Monthly Archives: February 2009

Facebook and the share link – why they still own us forever

After electronically boring poor Laura Oliver to tears yesterday about Facebook, and then waking up this morning to discover they’ve revoked their terms because of the furore, I thought I’d make use of the thousands of words I’ve written as a post.

First, I can see the argument that legally Facebook needs to be licensed to use your content even if you close your account so that people you’ve shared things with (who may then have shared them with other people) still have access to them. For Facebook to promise that if you left, everything you’d ever posted would be removed from the profiles/groups you posted them to (and then from all the other profiles they’ve shared them with), would be a bit ludicrous.

Second, I may be naive but I don’t think being able to package and reuse our content is the reason Facebook have rewritten their terms. I think lawyerspeak makes it sound worse than it is. Amanda French’s post about the comparison with other sites shows that they could have rephrased to mean basically the same thing but sound less threatening about it. (although I don’t think she’d agree that’s what she’s demonstrated!)

Third: as a newspaper, we WANT people to share our content. The point of us being on Facebook is to get people to share our content, so that the generation of people who’ve never read the paper or think it’s irrelevant to them will start to make us part of their lives.

Facebook has thousands of Bournemouth users. Only 24 of them are friends with us so far. Most of them don’t use our site.

We can only get them interested in what we do by being where they are. We want them to share our content among themselves and with their friends. To build a community – people who will then use us as (one of) their news providers – we have to engage with them and stop assuming that we have a right to their attention

Once you’re encouraging sharing, you can’t really then turn round and stop people using your stuff. How can you police it? And if they’re crediting you, why would you, when it’s free distribution to an audience you wouldn’t have thought about reaching? (obviously I’m not an idiot: this is subject to copyright and the ‘linking to’ proviso…)

We have had occasions where reviews (our McFly review was a prime example) get cut and pasted onto fan forums and all the traffic goes there. How do we get round that? By having other stuff (video, audio) on our site that will pull some of that traffic over to us.

But fourth, and most importantly: we have a ‘share on facebook’ link on all our stories. Now let’s just look at what the old TOS say about share links, shall we?

By including a Share Link, Online Content Provider automatically grants, and represents and warrants that it has the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sub-licence) to use the Share Service in order to link to, use, copy, publish, stream, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part), summarise and distribute the content, links and other materials of any kind residing on any web pages on which Online Content Provider places the Share Link.

Now unless all newspaper groups are planning on taking this link off their sites, there’s not a lot of point getting hot under the collar about the new TOS.

Note – I don’t think this is designed so Facebook can steal our stuff. I think it’s badly worded legalese that covers them for all the ways people access FB and how it packages content. But I could be wrong….

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Subs v Greenslade (part three)

So. Part three. Why subs aren’t useless.

Page design, for all that Roy says it’s templated and not creative, is a well-developed craft.
There are rules about minimum headline sizes to hold up a page, how many decks you need for a top single, best use of pictures and so on.
These are guidelines based on studies of how people read, watch works as eye catching design and what makes you turn the page without reading on.

Roy may think that online ‘page design is irrelevant, of course.’

Of course it’s irrelevant if you want your readers to miss half your content. Of course its irrelevant if you want your site to be grey and boring, or your text to look so dull your readers drift off halfway down the page.

Page design may indeed be irrelevant to most newspapers right now, hamstrung as they are by their templated cms and their lack of knowledge about eyetracking.

But should it be irrelevant? No, absolutely not.

Two examples (and I promise I’m not showing off here…)

First, online picture galleries.

Here’s the Newsquest official gallery.

And here’s the one we built last month.

Why? Well, the Newsquest version is small. It doesn’t show off the photographer’s work. You can’t really see what’s happening in the pictures. It doesn’t inspire, or make you smile, or make you think ‘I’m going to send this link to my friend.’ Were that paper to be running a picture supplement, it wouldn’t make you think “I’ll buy that, because I already know their pictures are great.’ It doesn’t give the photographers any reason to take anything other than a bog standard news shot. I could go on.

The point is, why should pictures online be relegated to 310 pixels?  Why does the fact that it’s a website mean we shouldn’t care about how it looks?

Second: Our Taste section. Here’s how it looks now

Here’s the version we’re working on for a relaunch

It’s not perfect. We’re stuck with only using basic html and none of us are wizards. But it makes a difference. It’s more appealing. You can see where things are. We’re selling the content.

So page design is absolutely relevant. And who better to deal with it than subs who already know the basic principles?

If I was an editor this is what I’d do.

Find and keep good copy subs. Train them in SEO for headlines and let them work out how to combine optimizing for Google with writing good headlines. They’re not incompatible. It just needs skill.

Find and keep good design subs. Teach them about eyetracking, train them in basic html and the vagaries of the cms so they can add links, create breaks in the copy, use pictures to their best advantage, use italics and bold and lists to make the stories LOOK good.

Teach them about Google maps and Yahoo pipes and Dipity and Flash so they can tell the story in a new way; the online version of fact files and breakout panels and graphics.

Give them input into how the site looks. Use their experience and flair, make them part of the process, keep them enthused about the future and hang-on to their knowledge.

So when a story breaks and you’re running constantly updating copy on the web you’ve got a sub who can make it accurate, make it clear, make it interesting, make it sing – in both the old sense, and the new SEO sense – and finally do it fast, like in the old days of deadlines. Exciting for them and for the reader. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

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Greenslade v subs (part two)

No sooner had I finished part one than Roy posted this.

There are two things here that I would like to address:

1> Subbing can be competently performed by people who have no especial link with a given paper.

I’d say adequately. Not competently. But here’s a thing. A good local paper stands for something. It has an identity.

And that identity will be one of our most valauble assets in bringing readers online and ensuring our survival.

Take away local subs, who care about and are proud of their pages, who know what the paper is and what its stance is on everything from how it reports suicides to in what context you can use the word interweb, and you take away part of that personality.

One of the things I’ve been trying hard to do at the Echo is build a sense of an online community. It’s one of the things the BBC radio brands do well – make you feel like they are a family and that you, by listening, are part of that family. That’s what we strive for.

So we have an avatar – the deck chair – that is more than just our masthead. We call the office Echo Towers, partly because I’m a bit of a geek, and partly because (I hope) it makes our Twitter followers feel like they’re getting the inside track.

We have a joke in paper about our TV columnist and her kitten heels. Our What’s On picture captions are legendary. Our sections have an identity and the people who sub them know what that id is and why it matters.

Our readers probably wouldn’t know the difference if that changed. But they’d know there WAS a difference.

Perhaps we should spend more time building newsrooms full of people that DO have a link to the paper.

Aside from the obvious advantages – obscure spellings of street names, knowledge of the history of stories and characters that can be invaluable – maybe there’s a more subtle, but more vital effect.

A paper readers can identify with. A product staff care about. Pride in your work. A sense of place. Readers notice when you spell place names or school names or surnames wrong. They know the backstory, and when you don’t they’ll happily point it out (while telling you how rubbish your paper is).

And who among us can claim that reader loyalty and brand identification won’t matter in the future? In the new age, newspapers will need to market themselves. Outsourcing or templating your subbing diminishes your brand. Slowly, maybe, and subtly, but it does. That’s why Roy’s wrong.

And point two?

This: “I am talking newsprint here, incidentally. It is noticeable that punning headlines work less well online and, of course, the page design is irrelevant.”

More follows in part three!

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Subs v Greenslade (part one)

How do I disagree with you, Roy? Let’s count the ways.

First:, let’s start with the cheap shot.

“I write my blog every day, I don’t need a sub to get in the way,” said the former Daily Mirror editor turned Guardian blogger. “I produce copy that goes straight on screen – why can’t anyone else do that?

You can eliminate a whole structure. “We’re now producing highly educated, well-trained journalists, who of course don’t need to have their work changed.”

Readers of his blog will know that there are often misspelled words, missing words and sentences that could do with a good pruning.

One could suggest that Roy’s instinct is for excessively wordy and tortorously punctuated sentences.

One could also suggest that a good sub, seeking brevity and clarity while maintaining meaning, could halve most of his columns with little effort and no loss of substance.

It’s an argument that brings up the old Giles Coren subs v reporters debate, in which the reporter, educated as s/he is in grammar and spelling, and completely and thoroughly conversant with the minutiae and nuances of their story, has chosen every single word carefully.

Their sentences are so deliberately, consciously, constructed that any attempt by a sub-editor to shorten or clarify will destroy the magical edifice of words that so perfectly encapsulates the story in question.

I’m prepared to concede – because I don’t know every journalist in the country – that there may be some out there whose work cannot be improved upon.

But in the real world? The reporter will type too fast; not know how to spell, have not been taught the difference between it’s and its (a journalist I know in her twenties says she was never taught punctuation at school, and finds it’s and its impossible to understand), misread their shorthand, leave out a crucial ‘not’, be oblivious to the difference between an active and passive sentence and so on.

And then there’s the reporters who just can’t write. Some of the best reporters – as in finders out of facts – I’ve worked with couldn’t write for toffee. Some can’t spell. Some get too involved with their complicated story and find it impossible to write a version that someone coming across it for the first time would understand.

There’s the thousands of trainees who don’t yet know how to write breaking news copy, running copy, how to construct court copy, whether you’ve got privilege on questions shouted from the public gallery at council meetings, why the style for a page three is different from a page five, or why we use ‘said’ in news copy and ‘says’ in features and never, ever, use sez (apply from your own style guide, the point is the same.)

A former editor used to tell our reporters not to worry about fine tuning their copy. She used to tell me, as news editor, not to bother with any rewriting when we were on deadline, because she knew the subs would do it faster and better than we could.

None of this is intended as a slur on reporters. But it makes me wonder if Roy has been inside a regional or local paper recently. Does he know how the system works? Does he really think that every reporter in the country is turning out perfect copy that doesn’t need an eye casting over it?

Then there’s the ‘reporters can write headlines’ argument.

Yes, they can write a series of words that will more or less do the job. But it’s not just on the Sun that headline writing is a skill.

Who’s going to teach those reporters about why it’s a good idea to have a verb in a headline? Do they have the necessary thesaurus in their heads for those times when they need a different word to make their headline fit? What about the literary/cultural knowledge that lets a good sub write a headline that references a writer or musician and gives the reader a new connection with the story?

The same editor used to give us instructions – I want a funny headline, do something clever with this. If she didn’t like it, we did it again until she did. On any news story, if it was boring, we did it again.

Can reporters do this? Will reporters do this?

Now, it’s true that not all subs write good headlines. Which brings me to point two;

“There are two kinds of sub-editors,” he said. “Sub-editors that work on local and regional newspapers, that work on a template – that can be outsourced elsewhere.

“There are subs working on serious quality newspapers [to templates] and that can be sent elsewhere.

“Then there are creative people who put together our popular, mass-market papers, such as The Sun. Those types of subs do creative work – but they are largely in a minority”.

I’m sure Roy, experienced whipper-upper of storms that he is, knew exactly what he was doing when he said this.

A whole tranche of journalists – journalists with years of experience, who remember hot metal and Wapping and wax – dismissed in two sentences.

I’ve don’t know of any local papers (yet) that use templates. A library full of shapes, maybe, for building the bare bones, but shapes that are flexible, to allow for designing around a big story, or a great picture.

So to write off every sub outside London (and every sub that doesn’t work for a tabloid) as non-creative, a purely mechanical beast that simply chops copy to fit a box it didn’t even design, is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing he’s ever said.

I’m going to stop now, because I’m rambling, and this post is already twice as long as it should be.  But I do have more to say, about what we should be doing with our subs and why they do still matter, especially online. More follows….

(And sorry about the dodgy intro. A sub would have taken it out)

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Blogging the weather: brilliant or stupid?

We’ve been using CoverItLive for football games for some time now, but I’ve never managed to persuade the news desk to utilise it for breaking news stories or for liveblogging meetings.

So when it snowed last week I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to show them what I meant.

The first snow day we didn’t handle very well. The web editor and I were both snowed in, so while we could go out and get pictures and video it was hard to run the story from our respective homes.

We didn’t have school closures, the information was patchy and scattered across ten or twelve four par stories – so while we did the best we could, I thought we could do better.

For snow day two, we’d set up a liveblog in preparation. We’d agreed to run three stories maximum, one for traffic updates, one for school closures and one main story, plus the blog.

@markng remarked on Twitter “I can’t decide if it’s a brilliant idea, a silly idea, or both.”. I couldn’t either.

We were, after all, liveblogging the weather. But we decided to see how it went.

One of the issues with CIL is that we only get one page impression per viwer, despite the endless refreshes the blog goes through. The words on the blog also don’t count for SEO purposes, so our using it isn’t terribly popular with the men at the top.

To compensate, I asked people to send us their pictures by text to our SMS service, linked to the live traffic feed and the school closure list regularly and tried to make sure some of the people taking part in the blog visited as many of our other pages as possible.

It started gently, about 100 people or so in the first half hour as the snow started to fall heavily…. but it very quickly turned into a monster of a thing.

Reporters would tell me about closures and cancellations, I’d add them to the blog, then the web editor updated the website. The reporters could then use our stories and blog to pull together copy for the paper.

People sent us dozens of pictures from out of their window. Photographers texted and emailed me pictures from their jobs.

We sent reporters out with Flip video cameras, first from the top of the office roof, then to the beach, where the snow was settling on the sand, then to the hill outside the office, where the snow had made it lethal for cars and pedestrians. We did a video vox pop and uploaded all the videos directly to YouTube (avoiding the we can’t edit the Flip video issues that we still haven’t resolved) so I could embed them in the blog.

By the time I got up from my desk at about 2pm we had 1800 people taking part. They were telling us about bus and school closures before we could get the information from the official sources.

As people started to think about going home they came to ask each other about the route home, which roads were passable, where it was still snowing and so on.

We published 26 pictures and nine videos and 600 reader comments. We were also running a #bmthsnow hashtag at our @BournemouthEcho Twitter account, and I fed comments and updates from Twitter on to the blog too. We linked to Twitpics and Vimeo videos, the BBC weather site, our Flickr groups, our Facebook page and our own stories.

We ran the blog from half nine until half four, when I had to leave. We couldn’t persuade any of the reporters to take the blog over, sadly, but the weather was clearing up by then, so it could have been worse.

Final stats were:

Total Unique Readers who pressed ‘Watch Now’: 2298

Total Unique Readers who watched for over 1 minute: 2298

We had several comments from readers about how helpful they had found it. The editor wants us to use if for breaking news more often. And the people in charge of development at Newsquest are looking at building a liveblog that works like CIL but will give us the page impressions.

So all in all, I’m counting it as a bit of a result. What do you think?

You can replay the blog here:

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