Tag Archives: community

Online journalism student RSS reader starter pack: 50 RSS feeds

Teaching has begun in the new academic year and once again I’m handing out a list of recommended RSS feeds. Last year this came in the form of an OPML file, but this year I’m using Google Reader bundles (instructions on how to create one of your own are here). There are 50 feeds in all – 5 feeds in each of 10 categories. Like any list, this is reliant on my own circles of knowledge and arbitrary in various respects. But it’s a start. I’d welcome other suggestions.

Here is the list with links to the bundles. Each list is in alphabetical order – there is no ranking:

5 of the best: Community

A link to the bundle allowing you to add it to your Google Reader is here.

  1. Blaise Grimes-Viort
  2. Community Building & Community Management
  3. FeverBee
  4. ManagingCommunities.com
  5. Online Community Strategist

5 of the best: Data

This was a particularly difficult list to draw up – I went for a mix of visualisation (FlowingData), statistics (The Numbers Guy), local and national data (CountCulture and Datablog) and practical help on mashups (OUseful). I cheated a little by moving computer assisted reporting blog Slewfootsnoop into the 5 UK feeds and 10,000 Words into Multimedia. Bundle link here. Continue reading

Summary of "Magazines and their websites" – Columbia Journalism Review study by Victor Navasky and Evan Lerner

The first study (PDF) of magazines and their various approaches to websites, undertaken by Columbia Journalism Review, found publishers are still trying to work out how best to utilise the online medium.

There is no general standard or guidelines for magazine websites and little discussion between industry leaders as to how they should most effectively be approached.

Following the responses to the multiple choice questionnaire and the following open-ended questions –

  • What do you consider to be the mission of your website, does this differ from the mission of your print magazine?
  • What do you consider to be the best feature of aspect of your website?
  • What feature of your website do you think most needs improvement or is not living up to its potential?

– the researchers called for a collective, informed and contemporary approach to magazine websites with professional body support.

The findings were separated into the following 6 categories: Continue reading

Experiments in online journalism

Last month the first submissions by students on the MA in Online Journalism landed on my desk. I had set two assignments. The first was a standard portfolio of online journalism work as part of an ongoing, live news project. But the second was explicitly branded ‘Experimental Portfolio‘ – you can see the brief here. I wanted students to have a space to fail. I had no idea how brave they would be, or how successful. The results, thankfully, surpassed any expectations I had. They included:

There are a range of things that I found positive about the results. Firstly, the sheer variety – students seemed to either instinctively or explicitly choose areas distinct from each other. The resulting reservoir of knowledge and experience, then, has huge promise for moving into the second and final parts of the MA, providing a foundation to learn from each other. Continue reading

Online journalism lesson #9: Audio slideshows, community and wikis

The penultimate session in my 10-class module in Online Journalism from last year covered a range of areas. There’s a little bit on audio slideshows, a lot on community, and related to that, I covered wikis too. I’ve split them into 3 presentations for ease of use. This year (the module starts again on Monday) I’ll probably take an axe to all of this…

Wikipedia to require new biography edits to be approved first

The New York Times reports that edits by new users to biographical entries on Wikipedia will be held back from publication until a more experienced editor approves them.

This seems something of a no-brainer to me. When I talk to students about Wikipedia I always point out that the main risks come with biographies, because of the obvious personal element involved (I also point them to the discussion pages behind each entry, and the ability to look at the history of edits and who made them).

It’s more likely that someone will have a beef with a former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville than they will with the atmosphere of Jupiter.

Likewise, when someone dies, people know they can have fun with the media by inserting a little myth that they can guess will be repeated as fact by journalists under a deadline. (Recently Popbitch’s Camilla Wright, whose readers helped debunk inflated Michael Jackson sales figures, argued in a Press Gazette column that web journalists don’t seem to be as vulnerable to this as print journalists).

And it’s worth pointing out that the much-quoted study by Nature which compared Wikipedia’s accuracy with Britannica only looked at science articles.

So it’s a no-brainer on the accuracy front. But for Wikipedia it still raises that community issue: if a new contributor doesn’t see their edit go live immediately, how does that affect their involvement? How does creating a 2-tier system affect the community? Why not instead try adding a disclaimer to the top of all biographies urging caution because “this is about a person”?

It will be interesting to see what happens. In the meantime, I’m off to read about the atmosphere of Jupiter before someone hoaxes it.

Why I’ll be subscribing to a dead-tree newspaper this year

The previously online-only publication/club The Frontline Club is launching a broadsheet – and I have just subscribed.

My reasons are simple – and it’s nothing to do with content. It’s about community, and supporting a principle. (It’s for the same reasons (and free music) that I pay a monthly subscription to Bearded Magazine.)

I suspect community and the social contacts engendered and supported by the web will become an increasingly important part of news business models, and I wish The Frontline Club all the best in their efforts to explore this.

Oh, and you can subscribe here.

Newspapers on Twitter – how the Guardian, FT and Times are winning

National newspapers have a total of 1,068,898 followers across their 120 official Twitter accounts – with the Guardian, Times and FT the only three papers in the top 10. That’s according to a massive count of newspaper’s twitter accounts I’ve done (there’s a table of all 120 at that link).

The Guardian’s the clear winner, as its place on the Twitter Suggested User List means that its @GuardianTech account has 831,935 followers – 78% of the total …

@GuardianNews is 2nd with 25,992 followers, @TimesFashion is 3rd with 24,762 and @FinancialTimes 4th with 19,923.

Screenshot of the data

Screenshot of the data

Other findings

  • Glorified RSS Out of 120 accounts, just 16 do something other than running as a glorified RSS feed. The other 114 do no retweeting, no replying to other tweets etc (you can see which are which on the full table).
  • No following. These newspaper accounts don’t do much following. Leaving GuardianTech out of it, there are 236,963 followers, but they follow just 59,797. They’re mostly pumping RSS feeds straight to Twitter, and  see no reason to engage with the community.
  • Rapid drop-off There are only 6 Twitter accounts with more than 10,000 followers. I suspect many of these accounts are invisible to most people as the newspapers aren’t engaging much – no RTing of other people’s tweets means those other people don’t have an obvious way to realise the newspaper accounts exist.
  • Sun and Mirror are laggards The Sun and Mirror have work to do – they don’t seem to have much talent at this so far and have few accounts with any followers. The Mail only seems to have one account but it is the 20th largest in terms of followers.

The full spreadsheet of data is here (and I’ll keep it up to date with any accounts the papers forgot to mention on their own sites)… It’s based on official Twitter accounts – not individual journalists’. I’ve rounded up some other Twitter statistics if you’re interested.

Newspapers: turn off your RSS feeds

Update, 2 days later: Paul lets me guest post here (ie I wrote this, not him). It was going fairly well until I wrote this post … You can read my climbdown here

The latest subscriber figures (see table below, and first published in my blog’s newspapers category) show that, apart from a couple of exceptions, it’s time for newspapers to turn off their RSS feeds – and hand over the server space, technical support and webpage real estate to an alternative, such as their Twitter accounts.

(You can read some of the defences of RSS here and here)

The table below shows that only 3 of the 9 national newspapers have an RSS feed with more than 10,000 subscribers in Google Reader.

And most newspaper RSS feeds have readerships in the 00s, if that.

melanie-phillips-rssDaily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips has just 11 subscribers to her RSS feed (maybe there’s hope for the UK population yet …).

Despite having virtually no users, the Mail churns out 160 RSS feeds and the Mirror 280. All so a couple of thousand people can look at them in total.

The other papers are just as bad. And while the Guardian has a couple of RSS readers with decent numbers (partly because Google recommends it in its news bundle), it has more feeds than there are people in the UK … Continue reading

What’s been happening with Help Me Investigate

It’s finally been announced that my project Help Me Investigate is being funded by 4iP and Screen West Midlands.

Help Me Investigate (HMI) is a platform for crowdsourcing investigative journalism. It allows anyone to submit a question they want to investigate – “How much does my hospital make from parking charges?” “What happened to the money that was allocated to my local area?” “Why was that supermarket allowed to be built opposite another supermarket?” …

But more importantly, it then enables users to mobilise support behind that question; and to pursue it.

HMI attempts to address the biggest issue facing journalism: how do we save the good stuff? The persistent slow-brewed journalism that was previously subsidised (if you were lucky) by more commercially friendly instant journalism, but which stands to lose most as commercial content becomes disaggregated and reaggregated, and audiences and their activity measurable.

How do you support Slow Journalism?

Help Me Investigate is an attempt to use the qualities of the web to pursue investigative journalism. There are various aspects to this (which I’ll be exploring, along with others, in the Help Me Investigate blog), but fundamentally it comes down to this:

  • The web allows you to ‘atomise’ processes – break them down into their constituent parts. The site breaks apart investigative – often campaigning – journalism allowing users to contribute in specific and different ways. This is not citizen journalism – it is micro-volunteering.
  • Investigative journalism is about more than just ‘telling a story’; it is about enlightening, empowering and making a positive difference. And the web offers enormous potential here – but users must be involved in the process and have ownership of the agenda.
  • The web is more tool than destination – successful business models rest on creating a platform
  • Likewise, the web is more of a communication medium than a storytelling one; therefore, we are focusing on communication and community rather than stories; process, rather than product.
  • We are also focused on making the process itself rewarding, not just the end result. Journalism is a by-product.
  • Online, failure is cheap; unlike a traditional news organisation, HMI doesn’t need the majority of investigations to ‘succeed’; in fact, failure is built into the design as a necessary ingredient of the site’s overall success. If you want to budget for it, put it under ‘training’ and ‘R&D’.
  • Do what you do best and link to the rest: the site is networked – we’re not trying to be or host all things but will be pointing elsewhere more often than not

I could go on, and I will in the blog. But I think those points are core. I don’t expect this project will have all the answers, but I think we are asking the right questions, at the right time.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that the idea of ‘investigative journalism’ covered here is a broad one – indeed, we have no idea of predicting what questions will be pursued: the agenda will be determined almost entirely by users (including journalists) and topics could range from the very personal, hyperlocal to more national questions. That alternative to a mainstream editorial agenda will be interesting in itself: how many questions will we get that newspapers would find unappealing?

So what’s happening now?

We’re building a very rough and ready frame within which users can play. How that develops depends in large part on what the users need to do – we’ll be doing much of the development as it is being used.

Already a handful of people have used the site in its closed test form, and in the following weeks quite a few more will start to go through it. Then the site will be opened in a semi-closed beta.

To begin with we’re focusing our personal efforts on Birmingham, although people elsewhere will be able to use the site.

The site is being built by Webby Award-winning developer Stef Lewandowski, while the community side of things is headed up by Nick Booth. Both have been crucial contributors to the development of HMI. Joining us behind the site are community support Paul Henderson and investigative journalist Heather Brooke, author of the wonderful guide to FOI Your Right To Know. They will be suggesting and supporting activities to users who submit or join investigations on the site.

It’s taken 18 months to get to this point, and the hard work starts now. If you want to be involved in any capacity let me know.

Citizen journalism and investigative reporting: from journalism schools to retirement communities

The myriad numbers of citizen journalism sites that pop up everyday seem to suggest that the media can fulfill the purposes of democracy by merely offering their audiences a forum to express themselves.

However, to tap into its full potential, participatory journalism should try to do something in addition to what mainstream reporting already does – such as expanding source diversity, shifting focus to neglected sections of the population, or pursuing different angles and perspectives on a story. If not, it is not doing much more than using its readers as a form of cheap labor, and perhaps laying off journalists while it’s at it.

Citizen journalism is hardly beneficial when it merely propagates the flaws of traditional reporting. Huffington Post’s Off the Bus produced many stories on the US Presidential campaign last year – but the one we remember most vividly is Mayhill Fowler’s reporting of Barack Obama’s “bitter” comment – the story that put gotcha journalism from mainstream reporters to shame.

The paucity of good investigative reporting through citizen journalism is not surprising, considering the amount of effort such stories require from news organizations in terms of coordination and oversight. Perhaps, most importantly, they require a huge time investment from the audience. While people might be easily persuaded to relay food-item prices from their grocery bills, they are less likely to pursue public officials or make trips to government offices to retrieve information.

Which is why magazines like The Nation are allowing their audiences simpler methods to contribute to significant news stories. With its “Ask the President” feature, the weekly is encouraging readers to pose questions for the Obama administration’s upcoming press conferences. Queries that receive the most votes will get asked by Nation journalists, pending agreement from the White House. This is perhaps the digital equivalent of newspapers inviting their readers to town hall meetings to question public officials.

News organizations are also trying to encourage investigative journalism “from the desk.” With the amount of interactive tools available online, it is perhaps easiest to get readers to contribute through their computers since they already spend several hours in front of them. National news stories especially lend themselves well to this form of reporting.

The nonprofit investigative journalism site Propublica hopes to analyze Barack Obama’s stimulus package by encouraging audience contributions. Data and documents will be available on the site, and readers will be encouraged to offer ideas for stories and topics of newsworthy content. Details of how distributed reporting will be implemented have not been worked out yet, but as Senior Editor Eric Umansky reasons, the breadth of the stimulus projects and their potential effects are so huge that there simply are not enough traditional journalists to cover the subject. But with the help of citizen reporters all around the country, Propublica can do a better job of reporting on all angles of the story. When you recall that the same idea allowed Talking Points Memo to break the news about the Bush administration’s firing of eight US attorneys in late 2007, it is easy to be optimistic about Propublica’s venture.

Another idea that is gaining popularity is the coupling of journalism school projects to citizen reporting. In this fast-changing media world where every citizen is a reporter, students of journalism should be specifically trained to tap into the vast talent available in the community, writes Elizabeth Zwerling. That is exactly what the Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles is attempting to do with its hyperlocal news site, Intersections.

The project is shining the spotlight on the less privileged classes that mainstream media has long ignored with its profit-centered interest in affluent communities. Online journalism often reproduces this censorship of omission because of the inherent digital divide. Students at the Annenberg School, however, are being trained to report on hyperlocal issues affecting urban LA communities. Local residents, many of whom include working class immigrants, work with students to transmit their photos, videos and stories through cell phones.

Sites such as Texas Watchdog, on the other hand, are implementing programs to train civilians to become watchdogs of the government; the program teaches citizens to access and review public documents, among other things.

Another potential goldmine for citizen journalism at the hyperlocal level appears to be populations of retired individuals, who have both the time and inclination to perform watchdogging functions for their communities, as Jack Driscoll found with Rye Reflections, a user-generated site run by retirees in a small community in New Hampshire. The drastic reduction in local news reporting by newspapers that have cut down their resources and budgets has meant that citizens are willing to take up the slack. This sort of community reporting offers people intellectual and social stimulation while fulfilling civic needs, according to Driscoll.

In addition, retired professionals can often lend their specific expertise to investigative news stories, as former engineers and lawyers in the community of Fort Myers, Florida proved during the News-Press’ investigation of a local utility company. However, Driscoll does not succumb to the rosy-eyed view that this sort of reporting can replace hardcore investigative journalism at the national or international level, or in specialized fields like science and medicine.

It’s little surprise then that the much talked-about Huffington Post Investigative Fund hopes to tap into the expertise of seasoned journalists to kick-start its investigative reporting exercise. Down the road, it will harness the power of its citizen volunteers. As Jay Rosen, who will serve as a senior advisor on the project, writes, “the best approach is to have no orthodoxy and to support very traditional investigative reporting by paid pros who are good at it, as well as teams of pros and amateurs, students working with masters of the craft, crowdsourced investigations, and perhaps other methods.”

A tall order to be sure. But news organizations need to quickly find ways to compensate for the dearth of resources and personnel in order to continue to perform in-depth investigative reporting, lest journalism may become completely irrelevant.