites. Anything from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s job approval ratings to rising prices of a pizza slice in Brooklyn can turn up on the front page.  “The point is, it is not just one type of story that gets popular. There is a lot of range,” says Vila. The common thread is relevance to people of the community. In true Digg fashion, the top contributors get a mention on the home page, as do the most popular stories.

Can this go one step further, and actually motivate people to do original reporting or garner data for a new story? “Once I get more of a community on the site with more engaged readers there is definitely a possibility to prompt them to investigate certain things or to [urge them] to go to community board meetings,” Vila says. ““It would also be cool to let people vote on ideas for stories.”

A gatewatching site at a local community level may not be sufficient to provide all the information residents need, but it certainly allows a comprehensive look at what readers are looking for, and what is important to them as residents, and as citizens: it can sometimes be an aspiring young band, or the New York Mets’ dismal season, but more often than not, it is about hard issues, such as the annual decline in household incomes, grassroots candidates for City Council, and governmental oversight of local schools.

Add context to news online with a wiki feature

In journalism school you’re told to find the way that best relates a story to your readers. Make it easy to read and understand. But don’t just give the plain facts, also find the context of the story to help the reader fully understand what has happened and what that means.

What better way to do that than having a Wikipedia-like feature on your newspaper’s web site? Since the web is the greatest causer of serendipity, says Telegraph Communities Editor Shane Richmond, reading a story online will often send a reader elsewhere in search of more context wherever they can find it.

Why can’t that search start and end on your web site?

What happens today

Instead of writing this out, I’ll try to explain this with a situation:

While scanning the news on your newspaper’s web site, one story catches your eye. You click through and begin to read. It’s about a new shop opening downtown.

As you read, you begin to remember things about what once stood where the new shop now is. You’re half-way through the story and decide you need to know what was there, so you turn to your search engine of choice and begin hunting for clues.

By now you’ve closed out the window of the story you were reading and are instead looking for context. You don’t return to the web site because once you find the information you were looking for, you have landed on a different news story on a different news web site.

Here’s what the newspaper has lost as a result of the above scenario: Lower site stickiness, fewer page views, fewer uniques (reader could have forwarded the story onto a friend), and a loss of reader interaction through potential story comments. Monetarily, this all translates into lower ad rates that you can charge. That’s where it hurts the most.

How it could be

Now here’s how it could be if a newspaper web site had a wiki-like feature:

The story about the new shop opening downtown intrigues you because, if memory serves, something else used to be there years ago. On the story there’s a link to another page (additional page views!) that shows all of the information about that site that is available in public records.

You find the approximate year you’re looking for, click on it, and you see that before the new shop appeared downtown, many years ago it was a restaurant you visited as a child.

It was owned by a friend of your father’s and it opened when you were six years old. Since you’re still on the newspaper web site (better site stickiness!), you decide to leave a comment on the story about what was once there and why it was relevant to you (reader interaction!). Then you remember that a friend often went there with you, so you email it to them (more uniques!) to see if they too will remember.

Why it matters to readers

For consumers, news is the pursuit of truth and context. Both the news organization and the journalists it employs are obligated to give that to them. The hardest part of this is disseminating public records and putting it online.

The option of crowd-sourcing it, much like Wikipedia does with its records, could work out well. However just the act of putting public records online in a way that makes theme contextually relevant would be a big step forward. It’s time consuming, however the rewards are great.