2014 was the 10th anniversary of the Online Journalism Blog, so I thought I’d better begin keeping track of what each year’s most-read posts were.
In 2014 the overriding themes for this blog were programming for journalists, web security, and social media optimisation. Here are the most-read posts of the year, plus one surprisingly popular new page with some background and updates.
Far and away the most-read new post on the site came in February, when one Twitter user’s simple joke was taken as fact by a number of newspapers:
“Bizarrely, [goalkeeper] Manuel Neuer’s own Facebook page also published the image for a couple of hours – enough time to amass 30,000 likes before it was deleted.
Last week the Daily Mail fell for a similar hoax: republishing “a photograph appearing to show a young white ‘jihadist’ armed with a rifle sitting alongside Islamic State fighters”.
And other hoaxes came throughout the year:
- In July the Metro newspaper was “among a number of media outlets who had to hastily rewrite their stories” on North Korea supposedly telling their citizens that their team had won the World Cup.
- In September a threat to publish nude photos of Emma Watson turned out to be a spoof threat attributed to a hoax PR company.
- In November a video of a ‘Syrian hero boy‘ turned out to have been faked
- And later the same month The Spectator reported on – and debunked – the ‘empty parliament‘ meme which juxtaposes images purporting to show the differences in how many MPs turn up for different votes.
In September I wrote about a great piece of meta-research gathering together a collection of ethnographies on news consumption. These pieces of research often don’t get to a wider audience so it was nice to see the post being so widely read.
One highlight was what it found about users who consumed news without necessarily clicking through to the full story. The researchers argued that:
“The practice of not clicking … “does not automatically illustrate a lack of interest in news items.”:
“From the headlines or the lead, our interviewees generally derive sufficient information to get an impression or an update of serious events, as Marie-Claire (23) shows: “Technology [category] I always like, but usually the headlines are enough, unless I’m really like ‘Huh? How can that be?’” In other words, to click or not to click does not serve as a sound standard for the level of interest or importance attached to a news item.”
“This is key to take into account when looking at site analytics: articles may not be getting traffic in terms of clicks while still being ‘read’ in terms of scanning on other pages and as a headline on social media platforms.”
One of the reasons the blog was so quiet for such long periods in 2014 was my participation in an enormous MOOC on data journalism. So many people signed up that the launch was delayed while a hosting platform with enough capacity could be found.
When it did go live in May I was inspired by Simon Rogers‘s first discussion thread to outline some of the examples of data journalism which are most often referred to – and to ask whether these could be called canonical (I was particularly keen to avoid an Anglo-American-centric view of developments in the field).
As more journalists started to explore programming I wanted to tackle some of the jargon that can be a barrier to that. From variables to integers and lists to libraries, this post explained them all.
The theme continued in June with Panini sticker albums – a great way to learn programming and statistics, showing how simple questions can provide the basis for doing the learning.
5. 21st Century Newsroom page
In June the most popular destination on the site was not actually a post, but a new page: 21st Century Newsroom collected together all the posts on that subject, and all the diagrams. 7 years after the original posts and 3 years after the BBC asked me to revisit it, it’s amazing to see how widely those ideas have been read.
Journalism is ultimately about writing for an audience – but it’s easy to fall into the trap of merely writing for yourself or your immediate social circle.
This is particularly the case with social media, where you are not only a journalist but a publisher.
So early in 2014 I decided to make measurement compulsory for some of my undergraduate students, writing:
“Getting students to engage professionally on social media – particularly with new contacts they don’t yet know – is still difficult.
“Making analytics a compulsory submission forces them to think about the metrics that are being used: Am I engaging with a wider circle of people than my immediate friends? Am I just broadcasting, or am I listening and responding too? Am I just chatting, and not sharing?
“Am I just tweeting my own links, or retweeting others? Are people clicking on my links? Which ones, when and why? What sort of role does Tweetlevel think I play, and why? (Just because it’s wrong doesn’t mean it’s not a useful tool for focusing your attention)”
This pattern continued into the new semester: students arriving on the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University found their first challenge was to tweet useful links, every day, and measure what worked and what didn’t. Everything since has built on that.
The most widely read post on OJB about security featured cats. Lots of them. Hopefully that lured in some readers who might otherwise have avoided a topic that they didn’t think applied to them:
“There are two reasons why security is now the concern of all journalists and not just those reporting on national security:
“Firstly, that you are now not just a journalist but a publisher; and secondly, that almost all your correspondence and activity is recorded.”
In August the theme continued with the discovery that Google scans email for dodgy images – should we be worried about scanning for sensitive documents?
“It’s not too big a leap of the imagination to see the same technology being used to spot documents held in users’ accounts against a database of documents the authorities don’t want made public (on the basis of ‘national security’). Or even images the police don’t want distributed.
“And if that technology was employed, it is much less likely that its use would be made public in a court case in the same way as Skillern’s.
I added that this ‘feature creep’ has been seen before in technologies and laws including The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
Months later we would discover that police had been routinely using RIPA to look at officers’ contacts with journalists, and that technologies in place allowing police to look at mobile phone records had given police access to details on 1700 News UK staff.
I had actually written this post on Help Me Investigate at the start of the year, but ended by publishing it on OJB with some additions in December. Some useful comments added tools like BuzzSumo and Tweetchup.
Tutorials tend to have a long shelf life on OJB: the fifth and fourth most-read posts of the year respectively were a 4-year-old post on converting Easting and Northing into latitude and longitude, and a 5-year-old post on blogging anonymously.
There weren’t many tutorials in 2014 as I focused on my ebook Finding Stories in Spreadsheets, but this post on combining multiple rows in Open Refine was the most read.
10. The Great British Bake Off copyright grab: We can use your #ExtraSlice Twitter images but not give you credit
In UK copyright law moral rights (the right to be identified as the author or creator) cannot be sold or transferred, but that didn’t stop TV producers from writing terms and conditions they said you agreed to merely by using the hashtag #SecondSlice
Cleland Thom, author of the books Internet Law and Facebook for Journalists, described the terms as “the most comprehensive exploitation of people’s copyright I’ve ever seen. The only thing they’ve missed is extending their rights to cover the moon and other planets. I’d rename the programme the Great British Ripoff.”
In October I went back to basics, looking at how user objectives relate to content strategy in Why do you optimise content for search and social? 4 reasons and a mnemomic to boot:
“Here are four different stages in a user’s journey which journalists and SEO and SMO professionals optimise content for, and a mnemonic to order them: SCARf.”
Guest posts and other highlights
Some of the most interesting work on the Online Journalism Blog always comes from guest authors and contributors.
In 2014 Damian Radcliffe continued his Hyperlocal Voices series with interviews with the Upper Calder Valley Plain Speaker, Love Wapping, Tongwynlais, East Grinstead Online, Coventry Culture, A Little Bit of Stone and the Brixton Blog and Brixton Bugle.
Natalia Karbasova explained how, with no coding experience, she used German carpool data for the basis of a data visualisation project. How I did it – visualising carpooling patterns in Germany:
“This was the first data journalism piece I ever created. I noticed how important it was to have a basic knowledge of statistics (median, modus, correlations) and be able to write a couple of lines of code on your own.
“But, most important: you need to have a clear idea of what you want to tell the readers with your story.”
In March SA Mathieson wrote about his experience of successfully crowdfunding to report on the Scottish referendum:
“Don’t assume that hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers will translate into anything like that number of subscribers – it’s worth using, but Beacon’s data shows that Facebook produces more sign-ups, and email works even better.
“It seems that a one to one request, whether email, phone or face to face, works best.”
In July Nick Chowdrey wrote about how increasing numbers of SEO agencies were now hiring journalists.
In November a guest post by Alex Iacovangelo looked at 3 reasons why journalists are wary of gamification: an interview with Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus:
“A decent journalist needs to try to present different sides of a story, and with audiences investing themselves in games more than they might, say, an article, even the smallest amount of extra background, interaction or involvement with a particular side in a story could cause a viewer to subconsciously favour that.
“This is something that can clearly put objectivity at risk. It means that gamification projects may need far more fine-tuning before publication than would normally be the case, particularly as well-established procedures for print, online and broadcast publication may not necessarily be in place for game publication.
“Juliana feels that gamification of conflict stories may be a risk, but it also represents an opportunity to guide a player who may have assumed one side was right to the conclusion that: “There are no simple answers and you can’t simply divide people into winners and losers.”
And in December Joshua Wilwohl explained why The Cambodia Daily decided to go secure, and how they did it:
“I argued that in a post-Snowden world, more websites are becoming secure. And while news websites are slow to make the switch, The Cambodia Daily needs to stay ahead when it comes to digital media, technology and readers’ privacy.
“The yearly cost averaged less than $200, including staff time.”
I’m always keen to broaden coverage on OJB so if you’d like to write about something for the Online Journalism Blog, let me know via Twitter.