Tag Archives: online

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.

Advertisements
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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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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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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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Suicide and the Press Complaints Commission (or why the web needs subs #3)

A quick thought about this adjudication:

Press Complaints Commission >> News.

The common thread seems to be that the online version of the story was unsubbed, unrefined PA copy.

Now there *may* be an argument that it was an automated feed, although I think it’s unlikely.

But no editor would let untouched copy in their paper, so why do it online? I’ve said it elsewhere on this blog; just because you can put it all up doesn’t mean you should.

In lots of the cases in this adjudication, the original version didn’t make the paper. The offending detail was removed, by subs who know the rules.

Standards, codes, ethics, quality; these rules still apply. Hell, there are enough old-school hacks who say these are the things that set us apart from ‘bloggers in pyjamas’, so why aren’t they adhered to online?

It’s the point that inspired me to start this blog in the first place, back in the days when I was full-time subbing. The web DOES need subs.

Whatever you call them, whatever else they do,  the checking/editing/rewriting/makingbetter person is a vital part of news production.

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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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Newsroom 2.0: re-imagining our business

There are a lot of people talking about business models and the web. How has the news gathering process changed? How do we best utilise the new technologies? How do we think of news as a process, not a product.

But for those of us who started in the print world, most of these people are leaving one element out. There’s lots of talk about the web and barely any talk about the newspaper – except to say that the printed product is done for.

So here’s my question:

If you were starting a newspaper from scratch, today, how would you run your newsroom?
Assume that there IS a printed product; a daily paper, a free sheet or two, a property and business supplement, a what’s on pullout maybe, as well as the online offering.

How would you staff it?

I think there are three core stages:

  • news gathering (in which I would include the writing of the story, creation of video, pictures)
  • honing (the casting of a critical second eye, consideration of legal issues, editorial angles, things the reporter might have missed, extra details that will make the story better)
  • packaging: how the story is displayed, online and in print

There’s obviously a subtext here: the viability or otherwise of sub-editing in the new world. I think there’s still a role (as I have said before) for editorial judgement as well as the obvious need for design, both online and in paper.

But if the news creation model is changing elsewhere on the editorial floor, does it need to change in the production department too? And if so how? My key questions:

  1. Should reporters upload straight to the web?
  2. Who ‘hones’ the copy: newsdesk? If so, does it need to be done again?
  3. If the copy’s been honed for the web, does it need redoing for the paper? If so, who should do it?
  4. If we trust reporters to edit their own video, why don’t we trust them to edit their own content? (Or should that question should be: if we don’t trust them to edit their own content, why do we trust them to edit their own video?)
  5. Should reporters write to box? If so, who checks their copy? Who creates the box?
  6. Do we abandon page design completely, stick to a set number of free designed pages and create templates for the rest, or template everything?

I’m not sure I have any answers for these questions (although I have strong opinions about some of them!) and I’m sure there are other key issues I’ve not thought of. But I’d be interested to hear what you think….

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Subs are not cut-to-fit monkeys

In this column, Nick Clayton says:

For a start, websites don’t need subs, at least as they exist at the moment. The reason is simple. The key role of subs on newspapers is in getting words to fit a finite space whether that’s copy, headlines or captions.

Unlike a printed page, there is effectively no restriction on the size of a web page. If you want to run every word in the Bible in one place there’s nothing to stop you. In the interests of the reader there could be an editorial decision that no story should be longer than 700 words, but in terms of readability there’s little difference between say 500 words and 600 words. The missing hundred words won’t leave a space.

Even the most satisfying task of the sub, headline writing, is effectively rendered obsolete by the web. What are required online are labels that will be picked up by search engines, not clever plays on words.

He’s missing a fundamental point. Subs are NOT cut-to-fit monkeys. We rewrite. We pare back. We make better.

Copy is not cut just because it’s too long. It’s cut because the reporter has used ten words when two will do; repeated themselves, included quotes that mean nothing or phrases like this:

He said the ambulance took a long time to arrive. He said: “The ambulance took a long time to arrive.”

As for suggesting that web headlines don’t have to be interesting: he consigns us to a lifetime of unimaginative titles that consist of keywords, like this one from today’s Mirror: Army base ‘bully‘ film

And just two more examples:

The threat of rain did not dampen the spirit of a man who had unearthed a family link to the secret gardens recently discovered at the East Close Hotel.

That was the only mention of rain in the whole story.
And how about this?

BEAULIEU is still Beaulieuful according to Bank Holiday excitement seekers who surf the internet to find out where to go.

Internet search engine Ask.com rates the venue in the heart of the New Forest as number 21 in its top 25, according to the number of hits asking for information.

Top of the pops is Chester Zoo, closely followed by London Zoo and the Natural History Museum. The Tate Modern comes in ninth, Cornwall’s Eden Project at number 15, Legoland at 17 and the London Transport Museum at 18.

Leeds Castle is next, followed by Paignton Zoo and then Beaulieu, which has its abbey, house and gardens, but more specifically the National Motor Museum.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu said: “Beaulieu was one of the first visitor attractions to open in this country over 50 years ago and it’s gratifying to see that in this modern age of the internet it remains one of the country’s most popular and best loved visitor destinations.”

The motor museum has 250 exhibits ranging from bicycles to cars, through to commercial vehicles.

And Beaulieu doesn’t lag behind the times either: the veteran bus that carries visitors around the grounds has recently been converted to run on recycled chip oil from the Brabazon Cafeteria, ensuring it is environmentally Beaulieuful.

A good sub would reduce that to three pars.

Unlimited space does NOT mean we shouldn’t care about quality.  I don’t leave stories long in the paper because I need to fill the hole – I sub it for value and workfrom there. That doesn’t stop being true just because there’s no box to fill. Every word should earn its place.


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Reasons to be cheerful

It’s all doom and gloom at the moment, isn’t it? Recession, unemployment, crashing share prices leading to company takeovers (there but for the grace of new shares goes Johnston press).

So here are some blog posts that make me optimistic. There are some people out there who think we’ll make it through. More thinking like that, and less thinking like this, is what we need to become commercially successful enough to keep us in our jobs….

We’re rethinking advertising

We should care about how our money is made. Advertising needs innovation as much if not more than editorial if newsaper websites are to work. Thankfully Paul Bradshaw’s got some ideas

We’re admitting we can’t do things the way we always have

And isn’t that exciting? Mark Potts has a convincing explanation for why change is good

There are lots of people with ideas for new business models

I didn’t really get into journalism for the business angle. But it makes me happy to know there are people out there who have thought about how we make money – and how we can make enough of it to ‘save newspapers’

And we do still care about the quality of our product

No matter what people say, subbing IS important. It’s not something any reporter can do. And it’s not obselete, not matter what Desmond or Greenslade say. Don’t agree? Richard Burton might persuade you.

You may think his points aren’t relevant online. But just because you don’t have a physical space to cut your copy to doesn’t mean said copy won’t require pruning, or checking, or sharpening up, or even hacking back to three pars because that’s all its worth. Quality control is just as important online as it is in print.

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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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