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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What journalists need to know about search engine optimisation

This is a useful read for any journalist coming to terms with writing for the web and why that means understanding keywords and search engine optimisation.

It was written by Shane Richmond, Communities Editor for telegraph.co.uk, for the British Journalism Review.

I've pulled a few key chunks out of it but the whole thing is well worth reading.

The “Gotcha” headline on a Sun front-page splash about the sinking of the General Belgrano is one of the most famous, or infamous depending on your taste, in the history of British journalism. Yet no web producer with any experience would consider a headline like that today. The reason is search engine optimisation (SEO). SEO has been around almost as long as search engines themselves, but journalists were quite late to cotton on. It didn’t really reach newsrooms until a couple of years ago.

The concept is simple. It’s about ensuring that your content is found by the millions of people every day who use search engines as their first filter for news and those who don’t search at all but trust an automated aggregator, such as Google News, to filter stories for them. These people are essentially asking a computer to tell them the news. If you want your story to be read, you’d better make sure the computer knows what you’re writing about.

To do that you need to ensure your article contains certain keywords. That means not only the words that someone types into a search engine but also the keywords that the search engine knows are commonly associated with the search term. So if someone types “credit crunch” into a search engine, the computer knows that an article about the credit crunch often contains other words, such as financial crisis, bail out or bailout, banks, recession and so on.

...

Let’s go back to May 4, 1982 and that “Gotcha” headline. The sub-head read: “Our lads sink gunboat and hole cruiser.” Below that, the story began: “The Navy had the Argies on their knees last night after a devastating double punch.” Alongside was a graphic showing a British soldier and the words “Battle for the Islands”. All of this works perfectly for its audience and its medium, but it wouldn’t be likely to figure highly in search results. Imagine for a moment that the Falklands conflict was happening today.What would you type into a search engine to find the latest news about it? Well, “Falklands” certainly, or perhaps “Falkland Islands”. You wouldn’t search for “the Islands”, which is used in the Sun copy. You’d be more likely to search for “Argentina” than “Argies” and “British Navy” or “Royal Navy” would get more relevant results than“The Navy”.

...

Just as clever headlines, delayed drops and other journalistic tricks evolved to suit the medium, so we will learn new ways to take advantage of the opportunities SEO provides to reach a vast audience. Hopefully it should be clear by now that there’s nothing to debate when it comes to SEO. If you want your story to be found, you have to adopt these techniques. There’s no room for argument. But the debate frequently mutates into something else and unleashes a host of other concerns.

Once we know what people are searching for should we write stories to meet that demand? Will search engines end up dictating our news agenda as well as the way we format our stories? If we write stories simply to chase traffic, where do we find the resources to write the specialist stories, the ones that are important to our core readers but not massively popular?

All those concerns are legitimate, but they are not questions about SEO and shouldn’t be interpreted as such. They are editorial questions. If an editor wants to devote resources to writing stories based on topics people are searching for, they now have the data that will permit them to do so. Giving readers what they want is a sensible strategy, even though the overall mix of stories within a publication has to be balanced. Different editors will make different choices, but they are editorial choices, not SEO choices.

Common Craft on its success and business models

ReadWriteWeb have done a nice end-of-year profile on Common Craft, the clever folk behind those RSS in Plain English and other videos which explain social media and web stuff.



It's a nice read and the part about why Common Craft deciced to move away from its custom video service into its current licencing business model is interesting:

  1. Custom videos do not scale. We would have to hire people to grow the company and we don't want to hire. We are a two person company.

  2. Custom videos are usually promotional. We are more comfortable with education than promotion. Another realization is that promotion is fad-driven and education isn't as much. We see a longer lifespan for our videos in education.

  3. Our goal is independence - we want to work for our own goals on our own schedule and maintain a lifestyle that supports us."

What is Common Craft going to do instead of making themselves available for hire making custom videos? Lee says that for the past year they've been getting requests three or four times a week for permission to re-use their Plain English videos. The solution they decided on was licensing them for corporate and eductional use.

Common Craft now sells licenses for high-quality, downloadable versions of their explanatory videos. All of their time working is now spent building out the library. Videos are licensed for under $20 for individual use and $350 for site-wide use, like on a company intranet. Commercial licensing, for use on public commercial websites, is the next option the company will be offering.

Of course the video content is available free to anyone online, but Common Craft says that many companies feel far more comfortable paying for official permission to use high quality, unbranded versions. There's certainly no DRM involved.

"People want to do the right thing if they know the rules," Lee LeFever says. "Our challenge is to educate people about how we expect our videos to be used. We're lucky to have fans that feel good about supporting us with their purchases. Given limited resources, we would rather spend time educating people on the right thing to do than trying to make the wrong things impossible."

Monday, December 22, 2008

JEANZ, penguins and keeping it simple

The prize for most enjoyable PowerPoint at the recent JEANZ (journalism educators of NZ) conference has to go to Susan Boyd-Bell, who demonstrated the value of keeping it simple and letting a few well-chosen quotes tell a story.

The quotes come from students Susan interviewed as part of her research into the value of experiential learning, specifically on AUT's terrific student newspaper project Te Waha Nui. The paper, incidentally, won a couple of Ossie awards recently including 'Best regular student publication 2008'. I had the pleasure of working with this year's award-winning team (there have been others over the years) and it's lovely to see them walk away with a prize. Well done!

Here's what some students had to say about the experience:













































This was my first JEANZ conference and I enjoyed it. There's nothing quite like having a couple of days to talk shop non-stop. Not to mention a cosy dinner with penguins at the Antarctic Centre (a few blurry pictures from my phone here).

The conference agenda was fairly broad and I don't intend to summarise the whole event here. But one point I will make is that it's good to see journalism schools countrywide teaching digital media, multimedia, web 2.0 tools for journalists etc in some form or another.

In a very rough nutshell:

Massey University runs a convergence course for its graduate diploma students giving them an introduction to talking to camera, working with audio, editing packages and writing for the web; Aoraki is offering multiplatform courses at its Christchurch campus.

Jim Tucker at Whitireia has a website his diploma students write for and create images, video and slide shows for; and AUT has a digital media paper which is largely taught online and includes an exploration of online journalism and building a simple website.

Wintec is teaching its pre-journalism students how to use web2.0 tools such as social bookmarking, RSS, blogs and simple audio and video editing software to enhance their study, research and ultimately their journalism.

More about that course in another post.We've learned a lot from its maiden run - including that gen x and gen y very often aren't 'digital natives'.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

First step in bringing change: find the believers

Erik Ulken has posted a must-read top 10 list of lessons learned while setting up the data desk in the LA Times newsroom.

The data desk's job is to take detailed information that's dreary to read in text or table form and make it useful by presenting it in compelling and interactive formats. A well-known example is the LA Time's Homicide Map which allows readers to filter through a database of crime statistics and see them represented visually in graphics and on a map.



















The 10 lessons Erik posted are all good so I'm pasting them all in here but it's still worth checking out his post to see what else he has to say.

Erik's list echoes some of the things learned at the Telegraph when it was reinvigorating its website and beginning to integrate its web and print operations. I think these lessons would apply in all sorts of development and change management scenarios.

  1. Find the believers: You'll likely discover enthusiasts and experts in places you didn't expect. In our case, teaming up with the Times' computer-assisted reporting staff, led by Doug Smith, was a no-brainer. Doug was publishing data to the web before the website had anybody devoted to interactive projects. But besides Doug's group, we found eager partners on the paper's graphics staff, where, for example, GIS expert Tom Lauder had already been playing with Flash and web-based mapping tools for a while. A number of reporters were collecting data for their stories and wondering what else could be done with it. We also found people on the tech side with a good news sense who intuitively understood what we were trying to do.
  2. Get buy-in from above: For small projects, you might be able to collaborate informally with your fellow believers, but for big initiatives, you need the commitment of top editors who control the newsroom departments whose resources you'll draw on. At the Times, a series of meetings among senior editors to chart a strategic vision for the paper gave us an opportunity to float the data desk idea. This led to plans to devote some reporting resources to gathering data and to move members of the data team into a shared space near the editorial library (see #8).
  3. Set some priorities: Your group may come from a variety of departments, but if their priorities are in alignment, disparate reporting structures might not be such a big issue. We engaged in "priority alignment" by inviting stakeholders from all the relevant departments (and their bosses) to a series of meetings with the goal of drafting a data strategy memo and setting some project priorities. (We arrived at these projects democratically by taping a big list on the wall and letting people vote by checkmark; ideas with the most checks made the cut.) Priorities will change, of course, but having some concrete goals to guide you will help.
  4. Go off the reservation: No matter how good your IT department is, their priorities are unlikely to be in sync with yours. They're thinking big-picture product roadmaps with lots of moving pieces. Good luck fitting your database of dog names (oh yes, we did one of those) into their pipeline. Early on, database producer Ben Welsh set up a Django box at projects.latimes.com, where many of the Times' interactive projects live. There are other great solutions besides Django, including Ruby on Rails (the framework that powers the Times' articles and topics pages and many of the great data projects produced by The New York Times) and PHP (an inline scripting language so simple even I managed to learn it). Some people (including the L.A. Times, occasionally) are using Caspio to create and host data apps, sans programming. I am not a fan, for reasons Derek Willis sums up much better than I could, but if you have no other options, it's better than sitting on your hands.
  5. Templatize: Don't build it unless you can reuse it. The goal of all this is to be able to roll out projects rapidly (see #6), so you need templates, code snippets, Flash components, widgets, etc., that you can get at, customize and turn around quickly. Interactive graphics producer Sean Connelley was able to use the same county-level California map umpteen times as the basis for various election visualizations in Flash.
  6. Do breaking news: Your priority list may be full of long-term projects like school profiles and test scores, but often it's the quick-turnaround stuff that has the biggest immediate effect. This is where a close relationship with your newsgathering staff is crucial. At the Times, assistant metro editor Megan Garvey has been overseeing the metro staff's contributions to data projects for a few months now. When a Metrolink commuter train collided with a freight train on Sept. 12, Megan began mobilizing reporters to collect key information on the victims while Ben adapted an earlier Django project (templatizing in action!) to create a database of fatalities, complete with reader comments. Metro staffers updated the database via Django's easy-to-use admin interface. (We've also used Google Spreadsheets for drama-free collaborative data entry.) ... Update 11/29/2008: I was remiss in not pointing out Ben's earlier post on this topic.
  7. Develop new skills: Disclaimer: I know neither Django nor Flash, so I'm kind of a hypocrite here. I'm a lucky hypocrite, though, because I got to work with guys who dream in ActionScript and Python. If you don't have access to a Sean or a Ben — and I realize few newsrooms have the budget to hire tech gurus right now — then train and nurture your enthusiasts. IRE runs occasional Django boot camps, and there are a number of good online tutorials, including Jeff Croft's explanation of Django for non-programmers. Here's a nice primer on data visualization with Flash.
  8. Cohabitate (but marriage is optional): This may be less of an issue in smaller newsrooms, but in large organizations, collaboration can suffer when teams are split among several floors (or cities). The constituent parts of the Times' Data Desk — print and web graphics, the computer-assisted reporting team and the interactive projects team — have only been in the same place for a couple months, but the benefits to innovation and efficiency are already clear. For one thing, being in brainstorming distance of all the people you might want to bounce ideas off of is ideal, especially in breaking news situations. Also, once we had everybody in the same place, our onetime goal of unifying the reporting structure became less important. The interactive folks still report to latimes.com managing editor Daniel Gaines, and the computer-assisted reporting people continue to report to metro editor David Lauter. The graphics folks still report to their respective bosses. Yes, there are the occasional communication breakdowns and mixed messages. But there is broad agreement on the major priorities and regular conversation on needs and goals.
  9. Integrate: Don't let your projects dangle out there with a big ugly search box as their only point of entry. Weave them into the fabric of your site. We were inspired by the efforts of a number of newspapers — in particular the Indianapolis Star and its Gannett siblings — to make data projects a central goal of their newsgathering operations. But we wanted to do more than publish data for data's sake. We wanted it to have context and depth, and we didn't want to relegate data projects to a "Data Central"-type page, something Matt Waite (of Politifact fame) memorably dubbed the "data ghetto." (I would link to Waite's thoughtful post, but his site unfortunately reports that it "took a dirt nap recently.") I should note that the Times recently did fashion a data projects index of its own, but only as a secondary way in. The most important routes into data projects are still through related Times content and search engines.
  10. Give back: Understand that database and visualization projects demand substantial resources at a time when they're in very short supply. Not everyone in your newsroom will see the benefit. Make clear the value your work brings to the organization by looking for ways to pipe the best parts (interesting slices of data, say, or novel visualizations) into your print or broadcast product. For example, some of the election visualizations the data team produced were adapted for print use, and another was used on the air by a partner TV station.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A quick way to see what people are linking to on Twitter

One of the most useful aspects of Twitter for me is following the links people post to their blogs and things they've been reading/watching. There's always good stuff in there.

But Twitter's like a 24-hour water cooler - people drift in for a while then move on and you never know who's going to be there when you show up nor what you've missed in the meantime.

You can look at someone's Twitter timeline and see everything they've been doing in the past few hours or days, but that can take a while.

Enter Twitturly, which lets you see what people have been linking to. It searches a Twitter user's timeline and pulls out posts containing links, filtering out the rest.

Go to http://twitturly.com and type in someone's Twitter username or type http://twitturly.com/user/username into your browser address bar.

Say you want to see what New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson's been linking to. Go to http://twitturly.com/user/fredwilson and you'll see a page like this:
















Type in http://twitturly.com/user/starrjulie and you'll see what I've been linking to.
















Nice.

NY Times winds down its file saving service

Recognising the dominance of Del.icio.us, Furl, Digg and other social bookmarking services, nytimes.com is winding down its own file-saving service. Makes sense.

This from the email to users:

Dear Times File user,

Thank you for being a loyal user of NYTimes.com and Times
File, the tool that allows you to save articles from
NYTimes.com and other Web sites. (On NYTimes.com, Times File
is the "Save" option that appears on the top right area of
most of our article pages.)

We wanted to inform you that, as of Dec. 22, 2008, we are
removing the ability to save articles to Times File from
NYTimes.com pages, and on Jan. 21, 2009, we are removing
Times File from the site entirely. Social-bookmarking sites
like Delicious and Digg, which can be accessed through our
Share tools, have proliferated since the creation of Times
File. This changing Web landscape has resulted in the
decision to divert resources from Times File to other areas
of NYTimes.com.

We realize that our removing Times File may be an
inconvenience, so we have worked out an option to keep your
saved pages.

Times File is powered by LookSmart technology. If you'd like
to keep the pages you have already saved using Times File,
we've created a process allowing you to easily transfer all
of your saved pages to LookSmart's online-bookmarking tool,
Furl. This way, the pages you've saved will still be
available through your new Furl account.
...

We value you as a loyal user of NYTimes.com and hope that you
enjoy our many other current and upcoming features. If you
have questions or concerns about the removal of Times File,
please contact our Customer Service team at help@nytimes.com
or visit our Times File FAQ at
http://www.nytimes.com/membercenter/faq/timesfile.html.

Thank you,

The New York Times

Friday, December 19, 2008

How to find 550+ news services on Twitter



















For a truly comprehensive list of news services publishing on Twitter:

1. check out WikiNews
2. click on 'following'
3. scroll through the 550+ news services
4. click 'follow' on any you want to see every day in your Twitter inbox
5. monitor your Twitter box and 'unfollow' any that drive you mad with too-frequent updates

There's everything in there - AP, Washington Post, The Independent, The Guardian, The Age, Time, the Economist, NZ Herald, Wired, Gawker, Drudge Report, New Yorker, New York Post, Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee... and roughly 535 more.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Compfight.com is my new favourite image searching tool

My colleague Stephen Harlow put me onto compfight.com on Tuesday last week and I was so taken with it I immediately included it in presentations I did on Thursday and Friday.

















Compfight.com makes light work of searching Flickr for images. Type in a keyword or two, hit enter and you get a full page of images to look at - small enough to see lots on one page but not so small as to be hard to see. If you see one you like, click on it and it takes you through to the image page on Flickr. Genius.

A particularly useful feature for me is that you can easily restrict your search to images with Creative Commons licences - which are more likely to be available for use in presentations, blogs and the classroom. You can already do this in Flickr using the Advanced Search function, but compfight.com makes it much easier.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tribune files for bankruptcy protection

Via nytimes.com:

The Tribune Company, the newspaper and television chain that publishes The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday.

The move came less than a year after Samuel Zell, a Chicago real estate tycoon, took control of the Tribune chain and took on most of the $13 billion debt burden that now threatens to cripple it in the face of a sinking economy and a collapse in advertising.

Mr. Zell said the company had enough cash to continue operating its 12 newspapers, 23 television stations, national cable channel and assorted other media holdings, and the company insisted that the filing would have no effect on employees’ payroll and benefits, or on the vast majority of their retirement accounts.

The recession and the shift of advertising to the Internet have hit newspapers with the sharpest drop in advertising revenue since the Depression — Tribune’s papers were down 19 percent in the third quarter — and some major newspapers have defaulted on debt or been put up for sale, with no takers. But Tribune’s problems were made significantly worse by the unusual $8.2 billion deal put together last year by Mr. Zell, which took the company private and nearly tripled its debt load, driving the company deeper into debt than any other major newspaper publisher.

The company has cut its staff and products, deeply and repeatedly, in an attempt to stay ahead of debt payments. In May, it also sold one of its most profitable newspapers, Newsday, to Cablevision for $650 million.

Tribune faces more than $900 million in interest payments over the next year, and a $512 million principal payment due in June.

Tribune filed under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, which allows it to continue operating while negotiating with lenders to try and reduce its interest payments and possibly its debt.

But in light of its shrinking cash flow, Tribune decided to file for bankruptcy in a Delaware court, with the urging of some of its major creditors who met with Tribune representatives over the previous three days.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Two ways to keep track of comments

A couple of observations on two comment apps that I'm finding useful.

1. I sometimes bounce around commenting on various sites then forget who or where they are, which means I can't check back later to find out how the conversation's progressing.

Some blog sites have an option to receive an email whenever a new comment is added to the thread, but most don't.

Enter Backtype, which showed up in a Google alert a couple of weeks ago and looks promising. Backtype aggregates comments and lets you find yours either by searching against your username or whatever blog/website you include in comment registration forms.

















If I type in my username I get a list of all the comments I've made where I've included Evolving Newsroom in the registration form.
Alternatively I can point my browser to http://www.backtype.com/url/evolvingnewsroom.blogspot.com to see the same list. Replace the evolvingnewsroom.blogspot.com part with another blog url and you should see their list.

It's a nice way to keep track of your own conversations and those on blogs of interest. Also good for getting a sense of where someone else is at (maybe someone trying to pitch you a story) - if you have a username you can see what someone's been saying, where and how often.

You can follow other users - the usual crowd are there, Jeff Jarvis, Fred Wilson, Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble, Tim O'Reilly, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin and ReadWriteWeb's Richard MacManus - and there's a public timeline of comments that you can browse.

You can also set up alerts similar to Google alerts. Type in the words you want Backtype to watch and it will send you an email as often as you specify listing comments that feature those words - useful for reputation management or keeping track of a news round.



















2. Adding Disqus to my blog has been a big help. Disqus adds a simple comment form (like those you see on Wordpress blogs) at the bottom of each blog post.

You get to choose what the form looks like, whether it includes avatars, enable or disable trackbacks and Seesmic video replies etc. And you can add a Recent Comments widget to a side bar. I found it much easier to manage all this with Disqus than with the Blogger system.

When a comment is made Disqus emails you with the comment and the option to reply to it by return email - which means you don't have to visit the site to hit the publish button.

Over to you whether you want to moderate comments before they're published or after, but Disqus has a nice little moderation app that lets you read just your comments or all comments on your blog, and mark any as spam, delete or jump to see them on the page.

The built-in spam filter seems to work pretty well - anything Disqus regards as spam is put on hold and an email sent so you can decide whether to delete it or publish it. I've had one spam comment slip through but the rest have been caught.

All in all, I like it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

News companies could do more to lead the conversation

I can't remember where I picked up this link to Seth Godin's post on how the New York Times could do better, but it's a goody. A couple of points from it:

1. Use their influence and brand to enable users to spread their content:
Why, precisely, aren't the Zagats guides a NY Times product? Or Yelp? That's a quarter of a billion dollars worth of value that the paper with the most influential restaurant reviews page didn't create. Why didn't they build Wikipedia? Or a platform to influence the way politicians govern?
Couldn't agree more. Surely news companies can make more of their brands by making their websites the places to go for all kinds of useful information and connections, rather than just the kind of information that's been defined as news for the past 50 years.

4. Keep score:
The New York Times bestseller list used to matter a great deal. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because bookstores discounted and promoted the bestsellers, which helped them sell more.

We still want to know what the bestsellers are, but the Times works hard not to tell us. There are literally a thousand categories of media that people want to know about (top blogs, top DVDs, etc.) and the Times abdicated their ability to keep score, to be the trusted referee and to drive the short head in almost every form of culture.

Consider this for a moment: Oprah is able to sell ten times as many copies of a book than the New York Times can. The Times abdicated their role as the leader of the conversation about books.

Again, I agree. The door's wide open for news organisations to lead conversation about everything from books to politics to what's on at the movies in localsville. That door won't stay open for ever - someone smaller and nimbler will nip in and take the lead.

To the 'top blogs, top DVDs' list of things people want to know about I might add 'top 3 blogging platforms, reference sites, bookmarking, task management and wiki sites' etc. There's nothing stopping me spending two weeks browsing comparison sites but I'd much rather someone I trusted gave me a useful steer so I could find what I need and get on with my life.

Much more in Seth's post that's worth a ponder.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I love the BBC's 'World Without' documentaries

The radio documentaries, aired by the BBC World Service, look at what we would be missing if everday mundane things had never existed. This week they look at copper.

"Without copper there'd be no lighting, electrical power for lighting, no radio, no renewable energy systems, no working automobiles, air conditioning or refrigerators, no digital electronics, no computing, no safe drinking water distribution...

"We each have just under half a fingernail of copper in our bodies..."
The last documentary was about Cows and included a UK farm run on Hindu principles and the cow's crucial role in the discovery and development of vaccines, among other things.

Brilliant.

In fact, BBC World Service Documentaries wins the RSS Feed of the Month award.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Telegraph.co.uk partners with Wesabe on personal money management site



















Telegraph.co.uk has partnered with Wesabe (a site that got a positive mention in Nat Torkington's 'Privacy and the Cloud' presentation I pointed to earlier) on a co-branded site that lets users manage their money online.

Here's one of the Telegraph's personal finance reporters giving it a spin, and here's the announcement from Wesabe.

Privacy and the 'cloud'

This is a slide show created by Nat Torkington about privacy online in the era of 'cloud' computing. Wish I'd been at the presentation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

'Why the Drudge Report is one of web's best designed sites'

This 37 Signals post about why the Drudge Report is one of the best designed sites on the web is well worth a read.

Here's an excerpt:

Breaking news is breaking news

Have you seen “breaking news” on MSNBC or CNN lately? Almost anything can pass for breaking news now. “So and so speaks to the press about this or that” is now breaking news. Breaking news used to mean something seriously big and important or spectacular just happened. But the major news sites have watered it way down. When I hit MSNBC or CNN, and they have a “breaking news” bar (red/yellow usually), it’s easy to ignore because they’ve cried wolf one too many times. But when you see a big honking red ALL CAPS headline with the flashing siren on Drudge, you know it’s newsworthy.

So true.

One guy can run it

The site is run by Matt Drudge full time with help from an occasional part-time contributor. If the site was 5 pages or 10 pages or 30 pages, he’d likely need additional people and technology to manage it all.


Staying power

People talk about timeless design all the time. But most things people point to that are timeless end up being time stamped. The Drudge Report, on the other hand, has proven timeless. It’s generic list of links, black and white monospaced font, and ALL CAPS headlines have survived every trend, every fad, every movement, every era, every design do or don’t. It doesn’t look old and it doesn’t look new — it looks Drudge. It hasn’t changed since at least 1997, and I believe the design goes back even further. How many sites can survive — and thrive — unchanged for a decade? That’s special.

It’s straightforward

There are no tricks, no sections, no deep linking, no special technology required. It’s all right there on one page. “But it’s a mess!” you could say. I’d say “it’s straightforward mess.” I wouldn’t underestimate the merit in that.

It’s unique

When you’re on the Drudge Report you’re on the Drudge Report. There’s no question where you are. The design has become iconic. How many other news sites can claim that? If you pull the logo off some of the other major news sites/networks (CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, ABC News, CBS News, etc.) you may have a hard time distinguishing them from one another. They all sorta blend into the same standard news-site look and feel. There are a few standouts, but even the NYT and the WSJ aren’t that unique. Drudge’s design stands alone.

This is important

Many news sites have lost their balls. They’re afraid to really call out one big story. They may have a leading headline, but it’s not all that obvious or different from the others. It may be a font size or two bigger, but it’s not confident. They hedge. Drudge, on the other hand, says “this is the story of the moment” with a huge headline. This is what’s important in the news right now and nothing else even comes close. Drudge isn’t afraid to be an opinionated editor and his site design perfectly emphasizes that. It’s bold, it’s risky, and it’s pure Drudge design.

It’s good cluttered

The Drudge Report usually leads with a “font size=+7” ALL CAPS headline in Arial. Sometimes it’s italicized. Sometimes, for something big big, he’ll cap it off with the infamous siren.

After that you have three columns. Some headlines are sentence case, some are ALL CAPS. Some have photos, some are just a plain text headline. Sometimes more controversial or sensational headlines are colored red. There’s usually a big ad at the top and a few other ads sprinkled among the columns.

Stories aren’t grouped or organized except probably more interesting ones up top. And that’s it. Your eye darts all over the place looking around for something that looks interesting. The design encourages wandering and random discovery.

The site feels like a chaotic newsroom with the cutting room floor exposed. I think that’s part of the excitement — and good design.

How NZ business sites stack up

From John Drinnan's piece in the Herald today about BusinessDay moving under the Stuff umbrella, here's the latest NeilsonOnline uniques for NZ's business sites:

"Over the past 15 weeks Nielsen Online Market Intelligence counted the average weekly unique browsers to business sites. They were:

* nzherald.co.nz/business: 187,000
* Stuff Business: 136,000
* National Business Review: 37,000
* NZX (with some Fairfax Business content): 33,000
* Yahoo!Xtra Business: 30,000
* Scoop Business: 18,000
* Interest.co.nz: 17,000
* TVNZ/business: 16,000
* BusinessDay: 12,000

"Comparing the average audience over the last four weeks to the average audience for the four weeks ended August 31, NBR grew its audience by 102 per cent compared with 17 per cent for BusinessDay.

"NBR's average for the last four weeks was 44,000 unique browsers, in March it was averaging 12,000. BusinessDay averaged 12,000 over the last four weeks.

"Both nzherald.co.nz and Stuff have continued to grow their business audiences over the same period, peaking in the financial meltdown."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PC Mag shuts print edition to focus online

PC Magazine's owners are closing down its print version in favour of focusing energies solely online. The Christian Science Monitor made the same decision earlier this year, and a number of regional newspapers in the US are trimming back on print, dropping one or two editions a week to save costs and free up cash for other development, including online.

PaidContent posted this story about the decision on PC Magazine:

Ziff Davis, the tech/gaming media company that recently exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is now taking the brave but inevitable step of closing down the print version of PCMag to focus its energy on its growing PCMag online network of sites, led by flagship PCmag.com. The magazine, which was started in 1982, has a storied history, but its print base eroded over the years as its core brand of journalism—news you can use while shopping for computers—moved online. It cut back from bi-weekly to monthly earlier this year. PCMag, which literally invented the idea of comparative hardware and software reviews, at one time during the ‘80s averaged about 400 pages an issue, with some issues breaking the 500- and even the 600-page marks, according to this Wikipedia history.
Thanks to Steve Outing via Twitter for the link. Steve had this to say on the decision:

"This morning I posted a few words to my Twitter account about PC Magazine’s decision to cease print publication…

"Tom Regan, a smart and talented journalist and media thinker I know, posted what I thought was a profound comment:

'I have a feeling that with the (Christian Science) Monitor and now PC Mag going in the online direction, it’s just the start of a tsunami over the next two years. The current economic situation, more than any other factor, will accomplish what a decade worth of net evangelism has failed to do.

"He’s so right."

Yes he is right, the economic situation will force the hand of hitherto complacent news companies to invest seriously in their online development.

That said, it's hard to see any sign of that process in regional New Zealand, where shovelware still reigns supreme.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pitfalls of citizen journalism

This is out of date but something I wanted to remember (and my blog's as good a place as any to store things I want to refer to later). It's a cautionary note on citizen journalism, and specifically on CNN's experimental iReport site, from Crowdsourcing author Jeff Howe.

"As many of you already know (certainly the readers of my book), I'm ambivalent about the usefulness of crowdsourcing in journalism. Today (October 3, 2008) proved my ambivalence isn't misguided.

"This morning a citizen journalist with supposed inside information posted a story to CNN's iReport site claiming that Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital with chest pains. Apple stock, unsurprisingly, dive bombed as a result, its fall only arrested once Apple spokeswoman Katie Cotton came out disputing the claim. (The story has been removed. Here's CNN's statement). (Update: Now the SEC has announced it will investigate the posting.) CNN wanted to give its viewers a voice. Instead it provided stock manipulators with one. Nice.

"I think the crowd make excellent sources and additional sets of eyes and ears, but I believe the future lies in carefully cultivated partnerships between professionals and their audiences.

"Examples: I'm a huge fan of Talking Points Memo and their TPMMuckraker project, am bullish on my colleague David Cohn's crowdfunded journalism site, Spot.Us. Both let professionals work the phones and write the copy, but encourage the crowd to do what it does best (unearthing data and marshalling support for underreported stories, respectively).

"Here's my point: I'm much less enthusiastic about straight-up, so-called "citizen journalism," in which readers are asked to perform the same duties as their professional counterparts, without any support or guidance from them. CNN's iReport is a case in point.

"CNN threw up a shingle on their Website, and asked its viewers to contribute their own reporting. This both diminishes the contributions of the amateurs by ghettoizing it onto the back of the bus (metaphorically speaking), and fails to hold it to the sort of standards that professionals must adhere to. Like, say, identifying yourself before posting a story that could cost shareholders millions of dollars.

"Anonymity has its place on the Web, and it might even have its place on news outlet comment boards (though that debate continues to rage). It does not have its place in journalism, per se."

I'm inclined to agree with Jeff on this - news organisations involving readers in generating, sourcing and analysing stories makes sense; hosting unedited websites written by unaccountable authors doesn't.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We're moving from news papers to news brands, says Rupert Murdoch

This is an edited version of Rupert Murdoch's Boyer Lecture, The Future of Newspapers: Moving Beyond Dead Trees.

TOO many journalists seem to take a perverse pleasure in ruminating on their pending demise. I know industries that are today facing stiff new competition from the internet: banks, retailers, phone companies and so on. But these sectors also see the internet as an extraordinary opportunity. But among our journalistic friends are some misguided cynics who are too busy writing their own obituary to be excited by the opportunity.

Self-pity is never pretty. And sometimes it even starts in journalism school, some of which are perpetuating the pessimism of their tribal elders. But I have a very different view.

Unlike the doom and gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights. In the 21st century, people are hungrier for information than ever. And they have more sources of information than ever.

Amid these many diverse and competing voices, readers want what they've always wanted: a source they can trust. That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future.

If you discuss the future with newspapermen, you will find that too many think that our business is only physical newspapers. I like the look and feel of newsprint as much as anyone. But our real business isn't printing on dead trees. It's giving our readers great journalism and great judgment.

It's true that in the coming decades the printed versions of some newspapers will lose circulation. But if papers provide readers with news they can trust, we'll see gains in circulation: on our web pages, through our RSS feeds, in emails delivering customised news and advertising, to mobile phones.

In short, we are moving from news papers to news brands. For all of my working life, I have believed that there is a social and commercial value in delivering accurate news and information in a cheap and timely way. In this coming century, the form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over.

The news business is very personal for me. For more than a half century, newspapers have been at the heart of my business. If I am sceptical about the pessimists today, it's because of a simple reason: I have heard their morose soothsaying many times before.

The challenges are real. There will probably never be a paperless office, but young people are starting paperless homes. Traditional sources of revenue -- such as classifieds -- are drying up, putting pressure on the business model. And journalists face new competition from alternative sources of news and information.

So we have a steady stream of stories such as The Economist covers declaring that "newspapers are now an endangered species". That's quite ironic coming from a successful and growing magazine that likes to describe itself as "a newspaper".

My summary of the way some of the established media has responded to the internet is this: it's not newspapers that might become obsolete. It's some of the editors, reporters and proprietors who are forgetting a newspaper's most precious asset: the bond with its readers.

When I was growing up, this was the key lesson my father impressed on me. If you were an owner, the best thing you could do was to hire editors who looked out for your readers' interests and gave these readers good, honest reporting on issues that mattered most to them. In return, you would be rewarded with trust and loyalty you could take to the bank.

Over many decades in newspapers, I have been privileged to witness history being made and printed almost every night. Today I'd like to talk about what these experiences have taught me and why they give me confidence about the future.

My intent is to use my experience to illuminate the way we need to respond to the two most serious challenges facing newspapers today. The first is the competition that is coming from new technology, especially the internet.

The more serious challenge is the complacency and condescension that festers at the heart of some newsrooms. The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted.

The condescension that many show their readers is an even bigger problem. It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception.

I became an editor and owner well before I had planned. It happened when my father died and I was called home from Oxford. That was how I found myself a newspaper proprietor at the age of 22.

I was so young and so new to the business, when I pulled my car into the lot on my firstday, the garage attendant admonished me, "Hey, sonny, you can't park here."

That paper was (Adelaide's) The News. Its newsroom was a noisy place. But it was noise with purpose. The chattering and pounding of typewriter keys reached a crescendo in the minutes before a deadline that was stretched beyond breaking point by gun reporters determined to get the latest, freshest version of a story.

That background music created an urgency all of its own. When the presses began to run, everyone in the building felt the rumble. And when the presses were late, the journalists felt me rumble.

READERS want news as much as they ever did. Today The Times of London is read by a diverse global audience of 26 million people each month. That is an audience larger than the entire population of Australia, an audience whose sheer size is beyond the comprehension and ambitions of its founders in 1785.

That single statistic tells you that there is a discerning audience for news. The operative word is discerning. To compete today, you can't offer the old one-size-fits-all approach to news.

The defining digital trend in content is the increasing sophistication of search. You can already customise your news flow, whether by country, company or subject.

A decade from now, the offerings will be even more sophisticated. You will be able to satisfy your unique interests and search for unique content.

After all, a female university student in Malaysia is not going to have the same interests as a 60-year-old Manhattan executive. Closer to home, your teenage son is not going to have the same interests as your mother. The challenge is to use a newspaper's brand while allowing readers to personalise the news for themselves, and then deliver it in the ways that they want.

This is what we are trying to do at The Wall Street Journal. The Journal has the advantage of having a very loyal readership -- a brand known for quality -- and editors who take the readers and their interests seriously. This helps explain why the Journal continues to defy industry trends.

Of the 10 largest papers in the US, the Journal is the only one to have grown its paid subscriptions last year.

At the same time, we intend to make our mark on the digital frontier. The Journal is already the only US newspaper that makes real money online.

One reason for this is a growing global demand for business news and for accurate news. Integrity is not just a characteristic of our company, it is a selling point.

One way we are planning to take advantage of online opportunities is by offering three tiers of content. The first will be the news that we put online free. The second will be available for those who subscribe to wsj.com. And the third will be a premium service, designed to give its customers the ability to customise high-end financial news and analysis from around the world.

In all we do, we're going to deliver it in ways that best fit our readers' preferences: on web pages they can access from home or work, on still-evolving inventions such as Amazon's Kindle (a wireless book reader), as well as on (mobile) phones or BlackBerrys.

I do not claim to have all the answers. Given the realities of modern technology, this very radio address can be sliced and digitally diced. It can be accessed in a day or a month or a decade. And I can rightly be held to account in perpetuity for the points on which I am proven wrong, as well as mocked for my inability to see just how much more different the world had become.

But I don't think I will be proven wrong on one point. The newspaper, or a very close electronic cousin, will always be around. It may not be thrown on your front doorstep the way it is today. But the thud it makes as it lands will continue to echo across society and the world.

Published in The Australian
Thanks to Adrian Monck for the link.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Timewise, I'm motivated to embus (and other frowned-upon words)

Every now and then newsrooms receive edicts banning overused phrases and ungainly words.

The use of access and impact as verbs springs to mind - something we were on constant guard against on the Business pages of the Daily Telegraph when I was there a few years ago.

Apparently, this is nothing new. The NZ Herald in its 1966 Manual of Journalism exhorted its writers thus:

"In recent years, without making them pass any sort of entrance examination, we seem to have admitted dozens of words which usually have little excuse for appearing in a newspaper. Some examples:

'Few air services operated yesterday because of fog.' Why not: 'Fog stopped most air services yesterday.'

'The Royal New Zealand Air Force will airlift food toIndia.' Why not: 'The Royal New Zealand Air Force will fly food to India.'

'The house is situated in Jones Street.' Why not: 'The house is in Jones Street.'

'The food position in India is desperate.' Why not: 'India is desperate for food.'

'The men were transported to Taihape Hospital.' Why not: 'The men were taken to hospital.'

Newspapers offer scores of such examples, and usually they reflect lack of thought or a limited vocabulary.

Some journalists go further. They, or the persons whom they report, invent new words without thought for the need, the look or the sound.

Examples are hospitalise, for admitted to hospital; embus or emplane, for board a bus or aircraft; a rental, for rental car; non-availability, for not available; motivation or motivated, for caused or driven or a similar word; upgrade, for improve; motorise, for by motor vehicle; weatherwise, hotelwise, publicity-wise, and goodness knows how many more wises. And goodness knows what they mean!
Back in 2008, here's the UK Daily Telegraph's current list of banned words, which include:

epitome of
Europhobe
fall pregnant
fighting for his life
frail grannies
green light
heartbreak
hit series
gunned down
hike (when we mean a rise)
huge
iconic
jaw-dropping

Monday, November 10, 2008

Get a leg-up by linking out

As a user, I love websites that point me helpfully in the direction of more information on the topic I'm reading about - maps, documents, background articles, related blog posts/news stories, definitions, how-tos, Wikipedia articles on economic theories etc.

News sites are often reluctant, however, to point people away from their websites, preferring to link to previous stories on their own site or, at a pinch, an external government document.

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has been having a blitz on the value he sees for news organisations in linking out. He's published a string of posts on the subject recently and is also tied up with Publish2.0, a tool for link journalism which lets you save links (related to your round, say), and share and publish those links. It looks interesting.




















In the spirit of link journalism, then, here are a bunch from my recent reading...

The first of Scott's recent posts to catch my eye was this one:

There are two main reasons why news sites are reluctant to send readers away by linking to third-party content. First, you shouldn’t send people away or else they won’t come back to your site. Second, a page with links that sends people away has low engagement, which doesn’t serve advertisers well. But if you actually look at the data, both of these assumptions are completely wrong.























How Newspapers Abdicated the Front Page's Influence and How They Can Get it Back by Linking

The front page of the newspaper used to set the news agenda. Extra, Extra, read all about it! But that influence has steadily waned through the TV and Cable News era, and the web now threatens to obliterate it entirely. So who sets the news agenda now?
Link Journalism in Action: Vols Game Coverage Roundup Most Viewed and Commented on GoVolsXtra.com

Yeah, fine, so Drudge gets lots of traffic for links, but we’re not Drudge, so it won’t work for our news site, right? Wrong. Here’s a case example from Knoxnews.com’s sports site GoVolsXtra.com.This roundup of links to coverage and commentary on the Vols’ loss to Florida was the MOST VIEWED article today on GoVolsXtra.com.

Why Every News Site Should Put a Continuously Updated News Aggregation on the Homepage

My post on Drudge beating all other news sites on engagement was an aha for many, which is interesting because the lesson of Drudge has been around for a decade. But the lessons of web publishing are all so utterly counterintuitive that I suppose they take a while to sink in.

Mainstream News Organizations Entering the Web's Link Economy Will Shift the Balance of Power and Wealth

The New York Times published an article this week about mainstream news organizations embracing link journalism and news aggregation. Gawker and others scoffed that they are late to the game, which they are, but that misses (predictably) the BIG story.

Guardian Launches Full RSS Feeds, First Media Company Not To Suppress RSS Adoption

And you can't go pass Jeff Jarvis for more insight into the link economy.

The link economy v. the content economy

Links can be exploited and monetized; get links and you can grab audience and show ads and make money. Content is becoming a cost burden, what you have to have to get the links, but in and of itself, content can’t draw value without an audience, without links.

The imperative of the link economy

1. All content must be transparent: open on the web with permanent links so it can receive links. It’s not content until it’s linked.

2. The recipient of links is the party responsible for monetizing the audience they bring. In the old content-economy model of syndication, the creator sells content to another and the one who syndicates has to come up with the ad or circulation revenue sufficient to pay for it. Now in the link economy, it’s reversed: When you get traffic, you need to figure out how to benefit from it. As Doc Searls said at the event: this is a shift from “making money with” to “making money because.”

3. Links are a key to efficiency. In other words: Do what you do best and link to the rest.

It's a link economy, stupid

In part two of his seminar to the Guardian, as part of the Future of Journalism series, Jeff Jarvis argues that links are worth more than content. (Guardian video)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Are you a good news ant?

From Everything is Miscellaneous:

The ecology of news works like this: Someone posts a bit of news on some site. That snippet may well come from a mainstream source, or it may not. But like a greasy crumb dropped on the sidewalk, it’s instantly swarmed by ants. The ants — that’s you and me, sister — point at it, link to it, explain it, deny it, make fun of it, connect it with something else, and send it or what we’ve made of it around the world. The morsel is gone, digested, appropriate. The ants are the media.

The mainstream are only noticed if they’re doing as good a job at being a news ant as the rest of us.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Country Calendar guide to storytelling

A week or so ago Frank Torley, the executive producer of Country Calendar, came to Hamilton to speak at Wintec's Media Bites function.

Here's what he had to say on why the programme's so successful and how the team go about telling stories:

"I don't know... I'd like to believe that the New Zealand public recognises quality.

"The beginning of that process is research. If anybody says 'Why is Country Calendar successful?' -- research, research, research. Keep doing it, find the story. What is the story, what are the people like, what else can we do?

"Having diagnosed, if you like, this is a good story, then we are the spoilt brats I suppose in so far as they do give us the budget to enable us to put the time and effort into making the programme.

"From the time of 'here's a story idea' to 'let's go and shoot it', may take a period of two or three weeks while we really look at it and make sure it all works.

"We then don't leave it to chance, we do have it mapped out. We write up those research notes so the producer can get a decent handle on the story and not just airy fairy 'oh, yeah, I reckon it'll work'. It's got to work, and it's got to be seen to work.

"And then comes a treatment so that you've got an outline. Planning, if you like. PPPPP as our production manager calls it. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

"And then we are given the opportunity to spend the time and ...we get the wonderful co-operation of getting top cameramen and sound recordists."

I'll try to pull out more from his talk a little later. It was really good.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Figuring out the building blocks of news communities

The prospect of (some) journalists becoming community managers over time continues to appeal to and intrigue me.

By that I mean journalists opening up the news gathering, reporting and analysis process to readers, allowing communities to develop around areas of interest - enabling people with expertise and views to contribute material for news stories on, say, how health is administered in the Waikato, or pest management in the Waitakere ranges. The journalist becomes a community manager as well as news gatherer and news writer.

Building communities, however, doesn't necessarily come easy. There are plenty of examples of companies that have started intranets which failed to inspire users; wikis introduced into classrooms that never got used. iYomu, a New Zealand based social network, failed to gain traction despite considerable resources. This StartUp article looks at iYomu's demise and at what makes another local example, Geekzone, successful.

So what of news communities? I like keeping an eye on the beat bloggers, a group of US journalists experimenting with using blogs and other social web2.0 tools to develop their beats, to see what they're learning along the way.

And I've just read a useful passage in Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. In a chapter looking at wikis, and particularly at why Wikipedia works as well as it does, he says that people have to care about the content to want to edit it.

Wikis provide ways for groups to work together, and to defend the output of that work [against vandals], but these capabilities are available only when most of the participants are committed to those outcomes. When they are not, creating a wiki can be an exercise in futility, if not an outright disaster.

One notable example was the Los Angeles Times 'Wikitorial' effot, in which the content of the paper's editorial pages was made available to the public. The Times announced the experiment in a bid to drive users there, and drive them they did.

A group of passionate and committed users quickly arrived and set about destroying the experiment, vandalising the posted editorials with off-topic content and porn. The Wikitorial had been up for less than forty-eight hours when a Times staffer was told to simply pull the plug.

The problem the Times suffered from was simple: no one cared enough about the contents of the Wikitorial to defend it, much less improve it.

An editorial is meant to be a timely utterance of a single opinionated voice - the opposite of the characteristics that make for good wiki content.

A wiki augments community rather than replacing it; a wiki will suffer form the Tragedy of the Commons, as the Wikitorial did, as individuals use it as an attention-getting platform, and there is no community to defend it.
There's a community development workshop running at Webstock in Wellington next February which I've signed up for - not because I'm managing a community or am likely to in the immediate future, but because it's hard to see how I can go on being involved in news and journalism education without understanding more about how successful communities work. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

'Source tagging' will help readers find news they want and trust

From time to time I make noises about adding context to news stories by including a reference/source list - who was spoken to, what documents, books, websites were referenced, even who initiated the story.

So I was chuffed today to read about a project under way to develop 'source tagging' technology.

Called Transparent Journalism, the project is the brainchild of Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust. It's being funded by the Knight Foundation's News Challenge programme and is consulting the BBC and Reuters about how to include 'source tagging' in reporters' daily workflows.

Here's the summary:

"With the copious amounts of information – and misinformation – on the Internet, the public needs more help finding fair, accurate and contextual news. This project will create a system to do just that.

"The plan: to design a way for content creators to add information on their sources to their reports, as a form of “source tagging.” For instance, a reporter could note that an article was based on personal observations, interviews with eyewitnesses or specific, original documents. Filters would then use this data - the “story behind the story” - to help find high-quality articles.

"A reader searching the phrase “Pakistan riots” for example, might find 9,000 articles. But filtering by “eyewitness accounts” would yield a more selective list."
This is a timely and hugely welcome development, in my view. Credibility is an increasingly valuable commodity online and this kind of transparency will help readers find news they can use, news they trust, and let them easily check the facts behind the news when they want to.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pneumatic story delivery















Another piece of nostalgia from the NZ Herald Manual of Journalism 1967.

Pneumatic tubes as a story delivery system within newsrooms were before my time but what a shame, they look cracking.

Monday, October 27, 2008

NZ On Screen is where you go to remember things you don't realise you've forgotten





















I've forgotten more TV shows and movies than I remember, which is what makes the new website NZ On Screen so good.

In the past 20 minutes I've stumbled across McPhail and Gadsby, the first episode of Spot On and It's In The Bag, none of which I'd thought about in years. Lots of years. (My, Selwyn Toogood had lovely enunciation.)

This is my first look around since the site launched late last week, and I'm sure I'll be back. Funded by NZ on Air, NZ On Screen serves as a repository for all manner of New Zealand movies, TV shows and short films over the years.

Or, in some cases, a repository of parts of NZ movies, TV shows and short films.

Often you can't see the whole movie, rather the movie trailer; and with TV programmes you get parts of episodes rather than shows in their entirety. Others, however, are there in full, and there are links to parent websites which hold more information on the content in question or offer it for sale.

The site strikes me more as a first port of call than a final destination for movie and TV buffs, but a useful one nonetheless.

I can easily imagine NZ On Screen becoming the first place I look for vintage TV footage, say, to use in a lecture or blog post. Especially since it's nicely laid out and commendably usable. Hats off to the creators.

It hurts that you can't embed any of the clips, a la YouTube, which is generally my first instinct whenever I come across something I want to share. (At least, I couldn't see a way to embed.)

But it's a fine start and with luck we'll see ever more content added and more of it available for embedding before long. My thanks to all concerned.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Journalists should 'think more about context than content'

Thought for the day (from Amy Gahran on MediaShift IdeaLab:

Today's journalists can -- and probably should -- consciously shift away from jobs that revolve around content creation (producing packaged "stories") and toward providing layers of journalistic insight and context on top of content created by others (including public information). Finding ways to help people sort through info overload is far more valuable than providing more information. Journos also should learn to cultivate and openly participate in public discourse -- something that provokes an inordinate and irrational amount of fear in the hearts of many traditional journalists. God forbid they acknowledge that they are, in fact, human beings with perspectives, opinions, and blind spots!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The journalist's toolkit circa 1967
























From the NZ Herald Manual of Journalism, 1967

Monday, October 20, 2008

Journalistic privilege - an NZ postscript

My post earlier today on journalistic privilege was based on reading Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody and the issues he raises are interesting and well worth a read, particularly those on the roles/rights of bloggers and who can be defined as a journalist.

But the book refers to US laws and practice, and Jim Tucker quite rightly responded to my post with a clarification about the situation in New Zealand, which I wanted to add here as a postscript:

Journalistic privilege means a lot more than just the "legal right to protect sources", and when it comes to that right, it applies only to our lower court (under the Evidence Act) but can be overridden at High Court and above.

Privilege applies to qualified privilege, which has many applications - protection in covering court and local government meetings, publishing official statements, covering Parliament.

It also applies to anyone's right to impart information, if there is an argument that the imparter has a duty to tell and the receiver has a duty to receive. It also applies to reporting political discussion (the Lange defence).

The whole point about this in countries whose law and media conventions are rooted in the Commonwealth is that everyone has the right, not just journalists. So [Clay Shirky's] argument might be a problem in the US, but it doesn't apply here.

Who should enjoy journalistic privilege?

The question of who should enjoy journalistic privilege - the legal right to protect sources - these days is not an easy one to answer given that it's no longer simple to define who is and who is not a journalist.

A related question is who should be given access to cover court proceedings and political conferences given that only so many journalists can be accommodated in a courtroom or catered for at a news or political conference.

Clay Shirky provides some food for thought on privilege and the definition of a journalist in Here Comes Everybody, which I'm finally getting round to reading.

Shirky notes the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a journalist is "a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television".

In other words, a journalist is defined by who they work for - the publisher - rather than by the work they do.

That worked fine when publishing was such an expensive business that only a few could afford to invest in the vast plant required to broadcast television programmes or print newspapers.

Journalistic privilege applied only to a relatively small number of journalists, which made it achievable for the legal system to "uncover and prosecute wrongdoing while allowing a safety valve for investigative reporting".

But now that we have the internet, anyone with access to a computer or a mobile phone and an internet connection can be a publisher.

"If anyone can be a publisher, then anyone can be a journalist," says Shirky. "And if anyone can be a journalist, then journalistic privilege suddenly becomes a loophole too large to be borne by society.

"Imagine, in a world where any blogger could claim protection, trying to compel someone to testify about their friend's shady business: 'Oh, I can't testify about that. I've been blogging about it, so what he told me is confidential.'

"We can't just exclude bloggers either. Many well-read bloggers are journalists, like the war reporter Kevin Sites, who was fired from CNN for blogging then went to blog on his own; or Rebecca Mackinnon, who was formerly at CNN and went on to cofound Global Voices, dedicated to spreading blogging throughout the world; or Dan Gillmore, a journalist at the San Jose Mercury News who blogged both during and after his tenure; and so on.

"It's tempting to grandfather these bloggers as journalists, since they were journalists before they were blogging, but that would essentially be to ignore the weblog as a form, since a journalist would have to be anointed by some older form of media.

"This idea preserves what is most wrong with the original definition, namely that the definition of journalist is not internally consistent but rather is tied to ownership of communications machinery.

"It would exclude Ethan Zuckerman, a cofounder of Global Voices with Mackinnon; it's hard to imagine any sensible definition of journalist that would include her and exclude him, but it's also hard to imagine any definition that includes him without opening the door to including tens of millions of bloggers, too large a group to be acceptable.

"It would include Xeni Jardin, one of the contributors to the well-trafficked weblog Boing Boing who, as a result of her blogging, has gotten a spot on NPR. Did she become a journalist after NPR anointed her? Did her blogging for Boing Boing become journalism afterward? What about the posts from before - did they retroactively become the work of a journalist?

"The simple answer is that there is no simple answer.

"Now that scarcity is gone... Facing the new abundance of publishing options, we could just keep adding to the list of possible outlets to which journalism is tied - newspapers and television, and now blogging and video blogging and podcasting and so on. But the latter items on the list are different because they have no built-in scarcity. Anyone can be a publisher."

And so it goes on.

Any thoughts?