Ethical Dilemma: Following Our Own Terms of Service

November 27, 2011 Leave a comment

A screenshot from the online discussion board at tampabay.com about the Norm Roche story.

Earlier this month, the St. Pete Times had a really interesting article about a Pinellas County commissioner, Norm Roche, who was posting snarky comments on the newspaper’s website. The comments frequently included racial connotations and other points of view that reflected poorly on such a high-ranking official.

In the Nov. 17 article that broke the news that Norm Roche was using the alias “Reality” to post on the St. Pete Times website, journalist David DeCamp wrote:

Times reporter noticed similarities between Roche’s public statements and those made by Reality.

This is the kind of observation skills that make journalists good at their jobs. It’s also all too easy to figure out the online personas of well-known public figures most of the time. But as some of the commentors on the original article and some follow-up articles, “outing” Norm Roche may have broken the Times’ own privacy policy. The privacy policy reads:

Use of Information by TampaBay.com. When we collect personal information about users, that information could be shared with advertisers, but only in the aggregate. We will never provide personal information on an individual basis to any third party.

This opens up a couple of important questions for journalists (especially journalists who are involved in their news organization’s online policy-making).

  1. Do the readers of the St. Pete Times qualify as third parties?
  2. Does the news value of exposing a public figure making irresponsible comments in a public forum take precedence over following your own privacy policy?
  3. If a journalist identifies a citizen on the forums through similarity of language, does that bypass the privacy policy, since it was not done through the identifying information collected through the use of a commenting account (such as name, email, IP address, etc.)?

I think these questions – and others also connected to the incident – are ones that should be discussed at the Times. And since journalists and editors there thought that their decision on the matter warranted a flurry of articles, I think it would also behoove them to publish an article or editor’s note about how they felt this journalism was done in conjunction with the privacy policy. I haven’t seen any explanation from them as of yet, but I think it would be interesting to know what discussions were had behind the scenes.

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Categories: journalism industry

As If In Response

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

As if in response to the post I made last night about Stumbling Up the Ladder, a friend links this quote:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Ira Glass

And I guess that’s the answer. We just keep experimenting and creating and trying new things until we discover something great.

Categories: future of journalism

Stumbling Up the Ladder: A Lack of Training

October 25, 2011 1 comment

A friend recently linked the article Stumbling Up the Ladder: Ad Agencies Neglect their Brightest Prospects with the comment that it’s not just ad agencies who are ignoring the young people in their company: it’s every industry. The friend who linked the article is a scientist who works in robotics.

And, of course, I”m a journalist. And while I’ve gotten some on-the-job training and been to a couple great conferences (mostly through school affiliations, though), most of what I’ve learned about the business and technology have been self taught.

There’s no money or time to go to conferences. Even local conferences are sometimes discouraged because of the cost of attendance. A great quote from the article:

But that was before chronic fear of recessions, ever-shrinking margins, and energy solely focused on the next quarter, redefined staff development as a “frill.”

And talking to young people throughout the industry, it seems like there’s a universal understanding that we’re on our own now. We may work for a particular company and a particular newspaper (or magazine, journal, etc.) but the emphasis on personal branding and multimedia projects above and beyond the call of duty aren’t necessarily because this new generation is self-absorbed and thinking only about themselves – it’s because no one else is looking out for us.

In the journalism industry, it seems like positions are being eliminated daily. People under 30 just aren’t making those next steps in our careers. I read recently that 70 percent of your pay raises will come in the first 15 years of your career. With this new dearth in leadership training, is that 70 percent lost to this generation forever?

I leave you with one last quote from the article:

Leaders are made, not born. And we’ve pretty much stopped making them.

So how does that jive with the future of journalism?

Categories: future of journalism

We Own It: The Opening of Legoland, Florida

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Our coverage area is what is usually considered “small towns,” despite the fact that our county is actually larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. Most people have to refer to the bigger cities of Tampa and Orlando when describing to people (especially outside of Florida) where they live. But Polk County became a well-known place this past weekend when Legoland, Florida had its grand opening in Winter Haven, the second-largest city in the county.

This was our story. It was happening in our regular coverage area, in one of the most well-covered areas in the history of The Ledger – the grounds of the former Cypress Gardens theme park, known for its southern belles, ski shows and the gardens.  So although we knew that organizations all over the world would be covering the grand opening, we wanted to make sure that The Ledger did the best job.

We did that by going social. Two journalists and a photographer were Legoland by 8 a.m. The park was set to officially open at 10 a.m. I was in the office, writing a continually evolving breaking news story based on pictures, Tweets and other information that was coming in throughout the day. By the time the park closed at 6 p.m., we had two photo galleries with a combined 73 photos in them and a story that had been updated almost two dozen times throughout the day and viewed about 30,000 times. Because the main picture in the story changed at least a dozen times throughout the day, we suspect that repeat visitors to our site realized the story was continuing to evolve and we got repeat clicks.

Here’s a summary of how we used Twitter to keep our readers informed throughout the day.

[View the story “Ledger Journalists Own Legoland” on Storify]

Categories: social media

Multimedia Workflow

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve recently started using Trax, a program that helps keep track of an article through various stages of the production cycle – conception, assignment, publication – and the elements that are attached to the article (such as videos, photographs or graphics). The unfortunate part of Trax is that it doesn’t have a good way to keep track of multimedia assignments.

While our multimedia is still being created in a limited capacity at my newspaper due to only one programmer being employed here and the rest of us online staff having other, specific duties, we like to incorporate various elements into our online storytelling like text, audio, graphics, polls, quizzes, databases, user input and other mechanisms. Many of these elements may be created/contributed by a variety of people in the newsroom. Thus, Trax doesn’t really work for us because there’s no good way to group projects together into one super project, or assign a single project with multiple elements to multiple people.

This got me thinking about our workflow and how it doesn’t work. I found this really interesting presentation by Ron Slyvester at Multimedia Reporter.

We’re about halfway there in terms of re-creating this workflow at our paper. I’ve been really please with how forward-thinking some of the journalists I work with are after I shared the usefulness of Tweeting and Facebooking to their carers. One veteran reporter here shared the idea of using Twitter as a note-taking service. He said that by the time he gets back to the office, his story is already halfway written – he just copies and pastes sentences from his Twitter feed.

What multimedia workflows do you use in your organization?

Facebook vs. Twitter: The Future of News Distribution

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

I referenced an Inside Facebook post, Facebook for Journalists: More Work Than Twitter but with a Bigger Payout, earlier this week in terms of the Journalists on Facebook Page. My earlier post was “Facebook for Journalists – A New Frontier to Distribute News?

However, the Inside Facebook post was much more thorough than just announcing a new feature on Facebook. It was a discussion about why journalists should be using Facebook (despite the higher rate of return cited to stories told through Twitter) and the advantages thereof.

It was a good piece. I just happen to disagree with it. I’ll have to take it point by point to really share my thoughts on the subject. That looks argumentative but it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be conversational.

First of all, the promise in the headline (“…with a Bigger Payout”) was not justified by the post that followed. There was no evidence that Facebook gave a bigger payout in terms of ROI, reach or influence than Twitter. There were a lot of assertions that were used to support the idea that there COULD be, but I’ll do my best to objectively evaluate those claims.

Twitter’s short-form nature means journalists aren’t expected to do much more than tweet the headlines and links to their articles, unless they also want to engage in discussion.

I’d say that almost all journalists want to engage in discussion. Yes, there are automatic feeds that send out an RSS feed of every article in a newspaper, section or other part of a news organization. But there are other news organization feeds that are hand curated and are used primarily as a way to instigate discussion. For instance, the @theledger feed has more followers than any of our other feeds, but we devote much more time to individual feeds that are hand curated to give interested readers a look at traffic conditions, weather, local politics, local business and local music. The journalists who run these accounts are specifically trained on how to engage readers and respond to inquiries, ideas or feedback. Many other large news organizations do the same thing on their hand curated Twitter feeds. In the end, if you’re just Tweeting headlines and a link, you’re doing it wrong.

Facebook on the other hand, requires journalists to craft compelling updates that stand out against the social content that is produced by their audience’s friends.

Yes, this is true. But the other major problem is that Facebook is considered as more friendly and conversational. I would argue that more people see Twitter as a professional tool and Facebook as a personal tool – one they use to look up their friends before a high school reunion or check up on how their cousin is doing raising her new baby. It’s not the place to go to find out what’s new in the world – it’s where you to go find out what’s new with the people you know. That sometimes collides into finding out your friends’ opinions and interests in certain world or local events, but these links are almost always generated from the content producer’s website itself and NOT a Facebook share function.

To have an impact on a user’s newsfeed, you need to have a directly influence on their lives (and, preferably, the lives of the people they went to school with, work with or live near). This is rarely done with a general news page – especially large news organizations who can cover several regional areas. Instead, you need to have a narrow focus to have a chance to break through to the interests of your readers. Probably several narrow focuses to more collectively harness the power of your audience.

Twitter does benefit from niche accounts, but overall news accounts can also do very well. That’s because Twitter is seen in more of a business capacity. People are there to specifically learn, share and click on links. Twitter is also a very skimmable medium – people continue to see the newest posts at the top of their feed with little interaction on their end. This is different from Facebook where people have to purposely click on “latest news” to see the latest content. Facebook users typically have specific tasks in mind when they visit the site, whereas Twitter has more of an on-the-spot “What am I going to find out today” mentality. So news content, even in a general, uncurated form, can do very well on Twitter.

There’s an air of mystery to the news feed that might be discouraging to journalists. WIth Twitter, if you tweet it, it will appear in a follower’s stream. But on Facebook, a journalist’s updates might not make it into the Top News feed, requiring users to actively sift though their Most Recent feed to find a journalist’s updates.

That’s definitely a major pitfall to Facebook versus Twitter for news and journalists – visibility. Because Facebook defaults users to the “Top Rated” updates on their homepage, updates from pages (like those that media companies would send updates from) may not appear. The algorithm is based on several things but includes how much you have interacted with that particular page/profile.

Many people, even if they are interested in the news or information an organization posts, don’t take the time to “like” the post or comment (although they may share it with friends). The algorithm is also affected by how many other interactions it’s gotten meaning that by the time it’s popular enough to be widely popular, it may also be widely out of date.

On the other hand, anyone who happens to be looking at Twitter five minutes after a news organization Tweets are likely to see the update. That’s more useful for news organizations who have a high pressure to be first.

Surprisingly, I haven’t exhausted this topic. Look later in the week for yet ANOTHER post on why I prefer Twitter over Facebook for breaking news, community engagement and professional networking.

Facebook for Journalists – A New Frontier to Distribute News?

April 11, 2011 1 comment

I saw this point from Inside Facebook about Facebook for Journalists: More Work Than Twitter but with a Bigger Payout today and commented on the blog post itself, but thought it was worth a mention on my own blog.

Inside Facebook’s lede mentioned the new Facebook page Journalists on Facebook. According to the post, Facebook created the community

In an effort to encourage the news community to use the site’s Page feature as a distribution and research tool.

Which is great. Journalists need a reason to use Facebook. More of our prospective users are on Facebook than on Twitter and, yet, most news organizations I’ve been in contact with seem to do much better on Twitter in terms of interaction, page views and clicked links. But the Journalists on Facebook page is currently not very helpful in spreading Facebook’s message. Currently, wall posts consist of mostly first-time journalists sharing self-promotional information (such as pages or blogs) and very little exchange of information or ideas on HOW to use Facebook in a reporting mechanism.

The most interesting thing on the page is a poll that Facebook itself put up asking “What do you hope to gain from the ‘Journalists on Facebook’ page?

Seven of the eight most-chosen responses on the poll indicate that journalists gladly say that they don’t have a clue and are hoping that Facebook, though its Journalists on Facebook page, will help to bridge the gap between the news content they have and the more personal content that people on Facebook seem to consume. Most people don’t use their Facebook as a way to get mainstream news – they use it as a way of getting a highly curated stream of entertainment from people that they a) usually know in real life and b) share certain personal characteristics with (such as location, education or workplace/industry).

So what are the secrets to cracking Facebook? Curated news feeds that are targeted to specific regions, industries and highly specialized interests. The Ledger does decently on Facebook, but Voices of the Gulf (a NYTRMG joint project that was started to share coverage about the Deep Horizon oil spill) does even better because it targets a specific population that either lives and works nearby the oil spill or  has passionate interests in the environmental aspects thereof.

I was planning on getting into the differences between Twitter and Facebook in terms of news distribution and dissemination but this post has already become longer than I planned. I’ll save it for later in the week but I’ll give you a preview: Twitter is better for news than Facebook, it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future and I will tell you why.