Monthly Archives: February 2012

Search, Aggregate, Link: 3 Steps to Better Coverage, Every Time

Speeding along in the dark wilderness of new media, new tools and constant change, it pays to drive with your high-beams on bright.

When you see more, you help your audience see more. You also avoid blind spots. For example, don’t just do this on the train fatality without also linking to this on the train fatality. Even when you are doing a brief, see if there are tweets about the topic. When you spend more time looking for color or tidbits on social media,  there will be many benefits. Just one: You will be more likely to notice as a big topic blows up and demands more coverage.

There are three steps any reporter can take on any story that will turn up those high beams. Here’s a quick list, then more on two case studies.

1. Search. Whatever you are writing about, others are writing about it, too. They may be other journalists, they may be posting on Facebook or other social media platforms. They may have posted on the site of a business, school or government agency. In addition, of course, there is your own archive — for your blog or your news organization.

2. Aggregate. Collect the best of the material you found. Index it to point out the best parts, and what those sections illuminate.

3. Link. Write your story and include links along the way. Add a “see also” box at the end. Provide concise navigation points, anchor phrases that link to other material on your site or other sites. A good rule of thumb is that each screen of text should include at least one link.

Example 1: The Amtrak story is already becoming one of the most discussed routine accident reports. It’s a 13-graf story, so routine there is no byline. One named sources is quoted. One law enforcement agency is named with a note that it provided no other information. The writer dug up some information from the clips. Straightforward, some context, solid sourcing. Done.

I’m pointing to it, and others are as well, for what it does not include. There were people on the train, creating and distributing their own content. One of those passengers, Steve Buttry, a journalist and social media expert, spent hours tweeting updates, collecting data on similar incidents, posting photos. He collected all of that on his own blog. From the first tweet about the train stopping at 12:36 a.m. to the tweet announcing it was moving again at 2:53, Buttry and a handful of followers helping with research provided plenty of color and solid information about the accident and the emergency response.

How could the anonymous reporter have found this? Some tools: Twitter search, an app called Ban.jo that Buttry has praised for geo-based social media searches, other specialized search tools including Social Mention and one of my favorites, Muck Rack, which collects tweets from journalists (the Muck Rack search box opens when you log in).

Could there be links even if there are no social media mentions or other sources about your topic? Yes, take the reference to the small-town police department: Havre de Grace. The anchor phrase “Havre de Grace police department” could link to the paper’s own search archive on the department. The address mentioned could have linked to a Google map showing the 400 block of Webb Lane in Havre de Grace. A map link does appear in a shaded box on the left side. Many readers don’t need all that. The reader who wants it will either be frustrated that you didn’t bother or delighted that you did. It’s your choice.

What about the rare instances when you are covering a horrible transit mess and Steve Buttry is not a passenger? What about a garden-variety feel-good story on a national TV show coming to your town?

If there are people involved, there will be material out there.

Example 2: In December, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” announced it would do a show in Knoxville. The News Sentinel had a staff reporter do a brief. It was so routine there was no byline, but it covered the basics. In about 10 minutes, I found a dozen tweets, including a photo, and created this Storify.

Could the Maryland reporter have found Steve’s tweets and linked to them? Could a Tennessee reporter have found the same tweets I found and added a link in the middle of the web version of that article? A lot of discussion about journalism is about extraordinary events. When we think through better ways to handle the ordinary tasks, and invest enough to make them a bit better, we raise the quality level every day.

It takes a few more minutes. That investment gives a reader more options. It shows your readers you are on the road shining your brights.

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Filed under Crowd sourcing, Hyper-local

Evidence Melts in Ice Sculpture Theft: How Media Groups Can Share Great Stories

Drudgereport linked to a CBS Boston report on a Salem Patch story. AOL and HuffingtonPost did not. (Click for a closer view.)

It’s a “Hey, Martha!” story, a story that will make one person at the breakfast table yell out, “Hey, Martha, look at this.” It could go national or global.

If  you work for a Gannett, a Scripps, a Patch, a Digital First Media newsroom or some other company with dozens or hundreds of websites, shouldn’t that be a simple matter of sharing with your colleagues?

How do you help your colleagues know about your great work, re-publish it themselves, or link to it?

Midday on Thursday, I noticed that AOL and HuffingtonPost were missing an opportunity to feature work by a Patch writer, a writer from a division of the same company.

The AOL homescreen has dozens of hedlines in rotation, but right now there is nothing pointing to the story of the melted evidence in the ice sculpture caper. There is “Star Tells How She Overcame Bullies” and “Brothers Inherit Collection Worth $2 million” — each pointing to posts from HuffingtonPost. (By the way, would a better hedline be “Estate Leaves Brothers $2 Million in Comic Books”?) The HuffingtonPost home page has a similar assortment. A quick search for “Salem” and “ice” turns up nothing about this Patch story on HuffPost.

One of the greatest connoisseurs of the “Hey, Martha” genre is Matt Drudge. Every day on Drudgereport.com he posts tightly written hedlines that link to  big breaking news and political developments, but also a hedline or two pointing to bizarre, funny or just compelling “Hey, Martha” news.  On two other sites, Fark.com and Reddit.com, readers submit similar posts. Fark editors pick articles to feature. The Reddit community votes for articles. In both cases, the homepages collect eye-grabbing links and can send tens of thousands of clicks to publishers. Fark and Reddit are not sites for readers who take offense readily or who take sarcasm or hyperbole as literal statements of truth. All three sites are good indicators of what stories are stirring conversation and drawing national audiences.

What interests me is the opportunity gap many publishers face, the gap between the national audience a publisher could collect for its own properties and the audience that it actually does collect.  For awhile on Thursday, Drudge linked to a CBS Boston report based on a Salem Patch article (see screenshots). Let’s not debate the merits of the melted evidence story. Assume that a Drudge link, even one that’s up for a short time, is enough verification that this news has national appeal.

Why doesn’t the company that owns Patch, AOL, recognize the value that Drudge sees? Why doesn’t HuffingtonPost, an AOL division that links to almost anything hot, recognize and link to its own company’s original work?

Why does this happen more often than not at other large media chains? Gannett doesn’t have a big portal like AOL, but it does have USAToday.com and the websites of another 80 newspapers.

A Lee paper, the Sioux City Journal, has a story about a chicken McNugget that looks like the portrait of George Washington that is on the quarter. (Yes, you can buy it on eBay.) Should the dozens of other Lee papers each put up a link to it? A quick review of the Lee-owned St. Louis Post-Dispatch site,  found nothing. A Gannett paper, the De Moines Register, does have the AP version of the McNugget story.  That’s the one featured on Fark this afternoon.

Does any of this matter? Is there something you and your company can do about it?

One proposal I’ve made in conversations starts with Twitter. A media company can decide that editors will use a special hashtag and tweet to notify partner sites about news that could be of compelling interest beyond one market. Editors who think they have something that can go big can tweet the hedline with a company hashtag (#LeeShr #GCIShr). Other editors could have Twitter search set to surface those hashtags and hedlines.

If you have video of Jeremy Lin winning the state basketball championship for his high school team or an article about a high school killing a student’s editorial that accuses administrators of a “pro-Christian” bias there should be a way to let the rest of your company — and the world — know about it.

What works in your shop? Add a comment or send me a note to carllavin@gmail.com.

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Filed under Social networking, Uncategorized

Pinterest for Journalists: For Notes, Community and Staff

A staff directory for your newsroom.

Want to publish a visually appealing directory of local churches, of your staff, of products made in your community? Want to do it very quickly? Pinterest makes that possible. Want ideas on how to use Pinterest to engage readers and create valuable content? Keep reading.

Pinterest boards are web pages that display collections of images. Once you join Pinterest, you can build these boards by selecting, or pinning, images from any web page. You can organize your board around themes in your community, around colors, people, seasons, or collections of objects.

Journalism.co.uk called Pinterest a “virtual bookmarking system that can be used by newsrooms to curate and share news.”

The International Journalists’ Network listed seven ways journalists can use Pinterest, including storyboards, photo displays, and finding trends with the Popular on Pinterest search feature.

The Wall Street Journal used Pinterest to post as-it-happened news of Fashinon Week. The fact that the Journal used Pinterest to cover breaking events drew coverage from Nieman Journalism Lab: WSJ Covers Fashion Week Fashionably.

A young journalist in the United Kingdom, Elena Cresci, who is among the demographic group that uses Pinterest the most, wrote a blog post about Journalism and Pinterest:

The site is an absolute goldmine for lifestyle journalists, but I’m not sure it’s somewhere to find hard news, not yet at least. Here we have a very specific demographic (18-34 year-old women) and it’s one I happen to fit very neatly into, as do Seamless readers. Once I get my next sewing project finished, I’ll pin it to the site myself and see how things pan out from there.

Hard news is winning display space, and not just for Fashion Week coverage. The Mercury News is collecting Bay Area Mug Shots on Pinterest.

Lists or directories work so well with this very visual tool that I expect newsrooms will find even more ways to with with Pinterest. The Mercury News lists staff writers and columnists from its business news staff on another Pinterest board. In Pennsylvania, Buffy Andrews of the York Daily Record, lists the features staff from the Daily Record/Sunday News on a Pinterest board.

As I said in a November post, there is value in bio and contact information about journalists. We will move faster to build strong relationships between our newsrooms and the communities we serve if we use every tool we can to help our communities know about us.

There are 10 million people signed up to use Pinterest and it is growing fast. That’s one reason journalists should be there — audiences are there. Another reason is to cover what your community is doing on Pinterest — to provide guidance and tips to your readers. A third reason is to use the very inviting and simple pinning system to co-create with your audience — to build a board together.

Here are three six ideas any local newsroom can use to engage community members and create compelling content with Pinterest.

1. History. Andrews in York is already far along in using Pinterest to display her own finds and reader submissions on this board showing historic views of York, Pa.

2. Made Here. I took a few minutes yesterday to start answering the question for my hometown of Canton, in Stark County, Ohio: What is made in Stark County? My next step is to invite others in the community to contribute more images.

3. Meet your public officials. We used to run a list of public officials, municipal, state, and federal, with photos and contact information, in zoned weekly sections of The Philadelphia Inquirer when I ran the news departments there. I haven’t seen anyone use Pinterest for this, but if it works for a staff directory, it can also make a handy visual directory of officials. Here’s a sample page from a research group that collected social media profile info on public officials from each state (click for Ohio public officials). Wouldn’t a Pinterest board listing information about the public officials in your area be a service for your community?

After this went live, thanks to everyone who tweeted, shared and pointed to other examples, I collected additions to the list:

4. Artists. Make a board of local artists (by medium, if numbers warrant). Show their work and some profile information. Ask the community to contribute examples.

5.  Who’s that? Track down some high school yearbook photos of celebrities in your area — the mayor, the TV news anchor, the high school principal. Make it a contest to ID the photo. You can do the same thing with baby photos. For a local market, it will produce a version of this 17 Magazine feature: Celebrity Yearbook Photos. See this Think Progress board of the school photos of the presidential candidates.

6. Political spending. How can you visualize a level of spending for a political campaign? Think Progress published this board, of campaign spending, visualized:  Luxury Hotels Of The Romney Campaign. Did another politician leave the state or the country for a fact-finding trip? A Pinterest board can be used in much the same way to illustrate spending for trips billed to taxpayers. August in Chicago, anyone?

I added the image (right) of the final edition of  The Washington Star, from Aug. 7, 1981, to add to my Goodbye, Print board. How are you using Pinterest in your life or in your reporting? How are others in your newsroom using it? Leave a comment here or send me a note: carllavin@gmail.com.

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Filed under Crowd sourcing, Hyper-local, Social networking

Social Media Lessons From Muscatine: Start With the Hashtag

Homepage of The Muscatine JournalA global leader’s visit adds a cymbal crash to the rhythm of local news set by vandalismbusiness openings and wrestling tournaments.

For the editor of The Muscatine Journal, Chris Steinbach, the cymbals come together on Wednesday. That’s when Xi Jinping, the Vice President of China and the man slated to be the country’s next leader, makes a return visit to Muscatine, Iowa. Xi’s first visit, as a junior official, was in 1985.

Steinbach posts regular to his blog, the Editor’s Notebook, where a recent item discussed a delegation of Chinese journalists who asked how The Muscatine Journal planned to cover Xi’s visit:

I told them we focus our coverage as intensely as possible on what happens in our community and often pay little, if any, attention to what happens elsewhere in the state, nation and world.

But in this instance, I said, the world is coming to Muscatine and we would work to cover it as extensively as possible. In fact, news about Mr. Xi’s visit will dominate our news columns from today through Thursday. And we will cover it live Wednesday at muscatinejournal.com and via Twitter and Facebook. You can follow, and join, our coverage via the social media by searching for the hashtag #xiiowa.

Fortunately, Steinbach’s staff had a Twitter training session last week. Stephanie DePasquale of the Quad-City Times, another Lee Enterprises newspaper, told Muscatine reporters that it is important to listen to local residents on Twitter. If a musician tweets about a new CD, “that’s something that we might want to do a feature on,” DePasquale told them in the part of the social media session  caught on video.

Training and planning can take care of only so much, of course. One task many large chains don’t seem to do well is to quickly share content that has national appeal. I’ll be watching to see if Lee tries to do that across the scores of media properties it operates. At the very local end, the Muscatine paper, like most newspapers, seems to lack an almanac entry on its own market. What is special about Muscatine? I didn’t quickly find a piece on the Journal’s site that would allow me to skip a visit to an online encyclopedia. (Even the about us page for the Journal went to an error message when I clicked.)

There are many more signs that the Journal staff, led by Steinbach, is doing a lot right. I count these four important steps: 1. starting with the hashtag (reporters seem to be using both #xiiowa and #iowaxi) and the full-scale social media plan, 2. making the newsroom’s local expertise available to visitors, 3. being open with readers about coverage plans through the editor’s blog, and 4. staying focused on what the visit means to Muscatine.

There’s another lesson, for all of us: when a sister-city delegation comes to visit, be gracious to everyone. You never know how important one of those visitors may be 27 years later.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Social networking

Solving Readers’ Problems, Building Audience: The Fafsa Challenge

The process is daunting. Your newsroom can help.

The Chicago City clerk does it: Fafsa Preparation Assistance. A West Virginia foundation does it: College Goal Sunday. Kentucky did it in 19 towns: Sun., Jan. 29, College Goal Sunday.

A newspaper might run an announcement about a workshop, in Muskegon MI, Reading PA or Knoxville TN.

Why not organize a College Financial Aid workshop in your community? You could organize a virtual workshop, soliciting questions on Facebook, Twitter, through your email newsletter and on your website and providing answers from local experts. With a little more work, you could also organize a real-life workshop.

You may be publshing editorials, op-eds and letters about the rising costs of college, a trend Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic labled a “surge of tuition rates and student debt that, for many Americans, is threatening to turn higher education into an unaffordable luxury.”

A reader-focused media company can do more than that.

Some editors may be asking: is this our job — to help families pay for college? Think of a related question: is it our job to provide a resource where members of our community can find information they need to solve their most pressing problems?

Newsrooms deepen community engagement by providing a platform for community voices, by providing information that leads to solutions for community problems and by convening like-minded groups to exchange news and ideas. Would a workshop fit that mission?

In Torrington CT and Winnipeg, Manitoba, newsrooms are opening their doors, inviting the community into the room. The Nonprofit Journalism Hub recently examined these two initiatives in an article: News Cafes and Open Newsrooms.

The Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe wants to find a way to reconnect with a younger demographic as well as become more transparent and accessible to the public. The Register Citizen Open Newsroom Cafe wants to help the community become more involved in the journalism process and let the public use the open newsroom space as a community center for gatherings, discussions, and educational opportunities.

Connect to younger people? Provide educational opportunities? Strengthen communities? What better way than to help families new to the process learn to conquer the daunting forms involved in paying for college.

The basic steps for either a virtual or real-life workshop include: announce the event, find a local expert, announce the event, provide a resource box of links in print and online, announce the event, tell families what they have to provide (a W-2, other financial information), announce the event.

For the offline workshop, you need a room, a way to make sure coffee and snacks are available, a person who will be responsible for stocking the room with paper, pens, pencils, and, if possible, an available copying machine and scanner.

In either case, the project is also a way to generate plenty of content — frequently asked questions, profiles of local experts, list of deadlines, process graphic, success stories of families that have reaped the benefit of completing the application, videos.

Keep a list of all the names, contact information and what your newsroom learned. In 11 and a half months, it will make it easier to do all over again.

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Filed under Hyper-local, Social networking, Uncategorized, User-generated content