Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Cover it Live test

After months of resisting, I am finally trying out Cover it Live. Here goes:

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

My top Twitter tips

A few colleagues have been asking questions about Twitter lately, and although there are some great Twitter tip lists, I don't think there's been anything written recently aimed specificially at regional journalists, so I figured it could be handy if I had a stab.

Firstly, it would be worth going over why you should try it in the first place. I've found it's great for boosting traffic, but even more so for keeping your finger on the pulse of what interests an online audience - for newsgathering, and just reminding people not only that you're here, but that you're part of the community - and drawing them into it too.

So if you want a go, here's some advice.

Getting started

Before you start, it's essential to get yourself a good avatar and bio so people know who you are, what you intend doing on Twitter, and hopefully that you're going to be interesting enough to follow back.

Follow as many local tweeple as you can
Use the Find People search in Twitter, which allows you to search by location
Set up an RSS feed via www.search.twitter.com for placenames to see who's tweeting about your area.
Find established accounts (I had @brightonfeed, @brightonhovecc) and follow their local followers
Look out for lists of people living in your area like this one (tip - people's profiles show both which lists they've created, and which lists they're on). You can find more on Listorious, although it's far from comprehensive
Use Trendsmap, if it has a page for your neighbourhood

There are other applications like Twitterlocal, but I've not found them that useful as they're not as accurate as you'd like in identifying where people actually are

Every time you follow someone, they get an alert telling them, so hopefully a good few of them will follow you back. But beware following too many people at once - you're less likely to be followed if you're following far more people than you have following you.

Getting going

I won't go through the nuts and bolts of how Twitter works - loads has been written on that already. I found Shane Richmond's post here useful when I started out (last updated Jan 2009). Mashable also has a great range of articles on all aspects of Twitter.

Good things to tweet are news and newsroom insights. If your paper doesn't already have an account using Twitterfeed to autopublish your stories, set one up as it's the quickest way to give people news by retweeting. People love insights into how their news is put together. so you can probably be more naval-gazing than you think (my second-most popular link was our style guide!). But be very careful not to inadvertently mock contacts, use any trace of gallows humour, or give away exclusives.

@reply to people. Nobody expects you to sit on Twitter all day, but when you do log in, chances are someone will have said something interesting you can respond to. You'll also find lots of local interest tweets which cry out for a response from your RSS feed of local mentions. Don't worry about not knowing the person who's tweeted - they won't mind.

RT (retweet) people. First of all, it will make the person you RT feel interesting (and if you're RTing them, they are). Secondly, it's an easy way of being interesting yourself. Lastly, it shows that you're engaged in what's going on, and not just in broadcasting your own links.

Crack (clean) jokes. Try and be witty. Channel your inner Dorothy Parker. And avoid tweeting about your lunch or anything personal that a stranger wouldn't find funny or interesting (although having said that, it's often the more personal tweets which get the biggest response).

Follow the principles of a good community manager, even though it's not your community you're managing. Be consistent and firm, but responsive and ready to apologise if you've messed up - which, at some point, you inevitably will. But if you say sorry, chances are most people will respect you more afterwards than they did before.

And more

Consider using hashtags. We use two - #bricom as part of our Save Our Service campaign, and #brightoh to help compile our Overheard in Brighton blog.

Crowdsource. If you need general case studies, Twitter's a great bet. the other day, it even managed to track down a woman who walks a ferret around Brighton in under an hour.

Take it into the real world. If there are local tweet-ups, go to them. If there aren't, organise one. Twestival is a great thing to get involved in.

Any more suggestions?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Helping Brighton investigate

Well yesterday was exciting. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, Paul Bradshaw approached a group of us in Brighton and Hove who'd signed up for his collaborative investigations site Help Me Investigate. He wanted to know if we would be interested in working together to make it take off here. Since then, I've been talking to people about it (mainly the editor and Mark Walker of SCIP, who I'm working with on their community reporters project) and yesterday, another email from Paul kick-started it into action.

He suggested we begin by coming up with an investigation we'd be happy to start with - and so I've come up with some ideas myself (I think my favourite is the Godless one). I've deliberately made them fairly ambitious, as I'd really like to test what we can use Help Me Investigate to do. And I'm hoping anyone who's interested in joining us will make their own suggestions here too. Oh, and if you want to help us investigate, then sign up here.

  • How does Brighton's status as UK's most Godless city affect it? Looking at measurable manifestations of Christian values, e.g. amount given to charity, number of neighbour disputes. Go through 10 commandments and see if you can find some kind of measurement for each.As Brighton Pride seemingly lurches from one crisis to another, an analysis of its history, turnout, charitable donations and finances.
  • How liberal is Brighton? Its image is of a liberal enclave, but it has a Tory council. Breakdown of voting history by ward/across Brighton vs Hove over past 20 years - maybe finding a representative group of people to do survey of views?
  • Should Brighton divorce Hove? Looking at what political make-up of Hove and Brighton would be if they divorced, and trying to predict how key council policies/spending power might have been affected as a result.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Warts and all

Every day, we read about how journalism is changing forever. And so it should - not just because of the opportunities online offers, but because of some bad habits MSM has got into. Far cleverer people than me are debating which qualities should be saved - but I thought it would be fun to compile some of the more, er, frivolous aspects, specifically of local newspaper life which I hope will endure.

First up, and inspired by the reaction I got to this tweet today - the honourable tradition of newsdesk ritually humiliating reporters by making them do stupid stuff - all in the name of a good read. Dressing up is the favourite - tweets and office banter revealed we've been made to dress up as dogs, chipmunks, Lara Croft, monks, pirates, 1930s spivs and David Beckham. At my last place, we even had an arrangement with the local fancy dress shop - costumes for plugs. Abseiling was also a surprisingly popular choice, with @dankerins revealing he'd been made to: "abseil 220ft with a 92-year-old woman, whom I had to interview half way down. Interview was one word long."

The beguiling hush which falls over the office when someone gets a challenging call. Usually the person on the other end is a little unhinged and the reporter can be heard excitedly getting details of the scoop, gradually realising there isn't one, then desperately trying to get them off the phone. Other favourites are the mum of the guy who's just been up in court over some unpleasantness threatening to "have you" for printing her little darling's name - and the 100th birthday girl so deaf the reporter has to shout embarrassingly dull questions at the top of their lungs: "How has life changed since you were a girl?"

The way office banter turns into stories. You get a phonecall about a missing tortoise, which sparks a conversation about how far it could have crawled since going awol - hey presto, there's your page 3, complete with cut-outs of Tommy the tortoise wearing a beret, on top of Stonehenge and perched on the  shoulder of the Angel of the North. I'm sure there are many more examples out there (This one's probably closely linked to the ritual humiliation one).

Gallows humour. I still want a job tomorrow, so I won't post any examples. But feel free to leave yours...

Puncturing pompous, jargon-laded or just plain incomprehensible official-speak. Best example I've heard recently is from @murraykelsoWM who tweeted: "Ambulance quote: 'She suffered injuries incompatible with life". No, really. That was the quote. I didn't make it up. You couldn't.'

And closely related to that would be developing an acute sense of moral outrage, which can be sparked by the important or the trivial, but especially when denied the opportunity to report something, comparable to that seen with this week's Carter-Ruck vs The Guardian saga.

Hearing about stories which no family friendly newspaper could run. A dog born with two willies was a recent one. The way every single bin in Brighton has been vandalised so instead of having slots labelled Butts and Gum, they invite Butt and Cum is another. Related - daring the news editor to see if he can sneak said stories into the paper under the editor's nose.

More treats can be found on Stuff Journalists Like, Newsroom Quotes and a recently discovered favourite, Glum Councillors.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Advertising moving online - but where?

Some interesting stuff has come out over the last week or so about online advertising.

Last week, it was reported that online advertising had become the biggest advertising medium, overtaking TV for the first time. Great news for those working in online news, right? Hmmm.

Here's econsultancy.com with their recommendations on where to spend your money online. And notable by the absence is any kind of advertising which news sites might currently benefit from. Paid search? Tick. Web design? Tick. Social media? Tick. Display ads, directories or classifieds? Er, no.

As one of the commenters says, you need to take this list with a pinch of salt as it comes from "an SEO company and is therefore biased towards a reductive click-based model of online marketing" but I'm not sure it's that far off the mark when it comes to where smart companies are thinking about spending their budgets. 
Take studies like this one from Qube which found in one particular case social media was 23 times more effective than banner ads (as a social media agency, they would say that, wouldn't they - but those figures are pretty striking).

Of course advertisers have always found ways to avoid shelling out for adverts. Every hack knows about the bogus survey - a poorly researched top of the pops on a subject vaguely related to the product, usually with a pointless embargo, which are a) easy and cheap to report b) insanely popular with readers. One dropped into my inbox yesterday. We ignored it, but a quick Google News search shows about two dozen plus sites did publish today. 

But the difference here is that social media allows brands to bypass mass media entirely. And it's not just commercial brands - it's also local authorities, celebrities, politicians, lots of the people who previously relied on the papers to get their message out there.

Are we feeling irrelevant yet?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

How can you make community correspondents your colleagues?

I was having a really interesting chat with another web editor today about the merits of community correspondents.

Their point was that by relying on community correspondents to cover grass roots parish pump news, you are cutting reporters off from the contacts they need to get to grips with their patch. My counter was that by enlisting people to write them themselves, they become colleagues rather than contacts, and surely that's an even more valuable relationship?

Clearly though, for this to work the news site has to foster this relationship. Since coming to The Argus six months ago, I haven't done this as well as I would like, and as I embark on a renewed push to get this going, I'm after ideas on how to make it work.

Northern Echo editor Nigel Burton spoke here about how they do it. Interestingly, their citizen journalists get paid, which sadly is not an avenue open to me. So how else can it be done?

Some ideas I'm going to be trying out:

Regularly emailing the group of correspondents with stats from the site, to show how many people are visiting it.
Making the sections more than just newslists, using Steve Yelvington's theory of the three basic roles local sites should play.
Emailing new correspondents every time they upload a story, with an encouraging comment
Setting up an area on our forum for correspondents to swap tips with each other
Seeing whether it's possible to plug sites and correspondents' contact details alongside stories from their patch in-paper

I'm also considering changing my tack, which up until now has been very much to say this is your part of the site, you can do what you want with it. I think a more common motivation is wanting to be part of The Argus. Maybe asking them to stick by the style guide, rewriting intros and being more demanding when they ask how often they should upload would reap more rewards? After all, if they wanted to do it completely on their own terms, they would have set up a blog, wouldn't they?

Any other ideas gratefully received.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Brighton and Hove's social media ambitions

Brighton and Hove City Council is advertising for a social media officer, I discovered today.

My first reaction was to laugh. Then I saw the salary (more than I've ever earned), my news editor hat came on again, and the story of a council paying someone good money to play about on Twitter and Facebook took over. Now, although I will defend the validity of that angle to the hilt, I've had a bit more time to reflect, and I'm more in two minds.

It's way past my bedtime, so some quick thoughts (many prompted by @artistsmakers):

Why do you need a separate press officer to perform this role? As @artistsmakers pointed out, social media is just a tool to talk to people - it's the equivalent of hiring someone to type and send emails.

Perhaps that's disingenuous of me though - the fuller job spec says part of the role is to "evangelise, train and coach staff on the implementation and use of new technologies such as blogging and tweeting". So will normal council staff be allowed to use social media? (I'm told that Facebook etc are currently blocked.)

If council staff are let loose, will they be allowed to respond to tricky questions publicly, e.g. on a Facebook wall, on Twitter, or in the comments of a blog?

If so, will these responses have to be vetted in the way I'm sure B&HCC press responses must be? Surely that would be far too time-consuming? And kind of defeat the point of being open, accessible and accountable in the first place!

But if council staff are allowed to respond freely, then will journalists be allowed to ask questions in these online forums? And if they are, then where does that leave the press office? Could we be seeing a return to the times when journalists were able to talk to the horse's mouth? But now joined by citizen journalists too?

Interesting times . . .