I’ve been thinking a lot about how to build viewership for news projects for one of the classes I am teaching and the students I am advising. And then I received a comment on a post I wrote for Carnival of Journalism last month.
Here’s the comment:
I was reading with interest your response to Carnival of Journalism’s, Future of Video post. You surprised me when you said you’d like to see more long-form documentary enterprise features from newspapers.
As deputy director of photo and video at the Detroit Free Press, I’ve been heavily involved in all of our long-form (and short) video stories. I am a firm believer that video is the future of newspapers, but there seems to be a resistance across newspapers for the in-depth video story. We’ve been fortunate to resist that resistance and do good work – see our most recent doc at http://www.freep.com/livingwithmurder. However, I fear that the return on investment is not yet there and newspaper’s impatience may kill this type of storytelling before it gets a chance to be realized – Washington Post’s layoffs a few years back of some of their documentary folks as evidence.
Is your desire to see this type of video based on personal preference or are you seeing a demand for it in any of your research – anecdotal or hard facts?
Thanks for your time.
Here is my response:
Thanks for reading and commenting, Kathy!
Alas, although my research has shown that people SAY they would watch a long-form video, they rarely do. They told our interviewers that even though they “want” to watch them, they have to “justify” that time (even as they also admit they spend hours watching sitcoms, hanging out on Facebook, or playing euchre on Yahoo). I think the key for news organizations is to evolve their thinking about such projects. The days of a news organizations producing something like this, promoting it on the site, and hoping people will view it are gone. One needs to discover the audience for these kinds of projects. News organizations need to cultivate genres of audience segments and market those long-form projects to opinion leaders whose demographic indicate an interest in similar kinds of content (such as Frontline or NPR) via Facebook, Twitter, targeted ads etc. Another idea would be to produce such a longer project in partnership with another organization that has such an audience. Finally, such projects are often considered evergreen content, and thus, could be great fodder for attaining a continual stream of viewers from search engines (the idea being that the longer your content stays relevant, the more search engines will find it, the more authority that link gains, the more viewers you attract, the greater possibility it will drive traffic to other parts of your site etc etc). And if it’s issue-based (as many of them are), the project could serve as an anchor for a page that becomes the go-to place for people looking for information on, say, crime or poverty or gas prices or whatever with archived stories, links to reports and data, etc etc. )
I do have some findings that might be helpful to you: that people will devour everything they can about topics they are interested in, that they want to be able to research even more (“dig deeper”), right from the content, and that they want to be able to engage with the material — and the reporter — beyond the product itself. I’d love to see more reporters thinking of their projects in a much more dynamic way.
Here are just a couple ideas to create a buzz and generate that special audience: crowd-sourcing the reporting for it, having give-and-takes about the issue during the reporter with key sources and potential audiences right on Twitter, build up a special Twitter project hashtag, promote the project and relay relevant and credible information about the topic via established discussion threads already on Twitter, side-writing on the issue on their blogs, setting up Q/As with prominent sources and experts on the issue, generating questions and engaging with readers in online forums about the content, using Facebook to generate dialogue and not just as a story-link resting place, cross-promoting the material on highly read blogs and other kinds of content (by other people/journalists/experts) about the project.
The project has to be sold to newsroom leaders in these ways — as something that can live and grow for the site — I think, and not as just a finite product that is good journalism and important for society.
Now the problem is finding the time to do all of this. And there’s the rub, right?
Would love to hear your thoughts on all of this! (And you should check out that Free Press project “Living with Murder;” It’s awesome and there’s always time for “awesome.”
BS detection for journalists: Rough Notes from an ONA 2011 Panel
Things to consider when verifying socially mediated information
The following information came from a couple of panels at the Online News Association during September 2011, particularly the panel titled “BS Detection for Digital Journalists.” Panelists included: Craig Silverman of RegretTheError and Mandy Jenkins of the Huffington Post. Some material was also used from remarks made by Andy Carvin at NPR during the conference. (And for a great recent example of all of this playing out, check out the Reuters photo of a rebel firing an RPG, which has been accused of being fake! Good discussion under the photo about why the photo may be real or may have been Photoshopped!)
This is the second in a series of three “rough notes” from the conference.
General Thoughts on Detecting B.S. online
— You may not know every single detail through your social media networks, but you can know a lot. Alas, you have to sort it out. That’s your job.
— Do not blindly retweet without verification or some kind of indication that it is not confirmed.
— Often it’s just as great a story if you can debunk something everyone else is saying is true.
— Be transparent with what you do not know!
— Use social media as another source of verification for your observations. Tweets and status reports can help contextualize what may otherwise be a myopic view of the world when you are in the thick of some event.
–Corroborate the story in as many ways as you can. Check the scanner or police reports for news of the incident. Search twitter.com to see if others are saying the same thing. Crowd source it, making sure to indicate the lack of verification of the story.
— If you make a mistake: fix it and retweet the correction several times. Direct message all of the people who retweeted the original tweet. Fix it everywhere you posted it, and make the correction go as viral as the original tweet. Embarrassing but necessary.
— If you see 20-30 original tweets saying the same thing, it’s probably true. (Thus, one could say that volume adds to the sense of authenticity. And yet still, one must check it out. Just make sure you are not verifying via the original tweets)
— Andy Carvin says he sees his Twitter feed as part of his fact-gathering process. “A lot is not verified and when that happens, I put, ‘source?’ And then we try to hash it out.”
— Observe who your followers are retweeting. Follow those people, too.
— Be wary of people who use journalistic terms by people who are not journalists. I.e. “confirmed.” These terms are often not accurate in the journalistic sense and used to gain attention.
— Before you retweet, check the original poster. Who is it? Check their profile. Check how long they have been around. Newer pages, profiles, sites should be approached with suspicion. Look out for parody accounts with telltale misspellings in the handle.
— To check the longevity of a tweeter: http://howlonghaveyoubeentweeting.com/
— Check on their profile for how frequently they update. You want to determine whether they are organically a part of ecosystem.
— Is there a photo on the profile of a real person?
— How many friends and followers do they have? Who are they following?
— Who else is this account interacting with? If they are replying to people and having a good bit of back and forth with other people, that adds to their credibility.
— Check the Klout score. The higher their score, the more active they are.
— Google their name with keywords like “spam,” “lies,” “bots.”
— What other accounts are associated with them? Are they on Facebook or LinkedIn? Do they have a blog?
–Use sIte identifiers like “hoverme,” an add-on that works with Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer.
— Direct message the tweeter and ask for a phone number, and then call them. Ask them what they heard firsthand. Walk them through what they saw from the beginning. Find out who else might have witnessed it. Was there a crowd? Was there someone else with them to whom you could talk? Did they mention why they were there? Consider what they tell you in relation to your gut; does the timeline of events work out? Does the information check with other information you gather about the day/place/site?
— Check out what they said later, after the original tweet.
— Before you retweet or publish the information, evaluate the options: Is this the entire story? Is it really worth the risk of what I am running with if it is not verified? Do not just check one thing: triangulate! Most of time it is not worth rushing it out there. You get a better story by being the person to go through all these steps and a have more solid account.
— Go back to the original source of the twitter chatter. (You do this by searching for the keywords in most of the tweets, such as “fire” or “police” and follow the list chronologically until you see one that has not been retweeted.)
On Verifying YouTube Videos:
— Note the scene and all the details in the photo and then corroborate, corroborate, corroborate: Are people wearing coats and it is summer? Is there a fountain pictured that should not be there? Examine weather reports, language at people speaking. License plates on automobiles, vehicles themselves, do these belong in this place?
— Ask the poster if they have more photos. They generally do not just take one photo of it,
— Check the Exif data, which is information that is embedded on all images.
— Also Error Level Analysis will let you see if it has been edited in Photoshop.
— Check out tineye.com, a reverse image search site that can help determine if photos have been used before elsewhere.
— Call everyone in the relevant neighborhood and send them the picture. Don’t be afraid to ask the resident to go down the street and take a look at wherever the supposed incident had taken place. You can use neighborhood directories to find phone numbers (most newsrooms have a bunch on hand).
Verifying Content on a Website
— Do you remember the story, “Are Internet Explorer users dumb?” This story went viral, though it was erroneous, because it reinforced an already existing attitude. Good hoaxes try to get into the sweet spot of what people already believe. However, one key giveaway that the story was wrong was how striking the findings were; the statistical difference between the IQs of IE users and Firefox was just too large and should have raised a red flag.
— When was the domain registered?
— Is it difficult to find out who owns the site or who is running it?
— Go to the Internet Archive: how long has the site been there? Has this site changed radically recently?
— Check out the page rank by Google: if the page rank is good, the score means the site is linked to by a lot of people and is a high influencer and could be an indication of the site’s authority and authenticity.
— What is the level of interaction? Are there comments? Are people bookmarking it on delicious or diigo? These are all good indications that the site is credible.
Last weekend I attended the Online News Association’s conference in Boston. This is my quick-hit version of what I learned about branding yourself as an information producer today. The majority of material in this comes from several online-media experts on panels from the September 2011. Panelists included the following: Mark Coatney of Tumblr, Benet Wilson of Aviation Weekly, Anthony Derosa of Reuters, Will Tacy of Front Page News at Yahoo, P. Kim Bui at KPCC, and Meghan Peters of Mashable.
Please forgive the informal nature of it:
–Focus. Figure out who you are and then work it. Keep your professional side professional and create separate spaces for your different personas and brands.
— Use Twitter lists for specific topics and people to keep up with what’s happening without all the noise.
— “What you do online is your audition.” You know it is really that person (and not just a story that has been edited by someone else), and you are seeing their raw stuff. When you get called by a reporter who wants to work with you, you Google them. You want to see if the person seems thoughtful and good in their online presence. (Mark Coatney, paraphrased)
— Link to everything you do in all of your platforms. Cross-promote everything.
— Consider LinkedIn as a marketing tool.
– Keep your own data!! Save it yourself. Screen shots of all your published material. Download stories and features to your own server.
— Do not discount your blog as a marketing tool for yourself: “Blogs are the most popular things on our website” (Benet Wilson). People are looking for the content and not necessarily where it is housed. In other words, social media can be the new journalism.
— Consider having a Facebook fan book page or group page for your work. Don’t forget to promote your promotion vehicle by interacting on that platform (such as using that account to like relevant links or make comments in other spaces)
— Treat social media and your blog as a conversation and not as a publication. In other words, rather than saying ‘my new thing is out,’ follow a bunch of people and retweet and add commentary. Add your value into it.
— Consider the network effect: The retweet is an endorsement of what someone has said. When they see you retweeting them, they start following you, and then that is the “network effect.” It doesn’t happen overnight. It does take a bit of time. You must build up your audience through sharing. The value of Twitter is in the retweets!
— Don’t put anything out there you would not want to see on the front page of the New York Times! Assume everything will go viral.
— Make your Twitter account your 401k that you can take anywhere you go. Make sure you can always take your content and brand with you when you leave the organization.
— It’s not about selling out. It’s about authenticity. You can have integrity and a brand.
— We are no longer in charge. Our users are in charge. It is no longer about you. Get over it.
— One needs to try to be a mind reader and to predict what followers will do before they do it. That’s hard but necessary.
— Create collaboration with users. Use your competition to build your own brand through retweets and blog entries. Engage in the conversation, even if you did not initiate it.
— A tool like Storify tells a story with social media, allowing you to retweet a lot of other people and taking charge of a part of that conversation. In this way you can make audiences part of your process.
— Pay attention to your long-term and short-term goals. For example, increasing numbers of people who are followers might be a long-term goal whereas a short-term goal might be to monitor what is happening that surprises you
— Chartbeat.com is your friend: You can track minute by minute what people are doing, what is popular in social media in the moment
— Track: fans, followers, frequency of posts, engagement stats such as likes or retweets
— Use: Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Woopra, hoot suite analytics, bit.ly, page lever (deeper than Facebook insights; just launched), peoplebrowsr (data mining company), klout (measures influencers score)
— Questions work well, especially lots of “where” and “when” but not “how.” Simple questions.
— Don’t use all the characters you have available in a tweet. The best tweets have no more than 80 characters. That also gives room for commentary upon retweets.
— Social media is like headline writing but you also want people to respond to it. Social media is not just a community; social media is a conglomeration of many small cities. Know who your audiences are.
— Keywords, keywords, keywords. Tags, tags, tags. Each keyword should be a logical term most people would use to find your blog (and not, for example, something vague or obscure).
— As you pitch stories, consider carefully the publication. For example, on spot.us (a four-year-old site that allows you to pitch a story and see if it has a market for funding) the worst stories are descriptive, psychological pieces (such as the political process behind the decision, or the great profile of so and so). Very hard to get those funded. Instead think about usefulness of stories. Data-driven stories. FOIA-driven stories. Unique investigative pieces do really well.
Possible reasons Facebook keeps messing with its format?
— To keep up the conversation and publicity (from a tweet by UW-Madison Tim Oleson, an MA student
— To irritate us (from a tweet by UW-Masison Erin Podolak, an MA student)
— To experiment (from me)
— Other reasons?
I am fascinated at how personally everyone takes the changes to their Facebook feeds. Interesting. What is it about such social-media changes gets under people’s skin exactly? I think it says something significant about the sense of ownership people have over this venue. That happened in a very very short time period.
I am reading some material from the late 1990s about the early days of online journalism research. Specifically, a piece by Pablo J. Boczkowski (who was at MIT and then went to Northwestern, where he is now becoming Director of Northwestern’s Program in Media, Technology & Society). In the Online Journalism Review, back in 2005, a portion of Boczkowski’s final chapter of his then-new book, Digitizing the News, was reprinted. In it he talked about how digital technologies would eventually transform the way that news was produced. He used terms like “co-production.” His ethnography — one of the first for online newsrooms — revealed that:
In the online environment, a greater variety of groups of actors appear to be involved in, and have a more direct impact on, the production process than what is typically accounted for in studies of print and broadcast newsrooms.
Taking a constructivist approach, Boczkowski argued that an increasing number of agents — from computer programmers to advertisers to readers — would require new ways of thinking about journalistic authority, that civic journalism might be rejuvenated, and that citizens’ conversations would be vibrant and active in online public spaces. The public had its chance to redefine news, he suggested.
Since then, so much has happened.
The jury is still out on whether public journalism will be reborn, citizens will be empowered or democracy has been saved. Indeed several scholars have documented the “myth” of interactivity — that is, the reality that though connected people have the opportunity to engage online, very few actually do. As Boczkowski himself writes in this early work, any transformation arises from already entrenched institutions, which shape and modify any potential a new technology might hold.
Yet, who could have foreseen the impact of Twitter and Facebook on news? Social media are just a few avenues for those journalistic transformations to occur. The tools largely dismissed by many as a silly phase have transformed the way some people interact with the news. It boasts 100 million active users and 1 billion tweets every seven days, according to a recent talk by Twitter’s CEO. I know Twitter is my primary (or I should say, my first) source of news these days. And, in my interviews with journalists this past month, reporters talk about Twitter as essential not only to the marketing of their finished stories but also as a key ingredient in their news-gathering process.
But as most technology analysts have mentioned, often the new medium doesn’t transform things in the way it is predicted to, in part because its track must be laid within existing infrastructure. I should note that one reporter I talked to used to frequent Facebook and Twitter for his job and has since backed off, saying his job got too hectic to “play around” in those spaces. I noted the separation of the new technology from the job — a gimmick rather than a utensil in this particular interview.
I think as we move on, reporters like this one will be the anomaly and not the norm. Otherwise the transformations will go forward without the journalists — as settled as they may be in their infrastructure.
Thinking right now about the role of humor in “reporting” on one’s blog or Twitter feed. Right now some are dismayed at the sarcasm that dominated Twitter as Hurricane Irene made landfall — and disappointed and bored some. Some critics suggested the social-media platform provided an easy arena for people to make light of a serious situation, according to the latest NYT article.
Humor has always been a way for humans to cope with otherwise impossible circumstances. And yet we are also notorious for pushing the extremes of the joke. As a reporter, I learned to avoid inputting humor into my articles and columns because someone ALWAYS misunderstood or felt offended. As a professor, I caution my students: Humor in writing is very difficult to do well. And sarcasm tends to be overdone and often cliche.
The recent hoopla has me questioning whether humor ever has a place in news reporting, even if it’s on a social-media platform?
And yet despite all of the critics and my own warnings, I answer with a qualified “yes, sometimes.” Shakespeare knew better than anyone how a little comic relief was necessary to make a tragedy accessible. As long as it’s clever and doesn’t tread on people’s feelings. A little brevity can bring people into the story.
I’ve been thinking about the science of tagging. I believe that to tag one’s posts well is to full utilize the power of the semantic web. But how to do it well?
Research shows that even if people do not think in the exact same patterns, a collective agreement on common categories can emerge. The problem for the “custodian of order” (don’t you just love this term and, more importantly, want to think of yourself as one in all parts of your life?) is being privy to groupthink. Which I am not. Heck, I search in a different manner every time I go to the same website. WordPress suggests one use no more than 5-10 categories or tags. I could never limit myself that much.What’s the point in grouping hundreds of content entries into just a few chapters?
Since I never know what kind of search mood I might be in at any given time, I’d prefer to tag in both general and specific categorical actions (ie. both social media as a broad term and Twitter as a singular one). That way I’m covered.