Archive for May, 2011

You will know that Skynet has arrived and the ultimate war against the humans is imminent when someone invents a hyperlocalization news tool like that described by Jeff Sonderman in his commentary for Poynter.org about Google News’ new “news near you” service. In summary: Google takes aim at the mobile market by using your mobile device’s geolocation info to feed you more or less hyperlocal news results; Jeff says it’s great as far as it goes, but he wants more — more headlines, more curation, more socialization. His area, metro Washington, D.C., used to have something close to what he wants — it was called TBD.com, and it was killed in its crib a few months ago. Actually, Jeff is looking for the robot version, a “killer app,” and a certain level of personalization — a step beyond hyperlocalization:

“To create a market-dominating filter of local news, someone will need to curate the pool of aggregated news to match each reader’s interests, browsing history and social network activity, in addition to his or her location.

“The killer app would be one that filters a breadth of local aggregation like Outside.in through a hyperpersonalized social filter sought by mobile services such as News.me and Trove combined with the personal browsing and search history of Google.”

And he’s right. If someone can invent a computer program that can do all that, it will be a killer, all right — it might kill the need to have humans involved in the news-delivery process (that would be the group usually called editors or producers) at all.

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(Originally posted on May 13, 2011)
ASNE issued its own version of social media guidelines today, and though much of it is standard stuff, one part has already created some debate: Rule No. 4, “Break news on your website, not on Twitter.” This does NOT mean (as the full guidelines eventually explain) that you should not use Twitter (or Facebook, or Digg, or whatever has proven a good vehicle for you) to publicize breaking news. What it means is that if you have solid, factual reporting of something newsworthy, put it on your website, and WHEN YOU TWEET IT include a link pointing back to your site. In other words, do not put your news only and exclusively into your social media stream. As Media General Digital Media’s Alex Marcelewski explains, social media are a proven way to help drive traffic to your site:

“We have seen that breaking news traffic in significant numbers have come to use from those two networks (Facebook and Twitter), especially at work hours and weekends.

“To rely just on just the website to break news assumes people are actually checking the site throughout the day for breaking news. In the mobile world of today, that is fading.

“Journalists need to break news where the audience is. Yes they should not post non-solid info to anywhere, but when you have a confirmed incident/story and all you have are two sentences, then those two sentence would be posted to web and then to social media with the link back to the site (where the updates occur on the article).”

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(Originally posted on May 12, 2011)
Stats from the news of Osama bin Laden’s death illustrate that an old piece of wisdom favorable to TV news remains true:

“The lesson is clear: when big news breaks, people flock to TV. And when they’re online, they still flock to TV, or else they go to the main sites they think of for providing good fast web-native news. Other news sites, like NYT and WaPo, are lucky just to break into the top ten. They’re very good at what they do. But the broad population still doesn’t think of them as being real-time in the way that TV and the web are.”

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(Originally posted on May 10, 2011)
Initially, the post “The Story So Far by J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer kind of ticked me off. She makes suggestions for news organizations to deal with their permanently diminished resources, and at least a few at first come off as quite glib. Example: “Identify the gaps in news coverage and find ways to fill them.” Oh. THAT’s all. Why didn’t I think of that? Just find a way to fill those gaps.

So just so you know, if you have/had that reaction to her post, I had it too, and I would guess it’s a pretty common one. On further reflection, however, I’m going to knock her instead for her phrasing and approach, not her ideas. The problem with her post is she is already over firmly in the territory of having gotten over the shock of what journalism has lost — staff, beats, travel budgets, the whole enchilada — and she’s writing as someone who has moved on to attempt confront the new reality. Many of us are not there yet, even if we think we are. I must not be, judging by my reaction. I think she was tone deaf to how her phrasing would strike this large segment of journalists. Or maybe she was aware of it but decided not to expend the energy to try to add some psychic cushions in her suggestions.

Put a few of those cushions in place yourself, if need be, and then read her suggestions. The premise of her post is that we will never get back the beats and jobs we have lost so far. Given that, how do her suggestions stack up, in your estimation?

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(Originally posted on May 9, 2011)
The headline on the new Pew study, Navigating News Online, was “Where people go, how they get there and what lures them away,” but it would have been just as accurate and more to the point if it had been “Every trend we’ve reported in the past few years is still true.” There also is no recommendation on what any news organization should in light of these trends (it says, “All of this suggests that news organizations might need a layered and complex strategy for serving audiences and also for monetizing them,” which might be more accurately translated as, “We don’t know for sure what you should try”). A summary:

Most folks who visit news sites are infrequent visitors and don’t stay very long at all — less than five minutes a month. Yes, A MONTH. A small group — very small, in some cases — comes more often and spends more than an hour a month.

Google continues to be the top place driving traffic to news sites, but social media, and Facebook in particular, are growing fast as news referring sources. The study confirms, however, that Twitter barely registers as a referring source. (Note that is a general observation; if you are getting great results from Twitter, by all means keep using it.)

The “share” tools that appear alongside most news stories rank among the most clicked-on links on news sites.

One bit of good news: The age of news consumers online is on par with Internet users overall. In other words, not the mostly older (I won’t say “dying”) group that is the audience for so much traditional media.

5/17/11 UPDATE: Some people have pointed out problems with the Pew study, among them Steve Buttry. Steve lists five problems, but each of the five is a lengthy complaint. They fall generally under the headings of methodology and sloppy stats. Perhaps the most damning criticism for most journalists would be No. 5:

“Whatever validity this study has is heavily skewed toward national news because PEJ studied only the top 25 news sites, based on unique visitors for the first nine months of 2010. Of the 25 sites studied, at most six could be described as local news sites, the sites of the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune. And some, if not all, of those have significant national audiences, at least for a sports franchise they follow. With that heavy a national sample, the study is nearly worthless for local news sites.”

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(Originally posted on May 3, 2011)
The Lost Remote blog offers a reminder of why it’s a good idea, when you are using Twitter in your coverage of a big and/or ongoing news event, that you have a hashtag and to be sure your audience is aware of it. Also, an example of a use for hashtags I hadn’t seen before:

“Over on ABC News, they displayed a counter of #RoyalWedding mentions on air. But more interestingly, ABC used hashtags as a poll: #RoyalMess vs #RoyalSuccess, with 82% concluding that Kate’s dress was a #RoyalSuccess.”

UPDATE: Maybe it’s a coincidence of timing, but here’s more on the subject from Twitter Media:

“Many news organizations —ABC News, CNN, BBC, ITV, Sky— amongst others —used the royal wedding as an opportunity to launch new Twitter integrations and to experiment with novel reporting approaches.

“Here are some new best practices that have emerged:

“Tracking total Tweets and Tweets per minute about a major story has surfaced as a state-of-the-art news metric (@ABCRoyals’ Tweet tickers). A nod to MTV for first employing this for a pop culture event in their 2010 MTV VMA visualization.

“Hashtags as polls capture the audience’s opinion while also shaping and driving the conversation. (ABC News with #RoyalMess vs #RoyalSuccess and @SkyNews with #GoRoyals vs #NoRoyals.)

“For a shared story, using company-specific hashtags helps drive and identify your own audience’s tweets (#CNNTV, #BBCWedding).”

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(Originally posted on May 3, 2011)
The New York Times reports today, “For the first time in 20 years, the number of homes in the United States with television sets has dropped.” It’s not a gigantic drop — 96.7 percent of American households now own sets, down from 98.9 percent — but the unanswered question cited in the story is whether this is the start of a trend because part of the drop is attributed to young adults doing without TV; whatever they watch, they get online. It may be a TV parallel to what has happened with phones, with many young people increasingly doing without landline phones, relying just on their cell phones. So why bring this up in a blog devoted to news? Together with the time-shifting already going on in TV watching due to DVRs, this obviously has implications for the TV ad revenue model, which has implications for everyone — just as changing consumer behaviors have socked newspapers’ advertising model, which in turn socked newsroom (along with every other department’s) budgets.

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(Originally posted on April 26, 2011)
An article from emarketer.com (Nicole McMullin of Richmond.com pointed it out) points up differences in the reading habits of two audiences: those who find content through searches, and those who find it through links in social media such as Facebook. Links from social media are far outnumbered by search, but social media is much more likely to link to news and entertainment stories, which happen to be an awful lot of what we do.

The issue is that people who come in via links in social media “have fewer page views per session and a higher bounce rate” — they are less engaged than people who come in from a search link.

It seems that the lesson in this simply is to pay attention to both your social media links and what you are doing to optimize your site for search engines to find your content. You can’t drop social media because that’s the forum where people are most likely to want to share what they find interesting, but you can’t ignore SEO because that’s how people who might be the most interested in a particular topic you are covering will find your story.

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(Originally posted on April 19, 2011)
Poynter.org has some interesting details about the Pulitzer Prize the L.A. Times won for its investigation of outrageous public salaries in Bell, Calif. (among the more interesting details to me, as an editor and former reporter, is that a story can’t get on A1 in L.A. if it’s not filed by 2:30 p.m., Pacific time — before most stories at almost any paper in the Eastern time zone are even filed), but one thing that stands out is a little function that the Times took on as a result of the reaction to the stories:

“Once the Bell city salaries became public, town activists began filing open records requests to learn more. The City of Bell was often slow to respond to public records requests so the Times created a tool to help citizens get the answers they deserve.

“’As part of our coverage, we created a public records request form, to help people to get information from their local governments. One of our city desk assistants still answers those calls and helps people with their public records filings,’ Gottlieb said.

“Then, the Times created a special online DocumentCloud section where readers can share public documents they discover. The section also teaches readers about their rights to read public information and explains what California law says about open records and open meetings. The special section includes public documents that Times reporters obtain on a wide range of topics.”

It’s great the the Times started doing that, but it seems like something that a major news organization — certainly one of that size and prominence — should have been doing already. Maybe every one should.

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(Originally posted on April 11, 2011)
WABC in New York unintentionally served up a great lesson Sunday in the wrong way to use social media in newsgathering, posting a cryptic question seeking anyone who knew someone on a specific flight. There was no mention of what prompted the request, but it doesn’t take a nervous disposition to envision, oh, a plane crash, for instance. When the station’s fans pointed out the needless panic the station was causing, the station didn’t help matters much, posting only “Everyone is safe.” The station took a beating online, and you can bet it will take a while for its fans to get over the sting and for the station to regain whatever level of respect it had in their eyes before this.

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