Category Archives: web

Engagement: some unexpected downsides

Engagement: some unexpected downsides I have discovered this week.

1) the people you think might be interested, aren’t. One of our most voracious commenters (and a frequent critic) has stopped commenting compeltely. After an initial willingness to engage in a conversation, they stopped talking to us at all. Is that because they don’t like being asked about their opinions? Don’t want to accept that we might have a different view? Sinply preferring trolling? Or is it because they think our responding to their comments is unwanted intrusion? I have no idea which it is.

2) There might be some things that actually shouldn’t be discussed in public. Yesterday one of our readers took offence to the removal of comments on a story about a grieving family. The comments were about what causes road accidents in the place where a young man died.
Our policy is that comments are only open on those stories to allow people to place tribute. Normally we’d post that at the foot of the story when it’s uploaded: on this occasion it was accidentally left off and I had to post it in retrospect.

One reader took this as a personal affront and developed our Twitter “discussion” into accusations about whether grieving families should talk to the press.

I felt, rightly or wrongly, that giving that reader details of how we came to speak to said family wasn’t really appropriate in a public forum: it’s none of their business if they choose to come forward to speak.The reader, though, assumed that my refusal to engage in an argument meant that the family didn’t come forward and that we must have obtained the quotes by underhand means.

So what to do? Our integrity is being questioned, in public, but I can’t defend us in a dignified fashon. In the end I offered to speak to the reader face to face, they called me a hypocrite for not being able to take criticism.

And finally, and most unexpectedly, 3). If people are used to a chatty, social, entertaining Twitter feed, they might take offence when you post serious news.

We didn’t really post much on twitter yesterday about the tragic deaths of a family in Fordingbridge. The RSS feed posted an initial story, then we tweeted when the family were named, because the updated story wouldn’t feed through the RSS.
We also tweeted to say we had video footage from the scene going online – it was a policeman giving a statement and some reaction from the town; less in fact than had been on the rolling news channels all day.
Some of our readers felt Twitter was not the place for such news. Which made me think. We didn’t treat it any differently than any other news story. But should we have? Do people expect different things from the news they get from Twitter? Does adding detail make you seem in some way ghoulish? Is it because of the specific kind of story?

I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts about any of these points. Twitter has not been my friend this week but hopefully we can learn something, even if it’s just when to keep our mouth shut.

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Newsrewired: so how many readers plus DO we have?

I WAS overwhelmed by the positive reaction to my presentation at last week’s excellent news:rewired conference, but slightly annoyed with myself for not having a better answer to Hannah Waldram’s question afterwards.

My presentation was about building online communities, and the concept of the reader plus – the elusive category of cheerleader readers: demanding customers, but the most effective marketing you could ever ask for.

The slides from the presentation are here and the post where I first came up with the lamer-the-more-I-hear-other-people-say-it “readers plus” is here.

In the questions afterwards, Hannah asked me what percentage of our readers did I think were readers plus. The best answer I could come up with then was “I’m not sure.” But really, since I’m trying to persaude people that the time spent getting them is worth it, I should know. So I’ve been thinking about it and here’s my best estimate.

Flickr: I’d say 25 per cent are genuine readers plus. I know this because we talk to them not just on Flickr, but on Facebook and Twitter and face-to-face occasionally! Because what they do is just a specific area of interest, I think the very fact of our taking an interest has been enough to transform the way they think about the paper or at the least challenged their expectations of us.

Facebook: The best I can say here, is I’m working on it! Putting effort into Facebook is a recent development, and Facebook doesn’t tell you how many times your links are shared by friends, so the only thing we have to go on is comments and traffic figures coming to our site. As I said on Friday, traffic from Facebook has tripled and comments are building. We’ve got some facebook friends who definitely COULD be readers plus but I’m not sure we’re quite there yet!

Twitter: Based on retweets and interaction, I’d say twenty percent of our twitter followers are definite readers plus. It may be more, but obviously I don’t know what people are saying about us when I’m not listening!

Hopefully that’s a fuller answer than “I don’t know” – and sorry I didn’t say this at the time.

For those who asked about how exactly we use facebook etc, you can see for yourself here:

bournemouthecho.tumblr.com
flickr.com/bournemouthecho
flickr.com/groups/echoyear/
twitter.com/bournemouthecho
facebook.com/bournemouthecho (my work profile)
facebook.com/bournemouthdailyecho (our Facebook page)
We also have a pretty neglected YouTube account at youtube.com/bournemouthecho, and of course there’s the comments at bournemouthecho.co.uk.

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Facebook: lessons I’ve learned about using it

Recently those of us who work for Newsquest have been taking part in some best practice social media workshops (main lesson learned so far: no two twitterers are alike and they all think their way is the right way!).

As a result of chatting with fellow web types about Facebook (main lesson learned there – no-one really knows how best to use it!) I’ve made some changes to our pages and profiles, which have doubled the number of the clickthroughs we’re getting.

They were really straightforward changes, so I thought I’d outline them for anyone who might be interested.

First: RSS Graffiti for Facebook – the best way to feed your news to Facebook, whether you’re cheating with a profile (of which more in a second) or using a fan page. It looks pretty and it doesn’t dump all your stories at once, but in relatively real time to when you post them.

Second: we had been using a profile, simply because the only way to actively find and friend people on Facebook is to have a profile. We’d set this up in the paper’s name, not mine, because I wanted the paper online to be it’s only personality and not connected to a specific person. However. This is generally frowned upon and people who are sussed out can have their accounts closed down without warning.

So I invited all our friends to “like” our page. Almost all did. I changed the name of the profile to Bournemouth Echo Sam (the name change had to be approved by Facebook) and started using it to share news links fed through to our fan page.

I also turned off the link that fed all our Twitter updates to our profile page, to stop all the news stories being replicated.

The page changes have been massively successful, although I’m finding that the best way of generating interaction with our posts is to comment or like them myself.

The profile changes have changed the way other people on Facebook treat me – because they can see I’m a real person now I’m being approached a lot more, on chat and by email. It’s more time consuming – if I want a story from the paper to appear on my profile I have to remember to manually post it – but with more than 70,000 potential fans in the Bournemouth network, it’s got to be worth the effort.

Two observations about online advertising

First thing: I check Facebook twice a day: probably I spend half an hour a day on the site. Every day I see at least one advert that makes me think – oh, I want/need/like the look of one of those.

But I’ve NEVER clicked one. Why? I don’t trust their integrity. They run alongside the ubiquitous take this pill to be thin and 1 tip of a flat belly adverts, and I have no confidence that the link I’m about to click will take me somewhere sound. I wouldn’t trust these advertisers with my money.

Second thing: Here’s an advertising policy from an American blog, describing how they choose (yes, choose) their advertisers and sponsors.

First, they need to have been recommended by a reader, client or industry professional. We don’t simply look for a referral but rather for a passionate reason as to why a particular vendor deserves to be in the book. Whatever the connection, it must be strong and based on a real knowledge of the vendor’s work.

Second, we dive head first into the vendor’s business. Their portfolio, their experience, their time in the industry. We look at press that they’ve received, we chat with their industry neighbors, we get to know who they are and why they are good at what they do.

We spend time…. getting to know them, figuring out if they are honest, have a high level of integrity and are truly devoted to their craft. For highly competitive industries, like photography, we also have vetting teams. An unbiased group of vendors who can fairly, objectively, and accurately evaluate other’s work.

If you have had a negative experience with any of the vendors listed, please let us know as soon as possible. Your name will remain anonymous and we will take your issues very seriously. If we find that indeed the vendor has violated what we believe to be good, honest work ethics, they will be removed from the site immediately and any advertising dollars will be refunded.

That’s a pretty firm commitment – but one that I’d say increases the chances of readers clicking those ads dramatically.

People talk a lot about curating in journalism, a new attitude to news gathering and distributing, being a place readers trusts to sift through the web and find them the solid gold good stuff.

So what if you applied that logic to advertising?

What if your food pages had a similar list of producers that your knowledgeable food writers had checked out? Or even restaurants or coffee shops? What if your leisure pages had a similar list of hotels? What if your online readers knew that they wouldn’t see fat-busting ads but instead the logos of reputable local trainers?

Just a thought….

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Ridiculous or Radical? Idea #1: Stop making video

A few weeks ago I promised that once my editor had cast his verdict on my list of radical or ridiculous (I still can’t decide which ones are which!) ideas, I’d post them here. So this is number one.

I know it’s heresy to say it. But are we wasting time concentrating on video journalism?

On average, in our newsroom, videos take at least six hours to make. They are watched by maybe 1 per cent of our online audience.* So why do we do it?

I’m not saying there’s no place for video in local newsapers, far from it. But say you’re reading a story about the latest in a spate of arson attacks. The story is online, with a video. You finish the story, then click play.

What you get is a reporter reading you the story you’ve just read, over some footage. Maybe a talking head, saying the words quoted in the story you just read. Is there any point in that?

Instead of making a TV version of a story you’ve already told, why not just post a 20 second clip of the fire, and spend an hour putting together an interactive map of the previous arson attacks, with links to pictures and previous stories?

Job done, five hours to spare.

We don’t have the equipment, experience, production skills or staff to be TV stations. So why do we try? We should stick to videos that add something extra – footage of things actually happening and save the big labour intensive jobs for the occasions where it can make a difference – an interview with a controversial figure, or quirkier, entertainment videos.

Instead of a photographer spending hours making a video at your local Race4Life, isn’t it a better use of resources for that photographer to take LOTS of pictures (you know, that thing we used to do because ‘faces sell papers’?) that you can publish on an online gallery and then sell?

The only problem with non-contexualised video is that it doesn’t really work off-site. So if your video for the fire, for example, is embeddable, it doesn’t work so well without the story. But we’re in an era of extreme cutbacks. Surely we should be asking what the best use of staff time is?

The bottom line is: most readers don’t watch them, even the good ones. So maybe we should think about why we make them. Is it for the audience? Or is it because it’s become the thing local newspapers do to show they’re multimedia?

If it’s the latter there are dozens of less complicated, more useful ways to add to our stories. We shouldn’t overlook them in favour of video without thinking very carefully about why.

* (From what I can tell we’re not unusual but I’d like to hear about it if we are – there’s always the possibility we’re just doing it wrong…)

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A blogging dilemma

A quick post here about a blogging dilemma.

We’ve run a story today about the chair of the police federation saying PCSOs should be scrapped or reduced so the money can be spent on more frontline officers. He calls them a failed experiment.

Then I spotted a tweet from someone we follow with the paper’s account, expressing disappointment that his local paper had done down his job.

I responded, to ask what had upset him. He replied, to say a lazy story about PCSOs didn’t help those who were PCSOs. He then tweeted a link to his blog, asking people who follow him to read it.

So I read the blog, and it’s a very good. I thought he made some excellent points, so I retweeted and suggested to the editor that we linked to it. But before I linked to it, I used the paper’s twitter to check he was okay with that.

He said no thanks, he didn’t want to get in trouble. He’s not taking the blog down, and he was happy with the retweet, but he didn’t want a link.

I then asked him how he’d feel if we quoted it anonymously, but by then he’d gone to work and has not, as yet, replied.

Now the newshound in me thinks this could be a great follow up to our splash. So I asked the Twitterverse for their opinions.

Here’s a selection of replies.

blogg
You’ll see they’re quite varied. Which made me think.

Do you need permission to link to content freely available on the web?

I assume, when I blog, that I have no control over where links to that content ends up, just like I have no control over things I’ve posted publicly on Twitter (a painful lesson I learned courtesy of Press Gazette but that a whole different post). I assume copyright to the extent that I want to be acknowledged as the author of my work, I expect a link if something of mine is used and I expect people not to pretend its their own or make money out of it, but that’s it.

So having blogged this, then tweeted it, made it publicly available and invited people to read it, does he still have the right to ask us not to use it? In other words, if we haven’t asked him, would we have been doing anything wrong in linking to it?

And if you decide not to link because you’re trying not to get someone in trouble, in a case where crediting or attributing will identify them, is quoting their content anonymously better or worse?

I realise that to many people the simple answer would be don’t use it. To many journalists the answer would be ‘he’s made it public, therefore you can use it.’ I think if he explicitly says no to us using it in any form, then we won’t.

But it made me think hard about the whole concept of copyright and permissions when it comes to blogs. And I’m still not sure what the answer is.

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Big ideas

Very quickly:

This is what the NUJ has to say in response to Tory newspaper plans.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “This looks like a policy that has been rushed out in response to calls by media owners who are simply looking to make even more cuts to our already limping local press.

“These plans fail to deal with the problems facing local journalists. Consolidation of media ownership has meant office and title closures; it has meant journalists taken out of their communities, fundamentally undermining their ability to do their jobs well. The Conservative response to these problems seems to be more of the same, which will do nothing to help quality journalism.

“Where are the big ideas? We need our politicians to come up with proposals for how local journalism can be saved – not surrendered to big business interests who have taken multi-million pound profits whilst cutting back on quality journalism.

“The Conservatives might see media regulation as burdensome red tape – but it is what ensures people have access to varied media and different voices. To throw that protection away in response to business demands without any plans to secure improvement in journalism is foolhardy and an insult to our local communities.”

Now I happen to agree that letting the big companies buy up more papers so they can centralise all the subbing and make them soulless press release factories is a terrible idea.

But this?

“Where are the big ideas? We need our politicians to come up with proposals for how local journalism can be saved – not surrendered to big business interests who have taken multi-million pound profits whilst cutting back on quality journalism.”

Why on earth would we leave the saving of local journalism, that thing we love and care about, to politicians? Why would  we, the people who talk to our readers, who work with and see the applications of new technology, who have strong opinions about what makes good local news and how we’d do things differently if we were in charge – leave the future of our industry to people who know nothing about how it works?

Here’s an idea, Jeremy. Why don’t we, the journalists, try and come up with some ‘big ideas’ of our own? Why on earth would any body want to ‘save us’ if all we do is bleat about how the owners have taken our toys away without making any suggestions about what we’d do if they gave them back?

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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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