Tag Archives: news

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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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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Nine resolutions for 2009

They’re a bit late. But here’s nine resolutions for 2009

This year I’m going to:

1. Integrate our burgeoning social media audience with our homepage.

Specifically this requires: persuading the powers that be to let us self-host http://bmthblog.wordpress.com, http://roundfortea.blogspot.com/ and a photography blog in the style of the Croydon Advers (hat tip Martin Stabe for pointing it out Jo Wadsworth for filling me in on the details)
Why? We can’t pretend that being part of the blogosphere/twitterverse/flickrverse is going to be enough. While we are a for profit business we need to translate that into something, page impressions, advertisting eyeballs, unique users.

2. Recruit some new bloggers
3. Develop the dismal dorsetbusiness.net into something that’s relevant and useful
4. Look for ways to monetize that have value for us, our readers, and the advertisers. I’m not going to leave this entirely to the ad department. Why should I? It’s my business too.
5. Reorganise the navigation on our website so it’s easier to work out where things might be
6. Persuade, by demonstrating, that responding to comments, being transparent about mistakes and  linking to source material is a good way to build trust with online readers
7. Persuade the powers-that-be to let us have a twitter feed and feed aggregators as part of our site, not sneaked in though the back door.
8. Produce more news. Leading by example is the best way, they say. I’m not a sub anymore. And while I don’t, as yet, have a job title, I’m going to get a bit Gandhi and be the change etc etc
9. Nine is tricky. It involves taking an as-yet-unformed idea, a bit Regret the Error, a bit Newsmixer, aimed at preempting the ‘yes, but –‘ response readers often have to news stories, and turning it into something workable. I’ve no idea if it’s possible without being extremely labour intensive. But I’m going to try!

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Publish 2.0

Thanks to this post by Scott Karp I’ve been investigating the possibilities of Publish2 as an aggregator.

I’ve been saying for a while that we shouldn’t be afraid to link to other sites (the Rick Waghorn/Jeff Jarvis argument) – whatever the answer to the news crisis is (and if you work for Newsquest things look pretty critical right now) surely it’s going to involve giving our audience reason to come to us and not somewhere else.

So, Publish2 gives you the option to set up newsgroups that other people in your newsroom can join.

You then set about finding the best blogs, links, videos etc on a particular subject, add them to the group (it’s like a cross between Delicous and Digg) – and then Publish2 shows you how to create a widget that you can embed on the site.

I’ve blogged before about the problems the group template gives us – no access to html, restricted widths, no way to design a decent homepage that reflects the paper it represents and so on- but the little cheats I’ve been using seem to have gone down okay with the men in charge.

SO I was hoping this post would be a ‘look what we’re doing’ one….

…but unfortunately Javascript, which makes the Publish2 widget work, isn’t accepted by our CMS. So there’s no way I can cheat on.

Instead I’m just going to bite the bullet and ask: please can we have the facilty to aggregate news from other sites. Please.

Watch this space!


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The news hub – are we even a spoke?

I’ve spent some time this afternoon looking at our web traffic for this week, mainly because our unique user numbers have quadrupled thanks to Laplandgate.

It’s always interesting to see the kind of links people follow to get to us – and, I think, important in terms of working out which networks we should be part of and how our audience consumes its news.

What it often shows is how little attention they pay to our beloved brand name. The idea that we’re at the centre of the news wheel and all roads lead to us is nonsense.

What happens is that everyone’s at the centre of their own wheel. People send them links, and they follow them. They google things. They search YouTube. We even had some clickthroughs this month from a Twitter search.

Our biggest referrer was a Norwegian newspaper. Why they picked us to link to rather than our Southampton sister or any of the national stories I’m not sure (although it probably demonstrates the important of tagging and SEO to make sure we’re top of that Google list.)

We also had refers from countless blogs, forums and a weird spike for a columnist writing about Gordon Ramsay (all the traffic for the last coming via Google News).

I’ve been trying to build an online audience for said columnist for weeks, but so far we’ve only managed a few dozen RSS subscribers and a trickle of page impressions.

Now obviously I realise this week is an anomaly. But the point is refers come to us from the strangest places and we can’t actively be in all of them, or second guess where our traffic will come from. We also can’t assume that people who find us in the obvious places want what we have to offer.  Our Lapland videos have won our YouTube channel variously most watchedin the UK honours (reporter) and most viewed UK news and politics video honours this week.  Our overall video views have doubled.  have any of those people clicked through to our story or petition? According to our software, no. Not one. They know the story. They’re just looking for the laugh.

So what do we do? I guess we just have to make sure we’re in the most obvious places, link as much as we can (in-site and externally) and be sure to plug RSS all over the place.

Then we *might* make ourselves a spoke in that wheel.  A skinny one.  But a spoke nonetheless.

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Changes ahead

We’re all waiting for the go-ahead to switch from our existing site to the new Newsquest template.

It looks like this – and there has already been much discussion about the design. Readers, as whole, haven’t responded well – but then they haven’t really responded well to the Northcliffe redesign either.

The new version is undoubtedly better. The main issue for us will be the navigation – we’re moving from a side nav bar to a top nav bar  – and some of the sections don’t really make sense. Things aren’t where you’d expect them to be.

We’re hoping to put together some editorial for the paper about the new site and where to find your favourite sections, highlighting some of the new features, but there are some people who think this should be done after the switch-over and not in the run up to. There may also be a ‘how to’ video on the site.

We’ll see how it goes!

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