Thursday, 11 December 2008

Tableizer: turn spreadsheets into HTML tables

This is wonderful. It's like an early Christmas present. So useful. What a lovely tool.

Of course, I didn't have a need right at this moment so to demonstrate it I just took a spreadsheet at random and had a go. Here's the result:

115 31/07/08 Code Convergence - Phase 1 Prepare a 'cookbook' - a guide on how to set up and install community server for a new market and a comprehensive lists of dos and don'ts for the future
145 03/10/08 Code Convergence - Phase 2 "Code refactor of SRS" [Medium Priority] - Some design issues with our single signon library that have increased the amount of time to identify and fix bugs during the past few weeks. There would be benefit to refactoring this feature but it might also be worth waiting until after the current convergence phase as there may be other changes required when upgrading to 2008/9 anyway.
150 10/10/08 Code Convergence - Phase 2 Flight Convergence - Home page enhancements
172 05/11/08 Code Convergence - Phase 2 SEO bug - in a forum click on a post - the SEO url rewriter creates the wrong url.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

Thought-provoking post by Alison Gow here: Headlines and Deadlines: Achieving a more transparent newsroom.

Alison reports that there were a few raised eyebrows in the newsroom over the decision to be completely open about the fact that the investigative work behind its article "Bullied" Liverpool council staff go on sick was not its own work but the result of a Freedom of Information request made through

I can understand why journalists would like to preserve the mystique of news-gathering but in the Web 2.0 world that's getting harder to do.

Still, at least the nationals can continue to pass AP items off as their own without people being the wiser.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The very model of a modern major newsroom

Brilliant post from Paul Bradshaw - part six of his model for the 21st Century newsroom.

This one includes six new journalist roles - a brilliant checklist (although in B2B there are of course, quite a few newsrooms which would be happy to have six journalists full stop).

Paul's six new journalist roles are:

  • The Aggregator-Sub
  • The Mobile Journalist (MoJo)
  • The Data Miner
  • The Multimedia Producer
  • The Networked Specialist
  • The Community Editor
Read the entire post here. Required reading for all journalists.

[It also links to this great article on Passive-Aggressive News Gathering which I hadn't come across before.]

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mumbai, twitter and the news

Seems like just about everyone has clocked Twitter as the breaking news-source of the moment.

Techcrunch has some interesting stuff and there's a thoughtful piece by Matthew Ingram about the question of whether or not news organisations should report tweets as fact.

It's something that struck me when looking at The Guardian's (abandoned) live blog which contained the entry:

One of the Australian victims has been named on the microblogging site Twitter.
That's quite a significant statement, especially if you happened to be a relative of the (alleged) victim.

Matthew Ingram argues:
Obviously, no one wants a loved one to be worried by false reports. But at the same time, chaotic situations result in poor information flow — even to the “professional” journalists who are working at the scene. First-hand and second-hand reports on Twitter are no worse. Should anyone take them as gospel, or the final version of the events? No. Obviously, at some point someone has to check the facts, confirm reports, analyze the outcome, and so on. News reporting and journalism are much more of a process than they are a discrete thing. But as I have tried to argue before, Twitter reports are a valuable “first draft of history,” and that is a pretty good definition of the news.
That's true, but I think that what those of us working in new media forget is that millions of people have either no idea or only a vague idea of what twitter is.

If you know what twitter is then you can calculate your response to take account of the cavils and risks; if you don't, and you trust the BBC (for example) as your source of news it's a different story.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Why editors don't like doing podcasts or video

A typically sensitive piece from my colleague across the pond on the fears of speaking and the preference for the written word. A wise starting point for anyone looking to encourage journalists into podcasting or video journalism.

YouTube Contest Challenges Users To Make A 'Good' Video

YouTube Contest Challenges Users To Make A 'Good' Video

Saturday, 8 November 2008

A masterclass in Internet forensics

Utterly absorbing account of how one man's curiosity about mysterious lawn signs advertising dating services led him to appreciate the brilliance of a $45 Million Internet business.

Essential reading for journalists who need to know how to prise information about the Internet out of the Internet.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The mischief of crowds

So, Rick Astley is the Best Act Ever.

The Rick Rollers have succeeded in getting Astley crowned in the MTV Europe Music Awards.

All credit to MTV which has been quite good-natured about it:

"We've been well and truly Rickrolled,” said Richard Godfrey, a senior vice-president at MTV and executive producer of the awards.
Sadly it seems that much of the voting wasn't true crowd-sourcing:
“People set up computer programs to bombard the website. They could be sitting in Croydon, but they made it look like they were voting from the Philippines. We put in all sorts of blocks because we wanted to be as fair as possible, but it made no difference.”
If true, that makes the victory hollow in a way that it wouldn't otherwise have been.

Still, all credit to MTV for taking it on the chin. What a shame that David Bowie didn't manage to summon up the same courage in 1990.

Bowie had announced that the set list for his greatest hits tour would be decided by a telephone vote. NME campaigned for people to vote for Bowie's cringingly awful 1973 hit "The Laughing Gnome"resulting in the voting system being scrapped.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Coming round to twitter

One of the mindsets of the mass media is that we do not understand "small" very well.

Our magazines are geared around substantial (if targeted) circulations and we send the same messages to all of them; our websites are optimised to attract as much traffic as possible.

And, if the truth be told, some of our attempts to introduce "community" have been hindered by our tendency to look for big numbers by using traditionally successful tools such as mass marketing emails.

We currently have the luxury of having three Community Editors who do not yet have communities to run, by which I mean they do not have community sections on their websites.

Together we have been developing what we're grandly calling a "social media outreach programme" which really means becoming part of the communities already out there and linking up with the (relatively few) people in their markets who are already hooked in to the whole social media thing.

It has been a very instructive exercise and the response so far has been positive. Twitter accounts have been set up by Computer Weekly and Contract Journal, both of whom have managed to achieve a tone and a restraint which are alien to our traditional publishing. CJ was even spontaneously applauded by one follower for not making the same mistake as its rival and twittering every article it publishes.

They have relatively few followers compared to the big boys but they are the right people. We've got a few other plans up our sleeves in a similar vein and I'm actually rather optimistic about our ability to think small.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Jeremy Clarkson row: the media will eat itself

Working for a large publishing company one's colleagues pop up unexpectedly all over the media. Cometh the plane crash, cometh the man (usually Kieran Daly or David Learmount).

Other editors pop up less predictably so I was delighted to see one of our folk quoted in the BBC's (non-)story about Jeremy Clarkson upsetting some people.

"Change gear, change gear, check mirror, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder. That's a lot of effort in a day," said Clarkson, who was test-driving a truck at the time.

So the BBC rings Truck & Driver for the industry view and our man on the ground refuses to teh fan the flames:

Will Shiers, editor of Truck & Driver magazine said "a small number of drivers were offended by the murdering prostitute reference".

"On the whole, I thought the show was really entertaining.

"If anything it succeeded in demonstrating to car drivers just how difficult it is to drive a truck."

Good one Will. The last thing we need is another tasteless overpaid BBC presenter "scandal".

Update: More insight from Will.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Now you can actually do stuff on Linked In

I've long marvelled at how LinkedIn has achieved such massive membership when it has so little usefulness in it.

Yes, of course I'm on it and I visit almost every day, but that's only because I was foolish enough to set up a Reed Business group for which my punishment seems to be that I must log in daily to approve applications for membership or risk indignant emails from prospective members asking what is causing the delay.

Anyhow, Linked in has now introduced applications and suddenly it has some actual functionality. All I've done so far is to use the Amazon app to indicate what I'm reading but I fear that my punishment for that will be that everyone will now realise what a dreadfully slow reader I am.

Anyway, Linked In says you can now:

Work collaboratively with your network.

* Box on LinkedIn: Share files and collaborate with your network.
* Huddle on LinkedIn: Private workspaces to collaborate with your network on projects.

Share information and keep up to date with your network.

* Amazon on LinkedIn: Discover what your network is reading.
* TripIt on LinkedIn: See where your network is traveling.
* SixApart on LinkedIn: Stay up to date with your network's latest blog posts.

Present yourself and your work in new ways.

* Google Docs on LinkedIn: Embed a presentation on your profile.
* SlideShare on LinkedIn: Share, view and comment on presentations from your network.
* WordPress on LinkedIn: Promote your blog and latest posts.

Gain key insights that will make you more effective.

* Company Buzz by LinkedIn: See what people are saying about your company.

Will try and explore today.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Getting the readers involved in shaping the news

I'm doing some work at the moment on web tools that journalists can use to make their jobs simpler and more effective.

So this piece - How Audience Input Shaped Our Financial Crisis Coverage - by Roland Legrand is very timely.

Legrand tells how his Belgian newspaper De Tijd used CoverItLive (for which I have nothing but praise and could be improved only by the addition of a transcribe-to-text feature, hint, hint) to enable the readers to play a part in the morning editorial meetings to help shape their coverage of the financial crisis.

I won't say much more except to urge you to read the article in full (I found it rather inspirational) but I'll quote this bit:

Journalists were bewildered by the stress of the extreme workload and massive influx of suggestions from the community. At the same time, they realized that there was a mass audience out there, making contact, looking over our shoulders as we wrote stories, sending in stories that could be useful to us, and sharing every shred of information they could find which they believed we should integrate in our newsgathering. They literally co-directed our coverage.
Our journalists have used community forums to achieve something apppraoching the same thing, but not CoverItLive which has the benefit of offering a real-time conversation. If we could contrive a way to get our readers together on a regular basis in this way we might have a radical new way to write for our audiences.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Lessons in Community

As Jim has pointed out, the Online Journalism Blog is running a series of Lessons in Community from Community Editors.

So far we have Shane Richmond from The Telegraph:

  1. The strongest community is one that belongs to its members
  2. Guidance is welcome, control is unwelcome
  3. The community has to reflect the values of its members, not its hosts
and from Mark Fothergill at The Guardian:
  1. Getting the tools right for the job are ultra-important, both front end and back end
  2. Define your role (and more specifically, the role of the moderation team)
  3. Deal with user complaints quickly
By some administrative oversight (for which, no doubt, no-one will be fired) I haven't been asked to contribute but (assuming that there's no point in repeating lessons that other people have already suggested) here are my three:

  1. A community is only really a community if it builds (or builds on) genuine relationships between the members. Otherwise it is merely interactivity. A corollary of this is that an online community needs to be focused around a common interest, need or passion (or simply "something in common")
  2. The most important tool for dealing with problems is your Terms of Use / Ts&Cs. If you are to deal effectively with problems of misbehaviour you need to be able to point to the rule which says the user can't do that. You will still be accused of suppressing free speech/being a Nazi of course, but at least you can justify your actions in removing posts, banning users etc. Spend a lot of time on developing the rules and lay them out in simple language
  3. Find ways to reward the best or most prolific contributors - this might be through a reputation system, increased rights, or simply highlighting their contributions in some way. Many users are driven to upload their photographs to the Farmers Weekly website in the hope that they will make it into the magazine. It's also true, of course, that one should aim to reward all contributors by ensuring that someone pays attention to them.

iPhone application generator

I've been thinking about simple iPhone apps recently - things which don't do much except provide convenient updates on the move. And hey bingo! Someone is looking at making that job a hell of a lot easier:

iPhone Application Generator Demo from AppLoop on Vimeo.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Video - quantity vs. quality

Excellent post from Colin Mulvany on the bipolar arguments regarding quantity vs. quality in newspaper video production including an excellent set of questions to ask yourself about why you are doing video in the first place and what the value of it is.

I'd like to believe that one could choose which way you go based on the priorities of the story you are covering. But I haven't tried phrasing such flexible values. Answers on a postcard please.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

AOP Conference News

Yes, I went to the AOP Conference yesterday.

No, I didn't blog it live.

Why not?

  1. This conference for online publishers was very coy about the fact that there was a free WIFI access code available; the only visible options seemed quite expensive. I could have put it on my expenses but I was feeling churlish in return.
  2. This conference for online publishers had a very slow WiFi.
  3. This conference for online publishers did not have power sockets at the tables so I could only use my laptop until the batteries ran out. Then I stopped taking e-notes and scrawled.
  4. This conference for online publishers didn't have an awful lot to blog about. And certainly nothing urgent.
  5. Lots of other people were blogging it quite adequately without my input:
I generally find conferences overwhelming so have a practice of making myself come away with a few take-home points of things I am going to actually do as a result:
  1. Add Wikipedia to the list of subjects of our community outreach programme. Our experts should be contributing to Wikipedia and we should get to know the people who are the key Wikipedia contributors in our business areas.
  2. Encourage more regular, scheduled video offerings in our markets (as opposed to ad-hoc ones)
  3. Assess potential video offerings in terms of VideoJug's breakdown: Life skills, Immediate need, Special interest, Personal issues, Weird and Wonderful, Expert Advice.
  4. Identifying Passion Points - we've been doing it wrong. Ask our research team to come up with a better way of doing it.

Farmers Weekly Interactive is online community of the year

Farmers Weekly Interactive was names the Online Community of 2008 last night at the
Association of Online Publishers Awards.

According to the judges:

"FWI demonstrated there can be a light-hearted approach to a b2b site, providing social interaction and community tools relevant to its members and pushing the business media boundaries with ‘muddy matches’"
I'm thrilled for them but not at all surprised. This pioneering team has worked so hard and so imaginatively to create a real online community around its core product Farmers Weekly magazine. RBI as a whole has learned much for them so congratulations to them.

RBI did very well at the awards, also bringing home gongs for Business Website 2008 (XpertHR), Business Online Advertising Team and the overall Business Online Publisher of the Year. One might almost say we wiped the floor with the competition. I'll allow myself a morning's smugness in the light of all the uncertainty.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Something lighter. But still a bit scary.

Historic "Blockbuster" Store Offers Glimpse Of How Movies Were Rented In The Past

Is news too important to be left to the market?

I don't get involved in the news side of our operations very much other than to try and seduce journalists into spending time interacting with their audience but I do, of course, see the doom and gloom every day about the future of newspapers in particular and especially in the US.

The ding-dong going on at Roy Greenslade's blog over the alleged declining news values of the Telegraph (among others) is interesting. As his mole describes it:

"To paraphrase, comment is cheap but facts are expensive. And I don't trust many media organisations to make the investment required to uncover new facts, which I believe should be the currency of journalism, when there is so much cheaper content available to them."

Among the accusations flying around is the notion that the Telegraph has a policy of recycling news from other papers. I have mixed feelings about this as a criticism (after all, it works quite well in the blogosphere). From the point of view of a Telegraph journalist it must be pretty depressing, but from a Telegraph reader's point of view it's probably neither here nor there - but on balance it's probably better to hear about something interesting that was reported in the Daily Mail (probably a bad example) the day before than not to hear about it at all.

Of course, even what we take to be quality journalism isn't always as good as it should be but as the economic pressures and online migration and the rise of free newspapers take their toll, you do wonder where it's all going to end.

For all its faults, thank goodness for the BBC. Is the news too important to be left to the free market? Or does the market just need to re-think - perhaps reinventing wire services and developing more co-operation between competitors (as local papers have done in the US).

But when I think about all this to much I get depressed. I refuse to accept the free papers in London (Metro, London Lite and whatever the other one is called; none of them noted for their incisive journalism) for what I grandly like to think of as ethical issues mostly do do with the waste. But the vast majority of the travelling public take them and at the end of the day the public gets what the public wants and the market delivers it. If they (in viable numbers) don't really want news, then what's the future for news?

Update: forgot to mention that this happened to day too.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Passion Points

Oops. I coined a new piece of jargon yesterday. Didn't mean to. It just slipped out.

I was looking for a way of describing both the people who are excited and the things that are exciting in our markets.

And out it came: Passion Points.

Let's look at the second instance: things. The Passion Points are the things that excite our audience. This isn't generally the day to day stuff of their business lives (our sites are all b2b remember) - it's the stuff that generates real passion and excitement.

In agriculture we refer to it as "tractor p*rn"; in road transport, it's big lorries. Boys and their toys, I suppose.

When encouraging user contribution or engagement, these passion points are the way to go - best return for least effort.

Of course in some cases, people are passionate about their jobs - it's a vocation. Our CareSpace community for social workers has taken off really well because these people are passionate about what they do (I'm reasonably sure they don't do it for the money).

The other application of Passion Points is people. Who are the journalists in our organisation that are really passionate about what they're covering? This is important because the biggest "threat" to our business as publishers comes largely from bloggers who are often passionate non-professionals. It's their passion that's makes them exciting and makes it difficult for "career journalists" (those who are journalists by trade and move from market to market writing about different things) to compete with them.

Luckily we have many impassioned and dedicated journalists working for us but I confess that when I was an editor here some years ago I would have failed the passion test; in those days we were only competing with other trade magazines.

But what about the people we employ who - although diligent and skilled - are not passionate? How do we help them compete?

I'm reminded of the late Bob Monkhouse's observation about success in showbusiness: "The secret of success is sincerity. Fake that, and you've got it made."

If only it were true.

The HRSpace Photo Poll and XpertHR recently launched their new community space aimed at HR professionals.

HRSpace is already building very nicely but while they the team are at the CIPD conference in Harrogate they wanted to take the opportunity to draw attention to it through something a bit different.

The result - a "photo poll". They're asking people to jot down the HR priority for the next 12 months on a card and have their photo taken with it.

Simple but effective on so many levels - real people, a smattering of text, easy to do and quite engaging.

View the slideshow of responses so far here.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Wall Street Journal builds walled community

Community 2.0 drew my attention to this article on ComputerWorld about the Wall Street Journal dipping a toe into the web 2.0 waters with a walled community which does the usual stuff - 0rofiles, form groups, add photos, interact with others - but only to paid subscribers.

As the article suggests, there are several reasons why this seems to be a bad idea - when you're playing a numbers game (which community is - the hard part is getting critical mass) you can't really afford to be too picky. Plus you can't invite your friends to join you there unless they too are (or become) subscribers.

On the other hand, the exclusiveness of such an online community does have its merits - keeping out the internet nutters, interacting with your peers in a safe environment.

We have some plans for experimenting on the edges of this approach in a couple of our markets so I'll be interested to know how WSJ's initiative fares. embraces chogging

The big event in the HR calendar is the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's annual conference which for yonks has been held in the spa town of Harrogate.

This year's (currently running) will be the last in the Yorkshire town so it's something of a milestone (Harrogate, on the other hand, transport-wise was always something of a millstone).

Anyway, I'm delighted to see that are chogging (live blogging) some of the sessions using They're doing a great job with it - here's an example.

CoverItLive made released quite a few enhancements this month and amazingly it is still a free service. New features include (I quote from their own email):

Private backchannel messaging for you and your Panelists/Producers: Now you can send a private message to the other people running your live blog without your readers knowing about it. In the past, many of you have had to use a separate messaging product or email to say things to each other like:
"Let me handle the questions today"
"I need to take a break for 10 minutes"
"Are you ready to go live with that Qik interview?"
This feature is particularly useful for covering a conference where someone is coordinating several contributors throughout the day.

Cosmetic changes that make a BIG difference:
- Pictures now come with a 'zoom' feature if there is a larger or higher resolution picture available (Gawker Media...that was for you)
- Pictures are now shown in the body of the live blog; not as a popup window (Liverpool Daily Post...that was for you)
- Polling questions are now shown in full in Replay mode; not as a popup window (No one asked for this, but it looks much better)
All they need to do now to make it fantastic is to introduce a feature which enables you to suck out the results into a text file so that you can offer an edited text version to your users (and to the search engines)...

Online tools for journalists

We had a meeting this morning to come up with a plan for helping each of our websites to move forward in whatever direction they want.

One of the proposals was for us to "give ourselves" to anyone who wanted us to help them make use of online tools in their journalism.

Happily there have been quite a few posts on the subject recently such as this one and this one to keep me up to date.

But every time I read of someone raving about something I've not heard of before, something inside me wants to cry out, "Stop! Please stop creating new social media tools! Please." I can't keep up. Never heard of dipity before, for example. Please don't make me get my head around any more.

Maybe I need a holiday. Oh, hang on, I just had one.

Oh dear.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

IT superheroes

I've been away for a while but I'm back. Lots of exciting progress here and things to report, but for the moment, here's a rather charming initiative by the search for an IT Superhero and some rather good video to promote it:

Friday, 29 August 2008

On David Hasselhoff

David Hasselhoff now has his own social network - Hoffspace.

Apparently it already has 14,000 members.

This is unfair.

Maybe we should employ a celebrity.

Steve Guttenberg is appearing as Baron Hardup in the Bromley panto this year.
I might try and sound him out about joining us.

Q. How do you know when you've got a real online community going?

A. They start writing poems about each other?

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Linked In: At last! something to do!

I've managed a group on LinkedIn for ages but - like much else there - haven't managed to find a way to let the members do anything other than join it.

But it seems that this will change:

This Friday, we will be adding several much-requested features to your group:

  • Discussion forums: Simple discussion spaces for you and your members. (You can turn discussions off in your management control panel if you like.)
  • Enhanced roster: Searchable list of group members.
  • Digest emails: Daily or weekly digests of new discussion topics which your members may choose to receive. (We will be turning digests on for all current group members soon, and prompting them to set to their own preference.)
  • Group home page: A private space for your members on LinkedIn.
About time!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Hoisting comments

I'm always on the lookout for ways of rewarding users by recognising their content in some way. Our community sites make a point of highlighting the most interesting photos, blog posts, forums etc.

Turns out we are missing a trick by not doing the same thing with comments and apparently it's called "hoisting comments". Like it.

Flicking through the back-story

The Online Journalism Blog draws my attention to a very cute new tool on CNN which lets users browse back through previous items relating to a news story.

For an example, take a look at this Anthrax story on CNN.

Monday, 11 August 2008

The Conversation Prism

The Conversation Prism
Originally uploaded by b_d_solis
A pretty and useful diagram of social media. Great for generating ideas for tools you can use.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Periodic Table of Videos

I LOVE this.

The University of Nottingham (no, stick with me) has created a video on each of the elements in the Periodic Table (I suppose technically that's poor English as there aren't any out of it).

Anyhoo. I love it because:

  • It's fun
  • It's addictive
  • It's interesting
  • It has a natural scope (all of the elements)
  • It is not news - it is information and hence will not age so rapidly.
  • It has its own site and its own YouTube channel to maximise exposure
  • The YouTube channel uses playlists in an intelligent way (e.g. Group XIII Elements)
If all of our markets could come up with a similarly "encyclopaedic" idea we would be laughing.

In the meantime: Here is the most watched video: Sodium.

The 10 Commandments of the Social Web

Essential reading from Nick O'Neill over at Social Times.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Comments on articles - desirable bar the undesirables

As Adam reports, we had an interesting exchange yesterday about journalists' discomfort with comments on articles.

Part of this discomfort is almost certainly a reaction to the unfamiliarity of being so exposed to criticism and/or feedback. I am reminded of Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington's first foray into blogging. Because he's Michael Billington and because they could, people laid into him and one can imagine the poor man's confidence being justifiably shaken by the whole thing.

As Adam points out, the problem for national newspapers' online audience is that they are not and can never be communities.

I hope that Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik won't mind me borrowing their famous and beautiful explanation (right) for bad behaviour.

Anyway, I hope that for most of the journalists the shock will pass and they will harden up. I vividly remember the first angry comment I received on a blog of mine and how shaken I was. But what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger (although it sometimes crushes you actually).

Anyway, the point of this post (at last!) is to reflect on what can be done - not only for the sake of the poor journalists but also for the visitor and the brand.

Et voila! Powazek offers 10 Ways Newspapers Can Improve Comments

  1. Require Accounts
  2. Set and Enforce Rules
  3. Employ a Community Manager
  4. Sculpt the Input
  5. Empower the Community to Help
  6. Link Stories to Comments
  7. Enable Private Communication
  8. Participate …
  9. … But Don’t Feed the Trolls
  10. Give Up Control
Now, I don't quite agree quite with all of these because I don't think newspaper websites are or can be communities.

But the comments underneath the post give some fantastic additional insights which I utterly agree with. For example
  • Do not give any truck to users who are unable to distinguish between "freedom of speech" and the freedom to be an offensive arsehole on someone else's website (I'm paraphrasing with that one)
And these recommendations from Robin Hamman:
  • a clearly defined purpose for hosting the discussion
  • a clearly defined set of rules - and staff or super-users empowered to use them
I think these are key. I really don't think publishers need to do so much hand-wringing about democratising comment. It's not a community; it's a website; it's their website. It may be interactive, it may be a "social medium" by virtue of the interactivity, but it's not a community.

It's your website. Set firm but fair rules about conduct and deal with transgressors of the rules firmly and fairly.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Is the value of content going up or down or both?

Andy Dickinson's post Time to get your head round fair use is more than fairly useful. Read it. It summarises the English (and Welsh? or UK?) law.

And it has also set me off on something of a tangent.

While the laws relating to copyright and fair use have not changed substantially, "custom and practice" undoubtedly have.

Thanks to Creative Commons I could illustrate a story about protests over Wrexham's proposed incinerator without getting up from my desk, let alone paying any money over to a photographer. All I need to say is acknowledge "CC BY SA"

In the blogosphere it is pretty much acceptable to quote the majority of another person's post providing you "pay" for it with Googlejuice (a link).

Most of our websites make their video embeddable which is implicitly an invitation to use it for free (in return for Googlejuice, natch) although I had an interesting conversation the other day with Debbie from "reprints & eprints". The roots of this department lies in our print history. Advertisers delighted to be written about in an article often purchase reprints which they send out to their clients. We charged for the privelege, of course.

Anyway, Debbie had a client which was featured in one of our videos and they wanted to put it on their own website. How much should she charge them?

My first instinct was to say "nothing" and then I wondered why that was? When did I stop thinking of content as having value? Has the value of content actually diminished? If so, how come? Perhaps I've been brain-washed by the social media free-for-all and have lost sight of it?

Of course, in some cases the value (or, anyway, the cost) of content has actually plummeted. Photography is the main loser here due to flickr, morguefile (from which the picture on the left is taken) and a thousand other sources.

Indeed, our purchasing department has just struck some incredible deals with image libraries and it's not surprising that Getty is trying to claw something back from the free image explosion.

Yet bizarrely many of the photographers we commission persist in clinging on to the copyright of what they produce for us. Freelance writers long ago recognised that the world was changing and that it was in their best interests to give us all rights to commissioned work, much to the NUJ's chagrin. But really: who would you rather buy a frying pan from? Someone who would only let you fry sausages in it once or someone who acknoweldged that you had paid for the frying pan and were entitled to do what you wanted with it?

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yes. I'm wondering:

  • Are we right to make all of our videos embeddable?
  • Is the culture of "use it but give us a link in return" really good value?
  • If the answers to these are "yes" and "yes", then where is the money going to come from?
Oh, by the way: my final, considered answer to Debbie in Reprints and Eprints regarding what she should charge the client was "whatever they're prepared to pay". I guess that's the truest value.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Speaking of "over there"...

Mark Easton, the BBC's home editor, saves the Churner Prize a job on his BBC blog:

After my post on Friday looking at the hospital admission figures for stab and gunshot victims in England, a story was widely reported that knife violence accounts for 14,000 people in Britain being admitted into hospital last year.

You may have seen it in the Independent on Sunday which claimed an exclusive and then almost everywhere else, including the BBC.

Well, I have checked out the story and discovered that the figure includes not only attacks but also accidental injuries from knives and other sharp implements. If one looks only at assaults with sharp objects (stabbings to you and me) the figure for the UK halves to about 7,000.

Yet at the time of writing this, the BBC News story still reports that "An Independent on Sunday investigation suggested that almost 14,000 people a year are injured in knife attacks" which while being the truth - the IOS did suggest that - isn't what you could really call the whole truth.

A one-off blunder or a symptom of blogs being "somewhere over there"?

Friday, 27 June 2008

Has Community Server lost its hearing or its bearings? Or both.

It will soon be two years since we put what was a huge amount of effort into selecting community software which would meet the needs of our website users.

Admittedly there was an element of boring "can we support it (ie is it .NET)" kind of questions which effectively auto-created a short-list but we have been more than happy with outcome - Community Server 2007.

Its functionality - forums, blogs, photo galleries and file downloads, plus a sprinkling of friends & favourites elements (although users haven't found much use for the latter) - generally outweighed the downsides - paucity of documentation, patchiness of support.

So we purchased two enterprise licenses, rolled our sleeves up and got down to rolling it out. The users have loved it and three of our titles- Flight Global, Community Care and Farmers Weekly now have thriving and active communities.

Since then Telligent (which owns the product) has shifted its focus towards the more commercial uses of its product (Personal and Business licenses are no longer available, for example). Community Server now powers the MySpace forums and can now be integrated with Microsoft's Sharepoint. Big league stuff.

That should be good news for us.

But somewhere along the way Telligent seems to have stopped listening to its existing customers.

To be fair it has always been quite difficult to get their ears: at one stage I resorted to emailing individuals only to receive auto-generated replies saying "You do not have permission to send to this recipient". Wonderful customer service.

But their most recent release - Community Server 2008 - suggests that they either haven't listened to their existing customers at all or possibly aren't interested in continuing to meet their needs.

Although it has some great new features (groups, widgetization of sidebars, a new focus on friendships), they seem not to have taken into account the way the implementations are being used.

One of the major bone of contentions is that the Photos and Documents sections have been combined into "media galleries" and in some ways that's quite attractive - media neutral, extensible and so on.

But for sites such as Flight Global which have a large user base uploading photographs to their Flickr-type personal galleries it is looking like a disaster - Telligent have removed some of the things our users really liked about it - having a personal, highly visible image gallery in which to show off their own photography, being able to watermark their pictures so that they don't get ripped off.

We are not the only ones to be concerned; there's considerable disquiet on the CS forums about the new media galleries.

I was struck by some recent blog posts from long-term supporter of Community Server - Ben Bosacker. In one he reports:

The project that I will be working on is using CS2007 and the customer has made a firm decision to not move to CS2008. The major reason that I and others are considering this is because upgrading to CS2008 is a major undertaking and it is also a major change from the original direction of CS.
And in a subsequent post he is clearly aghast at the architectural changes which Telligent has applied in Community Server 2008:
So, the bottom line here is that until CS2008 supports database storage for all objects, I cannot recommend its use to anyone. Stick with CS2007 if you have it and do not upgrade. If you upgrade, there is a very good chance that you will lose quite a few objects just like my client did. Also, the URLs for all objects have changed, which means any existing links to CS2007 or ealier objects would be broken after the upgrade. That in itself could cost you hundreds of hours of lost time to correct on large systems.
Did Telligent talk to any of their customers before doing this? Why have they not been clear about these implications of the CS2008 upgrade?

As holders of two enterprise licences (20 sites), I'm sure we aren't their largest client, but nor I imagine are we the smallest. Now that they have groups functionality on their website, perhaps they could set one up for their customers so that we can engage in a dialogue with them? Or just moan.

Actually, I think the sensible thing for me to do would be to set up a "Disgruntled Telligent Customers" community on Ning and see how we get on.

In the meantime, if you know of a great piece of community software that is based on .net do let me know. I have a feeling that there is a lot of work (again) for me on the horizon.

Electronic books

Sorry for the lack of communication of late - sometimes I wonder how people find the time to blog, I really do.

Anyway, slightly off-topic but I'm quite captivated by this report on the New Scientist blog about a new prototype electronic book. What's interesting is that this new prototype is more like a book than, for example, Amazon's Kindle because it is hinged like a paperback and apparently "initial user reactions were positive".

The two leaves can be opened and closed to simulate turning pages... When the two leaves are folded back, the device shows one display on each side. Simply turning it over reveals a new page.
What next? One you can drop in the bath? One which adopts a "more thumbed" appearance when you upload a much-loved book onto it?

Just looking at the video below I can imagine how comfortingly similar to a book it is. Strange. Counter-intuitive in many ways. Will electronic newspapers and magazines have to make similar emotional concessions to attract users?

Friday, 20 June 2008

Farmer Frank does live chat Q&A.

There's no stopping the folks at Farmers Weekly now they've discovered CoverItLive.

Last night they conducted a "live surgery" with their very own antediluvian agrilebrity agony aunt, Farmer Frank.

Highly successful, by all accounts, with more people pitching in with questions than the poor old boy could cope with.

An imaginative use of the chogging software by the Farmers Weekly team. Brilliant.

You can replay the Q&A here.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Getting a reputation

Thanks to Jim for pointing out this useful summary of reputation systems published by Yahoo.

We use several of these in our communities - sometimes all at once because we (by which I mean "I") don't really know our nascent communities quite well enough to know which (if any) pushes their buttons or - indeed - whether reputation matters to them at all.

But now that Yahoo has gone to the trouble of offering us a simple guide, maybe it's time to put some more thought into it...

10 Deadly Sins of B-to-B Publishing

"In a keynote at the 2008 FOLIO: Publishing Summit in Miami, Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton outlined the what he called the “10 Deadly Sins of B-to-B Publishing,” noting that he has committed every one."

In case you don't have time to watch the entire video, these are the 10 sins:

  • cosiness
  • technophobia
  • complacency
  • niggardliness
  • cowardice
  • dullness
  • under-performance
  • disorganisation
  • cluelessness
  • inferiority
One or two of them sound familiar...

Find more videos like this on FOLIO: mediaPRO

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

RBI Community Editors Live Chogging

From 9am today, three of RBI's Community Editors (with a little prodding from me) are live chogging (that's part-chat, part-blogging) their day here.

We would love you to take part by asking questions or offering comments and advice - no registration or login needed.

Why are we doing this?

Lots of reasons:

  • To show people inside and outside our business what an RBI Community Editor does (this is a relatively new role for a traditional publisher). Who knows - someone might even be inspired to apply for a job here.
  • To get input and feedback on our community management activities.
  • To test-drive the CoverItLive live blogging software.
  • If all else fails, to have a bit of fun.

Who are we?

Simeon Brody
Community Editor, Community Care's CareSpace

I became Community Care's community editor in July 2008 after several years working in news.

My main job is to look after CareSpace, the community bit of the website, getting involved in discussion, promoting it in the magazine and fighting off the odd anti social work troll.

Currently popular topics on the forum include child protection, care of older people and The Apprentice.

I'm also responsible for Community Care's internal and external blogs, letters, e-newsletters and audio and video content.

In my own time I enjoy making short comedy videos and wearing a false moustache. My favourite cake is a Bakewell Tart, closely followed by a Battenburg.

Stuart Clarke
Community Editor,

I moved to in June 2007 after an unfortunate sea bass incident meant that I couldn’t achieve my dream of becoming the next Ultimate Frisbee champion of the North of England.

My role is to manage the AirSpace community section of the Flight Global website – which includes forums, blogs and photos (an extremely popular section of our site) , plus I manage our 11 industry blogs (with more in the pipeline) and other community and multimedia content, such as video, social networking and social bookmarking.

I have been Community Editor for for a year now and have enjoyed the challenges of both learning a new industry and creating a sustainable online community. Each community is never the same, having its own drivers and quirks and qualities, so it has definitely required constant hard work and dedication to keep the momentum going. It has been exciting experience though, with plenty of new lessons learnt along the way!

In our first year we have achieved over 1,400 new users, which isn’t bad, but we see the potential that the site has and know that there is still a long way to go!

Isabel Davies
Community Editor, FWi

I moved to the job of Farmers Weekly’s community editor in July 2008 after eight years working on the title’s news desk.

My role is to manage the FWiSpace community area of the website – which includes forums, blogs and photos – along with editing the community section of FW magazine. This section can consist of up to four pages of letters per week and contributions from regular columnists.

Contrary to popular opinion, many farmers are online as they are happy to adopt new technologies - tractors are expensive, sophisticated machines – the job isn’t all chewing straw :-) .

Agriculture can also be an isolated profession, so the 3,200 registered users of FWiSpace find it a useful way to seek advice or just let off some steam. Photographs – particularly of large machines – are also popular.

I like to regard myself as part of the online community and not just the admin. I’m a farmer’s daughter so I enjoy and understand the subject matter and like to take part in conversations. Members are slightly perplexed by the fact that our offices are based in Sutton rather than a converted barn in Devon, but they seem to appreciate the glimpse of London-life that I offer them. I try not to mention that I am frightened of cows.

Andrew Rogers
Head of User Content development, RBI

I'm a bit of an interloper on here as I'm not actually a Community Editor.

My rather grand job title disguises the humble objective of encouraging our magazines and websites to create online spaces where their communities (what we used to call "readerships") can congregate and interact, share, blog or do whatever they want to do (within reason) with each other.

I've been working with the wonderful characters above to help our erstwhile somewhat traditional publishing company to gain understanding and confidence in what is generally called social media.

But really, of course, this is all about people - helping them communicate, share and even make friends. For a company whose traditional publishing activity is posting our readers a magazine every week or month, that's quite a culture change.

We are all learning every day. It sounds trite, but it really is very exciting to be working in this industry at the moment. Exciting and just a wee bit scary.

Before this role I was web manager for and before that a freelance writer and editor.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

RBI Community Editors Live Blog - Friday 13th June 2008

On Friday, 13th April (gulp!) some of RBI's Community Editors will be live-blogging their day.

We're doing it for a number of reasons: to raise the profile of Community Editors (and what they do!) in RBI; to explore further the potential of CoverItLive and to have a bit of fun.

As a visitor to the blog you'll be able not only to see what they are up to, but help them out with suggestions and ask questions.

Signed up to take part so far are:

To be reminded nearer the time, just fill out the form below:

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Farmers Weekly micro-blogging

Farmers Weekly has been inspired by the Liverpool Daily post's recent live blog experiment.

They are using Cover It Live to micro-blog their way through the afternoon.

I was most interested to read that one of the team has chocolates on his desk so I'm just popping down to see them and give them some encouragement. No other reason.

Measuring Engagement (101)

Ah well, time to bit the bullet, I think. I've been looking around for ideas on how to measure audience engagement and I've found this post by Ronald Patiro.

Lots of great ideas such as:

  • Visitor Engagement Index = (Visits) / (Visitors)
  • Take Rate = (# of Visits Taking Part in Desired Activity) / (Visits)
  • Repeat Visitor Share = (Repeat Visitors) / (Visitors)
  • Heavy User Share = (# of Visits with X or More Pages Viewed) / (Visits)
  • Committed Visitor Share = (# of Visits Lasting Longer Than X Minutes) / (Visits)
  • Committed Visitor Index = (# of Page Views in Visits Lasting Longer Than X Minutes) / (# of Visits Lasting Longer Than X Minutes)
  • Committed Visitor Volume = (# of Page Views in Visits Lasting Longer Than X Minutes) / (Page Views)
  • Bounce Rate = (# of One Page Visits) / (Visits)
  • Scanning Visitor Share = (# of One Minute Visits) / (Visits)
  • Scanning Visitor Index = (# of Page Views in One Minute Visits) / (# of One Minute Visits)
  • Scanning Visitor Volume = (# of Page Views in One Minute Visits) / (Page Views)
  • Average Order Amount = (Total Sales) / (Total Orders)
  • Sales Per Visit = (Total Sales) /(Visits)
  • Repeat Order Rate = (# of Orders From Existing Customers) / (Total Orders)
  • Order Acquisition Ratio = (Marketing Expense/Number of Orders) / (Marketing Expense/Visits)
  • Conversion Rate = (Number of Sales) / (Visitors)
  • Page Views per Visitor = (# of Page Views) / (Visitors)
  • Average Time on Site
Wish me luck.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Entrepreneurial journalism and the B2B brain drain

New ideas are forever popping into my head to add to the Digital Journalism Manifesto and the other night I (sadly) woke up in the middle of the night and wrote "The Digital Journalist Is His Or Her Own Brand".

What was in my mind was that a DJ with his or her own blog is really a brand regardless of which newspaper, magazine or website pays his or her wages.

Combine this with the fact that it costs practically nothing to set up your own website and you have to wonder how difficult it will become for "traditional" media companies to retain their best people for any length of time in the future.

Take the case of Harry McCracken, editor in chief of US b2b title PC World (no relation I presume to the UK retailer of the same name). He has announced that he is leaving to set up his own technology site which he will build from scratch and launch this summer.

As Paul Conley notes "That's big news for the world of B2B journalism" and "Harry is now the best-known business-media journalist to enter the world of entrepreneurial journalism" but he also goes on to say:

... in the past few weeks I've begun consulting with and/or offering advice and support to four different B2B editors who are building new products as they make plans to quit their day jobs before the end of the year.

But most interesting to me is that I'm in talks now with an entity that is interested in offering tools, a platform, ad-sales services and a revenue share to B2B editors who opt to take the standalone route (when and if I reach a deal with that group, I'll publish the details here.)
Interesting times, interesting times.

Why would anyone want to blog with us...?

I was delighted to read Robert Niles' article on Online Journalism Review: Five steps to encourage readers to blog on your website

As my regular reader knows, we have been rolling out Community Server across many of our websites. The original intent was merely to up our game in terms of discussion forums, but we have also been using the photo gallery and blogs functionality with some surprising results.

In Farmers Weekly Interactive (our first launch) we weren't sure whether to bother switching on the blog functionality. Would farmers really blog?

The answer, it turned out, is yes, yes, yes, yes and several more in that vein.

Robert Niles explains why people might decide to blog in one of our online communities rather than elsewhere:

Anyone can start a blog, for free and in minutes, using established and popular services such as Blogger and What would entice a reader to avoid those options in favor of maintaining their blog on your website?

The answer is one word: community.

Most readers, like professional writers, want an audience for their work. Putting a blog online isn't like putting a magazine on the rack at Borders. Starting a blog on Blogger, while technically simple, does little to put a writer's word in front of a potential audience. Promoting the new blog remains the writer's responsibility, and many fall short of the challenge.

Launching a new blog within an established website community, however, gives a new blogger a head start on promoting his or her work. Within the community, bloggers become the audience for their fellow bloggers' work. And if the blogging community is part of a larger content-driven website, such as an online newspaper, non-writing readers can more easily find and become fans of a new blog.
He then goes on to provide five steps for encouraging this which I won't rip off here; read them on his article.

Co-incidentally, we've been doing a bit of work lately on encouraging the people who are blogging on our community sites to do it more, faster better etc - this article is going to help us encourage even more people to blog with us, thanks Robert.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

"here is life after print — in fact, a better life after print"

A fascinating - and heartening - article in the New York Times about US technology publisher IDG.

The journey beyond print is uncertain and perilous, but the experience of I.D.G., the world’s largest publisher of technology newspapers and magazines, suggests that it can be done. A privately held company, whose magazines include Computerworld, InfoWorld, PC World, Macworld and CIO, it appears to have made a profitable migration to the Internet, with revenue from online ads now surpassing print revenue.
Last year they switched off one of their print editions to create an online-only title:

The biggest single step in the company’s online shift came on April 2, 2007, when the last print edition of InfoWorld appeared and it became a Web-only publication. InfoWorld, a weekly, started out as Intelligent Machines Journal in 1978; I.D.G. bought it a year later, and it has long been one of the company’s flagship magazines.

There were nervous months after the switch as the company awaited the reaction from advertisers and readers, but before long InfoWorld’s Web audience was growing and its business improved. Today, I.D.G. says, the InfoWorld Web site is generating ad revenue of $1.6 million a month with operating profit margins of 37 percent. A year earlier, when it had both print and online versions, InfoWorld had a slight operating loss on monthly revenue of $1.5 million.

The founder and chairman of I.D.G. says: “The excellent thing, and good news, for publishers is that there is life after print — in fact, a better life after print,”

Worth reading the article in full.

Storyboarding a multimedia story

I was looking for some ideas on how to storyboard a video interview, when I came across this instead.

It's a really useful piece by Jane Stevens on how to plan a multimedia story.

It seems like something that would be very helplful in getting traditional journalists to start thinking about stories in a non-linear (linearity being yet another skill which needs to be unlearned) way:

She suggests:

Divide the story into its logical, nonlinear parts, such as:

  • a lead or nut paragraph, essentially addressing why this story is important
  • profiles of the main person or people in the story
  • the event or situation
  • any process or how something works
  • pros and cons
  • the history of the event or situation
  • other related issues raised by the story

Instead of thinking "first part," "second part", "third part", "fourth part", think "this part", "that part", "another part", and "yet another part". It helps to avoid linear thinking. The home page comprises a headline, nut graph, an establishing visual (can be a background or central photograph, a slide show or a video), and links to the other parts, which are usually subtopics of the overall story.
She goes to give some useful ideas for identifying which parts of the story are most appropriate for:
  • video
  • still photos
  • audio
  • graphics
  • maps
  • text
  • interactivity
Terrific stuff.

Check out the full Multimedia Storytelling article here.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

How long do you want it?

[Back from hols. Yes, lovely thanks.] I don't talk a lot about writing on the web because - generally speaking - that's the comfort zone for our editorial folks - hence the focus on video and so on, but now there are some very interesting answers to that hoary old question: "How many words should a web article contain?"

Jakob Nielsen has done some analysis and found out some interesting things. Read it. But here are a few morsels:

On an average visit, users read half the information only on those pages with 111 words or less.

On average, users will have time to read 28% of the words if they devote all of their time to reading.

More realistically, users will read about 20% of the text on the average page.
Now, of course, none of this means very much but one might conclude that:
  • if you want people to read 55 words, type 111 of them.
  • if you want people to read more than 55 words, type at least 275 of them
  • or something
But I think what it really says is make sure you put the most important stuff at the top.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Shock! Horror! Publishers co-operate with each other. In Ohio.

Many thanks to Merenda for drawing my attention to this story about the "OHNO" agreement between newspapers across the state of Ohio to share their stories with each other.

The unfortunately acronymed OHio News Organisation is explained thus by Plain Dealer columnist Ted Diadiun:

It took a bit of doing because the competitive instinct is in every good journalist's DNA, and most of us would swallow our notebooks before we'd share what's in them with another reporter. We've spent our professional lives trying to keep other newspapers from getting our good stories. Now, we're giving them away.


In today's world, breaking news is measured in minutes, not days. It's important that we provide our readers with the best news report we can, as soon as we can, on our Web site and in the best and most current newspaper possible each day.

With the OHNO plan, each afternoon we and the other members post the stories our reporters have written on a common Web site that's accessible only in the eight newsrooms. From there, editors at each paper select which stories they want to run. So the Cincinnati Enquirer was able to give its readers our coverage on the National City bank problems, and our editors were able to pick off the Enquirer's coverage of Fifth Third Bank, which is based in Cincinnati.

That doesn't mean we're not competing. For example, both The Plain Dealer and the Columbus Dispatch have reporters working hard to break news about the sexual-harassment charges besetting Attorney General Marc Dann's office. The difference now is that when we get to a good story first, not only our readers get to see it, but so do readers of the Dispatch and the other papers.

It's worth reading Ted's column in full.

It got me idly wondering whether this principle (which seems to me to be a very efficient and grown-up way of doing things) could be applied to the kind of weekly/monthly business magazines that we produce.

Could, for example, Estates Gazette (which we own) share news with Property Week (which we don't)? Almost certainly not - they compete head to head in a way that newspapers in different cities do not.

But how about Computer Weekly teaming up with an IT title from the US or one operating in a specialist market that CW doesn't compete directly with?

Could it happen?

The curse of the "most viewed" list

Message to all journalists: Write more about Harry Potter!

These "most viewed" lists must be utterly depressing to a journalist who has slaved night and day to break a sensational story vital to the public interest and/or the future of the planet or even something just plain important.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Editors are more neurotic than readers

"58 percent of editors said letting journalists join online conversations and give personal views would harm journalism, but only 36 percent of the public agreed."

Nice to have some research back up this counter-intuitive claim that we've always assumed here. Of course, it's not quite as satisfying as saying that 64% of the public thinking that it enhanced journalism, but you can't have everything.

This research is from an Online Journalism Credibility Study.

Other interesting findings:

Some 70 percent of editors surveyed said requiring commenters to disclose their identities would support good journalism, while only 45 percent of the public did.

Expressions of personal views seem to help boost readers' interest and trust in Web sites, said John `Bart" Bartosek, editor of The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., and chairman of the credibility committee for the AP managing editors group.

"That's contrary to most of the traditions we've all grown up with, to keep our opinions, viewpoints and personal lives out of our story," Bartosek said.
Somewhere in there is something about readers feeling more trust when they feel they know the person behind the journalist (c.f. blogging).

Thursday, 17 April 2008

I'm a Churner Prize nominator!

One of my blog addictions (along with icanhascheezburger, obviously) is the Churner Prize, a website in which journalists expose lazy journalism - particularly the over-reliance on press releases.

They justify themselves thus:

Journalists are becoming churnalists. Denied the time, money and resources to do the job properly, many hacks now churn out stories without checking facts or sources. But it’s not their fault, and the best worst best churnalism is worth celebrating.
but in my view being funny and lifting the skirts of the press is justification enough.

Anyway, I'm quietly proud because while doing some genuine research about The Archers (Ruth Archer is talking about starting a blog) I stumbled across some rather miffed Archers fans complaining about the bare-faced cheek of the Daily Telegraph in stealing their quotes.

I thought they had a very good point and knew the Churner Prize folk would hit each nail on the head. They have. Thanks guys.

Monday, 14 April 2008

What value Twitter?

What a peculiar business. My head hurts.

Rocketboom founder Andrew Baron is auctioning his Twitter account here on ebay.

The value theoretically lies in the number of people following him on Twitter. That number has gone up since he put it up for sale. At the time of writing, he has 1,595 followers and the bidding is at $1,235.

I'm not bidding for it. Microblogging does my head in. It just makes me want to scream "Make it stop! Make it stop!" Ironically, Rocketboom expresses it well for me:

Mind you, sometimes it has its uses.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

What can make print more compelling than online?

I paraphrase, but that is basically the question behind Mindy McAdams' blog post for which she asked three journalism professors who teach magazine courses to tell her the top three magazines they would choose to subscribe to in printed form, no matter how good the Web site for the magazine was.

As publishers of business magazines with both printed and online versions, it's an issue that becomes more urgent by the day here. If people can get the information they need (this is business publishing) easily online, we have to focus the print products on the things that print does best, that is compelling - things such as being able to read it in the bath, to use as a badge (Look at me! I'm reading The Economist!) and, well, something to line the budgie's cage with once you've finished reading it.

So Mindy's question is an excellent way of pursuing this thinking.

My three?

Well, I don't read magazines much any more. I'm even giving up my Time Out subscription because it no longer delivers much in the way of value to me. What do I read?

  • The Times newspaper every day (well not ALL of it) because I have 45 minutes on the train to work and I like to browse the paper. And do the crossword on the journey home.
  • I used to read Vanity Fair every month, but I just don't seem to have the time any more. Anyway, that's one that - if I read it at all - I would read regardless of how good its online offering were
  • Ummm. That's it.
In fact, I'm amazed to find that I don't read magazines any more. I hadn't realised.

I think it might make a rather interesting meme - Adam, Jim, Piers, Dan, Martin?

Friday, 4 April 2008

The role of the features editor in a digital world

When we talk about the digital journalist it is most often in the context of news reporting (because statistically most of our staff journalists are news people.

But in the back of my mind I often wonder where to begin in describing the role of the features editor in an online context.

Well, here is a good place to start. It's a Reuters online "feature" called "Bearing Witness" to mark five years of the war in Iraq.

It features a timeline, maps, photography and so on and while it's not unflawed (does the whole thing have to be in Flash? How irritating!) it's an excellent illustration of what a good online feature looks like (i.e. not 1,500 words with a few links thrown in).

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The tyranny of print

A lot of journalists in our organisations have responsibility for creating content both for magazines and websites.

Many of them have a tendency or an instinct or a mania to focus on print and fit in web stuff in between. As one web editor colleague disconsolately told me yesterday, his heart sinks when he hears (all too frequently) the words, "bung it up on the web".

In trying to understand this behaviour I often talk about the "tyranny of print". There are six main elements to this:

  1. DEADLINES. Print has very firm deadlines; web doesn't. If you don't get your pages to the printer on time, you're stuffed.
  2. ALLOCATED SPACE 1: If you don't fill your magazine it's going to be pretty obvious - empty pages or an overdose of filler ads.
  3. ALLOCATED SPACE 2: Unless you are covering a very slow moving area, you just can't put all the news in your magazine, so you have to make the best decision you can about what to put in or leave out. It takes time and care.
  4. FRONT PAGE: Most of our magazines have a news front page or at the very least a news lead. This means finding something worthy to put on it. Hopefully something exclusive (and the best way to assure that is to sit on stories)
  5. IT'S FOREVER: Once printed, you can't change a magazine: every error - factual and grammatical is recorded forever. The web is a more indulgent mistress.
  6. SOMETHING TO HOLD: The reward for all your hard work is a new "thing" that you can pick up and hold. Like a baby, it's a part of you and you can show it off to people proudly. Websites are more like monsters which devour your young articles as soon as you give birth to them - watch your lovely story work its way down the news page and into the oblivion of the "more" link at the bottom of the page.
But you know, now I'm thinking that the real failure is not the tyranny of print - it's our (by which I mean "my") failure to get people engaged with web to the same degree that they are engaged with print.

Ironic given the title of this blog.

How all I've got to do is figure out how...