Monthly Archives: September 2008

American Journalism Review writes about reporters on Twitter

Here’s a nice story by Laurie White for the American journalism Review: All the News That’s Fit to Tweet. Scroll down about halfway and you’ll see me quoted in this story about reporters who use Twitter.

Daniel Victor (@bydanielvictor), a reporter at the Harrisburg Patriot-News, says he was originally a Twitter skeptic, but is now a major fan. One of the more prolific tweeters at the ONA conference, he says he uses the service routinely to find stories.

“I use a combination of TwitterLocal and Tweetscan to find people from Harrisburg/Hershey,” he says, referring to third-party applications that allow searches of Twitter by topic and geographic location.

Victor never asks Twitter users he finds through these applications for story ideas. Instead, he finds them in their “normal conversation.”

“The key is, I don’t treat my Twitter account like I’m a reporter-bot,” he says. “I’m a full member of the community who goes to bars and tweets about the Eagles’ game just like them.”

She did a nice job with it, so there’s not too much to add. In case anyone doubts it, yes, I was very much a Twitter skeptic at first.

And though I certainly Tweeted a lot during ONA, everyone there knows Greg Linch was by far the most prolific. He easily wins the crown.

Laurie asked me if anyone has ever felt uneasy knowing they’re being followed by a reporter. I told her it’s only happened once (that I know of), and I offered to unfollow him.

I could be wrong, but I suspect no one feels uncomfortable with my presence because: A) They’re not going to Tweet about anything too scandalous anyway, and B) I’ve made clear that I’m a full participant instead of just some guy mining for stories. That’s why I made the reporter-bot comment…I am indeed a real person enjoying the community there as much as anyone else.

And these aren’t elected officials and campaigners hanging out on Twitter, these are everyday people who will occasionally lead me to interesting features. Or, for one or two of them, they’ve enjoyed having access to a reporter so they can send in a meatier story tip.

Even outside of the local users, I often find my ideas sharper once I bounce them around the global network of journalists I’ve built.

It’s great having that out-of-the-building network, both locally and globally. And for some of us, it’s even pretty fun.

Hopefully you’ll follow me if you’re not already.

Apparently I look like a blogger

If you follow me on Twitter — which you should be doing — you’ve already heard this story. But for everyone else:

After covering a speech Howard Dean gave to an SEIU conference in Hershey, Pa., I had a one-on-one interview scheduled with him. Since he was short on time, I ended up teaming up with two other print reporters for the interview.

As I walked in to greet him, he takes one look at me and says:

“You look like a blogger.”

I laughed, not particularly offended. “Is that a compliment or an insult?” I asked. He said it was a compliment.

Little did he know I’d actually be blogging about the exchange later on. Or maybe he did know.

So this all begs the question: What does a blogger look like?

I posed that question on Twitter, and there seems to be a near-consensus out there.

Elaine Helm came up with one word, which was surely the codeword Dean was actually going for: Young (I’m 24).

Andy Enders expanded the definition to include glasses (Yep, I’ve got those too).

Jared Silfies added “nerdy or geekish” to the picture (As for me…that’s debatable. At least let me think that).

Frances Civello said bloggers have a pasty complexion (Finally one that doesn’t hit me…I’ve got a decent tan).

Chuck Simmins said it’s a must to be wearing pajamas (Nope, had a blue button-down and khakis).

Davis Shaver said “their looks fall somewhere between Julia Allison and Robert Scoble” (Umm…sure, that’s me?).

Basically, anyone who’s seen me would probably agree that I look like a blogger, and this exercise seems to support that conclusion. Anything else to add to the list?

Thursday at the Online News Association conference: “I think I’m following you”

(For more on ONA08 as it’s happening, check for Tweets here. And I’ll be updating Twitter myself throughout the day. This is a quick, non-exhaustive recap as I don’t have much time before I need to catch my metro.)

Among the bloggers/Twitter users I’ve long talked to or read online and finally got to meet in person Thursday: Erica Smith, Elaine Helm, Patrick Thornton, Greg Linch, Kevin Koehler, Jay Rosen, Jim Ogle, Patrick O’Brien, Patrick Beeson, Josh Korr, and Chrys Wu. I’ve spotted a few more, and hope to track down others in the next few days. Always great to place a face, handshake, and some semblance of their off-line personality to a Twitter account.

The main highlight of Thursday — aside from meeting those folks — was the job fair. (Don’t worry, current employers, it was mostly out of curiosity and to see the state of the industry. I told everyone I like my current job.)

It really was an interesting glimpse.

The big newspaper Web sites — washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com — weren’t really seeking reporters with Web skills. They sought either a reporter OR a web person. As a reporter who has spent a long time developing my Web skills, that was disappointing to hear.

It was an enlightening conversation with Nancy Sharkey, the the senior editor of recruiting at the New York Times who also recruits print journalists. She said the Times hires most of its reporters as twenty-somethings, enabling them to grow up in the New York City pressure and the Times pressure, instead of subjecting them to it late in their career. She also offered this three-part checklist for any reporter who dreams of making it to the Times, saying that your clips should display:

  1. Strong analytical skills.
  2. Reliable breaking news skills.
  3. A unique, personal voice.

Other events of the day:

— One of the more interesting conversations came over lunch with Jim Ogle, who I’ve long followed on Twitter. As the general manager of , he’s found that using social media has really launched the participation on his site past the bigger stations in his chain. It was fascinating to hear what he’s done, and if I have time I might try to get him on camera to talk about it.

— Greg Linch delivered the line of the day when he spotted someone sit near us in a session. “I think I follow you” was his greeting. Greg effectively Twittered most of that newspaper-based session if you’re interested.

— I love the awkwardness of introducing yourself to someone who you follow, but the other person doesn’t follow you back. There’s just a quick head nod and an “Ah…” that’s priceless.

–At night, I walked over to a reception at the Newseum with Linch, Koehler and Thornton. It was a bit swankier than this small-to-mid-sized-town boy was used to. I’ve never walked in to an event through a tunnel of at least a dozen waiters staring at me and offering trays of wine.

But despite the fact that the money spent on the reception likely could have paid my salary for a year, it was great having a social opportunity with all the aforementioned bloggers and meeting a few more.

TNTJ: Review of The Journal and Courier Web site

(This is my contribution to the Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists blogring of young journalists. Our topic this month was to review our local newspaper’s Web site — but seeing as I work for the local newspaper and I am not dumb, I decided to switch papers with Meranda Watling, who has the same problem and suggested the switch.)

Though I’ve only been to the Journal and Courier site when linked there by Watling, the design is already known to me. Since it’s a Gannett paper, it looks just like other Gannett news sites I’ve recently visited such as The Des Moines Register, Cherry Hill Courier-Post or the Wilmington News-Journal.

The top of jconline.com, home of The Journal-Courier

— First things first: I really like the front page design. A lot. It crams an impressive amount of headlines on the front page, even “above the fold,” without feeling overwhelming. It simultaneously promotes the staff’s breaking news online and their work for the print edition. It doesn’t take a lot of hunting to get all the headlines I would need.

My favorite feature is the scrollable “Breaking News” box. A bit misnamed, yes, but effective in that you can scroll down at 11 p.m. and see headlines all the way back to early that morning. That works around the problem many other news sites have of listing only five or so headlines on the front page, which means the reporter who hustled to get an important story online at 10 a.m. might have her work buried by noon. No such problem here.

— Now, to an annoyance. After I clicked on a few stories, I got this dreaded screen that I mistakenly thought was left in the yesteryear of news sites:

Had I not been on a quest, I likely would have A) indignantly closed out the window, or B) Made up a bunch of stuff. But I work for a newspaper company, so I would never do such a thing. Everyone else, though, would just be highly annoyed by this extra gateway. I’m very skeptical that it would provide any significant, reliable information, anyway. That’s what analytics are for.

Also, an interesting wording in that description you probably skipped over: “To help us keep jconline.com available to all users free of charge, please answer the following questions.” Really? Gannett is openly suggesting charging for content is an option? And “free of charge” is redundant. It’s just “free.”

— Now, as part of the media elite, I have a lot of dispensable income that I’d like to spend somewhere in Lafayette. If only I could find a business somewhere trying to grab my attention. I should be able to check the front page of the biggest online news source in town and find someone who wants my ridiculous amount of extra money, right?

Nope. No ads. “Hey, maybe we should have ads on the front page of the site” strikes me as the 2008 version of the “Hey, maybe we should have a blog or two on the site” insight of yesteryear.

(UPDATE 1:57 p.m.: Meranda Watling points out that there are actually ads on the front page, but that I apparently have a very effective adblocker. Good news on all fronts.)

— One feature of the site that I’m very impressed by: The user profile. Take Jack Lahrman, apparently an active user of the site. Through that one link, you can learn a bit about who he is, see all of his blog posts and comments or leave him messages.

Doesn’t look like the community has really caught on to its usefulness, but as I’ve written before, it’s important to develop these profile pages. They’re going to be a key part of the future.

— Unfortunately, a big demerit: The site doesn’t promote its blogging very well. At first, I didn’t see any blogs linked on the front page, but I eventually found them by hovering over a far-down, small icon that I guess looks like a pen over a sheet of paper. If I didn’t happen to be specifically searching for blogs, I would have never found them. I don’t even get a link to the Purdue football blog on the Sports front — I have to actually go to the Purdue page for that.

Once I find the Purdue football blog, I’m disappointed to see the design has made it very difficult to enjoy. I need to scroll past the author’s biography to get to his content, meaning I’ll notice one of his favorite movies before I notice his insight on the football program. That content is awkwardly teased by just two sentences, which often isn’t enough to draw readers into an entry. And once I click on his entry, I again have to scroll past his who-cares bio to get to the meat.

That’s a lot of work this Web site is expecting of me, especially when some of the blogs are updated just once per week. Or if it’s the publisher and editor’s blog, once a month. That’s a shame, because I love reading blogs from editors and I think the readers would enjoy reading it more often.

— Other quick-hits:

Once logged in, it’s nice and easy to leave comments at the bottom of articles, and even easier to read other comments.

I don’t really understand why the second and third graf of each story is slightly indented. Kinda distracting and confusing.

The mobile site, as accessed from my Blackberry Pearl, is simple and quick.

I’m encouraged by a few podcasts that are evidently produced by the staff.

Like the blogs, videos are hard to find if you’re not looking for them. However, a video about a motorcycle was nicely attached to the story about it.

I can easily find a form to submit a story tip, or contact a specific person in the newsroom.

VERDICT: I give it a B-. If your priority is to quickly scan and access the news of the day, this site does it better than most out there.

What it lacks, though, is the kind of innovation that will push the newspaper’s brand forward. It has to better package its Web-only content and show why the site can become more than a place to stop for news.

Keeping online journalism away from the Underpant Gnomes

Someone recently asked me if I’ve come across any future business models for journalism that I felt passionate about.

My response: Hmm. Hmmmmmm. Um. Let me think here. Uh…Uh….No, I guess not.

I could talk or blog up a storm about the innovative new content that news organizations need to provide, or the innovative ways to gather that content. I am, after all, a reporter, so it’d make sense for me to offer more insight there. I have no business training.

But that elusive business model remains the elephant in the room. And many a reporter have joined me in putting our heads down, figuring out the content end of the equation, and hoping the folks with business degrees will figure out how we’ll continue to earn paychecks for creating that content.

Basically, Web-savvy reporters right now are the Underpant Gnomes. We’re getting better at gathering the underpants, but we don’t know how to turn them into profit yet. That Web content is providing very little revenue now, and we don’t know how it’ll produce more revenue in the future.

So at what point do those Web-savvy reporters take it upon ourselves to brainstorm some solutions? When do we expand our expertise to the business side?

I say “Now” sounds about right. I don’t have any answers, but I’d love to dedicate some energy toward finding some.

And the journalists who have already immersed themselves in the online culture are the ones best fit to see where it’s going.  The content-providers ought to be readying ourselves for that responsibility.

When the so-called curmudgeons ask why we spend our time on our Web site, I tell them we need to lay the foundation for the future. That even if we’re not making money on it now, we’ll quickly be thrust into deeper irrelevancy if we don’t maintain and even advance our brand as a news organization.

It sure would be nice to say “…and here’s how we’re soon going to make money off of it.” That would be a discussion-ender for just about any so-called curmudgeon.

I might not come up with any answers anytime soon — no one really has, so that’s nothing to be ashamed of — but I’m no longer going to consider it someone else’s problem.