Category Archives: radio

16 reasons why this research will change how you look at news consumption

Most research on news consumption annoys me. Most research on news consumption – like Pew’s State of the News Mediarelies on surveys of people self-reporting how they consume news. But surveys can only answer the questions that they ask. And as any journalist with a decent bullshit detector should know: the problem is people misremember, people forget, and people lie.

The most interesting news consumption research uses ethnography: this involves watching people and measuring what they actually do – not what they say they do. To this end AP’s 2008 report A New Model for News is still one of the most insightful pieces of research into news consumption you’ll ever read – because it picks out details like the role that email and desktop widgets play, or the reasons why people check the news in the first place (they’re bored at work, for example).

Now six years on two Dutch researchers have published a paper summarising various pieces of ethnographic and interview-based consumption research (£) over the last decade – providing some genuine insights into just how varied news ‘consumption’ actually is.

Irene Costera Meijer and Tim Groot Kormelink‘s focus is not on what medium people use, or when they use it, but rather on how engaged people are with the news.

To do this they have identified 16 different news consumption practices which they give the following very specific names:

  1. Reading
  2. Watching
  3. Viewing
  4. Listening
  5. Checking
  6. Snacking
  7. Scanning
  8. Monitoring
  9. Searching
  10. Clicking
  11. Linking
  12. Sharing
  13. Liking
  14. Recommending
  15. Commenting
  16. Voting

Below is my attempt to summarise those activities, why they’re important for journalists and publishers, and the key issues they raise for the way that we publish. Continue reading

Video: how a local website helped uncover police surveillance of muslim neighbourhoods

Cross-posted from Help Me Investigate

The Stirrer was an independent news website in Birmingham that investigated a number of local issues in collaboration with local people. One investigation in particular – into the employment of CCTV cameras in largely muslim areas of the city without consultation – was picked up by The Guardian’s Paul Lewis, who discovered its roots in anti-terrorism funds.

The coverage led to an investigation into claims of police misleading councillors, and the eventual halting of the scheme.

As part of a series of interviews for Help Me Investigate, founder Adrian Goldberg – who now presents ‘5 live Investigates‘ and a daily show on BBC Radio WM – talks about his experiences of running the site and how the story evolved from a user’s tip-off.

Podcasting and principles of narrative – a case study

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how narrative techniques are used within journalism to engage users and then keep them reading/listening/watching/clicking. By way of illustrating this, specifically with relation to audio, I wanted to blog in some detail about how narrative is used in a very good example I came across last month: a Freakonomics podcast.

Before you read any further, listen to that Freakonomics podcast and pretty much any Guardian Media Talk podcast

… OK, done?

Right. These are great case studies for how podcasting uses three core principles of narrative:

  • Characters,
  • Setting, and
  • Movement

The two also illustrate different editorial demands: the Freakonomics podcast is a good example of exploring one issue in depth; while the Guardian podcast is about breadth: reacting to a number of current events and reporting across them.

I’m going to focus on the Freakonomics podcast because it uses the same basic techniques which are employed by Media Talk, but also some others beside. It’s also technically pretty straightforward.

That’s good because their approach also makes for good journalism, moving beyond the superficial to a deeper exploration and understanding – which is key when we talk about narrative.

Here’s how the Freakonomics podcast uses character, setting and movement particularly well to attract the listener and keep them listening:

The hook: a great introductory story

After an initial introduction by the presenters that gives us a feel for the show and their personalities (the first ‘setting’ and ‘characters’, if you like) we start with a story. It’s a story of people dying unnecessarily. It’s a good story – and it has characters, settings, and movement: a problem, a journey, and a resolution.

Why start with this story? Because it grabs the listener from the start, and it provides an immediate reward.

But it also sets up a tension, at around 5.40: why are we being told the story? What does it mean?

This is the first hook of the podcast.

Movement and relevance: bringing things up to date

We then change setting, moving to a recent story about modern medical hygiene.

The characters in this story are weaker (that’s probably why we started with the stronger story). But it has something the first doesn’t: a problem that affects us directly.

This is the central tension of the whole podcast – our second hook (at around 7’20, when the show theme and introduction is finally played). And we will have to wait until the end of the podcast for its resolution.

From the end of the beginning we move into the beginning of the middle. That central tension hanging in the air gives us a reason to listen to the end, but we also need continual movement within the middle period to keep us interested.

And so we move to a new story: the subplot, if you like (in this case, about financial literacy), which will, eventually come together with the initial story.

We hold on to find out how this tension between the two stories will be resolved.

Style and structure

Having looked at the over-arching structure of the podcast, I want to look more closely at how style is used to add extra interest to that.

Because there is a lot more to note about the telling of these stories.

A useful technique when looking at media production is to think about the choices that have been made by its producers. For example, you could tell these stories in any number of ways – handing over the narrative to an expert; narrating it yourself; reconstructing events dramatically.

But the producers make a choice in the first story which is worth analysing: they switch relatively frequently between interviews and narration.

The effect of this is to reinforce the listener’s sensation of movement: the narrative moves along quickly, and the contrast between voices creates a tension that helps maintain our interest.

Once the first interviewee’s story is established, we move to a second. Again, this adds to the sensation of movement, with a new character, and a change of setting.

Note that the speaker is introduced after they speak, introducing a brief period of tension as the listener wonders who this new voice is.

Also: under the sound of speakers, we sometimes hear music or other sounds. This helps establish the setting of the story they’re recounting. Something as simple as classical music (out of copyright, which is handy) can establish a period or a place. Generic comedic sounds can turn tragedy into comedy.

As the story moves into its middle phase, interviews become less narrated. At 9’20 we have a telephone interview. And instead of ‘cutting’ through narration, the style is more conversational, and the interviewee has more space to talk.

Interviewees are sometimes arranged in sequence so that their views are at odds. We have conflict. Put another way: having established the problem in the beginning, we are now introducing characters onto the stage to fight that problem out.

This helps solve one of the hardest problems in storytelling: the fat middle; how to get from the beginning to the end without losing interest.

Mini-stories

In the Freakonomics example interest is also maintained in a number of ways other than conflict. One is the way the podcast introduces mini stories within the larger story (how the research was done; how a character discovered flawed claims – complete with ‘detective’ soundtrack); and a third is a mini-quiz (with a comedic/’countdown’/’game’ soundtrack to make it less dry).

The peak of the conflict comes with a hosted debate between two characters who hold different positions on the problem (flagged up as a “puzzle” in the lead-up, which again uses ‘debate’ music to establish the setting).

It’s worth listening to how the host prompts the debate and summarises positions, and when the characters get to speak directly to each other.

Even within the debate there is structure: we start with consensus before moving onto disrupting that, and a final consensus.

To host a debate like this you need to know people’s positions first and plan the debate around those.

The end phase

Having resolved that conflict, then, we move onto the beginning of the end.

And to signal that change, we have a change of setting too: we have an interviewee walking us through a hospital. The sounds are key to this, often recorded separately so they can be heard more clearly in the edit.

The end of the podcast uses a common technique in storytelling: returning to the start. The problem established in the beginning – hospital hygiene – and the problem established in the sub-plot – financial literacy – are both resolved with both final lessons and consensus, and at the same time, the question hanging in the air of “What do these stories have to do with each other?” is also resolved.

What’s more, the resolution has meaning beyond just a story: we have learned something.

Just to reinforce this, after that resolution comes a fade-out, rising title music, and credits. Small things that tell us definitively: The End.

Principles of narrative in a news podcast

But how do these techniques translate to a more traditional news podcast? The Guardian’s Media Talk podcast is, as I say, more about breadth than depth: a collection of short stories rather than a novel.

But it uses many of the same techniques at a smaller level. We begin with a table of contents, which serves to establish a little bit of tension, including teasing clips of tasty quotes.

We again have two voices (often both journalists) to tell a story instead of one, to introduce contrast and a little tension, and some structure of questioning that sets the scene before exploring more problematic issues, and ends by looking forward.

Each change of story is accompanied by an audio sting to signal that change of setting – and sometimes that change of setting occurs within the story – as when, for example, we move from an interview or report to the reaction to it.

The peak – two-thirds into the podcast – is the discussion where we move from hearing 2 voices to hearing 3.

So you can see the same techniques used, but in a much shorter space of time, and in a more routine manner. The format is more restrictive, but also allows for more effective production. It’s the right tool for the job.

Rounding it all up

That’s a lot to learn, so let me try to summarise these techniques that are used again and again:

  • Firstly, think about establishing tension:
    • through problems and questions;
    • and through conflict and contrast.
  • Secondly, think about movement:
    • This is done through regularly resolving those tensions and establishing new ones (while keeping the main tension hanging until the end).
    • And secondly, through moving from setting to setting.
    • And thirdly, by having stories within your overarching story or stories (which is really the same as using tensions, but is worth identifying separately). Notice how narration is used frequently to move the story forward – mainly because there’s a lot of material to get through. Don’t add narration for the sake of it if your characters can move things along themselves just fine.
  • Thirdly, note how audio is employed beyond the core content.
    • Music is used to increase tension, describe character, establish setting, and even the genre of mini-stories.
    • Silence and volume are equally important: a moment’s silence can indicate a change of pace or setting. A sudden rise in volume can indicate the end of a section.
  • Finally, remember that all the above relies on those characters. It is the actions of characters that creates the movement; it is characters who introduce us to new settings. We need to hear those characters – and you need to find them.

Suggestions on building narrative into a podcast

Listening to those podcasts again with those points in mind, here are some suggestions on how you might plan to organise a podcast of your own on a single issue story:

  • What’s the central tension you are going to introduce at the start and resolve at the end?
  • Is there a secondary and related tension you can run alongside it and resolve simultaneously?
  • What’s the best mini-story to begin with? End with?
  • Who are your main characters? And when do they need to enter and leave the stage?
  • What are your settings? And how might we move through them as the story develops?
  • How can you maintain movement in your middle section? Do you have more mini-stories?
  • What extra audio might you need to signal setting, character, genre or movement?

Any other examples or suggestions welcome.

Location, Location, Location

In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some recent developments in the intersection between hyper-local SoLoMo (social, location, mobile). His more detailed slides looking at 20 developments across the sector during the last two months of 2011 are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.

Facebook’s recent purchase of location-based service Gowalla (Slide 19 below,) suggests that the social network still thinks there is a future for this type of “check in” service. Touted as “the next big thing” ever since Foursquare launched at SXSW in 2009, to date Location Based Services (LBS) haven’t quite lived up to the hype.

Certainly there’s plenty of data to suggest that the public don’t quite share the enthusiasm of many Silicon Valley investors. Yet.

Part of their challenge is that not only is awareness of services relatively low – just 30% of respondents in a survey of 37,000 people by Forrester (Slide 27) – but their benefits are also not necessarily clearly understood.

In 2011, a study by youth marketing agency Dubit found about half of UK teenagers are not aware of location-based social networking services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places, with 58% of those who had heard of them saying they “do not see the point” of sharing geographic information.

Safety concerns may not be the primary concern of Dubit’s respondents, but as the “Please Rob Me” website says: “….on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home… The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”

Reinforcing this concern are several stories from both the UK and the US of insurers refusing to pay out after a domestic burglary, where victims have announced via social networks that they were away on holiday – or having a beer downtown.

For LBS to go truly mass market – and Forrester (see Slide 27) found that only 5% of mobile users were monthly LBS users – smartphone growth will be a key part of the puzzle. Recent Ofcom data reported that:

  • Ownership nearly doubled in the UK between February 2010 and August 2011 (from 24% to 46%).
  • 46% of UK internet users also used their phones to go online in October 2011.

For now at least, most of our location based activity would seem to be based on previous online behaviours. So, search continues to dominate.

Google in a recent blog post described local search ads as “so hot right now” (Slide 22, Sept-Oct 2011 update). The search giant launched hyper-local search ads a year ago, along with a “News Near You” feature in May 2011. (See: April-May 2011 update, Slide 27.)

Meanwhile, BIA/Kelsey forecast that local search advertising revenues in the US will increase from $5.1 billion in 2010 to $8.2 billion in 2015. Their figures suggest by 2015, 30% of search will be local.

The other notable growth area, location based mobile advertising, also offers a different slant on the typical “check in” service which Gowalla et al tend to specialise in. Borrell forerecasts this space will increase 66% in the US during 2012 (Slide 22).

The most high profile example of this service in the UK is O2 More, which triggers advertising or deals when a user passes through certain locations – offering a clear financial incentive for sharing your location.

Perhaps this – along with tailored news and information manifest in services such as News Near You, Postcode Gazette and India’s Taazza – is the way forward.

Jiepang, China’s leading Location-Based Social Mobile App, offered a recent example of how to do this. Late last year they partnered with Starbucks, offering users a virtual Starbucks badge if they “checked-in” at a Starbucks store in the Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. When the number of badges issued hit 20,000, all badge holders got a free festive upgrade to a larger cup size. When coupled with the ease of NFC technology deployed to allow users to “check in” then it’s easy to understand the consumer benefit of such a service.

Mine’s a venti gingerbread latte. No cream. Xièxiè.

2011: the UK hyper-local year in review

In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some topline developments in the hyper-local space during 2011. He also asks for your suggestions of great hyper-local content from 2011. His more detailed slides looking at the previous year are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.

2011 was a busy year across the hyper-local sphere, with a flurry of activity online as well as more traditional platforms such as TV, Radio and newspapers.

The Government’s plans for Local TV have been considerably developed, following the Shott Review just over a year ago. We now have a clearer indication of the areas which will be first on the list for these new services and how Ofcom might award these licences. What we don’t know is who will apply for these licences, or what their business models will be. But, this should become clear in the second half of the year.

Whilst the Leveson Inquiry hasn’t directly been looking at local media, it has been a part of the debate. Claire Enders outlined some of the challenges facing the regional and local press in a presentation showing declining revenue, jobs and advertising over the past five years. Her research suggests that the impact of “the move to digital” has been greater at a local level than at the nationals.

Across the board, funding remains a challenge for many. But new models are emerging, with Daily Deals starting to form part of the revenue mix alongside money from foundations and franchising.

And on the content front, we saw Jeremy Hunt cite a number of hyper-local examples at the Oxford Media Convention, as well as record coverage for regional press and many hyper-local outlets as a result of the summer riots.

I’ve included more on all of these stories in my personal retrospective for the past year.

One area where I’d really welcome feedback is examples of hyper-local content you produced – or read – in 2011. I’m conscious that a lot of great material may not necessarily reach a wider audience, so do post your suggestions below and hopefully we can begin to redress that.

The New Online Journalists #11: Jack Dearlove

Jack Dearlove

Reviving an ongoing series of profiles of young journalists, I interviewed Leeds university journalism student Jack Dearlove about his work in data journalism. Jack works as a BA on BBC Radio York’s Breakfast show and is also a third year Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Leeds, where he is News Editor for Leeds Student Radio.

How did you get into data journalism?

I started exploring data journalism when I saw how the Guardian was publishing stories attached to the raw spreadsheets on their guardian.co.uk/data blog. I liked the way they could bring a little extra to a story by digging up a big old spreadsheet and letting people play around with it.

I’m really a spreadsheet guy, doing the classic autofilter and then ordering things by the biggest and smallest values and slowly going down each line in the spreadsheet. This can take a while but it’s the only way you can be sure you’ve seen the whole picture.

I’d like to get into ‘scraping’ but haven’t really had the time to play around with it. But any technique that means data that I might not have naturally come across is something I’d love to get the hang of.

How do you use it in your work for the BBC?

I’ve worked for the BBC for nearly 4 years and it’s something i’ve built into my role as my job has changed. It will certainly be something that I use when it comes to future job interviews though, because hopefully it sets me apart from your standard journalist.

I think my colleagues were quite sceptical at first, but I have a very supportive and data savvy Assistant Editor who’s just as keen to use the techniques as I am. So there’s an air of curiosity, as there is in many newsrooms. Continue reading

FAQ: How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Here’s another set of questions I’m answering in public in case anyone wants to ask the same:

How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Online communities contain many individuals who will be able to contribute different kinds of value to news production. Most obviously, expertise, opinion, and eyewitness testimony. In addition, they will be able to more effectively distribute parts of a story to ensure that it reaches the right experts, opinion-formers and eyewitnesses. The difference from an audience is that a community tends to be specialised, and connected to each other.

If you rephrase the question as ‘How can broadcasters benefit from people?’ it may be clearer.

How does a broadcaster begin to develop an engaged online community, any tips?

Over time. Rather than asking about how you develop an online community ask yourself instead: how do you begin to develop relationships? Waiting until a major news event happens is a bad strategy: it’s like waiting until someone has won the lottery to decide that you’re suddenly their friend.

Journalists who do this well do a little bit every so often – following people in their field, replying to questions on social networks, contributing to forums and commenting on blogs, and publishing blog posts which are helpful to members of that community rather than simply being about ‘the story’ (for instance, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ questions behind the news).

In case you are aware of networks in the middle east, do you think they are tapping into online communities and social media adequately?

I don’t know the networks well enough to comment – but I do think it’s hard for corporations to tap into communities; it works much better at an individual reporter level.

Can you mention any models whether it is news channels or entertainment television which have developed successful online communities, why do they work?

The most successful examples tend to be newspapers: I think Paul Lewis at The Guardian has done this extremely successfully, and I think Simon Rogers’ Data Blog has also developed a healthy community around data and visualisation. Both of these are probably due in part to the work of Meg Pickard there around community in general.

The BBC’s UGC unit is a good example from broadcasting – although that is less about developing a community as about providing platforms for others to contribute, and a way for journalists to quickly find expertise in those communities. More specifically, Robert Peston and Rory Cellan-Jones use their blogs and Twitter accounts well to connect with people in their fields.

Then of course there’s Andy Carvin at NPR, who is an exemplar of how to do it in radio. There’s so much written about what he does that I won’t repeat it here.

What are the reasons that certain broadcasters cannot connect successfully with online communities?

I expect a significant factor is regulation which requires objectivity from broadcasters but not from newspapers. If you can’t express an opinion then it is difficult to build relationships, and if you are more firmly regulated (which broadcasting is) then you take fewer risks.

Also, there are more intermediaries in broadcasting and fewer reporters who are public-facing, which for some journalists in broadcasting makes the prospect of speaking directly to the former audience that much more intimidating.