Tag Archives: newspapers

Timelines for Facebook Pages: not all bad

There’s been a mixed reaction to the news that all Facebook Pages will be getting the new Timeline by the end of the month. But I think there are a lot of pluses if you run a local newspaper Facebook Page. Here’s why.

Cover photos:

  • The cover photo is big, which makes it a great way to showcase images. I’m going to use it to highlight local beauty spots, the best reader photography or our own archive pictures and change with the seasons
  • You can tag where they were taken for more views, or tag people in them
  • Highlight upcoming big events with an archive image from previous events – for us this means a great picture from the Air Festival or Camp Bestival. We’re watermarking to prevent theft and adding a link to the photo sales site in the description. I don’t think this breaks any rules but if it does someone will no doubt let me know!
  • Use it to showcase a picture gallery post-event with a link to our galleries and coverage – race for life, a big community event – and tag some faces. I’m thinking of our cover photo like an extra bonus front page that will show as a new post when we change it.

Milestones:

  • Highlight big local issues by adding them to our timeline – for us that’s the development of the surf reef for instance and the building/closure of the Imax. Or the night the ruling party lost control of the council. We’re going to link to our archived content
  • How we covered major historical events – upload scanned versions of our front pages the day war broke out or the Titanic sank. Add new ones on the day of the anniversary, link to galleries of archive pictures – Coronation street parties on the weekend of the Jubilee for example

Other pluses:

  • The message button, for people who don’t want to talk to you publicly. This is a real boon for newspapers, where readers might not want to tell their story in public to start with. I have a “work” FB profile specifically so people could contact us privately without anyone having to use their personal accounts. This change takes that problem away.
  • Tabs are now extra wide and can have custom images – annoying if you spent ages coding a really flash one, but far better for displaying our content
  • Highlights and pinned content – brilliant for keeping something at the top of the page when you’ve got a breaking story (so we could use a picture and link to our constantly updating content on our site) or star a picture to make it widescreen.

And don’t forget, even if none of these things sway you, how many of your fans actually visit your page instead of commenting/sharing/liking on your posts as they appear in their news feed? How many of your Facebook friends profile pages do you visit regularly?

If you run a page it’s also worth reading this post from Buddy Media about some of the changes to advertising – I imagine its not something that most local newspapers would be shelling out for but makes interesting reading all the same.

Anyone think of any more upsides to the timeline that I’m missing?

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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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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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Cllr Grower and sockpuppeting; we can see your email address, you know

Well I couldn’t go home today without writing something about this.

Views range from the absolutely-we-did-the-right-thing to the lazy-story-he’s-got-a-right-to-privacy.

What do I think? From a management of the community we’re building perspective, I’d like to have seen him privately warned tp cease and desist before we named and shamed him.

But from a news perspective, I think it’s a great story. I think he has attempted to deceive his electorate and if we’d been mid-election I’m fairly sure those comments could have seen us in breach of electoral regulations if we hadn’t named and shamed him once we knew.

But as Judith Townend from journalism.co.uk said to me today, where do we draw the line between silly and serious?

No harm has been done by the comments, so should we, as holders of private data and managers of a website where people are allowed, if not encouraged, to post under pseudonyms which currently range from Frying Leper to Lord Jesus, have told him to back off, register under his own name or stop bigging himself up? And what of the countless other commenters promoting their own agenda? Who’s allowed and who isn’t?

On reflection, I think I fall on the side of news here. He’s a public servant, paid by the tax payer. They deserve to know if he’s the kind of man who’ll post nice things about himself while trying his hardest to pretend he knows nothing about the story in question.  If he was a company, it would be illegal. Has it done us harm with our online readers? Maybe. But you can’t please all the people all the time.

But I will make a quick point about the age old issue of links.

Not a single one of the national stories (nor Iain Dale’s blog, which linked instead to the Indy) has a link to us, or any of the stories Cllr Grower commented on, or journalism.co.uk, who picked up the story first.

To be fair, the nats are all using PA copy. But why can’t PA include links in their feeds? And someone has made the choice to pull the PA story from the feed and highlight on those sites – it’s not hard to find the link to our story.  I know Alison Gow has complained about this before, and we’ll no doubt be more annoyed when we see how the print versions use it tomorrow. But if the link economy is part of our future model for news, then why not link to us? I am, courtesy of a Yahoo pipe, linking to them. How about they return the favour?

PS: the best part, in my view, was a complaint from Cllr Grower that people commenting on the story were pretending to be him. Not who they said they were. Oh the irony.

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Newspapers on Twitter: is there any point?

I think there is. Forgive if this is going sound like trumpet-blowing, but this is why I think twitter is worth persevering with as more than an RSS feed.

One of our followers asked for suggestions as to where he should take his girlfriend for dinner.
This is what happened
Our conversation on Twitter

Our conversation on Twitter

PROS: The links are all links to our reviews. And everyone who’s following us or him can see this conversation.
We’ve promoted our taste section, boosted our reputation for being the source of all food knowledge, published links to five old reviews that might now get some traffic and increased awareness of us as a brand providing a service to readers. (and possibly created a rod for my back when people start asking me questions!)
But it took five minutes of my time and Rob Hawkes thinks we’re great now (and hopefully will tell other people how great we are, and so on.)
CONS: is the benefit worth the time?Will we, as a paper, get enough from this one reader for it to have been worth my stopping what I was doing (writing a photo sales strategy) and spending five or ten minutes finding some content that matched his needs?  Added on, of course, to the time I spend monitoring the account in the first place, which, as I read here is a time consuming job.

I think, in this age where we’ve got some pretty stiff competition for people’s attention, that it probably is. This may only be one person. But better to have 1000 true fans than than 100,000 who’ll visit the site once and then never again, right?
What do you think? (and sorry again about the trumpet blowing)
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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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Comments or no comments?

I’ve been quite busy of late and haven’t found the time to blog – which means that what I intended to say in the post has shifted slightly.

One of the things I’ve been focusing on at the Echo is ways on interacting with our online audience more effectively. I’ll be blogging about it later but basically I’ve been working Twitter, getting involved in our forums, starting an ents blog – and responding to story comments.

It’s the last bit that’s causing me the most grief. Newquest has a register-to-comment policy but doesn’t require any more than an email address and nickname.

So, like almost every other newspaper out there, we struggle with our comments thread being hijacked by anonymous posters who like to abuse the stories, the people we’re writing about, their fellow commenters and the paper itself.

It’s not made easier by a lack of house rules and the fact that if we remove a comment, there’s no ‘removed by moderator’ or ‘reported for breaching house rules’ message. It just disappears. Which often causes its own problems.

As an experiment I tried contacting the offenders to explain why their comments were being removed (the Echo hadn’t been doing this although we do have a standard ‘yellow card’ message we send to people who really step over the line.)

This does have an effect, although it’s time consuming – and there are a certain number of offenders who simply register a new gmail address and have another go.

We’ve got one visitor, from Australia, who’s only comments are about how poor our stories are. There’s another who consistently claims we’re ‘out to get’ whoever the subject of a story is or that we should ‘stop telling him what to think’.

This week’s superstory – the Lapland New Forest extravangza – has had more than 200 comments in its various guises. About 50 are off topic, or are about how no-one in their right mind would have gone there in the first place.

On the one hand, we want to see lots of comments. After all, that’s the sort of audience interaction we’re aiming for, isn’t it?

And I firmly believe that conversation can’t be one-sided: we have to be part of it; the reporters reading and responding to comments on their stories, correcting mistakes when they’re pointed out, or adding polls to a story when what the readers are saying warrants it.

However. The high volume of offensive and abusive comments makes it hard for me to argue this point against reporters who say that by responding to them we give them credence in a way we’d never do with the ‘nutters’ who ring the newsdesk.

There are some days when I look at the comments and my heart sinks. I’d like to ban them all.

So what’s to do? Tougher house rules? Bans for persistent offenders? More moderation? Or just more interaction and hope that if we treat the audience with respect, they’ll treat us with respect?

I’d love to know what you think.

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