Posts Tagged ‘social’

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Writing for Poynter.org, Jeff Sonderman explains the longer-term implications of Google starting to incorporate your social connections in search results, so that whatever results Google might feed you for a search will be influenced by whatever your friends have looked at:

“The point for news organizations and journalists is that it’s more important than ever to build strong social followings and to optimize content for sharing. Social media is becoming an engine that drives more than just Facebook and Twitter’s own referrals.”

In other words, it’s another argument for engaging the audience, whether you like it or not.

However, I have a feeling the search model is going to change yet again. The whole “what your friends are reading will influence what you see” thing is wearing on me in my Washington Post Social Reader. Apparently a heck of a lot of my friends read not only celebrity gossip, which I don’t care to see at all, and Apple fanboy love but also a lot more fluff than I ever expected to come to me via anything with “Washington Post” in its name — of the top six headlines at the time of this writing, two are Apple stories, one is about a Korean pop group and one is about paparazzi photos of Kate Middleton’s sister. Social search, in other words, is making my social reader less and less useful to me, to the point I expect I’ll stop using it at all — until they fix it, at which point the model will shift again.

1/12/12 UPDATE: Good additional details from Justin Ellis at Nieman Journalism Lab. … Still haven’t seen anyone share my “Hell is other people” take on it.

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I had two thoughts as I read, belatedly, Megan Garber’s piece from last month for Nieman Journalism Lab about the new political team at Buzzfeed and how they approach reporting. First: Wow, that really sounds like exactly the right model for the online world. Second: How the hell are they going to make money from that? Which of course is the eternal Underpants Gnomes issue of online news.

But then it occurred to me that the Buzzfeed strategy may be a key part of how more traditional news organizations might survive into the digital future. More on that in a minute. First, what Buzzfeed is doing, from Garber’s article:

“The idea is to continue the type of work he’s been doing at Politico — reported blogging — and to combine that content with the social elements of Buzzfeed. So: Reporting, amplified. Reporting, viral-ized. … [The political team] will be starting from the premise … that people are now mostly (and increasingly) getting their news from social sources like Twitter, Facebook, and aggregators. Journalism is increasingly part of the social web.

“… And within the social space, Smith points out, one of the things people most like to share is news that is actually, you know, new. … [P]eople are increasingly aware of themselves not just as consumers of content, but as curators of it. They increasingly appreciate the role they play as, if not breakers of news, then disseminators of it.”

Buzzfeed’s aim is to “build the first true social news organization … the definitive social news organization.”

An early return, from Philip Bump at Mediaite, is positive – the headline is “What Buzzfeed’s New Politics Team Is Doing Right.”

It helps, of course, not to have to worry about doing all that while still producing a traditional news product such as a newspaper or TV show. But what if you started from the premise of reporters doing as Buzzfeed envisions? From there, part of the role of an editor could be pulling items out of the stream to cobble them into what is needed for the traditional product. Of necessity, that might well look very different than a traditional news story – but as I often argue and Bump’s piece at Mediaite points out, the traditional news story isn’t always needed:

“The long news story is an artificial construct, one largely predicated on filling a certain amount of printed space. Articles often don’t need to be 400-500 words with compelling intros and robust context – they certainly don’t always need to be.”

The result could be an organization with the nimbleness to operate in the online environment and build the kind of audience engagement that keeps people coming back, both to the short updates you get in social media and whatever more you produce on your main site, in the paper or on the air.

That’s where the Gnomes come in.

This morning I was reading Clay Shirky’s thoughts about the “leaky paywall” or threshold model for news sites, which lets visitors see a set number of free articles before requiring a payment for any subsequent articles. Shirky is among those who have long been skeptical that an absolute paywall – requiring a payment for any and all viewing of content – would work for news sites, but he clearly sees merit in setting a threshold. But his main purpose in the post is examining how the threshold model might end up reshaping the content of news sites. This stems from the fact that a small minority of the online users are paying the freight, so keeping that audience engaged is key:

“Threshold charges subject the logic of the print bundle — a bit of everything for everybody, slathered with ads — to two new questions: What do our most committed users want? And what will turn our most frequent readers into committed users? Here are some things that won’t: More ads. More gossip. More syndicated copy. … When a paper abandons the standard paywall strategy, it gives up on selling news as a simple transaction. Instead, it must also appeal to its readers’ non-financial and non-transactional motivations: loyalty, gratitude, dedication to the mission, a sense of identification with the paper, an urge to preserve it as an institution rather than a business.”

In other words, most people do not – and will never – pay for content, but some will pay for some specific content, and much more importantly that small number of people will pay to ensure that the general type of content you produce is around when they need it, because they enjoy it or they think it makes their world a better place, or they just can’t imagine their world without you around.

That last part, at least, is something that traditional journalists can identify with.

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If you work for a traditional newsroom, especially a newspaper, in all likelihood you are in a situation not that different than the Oakland A’s as depicted in “Moneyball.” You don’t have the money you feel you need to do the job the way you were brought up to believe it needs to be done, and that situation is never going to get better. The University of Southern California’s Center for the Digital Future even predicts the end of most printed newspapers in just a few years, owing not just to the economic factors hurting advertising but, more importantly, consumer habits shifting media use increasingly to digital platforms. I’m not so pessimistic myself, but I think it’s undeniable that technology is changing how people spend their time, and both reading and viewing are moving more and more to digital platforms.

News organizations face a stark choice. As expressed in “Moneyball” by Brad Pitt as the general manager of the A’s: “Adapt or die.”

That means going beyond seeing your website or social media channels as added tasks that take away from your real job. You have to think about news throughout the day in terms of people scanning for it on their phones, on their tablets, on their computers.

Steve Buttry of Digital First Media (aka Journal Register) has been posting a series on his blog this week detailing some of the practical changes of this approach, starting with how it would affect the ways a court reporter, photographer or sports reporter might do the job. (Dare I say this might be the first time anyone has written something suggesting a link in any way between Steve and Brad Pitt.)

Perhaps most important in Steve’s series is advice for editors leading a Digital First (or digital-first) newsroom. If the message doesn’t come from the top that digital-first is the new SOP, it won’t happen. If the message isn’t accompanied by evidence that those at the top are paying attention, it won’t happen.

Much of Steve’s advice echoes tips about coaching and leadership generally – there are sections on standards, listening, praise and collaboration.

One suggestion he makes that would be an important step for newroom leaders to drive the message because it would be a big change in newsroom habits:
“Focus your meetings on digital platforms. Ask what you’re covering live, who’s shooting video, what the social chatter is, what stories are getting good traffic. … Put tomorrow’s print Page One it its proper place: as an afterthought at the end of the meeting.”

Also good advice that newsroom leaders have to internalize:

“Don’t tell your staff they have to ‘do more with less’ unless you are providing tools for them to work more efficiently (in my career, a few things that have actually helped us do more with less are portable computers, spreadsheets, databases, cellphones and pagination). Usually, ‘do more with less’ is a management cliché that means we have failed to make tough decisions about priorities.

“As you focus more attention on digital platforms, you have to focus less on print. Consult with your staff and colleagues and make tough decisions about priorities. How are you going to change the newshole, design, editing process, content, staffing, etc. of the print product so you can focus more attention on digital.”

In other words, what are you really changing? You don’t have the staff you used to have, you never will again – “Newspaper companies have seen their advertising revenues drop by 58 percent from the third quarter of 2005 to the third quarter of this year (64 percent after adjusting for inflation). Any profits are achieved only by severe cuts in staff and other costs. That path is simply unsustainable.” – and you have a shifting audience.

What will adaptation look like in your newsroom?

Related: The Innovation Excellence website takes seven quotes from Moneyball and explains how they directly relate to driving innovation through an organization.

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image from everythingpr
Couldn’t have said it better myself — a portion of what Liz Heron, social media editor for the New York Times, told Poynter’s Steve Myers about whether reporters should use Twitter to break news before it appears on the Times’ own website:

“Encouraging individual journalists to use social media for reporting is a key part of our journalistic strategy and an important part of our future success as a news organization. … If our staff uses social media well, it only serves to enhance our journalism as a whole.”

The question to my mind is what constitutes using social media well, and I would say it’s making your newsroom known as the go-to place for news that’s relevant to your community (whether that community is oriented to a place or a topic) and helping drive traffic to where your full stories appear, whether that’s in print, online or on the air. Certainly breaking news via Twitter can build the reputation of delivering news fast; whether it also drives traffic depends on how you follow up after those initial tweets — send a link, refer to details that will appear in the paper or on the air.

Having said that, know what your boss wants and expects. I don’t sign your paycheck.

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I have serious doubts that Google+ is going to escape the non-Facebook “I don’t need it” vortex, but I think Google’s plans to link journalists’ Google+ social profile to news search results may be something that, in some form, becomes routine in coming years. My initial reaction to seeing this was, “Yikes, that’s creepy.” But it’s not actually; if you already have a social profile out there — Facebook, Twitter, what have you — then why is it there? If not to connect with readers and (to use a term from Megan Garber’s Nieman post) provide transparency, then what? Marketing? Because your boss told you to? Any reason I can think of for having a social profile is served by linking it to the stories in news search results. But the “Yikes, that’s creepy” will be the understandable first reaction that, like even having a social profile in the first place, journalists will have to work through. Begin.

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Initially, the Nieman Journalism Lab’s look at how several highly touted innovation projects from 2006 fared, as part of the Newspaper Next project (more on that can be found here, but it’s a 2008 post), depressed me a little bit. As the Nieman post notes, of the seven projects, only three saw the light of day (including one by MG’s own Richmond Times-Dispatch — conducting market research to find out what local businesses wanted) and all three were not really started as a result of Newspaper Next. Others either never launched or petered out — a common factor seems to be aiming higher than your resources allow you to get. Also, some of the people involved at the outset moved on, so it wouldn’t be surprising if whatever urgency an innovation project had moved on with them.

So I was stewing a bit in mild despair about the industry’s ability to change. After all, these seven projects got national attention; these organizations raised their hands and volunteered to climb that stage, so you might have expected a serious push to have been made on all seven. The best that came out of any of them was an internal change in thinking and culture. That’s no small accomplishment for a newspaper company, but it’s pretty far short of what anyone hoped for five years ago.

But after thinking about it a while, I had to change my mind. Looking at my computer screen, with the TweetDeck symbol in the status bar and the word “Facebook” on one of the browser tabs, reminded me of a few of the changes that have crept through newsrooms since 2006. What the still-growing acceptance of Facebook and Twitter in newsrooms have in common with the Newspaper Next projects is an internal change in thinking and culture. Like experiments a few newsrooms have tried in opening their daily news budgeting process to varying degrees of public scrutiny (most recently rolled out in several Journal Register newsrooms), the idea of using social media to open the news process to public view initially strikes news people like it probably would strike a sausage maker if you suggested setting up webcams so people could watch the hog in live video all the way from the farm to the deli counter. A few years ago, it was not a popular concept at all. In some quarters, it remains highly unpopular.

But things changed. Those weren’t the only changes. Video, mobile, chat, website analytics – you could make a list of things that in many newsrooms now are part of the daily flow of conversation and (we hope) planning. The sum total of change from 2001 to 2011 in newsrooms is significant, but most of the individual changes were small and somewhat unheralded.

So I end up in a better place psychologically on this Friday afternoon than I had been a couple of hours ago. Incremental, internal change, as the Nieman Lab post notes, may be harder to notice and measure at the time. From Nieman’s interview with Tom Silvestri, publisher of the Times-Dispatch: “What happens is there’s no parade or Outlook invitation,” he said. “You don’t even get a cake with candles. But something happens.”

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The Storm Collection from Storm Collection on Vimeo.

The above is a video telling, from the perspective of future historians, the evolution from pre-history to the early 21st century, not more than a few years from now, of how people receive their news. The co-creators, Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan, previously made a video that gained wide circulation, Epic 2014, which depicts from a future historian’s perspective the events that led to all news media except the New York Times being consumed in an all-everything incarnation of Google, but even the Times was driven by it to remove itself from the Web. (That’s an oversimplification; watch the video.) Where “Epic” dealt with the evolution of the production of news, the new one, “The Storm Collection,” focuses on the consumer.

I don’t know whether it’s a measure of how coccooned in my daily work I am lately that it took a week for me to come across this new one or it’s just that the above video doesn’t strike as many people as striking as close to the bone as “Epic 2014,” but I suspect it’s the latter. “Storm” is not as slick and seems rather slow-moving and padded, not so much of a story, as though they had an end point — the ultimate news-consumption device, depicted in the video as a pair of glasses by Apple with displays embedded in the lenses — and tried to find a way to build to it — which is essentially what they wind up saying in a Society of News Design presentation was the case. (In the video of their presentation, the “Storm” video starts 5:30 in, and the actual 19-minute presentation/discussion starts about 14:40 in.)

However, what’s really interesting is not the “Storm” video but how they explain in the SND presentation what they are thinking. It really IS hard to think how to make a video depicting it. They describe technology enabling a proliferation of small opportunities for people to seek out and receive information – instead of the 30 minutes with the morning paper or the 30 minutes with the evening news on TV, it’s many smaller bits throughout the day, and the challenge for people who produce the news is find ways to make their presentation compelling. One comparison they make is to NPR’s so-called “driveway moments,” when people hear a story on the radio as they drive, reach their destination but remain in the car to finish hearing it. “These moments are emerging all around us,” with advancing technology creating ever more seamless points of entry into people’s attention.

I’m not sure I like their depictions of some possible future technologies – one of the least intrusive, but still creepy: an electronic frame you have on your desk displaying a picture of your sweetheart along with a display of that person’s most recent status update. But I know I’m not that future news consumer. I’ll be the dinosaur who’s clinging to a tablet and reading at a table in the coffee shop instead of getting all my news through my glasses while riding in my self-driving car.

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They buried the lead. You have to read to nearly the end of a press release from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism to get to what seems to me to be the most important element of a new study by Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, produced in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, asking about where people get their local information:

“While there are a variety of demographic dimensions that are linked to the way people get local news and information, the most striking is the difference between younger and older information consumers. Simply put, one generation into the web, older consumers still rely more heavily on traditional platforms while younger consumers rely more on the internet. Among adults under age 40, the web ranks first or ties for first for 12 of the 16 local topics asked about.”

That’s not earth-shaking, but it’s “the most striking” demographic breakdown, underlining and confirming that younger news consumers’ habit of getting information online is not changing. (Note also a recent Knight Foundation survey of high schoolers and their news habits.)

Also notable to me was the finding on mobile use:

“Nearly half of adults (47%) use mobile devices to get local news and information. Not surprisingly, mobile is particularly popular for ‘out and about’ categories of information, such as restaurants.”

Perhaps the only thing in the study results that really surprised me, though, was the high percentage of people who reported doing things that Pew calls “participating” in the news — and note here, again, how this group focuses on the Internet:

“And 41% of all adults can be considered ‘local news participators’ because they contribute their own information via social media and other sources, add to online conversations, and directly contribute articles about the community. Both these groups are substantially more likely than others to use the internet to get local news and information on almost all topics.”

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This one feels a little different: the Wall Street Journal has launched a new Facebook app, but it keeps the user on Facebook the entire time while also delivering the Journal’s subscription-protected content (though sponsorships may allow that content to be delivered free within the app). That seems like a huge advance in the current, Facebook-dominated landscape.

But the bigger news, as Megan Garber reports at Niemen Journalism Lab, is the app advances the concept of personalized news, making “every user an editor” and “elevating the role of people as curators of content.” People already have been curating content — that’s the essence of sharing links — but this app seeks to make it a more seemless process, and the fewer clicks needed to do what the person wants to do online, the more pleasing the Web experience. It raises the question, will people be more willing to pay for the news if it’s this easy to interact with it?

9/26/11 UPDATE: The Washington Post also has an app to feed news directly to Facebook, but it’s even broader, including news from partners The Associated Press, Reuters, Mashable and SB Nation. At Poynter.org, Jeff Sonderman sounds a note of caution about such apps — asking, among other things, whether news organizations can trust Facebook as a partner — but I still think the movement of the audience in a fragmented, digital world makes it imperative to find ways to make it easy to stay in front of people’s eyes, and that means only having your own website and linking to it may not be quite enough. We’ll see if people adopt the apps.

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The folks at insidenova.com, the website of the News & Messenger in Manassas and Prince William County, Va., stumbled into an excellent example of how to respond to what you see happening locally in social media. After severe flooding in the region last week, people found themselves without a clearinghouse for information and discussion — but they gravitated to the insidenova Facebook page and were filling it with just such information. So, seeing that, interim managing editor Kari Pugh created a flood information clearinghouse page on Facebook. In just a few hours it had garnered about 250 “likes,” and the community discussion on it was mostly self-sustaining. The community is doing the organizing and exchange of information, but the news organization has facilitated that and put itself at the hub of the conversation.

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