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 . . .