Archive for June, 2011

Following last week’s tempest over the word “branding” in journalism, Steve Buttry has written up something that would be hard for anyone to argue against: tips for how to develop a brand as a journalist (call it a reputation, if branding makes you uncomfortable). Key point for why the term “brand” should cease to bother anyone:

“The opposite of brand is generic. And no one looking for a job wants to be generic, unless your strategy is to land a low-paying job.”

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Dear Leslie:
I was set to say I was sorry that you chose Gene Weingarten to ask about building a personal brand because, instead of a helpful answer, he supplied a curmudgeonly rant attacking what he imagines the word “brand” represents, which appears to be everything evil in the world of journalism. I also assumed it was partly your own fault for not realizing ahead of time that such a response certainly is consistent with Weingarten’s “brand.” How wrong I was. As your paper, published on Steve Buttry’s blog, makes perfectly clear, you knew his reputation well, even if you didn’t anticipate his exact reaction. As you note, Weingarten “certainly qualifies as a recognizable brand and reaps the benefits that come with textbook brand equity,” even if he himself refuses to recognize how those terms are now commonly used. You even appear to know Weingarten better than he knows himself, pointing out that interaction is the new-media currency, that “Interaction is a hallmark of the Weingarten brand,” and “he was an early adopter of interactive web technologies and fully embraces Twitter.”

I was all set to sit down here and rant myself. But everything I was going to say appears to be in your paper. Excellent work.

Also well worth reading is Steve Buttry’s own take on branding.

I can sympathize with those who don’t like the use of “brand” in journalism conversations because it originated in marketing and advertising. It still makes me a little uncomfortable, but I recognize it is in common use. There’s a better chance of getting people to stop saying, “I could care less,” than of stopping the use of “brand.” The language evolves, and as media changes so too does the language involved. What’s important is the idea and the application. If you get hung up on specific words, you will spend all your time just ranting. But maybe that isn’t the end of the world. Maybe it actually helps you. Maybe it’s your brand.

UPDATE: I had looked earlier for this example from last year of Weingarten’s take on the new media landscape, just stumbled across it.

UPDATE: Dammit. I like to think I’m original, but Google brings this post with the same title and basically the same point: “the word ‘brand,’ really boils down to one thing: the expectation your fans/friends/consumers have about you.”

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Pew logo
The latest study result from the Pew Internet and American Life Project confirm the conventional wisdom that more and more people are joining social networking sites (SNS):

“Nearly half of adults (47%), or 59% of internet users, say they use at least one of SNS. This is close to double the 26% of adults (34% of internet users) who used a SNS in 2008. Among other things, this means the average age of adult-SNS users has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010. Over half of all adult SNS users are now over the age of 35. Some 56% of SNS users now are female.”

And note that when people say they are using social networks, they pretty much mean Facebook:

“Facebook dominates the SNS space in this survey: 92% of SNS users are on Facebook; 29% use MySpace, 18% used LinkedIn and 13% use Twitter.”

As long as the trend continues, and as long as your site’s own statistics reflect the growing influence of social media on your traffic, the time a news staff spends in this area is easier and easier to justify as a core function.

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Facebook marketing
Even among newsrooms that see value in social networking sites, how they use Facebook differs. What doesn’t seem to differ is the lessons they tell others they have learned about what works on Facebook. Today’s example is a newsroom that has taken an extreme step: a Maryland newspaper, Rockville Central, that eliminated its standalone website and moved to all-Facebook publishing online. The downsides to doing such a thing probably should discourage publications of any size from doing the same thing (notably, the inability to build useful, searchable archives within Facebook, a huge handicap for both staff and audience), but the pluses are things to pay attention to, just as you would pay attention to tips on language and customs from someone who took an immersion approaching to learning a new language and culture (which is more or less what Facebook is in comparison with traditional news outlets). A couple (by going where the audience is your stories reach more people, and different people, than your website alone does; be a real person, not an officious, impersonal voice in your interactions) will seem familiar by now.

Slightly different than things I had read before was a detail on the tip “Timing matters.” Facebook activity peaks several times a day — before work, midday and around dinner. Publisher Brad Rourke tells Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman it’s best to target those windows for your updates, implying that people don’t scroll far down in their update stream: “What you really want is to share when they’re on, not before they’re on,” he said.

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When someone who really knows how to write gets angry, he/she might tend to write it out. Some even send what they wrote, as Jack Shafer found. It probably feels good at the time.

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I was in the room June 1 when the News & Messenger, based in Manassas, Va., became the first newspaper in my company to surpass 10,000 Facebook fans, I just didn’t realize until today it was the first, or that less than a year earlier the Inside Nova Facebook page had fewer than 1,000 fans.

Hitting that number is not an accident. Everyone on the news staff is acutely aware of social media. It’s part of the discussion in the room, led by Kari Pugh, whose title is digital products manager but who functions more as a digital-first city editor (maybe one day we could just shorten that to city editor). Kari posts news updates and responds to reader questions, comments and news tips, but she isn’t the only one in the newsroom who pays attention to the online community and the discussion there, and maybe that’s the key part of the equation.

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When the State of Alaska releases almost 25,000 of Sarah Palin’s emails from her tenure as governor today, the media won’t be the only ones poring over it. The Washington Post and New York Times are putting copies on the Web for the public to review and are asking people to alert them to what they find.

Once upon a time, seeking public participation in a reporting project would have been a remote consideration, and the Washington Post actually originally intended to invite just a small group to participate. Now it’s all comers. What the Post is asking:

“Please include page numbers and, where possible, a direct excerpt. We’ll share your comments with our reporters and may use facts or related material you suggest to annotate the documents displayed on The Post site. We may contact you for further details, by way of your registered e-mail with the Post, unless you specify otherwise in the comments.”

If this is successful, expect to see more of it — and expect smaller news organizations to follow suit. Perhaps no one would be considering this, or they would be slower to consider it, if news staffs were the size they were even 10 years ago. But the online news audience expects to have this level of involvement. It’s smart not to try to hold everything back.

UPDATE: Belated links — The Times’ site for reading the e-mails and submitting tips. I’ll post a link to the Post’s site … as soon as I can find the thing. The Post seems to have hidden it. Links that say “read the Palin emails” and solicit help point here, but as of this writing I see no links to any site with the emails or how to help (and, as usual with the Post’s site, it takes FOREVER for each page to load).

UPDATE: The Post has links to the emails here. Still not seeing anything like a “Post your tips here” link.

FOR A CONTRARY POINT OF VIEW, see this from Fast Company. I’m not sure you can declare a success or failure within hours of an attempt, but we’ll know within a day or two, anyway.

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I flunked SEO 101

riding the rapids
When I moved from a newsroom to Media General in 2001, it was a little like getting out of a river’s rapids and walking along the bank instead. I was close enough to still feel the water in the air as I watched those still on the river pass. And once in a while I’d call out, “NO, PADDLE LEFT! LEFT!!” but they didn’t hear me. Or maybe they did. Who could tell? And I would sometimes think, “Gosh, that was fun … but it’s kind of dangerous,” and when a big election night or something came and someone asked me to come help move copy, I jumped right in.

Something kind of like that last part is going on right now. I’ve just recently started helping two nights a week so a news editor in a community newsroom can actually get a night off, and unlike the election-night editing stints, it’s a hands-on experience that includes not only working with reporters but things like discussions about what goes on the website early and what goes on Facebook. My first day without the training wheels (I was the only editor on duty), I posted my very first early news bulletin. It went up, and out of curiosity I went to Google to see where it would turn up. Answer: It didn’t. But then the web editor tweaked the URL to put a person’s name in it — VOILA! The bulletin was at the top of the Google search results.

I had committed the most elementary error: I put a print headline on a website story. It’s not like I don’t know the search-engine-optimization rules; I spend a chunk of my time each week reminding editors of things like this. If you have attended any training sessions where web-oriented folks talk about things like this, well, I’ve sat through the same ones, multiple times in various states.

So, you ask, do I have a point? Yes, as elementary as my error: When you post a story online, take a few seconds and think about how that story is going to get found. Is the headline specific (personal names, business, place names, topic, etc.)? Did you include tags? Spending that extra minute or so on your end can make a lot of difference.

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Another day, another study confirming what previous studies have shown about Facebook. Quick summary: “sharing now produces an estimated 10 percent of all Internet traffic and 31 percent of referral traffic to sites from search and social. Search is still about twice as big.

“When it comes to sharing on the Web, Facebook rules. Facebook accounts for 38 percent of all sharing referral traffic. Email and Twitter tied for second with 17 percent each. Those are the percentages that actually clicked through. The raw sharing numbers are higher. Facebook makes up 56 percent of all shared content (up from 45 percent in August, 2010), followed by email at 15 percent (down from 34 percent) …”

I note especially that figure showing halving of the sharing done via e-mail. It would seem that most of that moved to Facebook. Thinking about it, that certainly mirrors shifts in my own sending and receiving of e-mail: Except for my mother-in-law, most people seem to do less e-mailing of links than they used to. As noted here in previous posts about sharing links to your stories via Facebook, this is a snapshot and a trend, it doesn’t mean it will be permanent, but it does reinforce how people right now feel most comfortable sharing information they find interesting.

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The public editor (a.k.a., ombudsman) of the New York Times answers the question that some would say needs no answer: “Is the New York Times a liberal newspaper?” And he wastes no time: “Of course it is.” The article goes on to chronicle in detail the regular, daily evidence of the left-leaning perspective the paper’s staff as a whole clearly has (I’m not arguing), resulting, he argues, from the nature of New York itself and the kind of people drawn there, let alone (says I) the type of people drawn to working at the Times.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing, or neither? If everyone who worked at the Times — and at any news organization — recognized and remained aware through the day of how his or her views were similar or different than his or her audience, it would be a little less of an issue. I think people don’t necessarily expect you to think and act the same as they do, but they don’t like feeling that you perceive them as odd or that you don’t understand them, even if you disagree. This is part of why I and many reporters always say that if you get complaints from both sides on your story, you think you did a good job.

So why am I posting this? For this: You can’t be 100 percent neutral in almost anyone’s eyes. Your approach and coverage will inevitably be influenced by your own background and experience. If you don’t believe this, then go to your nearest Burger King, notice the people there, then visit BKs in very different places and notice the people there. Listen to conversations (to the extent you can without being intrusive). What’s important is not that you are on the same page as all of the people around you, but do you understand where they come from? Can you represent those people fairly? That’s all anyone really expects.

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