On April 20-21, 2012, the University of Texas-Austin hosted the annual International Symposium on Online Journalism. Here’s some of what I learned, separated by topic:
News Org Content
- 75% of traffic flow on news sites these days is to story pages (versus home pages).
- News orgs must innovate at every dimension to be successful today (and not simply hire a “chief innovation officer.”
- News orgs should empower individual reporters — and all of their abilities, in all of their worlds — to brand content in individual, persistent URLs.
- Bullets within long-form stories and investigative pieces are your friend.
- Transparency goes beyond how to produce the news. It also involved getting access to experts and officials and people they would never otherwise get to meet. For example, do Q/As with your experts to provide a chance for people without access to ask questions. (John White, deputy editor for online, Winnipeg Free Press, Canada)
- Data is changing the way we tell stories, and changing the definition of who a journalist is (Aron Pilhofer, interactive news editor, The New York Times)
- A definition of data journalism: “I am not talking here about statistics or numbers in general, because those are nothing new to journalists. When I talk about data, I mean information that can be processed by computers.” Paul Bradshaw (prof in UK)
- Data stories are a mix of craft and art. News applications should be made for craft. Ask: Who are your users? What are their needs? What can we build to fulfill their needs? (Brian Boyer, news applications editor, Chicago Tribune Media Group)
- Don’t do the map if it is not useful. Consider this nursing home graphic from the Chicago Tribune. Though the editors had geo-location data, the “fancy” map wasn’t going to be useful to people. (Brian Boyer)
- Data art is not useful. You need to tell a story. (Alberto Cairo, lecturer in visual journalism, University of Miami)
- We have to create presentation layers and exploration layers. Consider the Visual Information-Seeking Mantra: “Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand” — Ben Shneiderman (1996). Give an overview, and THEN let them zoom, filter and get all those details. You cannot have one of these without the other. (Alberto Cairo)
- We must embrace complexity. But you have to arrange it in a way that the human brain can understand. (Alberto Cairo)
- Data is a record for people. To make that record speak to people, you have to make it come to life. When you are bringing it to life, you have to make editorial decisions. Which bits of the data are important? (Alastair Dant, lead interactive technologist at Guardian News & Media, London, UK)
- Fractions of a second: An Olympic Model by NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/26/sports/olympics/20100226-olysymphony.html
- How Twitter Spread Rumors During the Riots by the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/07/how-twitter-spread-rumours-riots
- The Obameter by Politifact: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/
- “What one word describes your current state of mind?” by NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/01/us/politics/2010-election-wordtrain.html
- “Where does the Westside start?” by the LA Times: http://projects.latimes.com/mapping-la/debates/westside/
- The New Yorker app for the iPad is more popular than the Wired Magazine app because iPad is all about long-form.
- Mobile tablets have a different audience time than general Web reading (iPad=6pm-11pm versus 7am-5pm for Web pages).
- 8 trillion SMS sent in 2011. TRILLION!
- You don’t necessarily need a mobile app. Check website logs to see what people are using and then develop for those devices, platforms.
- Some imperatives for mobile success: Nurture a first-rate mobile web site; position core apps strategically; select and align dedicated mobile professionals; harmonize experiences across platforms; assume that mobile is different than Web platforms; empower internal mobile editorial champions; secure multi-level executive support; strengthen content delivery systems; use mobile devices IN THE FIELD (so powerful in Libya, in Egypt!); drive other platforms’ success with mobile. (From Louis Gump, vp of CNN Mobile)
- Premium real-time alerts should be focused on very practical content. (From JV Rufino, head of Inquirer Mobile in the Philippines)
- Choice is your solution to making money on mobile; give them choice between getting ads or doing a subscription. (From William Hurley, co-founder of Chaotic Moon)
- We are losing words that have significance and meaning in our search for that mass audience. (From William Hurley). (I think we are losing words also as we write for a 140-character limit)
- Oh and do you have a refrigerator strategy yet? (Not enough users yet to make the effort perhaps but definitely start thinking about your television strategy.)
- People who identify themselves online are more likely to post and re-post stories, a deeper engaged behavior than commenting; people with pseudonyms more likely to superficially comment.
- Make opinions of users matter on your website. Really collaborate with communities members, and not just invite them to crowdsource.
- Journalists must be engaged in social-media realms, must become part of the community (helps build audience for the group).
- Considering privacy is important; people define privacy according to and reaction to situations they don’t like (J. Richards Stevens of University of Colorado at Boulder)
- Gulf between the ways that tools appear to work and the ways they actually work; what producers and designers don’t understand is that the interface is the product. (From J. Richards Stevens)
- Aesthetics and the architecture of the site create psychological effects on the way people feel about the place (and the product/brand). (From J. Richards Stevens)
- Interfaces have a responsibility to communicate to users the choices in privacy of data etc. (From J. Richards Stevens)
- Stop thinking that you are smarter than everyone younger than you are. Start building your brand for someone younger than 50. (John White, deputy editor for online, Winnipeg Free Press, Canada)
New Business Models
- Be innovative and think about partnerships with the unusual such as the Winnipeg Free Press’ News Café, which combines journalism with a Third-Place restaurant. (John White)
- Create community focal points.
- Failure in any of these experiments has to be built in. (Ben Ilfeld, founder and COO, Sacramento Press)
- For innovation, it’s important to know what metrics you want to hit before you scale the idea. Assess success before scaling and expanding (Ben Ilfeld)
- Sacramento Connect brings together community blogs etc. Build on already established community networks!
- If you cannot find the knowledge, create a forum to get it.
- Move beyond advertising
- Recognize the value in training and in helping to create content and helping others create content.
- Consider funding via community events
- Supplying tools isn’t enough to create a successful media outlet. That’d be like having a scalpel and bring told to operate.
- Start-ups are going to answer the question of monetizing journalism. (Bob Metcalfe) “We will see a million experiments and a few of them are going to work.” (Dan Gillmor)
- For-profits and non-profits (news orgs) have essentially the same problems. The distinctions between traditional journalism and “other” need to lie in other kinds of characteristics. (Bob Metcalfe)
The following is from a keynote by Jim Moroney, publisher & CEO, Dallas Morning News, and chairman of the board, Newspapers Association of America)
- There is no one model for news orgs; there are many models. It’s about finding what works for your org.
- $42.2 billion 2007 to 20.6 billion in 2011 print ad revenue: Only four years for 50% to evaporate.
- No longer a mass audience. We are publishing for a “mass intelligence audience.” But that’s not the same thing as an elite audience.
- The value of content is created along two axes: relevance and differentiation. Content that is irrelevant to you has no value to you. If something is not differentiated, it becomes a commodity, and therefore has less value. Every news publication has the who, where, when, what, so the 5Ws are now a commodity.
- Go deep on certain categories. We cannot be all things to all people.
- Four trillion ad impressions in marketplace in 2011; more than 1 trillion were from Facebook alone.
- Online ad revenue growth will not match dollar for dollar your losses in print ad revenue. You have to cross-subsidize your journalism beyond advertising.
- Audiences are developing two reading zones: the work, laptop, information zone and then the long, leisurely read of the tablet.
- 42% of tablet news readers regularly read in-depth news articles, another 40% sometimes do this. These people are three times as likely to regularly read in-depth articles as they are to watch news videos, according to a recent Pew study.
- You can’t charge for commodity content.
- Build more subject matter expertise in newsroom and through affiliations, particularly universities, to produce and capture deeper content, to tap into that “mass intelligence” audience.
- We must preserve the scale of the newsroom with this strategy, but also need to develop other sources of revenue that is not advertising.
- Leverage your brand to create new revenue streams: offer social media, marketing and event-marketing services.
- Social media is about reputation (Dan Gillmor)
- We pay attention to SEO out of fear: If we build it, will they come? (Carmen Cano, digital managing editor, The Dallas Morning News)
- In one second there are: 2 new users to LinkedIn, 11 new Twitter accounts, 2200 tweets published, 3500 photos uploaded to Flickr, 8000 comments in Facebook, and almost 15000 status updates to Facebook (Carmen Cano)
- Pinterest generating more traffic on web sites than other social media (Carmen Cano)
- SEO –> SMO (Search Engine Optimization to Social Media Optimization) (Carmen Cano)
- Search, social are all about relationships (words, people, respectively) (Carmen Cano)
- Visits per visitor most important web metric, not page views. Time on site also can be misleading. (Carmen Cano)
- Facebook: not for breaking news; it is more about a conversation, simpler/strategic (Carmen Cano)
- SMO must be part of your SEO (Carmen Cano)
- Social, search, semantic = relationships, experience, which you cannot optimize (Carmen Cano)
- The Final-Mile Problem in journalism: getting content in front of the right audience (Chip Cutter, content editor, LinkedIn)
- Pay attention to what is being shared: among your connections, in your industry, beyond your industry (what’s popular across LinkedIn) (Chip Cutter)
- Let the community do some of the work for you: such as AccountingToday, which drove engagement by putting a link into one of the active accounting groups and adding a question at the end: “what are the weirdest tax deductions you have ever seen?” (Chip Cutter)
- Post, engage, post, engage; the cycle never really has to end. Start a credible viral loop. (Chip Cutter)
- Find the right content passion and obsession audiences. Ask questions and dive into the comments (answering questions, asking additional questions to keep the conversation going forward) (Chip Cutter)
- Look to the crowd to inform your reporting; try to latch onto a broad topic by tailoring your stories based on what users are sharing. (Chip Cutter)
- Share so frequently that you’re considered an expert (Chip Cutter)
- Ensure every story has a high-quality image attached (Chip Cutter)
- Write headlines that start conversations; it is no longer about cramming everything in there. You still want keywords, but these need to be about what starts a conversation such as asking a question or posing something in a way that drives a conversation (Chip Cutter)
- Build your own social network (Borja Echevarria, deputy editor, El Pais, Spain)
- You have to accept the loss of control over your news. (Borja Echevarria)
- Charge for your archive because people love it. (Borja Echevarria)
- Social media is how I build hope, inspire change and give back as a journalist (Jen Lee Reeves, interactive director of KOMU-TV and associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism)
- There need to be fewer silos in academic. Talk to business schools, to computer science departments.
- Collaborations outside of academia too!
- Stop training for jobs that no longer exist (Mark Berkey-Gerard, Rowan University: From journalism students to local news entrepreneurs: A case study of technically media)
- Provide students with the opportunities to build products and then test the revenue sources around it (Mark Berkey-Gerard)
- Test new products (Mark Berkey-Gerard)
- Education right this second is being disrupted, and professors have the same problem journalists have.
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.