Best. Day. Ever.

April 4, 2011 1 comment
Tornado by Andy Kuppers

Sports editor Andy Kuppers was the first to contribute images of the tornadoes.

Thursday, The Ledger recorded its best day ever in terms of page views (our actual number was about 100,000 more page views than our last record-breaking day). I would argue that it was also our best day ever in terms of audience engagement, reader interaction and keeping the site fresh with breaking news content.

The morning was one of horrible weather – tornadoes were reported throughout the Central Florida area, along with high-speed winds, hail and lots of rain. We started putting together a report on the weather conditions early. As soon as it was safe to be on the roads, several reporters and photographers left the warm (relative) safety of the office and hit the streets.

What we did right:

  • Set up a gallery so we could crowdsource local photos from readers. This gave readers an easy way to tell their own stories and was also a boon for page views – almost 100,000 of our page views came from this photo gallery. It was also much faster to gather local readers’ photos of the storm than it took for our own photographers to transmit their pictures from the field and we didn’t have to waste time uploading photos ourselves directly after the storm.
  • Crowdsourced local reactions to the storm – our managing editor/digital put together a Storify using local Tweets about the severe weather. This got several thousand page views, showing it had an audience outside the local Twitter population.
  • Two reporters stayed at their desks, taking down information about damage, power outages and other consumer information. This gave us a direct link to readers and gave them a way to voice concerns.
  • We put together an interactive map of the county, showing where the tornadoes had been reported and with reactions of local residents to the storm and the subsequent damage.
  • We quickly changed the homepage when we got enough related pieces of media. This gave readers a way to see all the connected elements and showed that we were paying attention to the story as it changed throughout the day.

What we did wrong:

  • It took too long for our photographers to upload photos into our own staff galleries. Obviously, this had to do with the severe weather conditions and the fact that electricity was down in a significant portion of the county, but page views could have been significantly higher (I’d estimate another 50,000, easily) if we had gotten more than the dozen photos we had uploaded before the end of the work day, Thursday.
  • People were Tweeting about the storm while it was still going on but we didn’t put together the Storify until after the tornadoes had cleared. This means we had a two-hour window where we could have possibly been getting page views when we weren’t.
  • While we posted a few messages on our social networking sites – mainly Twitter and Facebook – we could and should have engaged our audience better on these sites. Linking more elements throughout the afternoon (instead of adding information to our original post on Facebook) could have gotten us more attention and page views. We didn’t flood our fans, but we could have given more updates throughout the afternoon and into the evening with relevant information.

All in all, it was a great team effort on the part of the multimedia team and the entire newsroom. We gave our readers a wide breadth of information about the severe weather and made sure to give them a chance to shape our coverage. We also learned better what to do next time when significant breaking news happens: Have a plan and execute it early.

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Social Media Spinning

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

All businesses sometimes  have to do damage control. Look at Southwest (and Kevin Smith’s Too Fat to Fly campaign) or the hundreds of other examples from recent years. And though more traditional journalists think that their newspapers, magazines and television stations should stay stoic and neutral through a crisis, the series of NPR gaffes in the last year show that media companies can and should think about ways to handle damage control, should a situation that warrants it arise.

So how do we deal with a crisis? If you’re lucky enough, you do it with humor and when bringing up a sense of nostalgia for readers.  A couple years ago, our restaurant reviewer wrote a pretty scathing review of a local restaurant, JR’s Bistro, which included this line:

A chef salad is $5.95. I got it to-go and opening the container brought Dr. Seuss to mind … green eggs and ham.

It had everything promised – ham, turkey, boiled egg, salad mix, tomatoes, onions, cheese, peppers, cucumbers and croutons, but the eggs had green rings and the salad mix was just iceberg.

JR’s Bistro could have written to the paper and complain, like many restaurants do. They could have treated Ledger employees poorly when they came for lunch (which they frequently did, since it was the closest restaurant to our downtown office). Instead, JR’s Bistro dealt with the blow with class. They renamed their chef salad “Trent Rowe’s Green Eggs and Ham Salad” and offered a special for it on Twitter the day after the review ran. They generated more local buzz for that move than the original review generated – and I heard several people order the salad when I would occasionally stop in for my own lunch.

And that’s how you do fabulous social media damage control. JR’s Bistro took bad situation and owned it – and gained much respect with their customers as a result.

Categories: social media

Why Ads on Twitter Don’t Compare to Ads on TV

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve seen them before – “celebrities” who Tweet an ad for a couple bucks. I usually don’t think much about those ads, but they annoy me greatly. Today, writer Joel Stein sent a Tweet:

I didn’t say anything or respond but I was kinda miffed. I thought about unfollowing but I hadn’t quite formulated why, exactly, seeing an ad in my Twitter (in the feed of a person I chose to follow) was so disconcerting until Joel followed up with this Tweet:

“Some people pissed I accept twitter ads. Curious why it’s worse than ads in Time mag, Vh1, time.com, sitcoms, gmail. Is it more invasive?”

Yes, Joel. It is invasive. Not because I’m pissed that I’m seeing ads in my Twitter stream. If ads were part of the Twitter experience – the way that Twitter was able to make money of this great micro-blogging tool that I’ve become so attached to – I wouldn’t mind very much. I already see ads in many of the free Twitter iPhone apps that I use to check my feed or send a quick Tweet by when I’m not at my computer. However, when I see an ad in my feed, it’s a feeling that someone has invaded my world. Twitter isn’t a passive medium like television or a magazine. Twitter is a carefully cultivated list of people whom I want to hear from. These are people in my community, in my industry and, yes, a celebrity or two who occasionally have relevant or interesting things to say.

I follow a couple hundred people on Twitter. I don’t read every message that comes though, even though I’d like to. When I’m trying to catch up on what I’ve missed since the last time I’ve checked Twitter, I often skim the page for pictures of people I know I’d like to see, no matter what and make sure I read them. Joel will no longer be one of those people. That’s not because I’m mad at him or what he says isn’t relevant to me anymore. It’s because the knowledge that he sends out Tweets that are advertising messages means that he’s no longer a top priority for when I need to get through a few hundred Tweets quickly. I’ll still follow him – he’s only sent out a handful of ads since I first started and they’re easy enough to skim over – but if the ads increase, he’ll be gone. There’s plenty of other comedians and writers on Twitter who don’t feel the need to make a quick buck by inserting an ad into their feed.

Why the Future of Journalism Requires More than Personnel Restructuring

March 8, 2011 Leave a comment

My newsroom is being restructured. We’ve been told that we’re going to be focused on the digital product above all else and the reorganization includes three new positions that will be devoted to a digital product.

Matt Waite, one of the core developers of PolitiFact, wrote a blog post today at Neiman Journalim Lab called, “To build a digital future for news, developers must be able to hack at the core of old systems.” This isn’t directly related to my point here – that change has to come in the process, not just the people, involved in a transition to digital. But it is tangentially related: Waite’s main complaint is that the talk about transforming journalism to a web-based product is just talk until our content management systems have the ability to handle the rich media we want to create in them – until the developers can tear apart our standard CMS and rebuild it into something better, stronger and more agile.

Knowing that, it’s entirely understandable why many of the people who manage newspapers — who have gone their whole professional lives with this rhythmic production model consciously and subconsciously in their minds — would view the world through that prism.

Our newsroom has started to experiment with specialized news apps – we’ve ramped up the number and breadth of databases we provide, we’ve created an online community for local moms, we’ve constructed an online product exclusive for local prep sports coverage and we’re in the process of developing both an entertainment portal and a hyper-local news site.  However, like Waite mentions, we’ve had to build these almost entirely out of our main content management system because the CMS is built with traditional news reporting in mind and doesn’t have the ability for any of the interactive or rich media content we dream about.

We could make the argument that we’ve got the people, the knowledge and the passion to create a better multimedia experience for our web users. But until we have the buy-in from corporate that involves a CMS that allows for that kind of interactivity (or the permission to use our own choice in CMS, like our private server for Ledger Data or our niche sites on Ning and WordPress), we’re going to be stagnant and working against our own vendors.

Oscar Predictions

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

I know, I’m always harping about LOCAL news and how resources should be saved for local projects, but some national events are of so much interest to our audience that spending resources on them seems like a fair return on investment.

Take, for instance, our Oscars contest. It only took about an hour to set up in CoverItLive. We’re not offering any prizes so we didn’t have to get permission from the lawyers. And it’s a fun event where people can compare their scores with other, local, people. The project goes live today, so I’m not sure what our ROI will be, but I’ll know more later today.

 

 

Tactical Facebook

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I sat in on a Social Fresh session yesterday about Tactical Facebook, and there were a couple things that were said that I think could be of interest to newsrooms at large.

The presenter was Ellie Mirman from HubSpot. Here’s just a list of facts and points she made.

The most valuable piece of real estate on Facebook is the news feed. The news feed for each individual is different and is made up from information from your network. However, the default view for your news feed is the top content. We want our content to make it into our followers’ news feeds to gain the most exposure. So how do we do it?

  • Affinity. Judged by interactions between your page and that particular fan.
  • Interactions. This is the number of interactions (likes or comments) that a particular piece of content gets from other people.
  • Timing. Almost everything in the top news feed items are from the last 24 hours.

Tips:

1. Post a variety of content. Obviously, this draws in a variety of audience members and increases the affinity score you get from each one. If I’m a person that likes video, attract me with video. Pictures, different types of news content, etc. Reach out to each one of your readers.

2. Respond to comments. Take advantage of any mojo that a particular post already has and increase the interaction. This increases both affinity for people who have already commented on the piece (meaning that they’re more likely to see postings from you in the future) and increases total number of interactions on the content (meaning more of yours fans/followers are likely to see that particular piece of content).

3. Target posts to locality. This produces a higher feedback score (which is number of interactions divided by number of impressions). This is probably more important for newspapers that have a wider audience reach.

3. Post content regularly and on a consistant basis. For companies, the optimal numbers of times to post new content for the highest number of interactions was determined to be once every other day. However, I could see that easily doubled for news organizations, meaning we should probably be publishing once or twice a day.

4. Post when Facebook users are on – which means outside normal working hours. Before work, after work and on weekends are the most popular times for Facebook so our social media strategy has to extend to that.

5. Don’t just promote promotions or special offers, but start a conversation about them. This is done especially well by big brands like Southwest and Starbucks. We should be encouraging likes and shares.

6. Post video links directly into Facebook instead of linking to a story that has a video. Brightcove can do this – just click on the “Share this video” link and copy the link there.

7. Photos directly on Facebook have more interactions than those posting on our sites and linked. This does open up issues of copyright, though, so we should probably discuss the pros and cons of this.

8. Measure what works. See what kind of different cotnent gets the highest percentage of impressions and interactions. Facebook interactions reports have recently been upgraded to give us more information.

9. Encourage users to submit their own content to our Facebook pages. This spreads our content and our brand to that person’s network.

Categories: future of journalism

Journalism Valentines

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

My Valentine isn’t a journalist, but he is a linguist and we’ve been dating long enough for him to get most journalism jokes. Take, for instance, the name of my blog about the future of the journalism industry. He and a journalism professor are just about the only people who have gotten the joke without it having to be explained (and everyone know that if you explain a joke, it’s no longer clever).

So when I started to find custom-themed Valentines this year (my favorite will always be a Starbucks one that says “I love you venti”), I gave him a couple journalism valentines. Here’s some of my favorites. All Valentines courtesy of 10,000 Words.