Category Archives: ProPublica

False Joe Paterno death reports relied on faulty sourcing

I wrote a retrospective on how a student news organization falsely reported the death of Joe Paterno, a report that quickly infected mainstream outlets. My piece was co-published at Poynter and ProPublica, so, uh, choose whichever one you like better.

If you’re interested in learning more about the episode, there are three pieces I suggest you read:

Craig Silverman, of Poynter, approaches it as a breakdown of verification, not as a rush to judgment. I think that’s a more useful and relevant lesson to come from this.

Mathew Ingram, of GigaOm, gives Onward State its due for impressive transparency.

And be sure to read Onward State’s own autopsy, which quickly and thoroughly owned up to the mistakes they made.

Want Facebook virality? Put it in an image

(Note, 12/4/13: When I wrote this post almost two years ago, everything here was true. Now, much of it no longer applies.

The timeless summary: Experiment with different forms of posting, watch your own data, adjust based on what you see.)

“You can’t always control who walks into your life but, you can control which window you throw them out of.”

Sure, some people might overlook the misplaced comma and find it moderately funny. If you had made that your Facebook status, you might get a handful of likes.

Now take two minutes to put it in all caps in red Comic Sans on a black background, like so:

That has 1,087 shares as of the time I’m writing this. People like sharing photos. It requires much less of them than reading and digesting an entire story.

As far as journalists/social media folks are concerned, it means we have to look for opportunities to post our stories as photos, not links. Then you put a link in the description and reap the benefits of the increased virality.

I’m not suggesting you do this:

Rather, look for opportunities to create images like this:

The image came from a blog post by ProPublica’s on-fire Dan Nguyen. But instead of posting a link to the blog post, we posted that as a stand-alone photo, then linked to the full news app in the description. As of me writing this, it has 17,210 likes,  10,121 shares and 1,293 comments.

For comparison’s sake: on a typical ProPublica Facebook post, we get somewhere around 10-20 shares, likes and comments. When we first launched the SOPA Opera app, we posted the link and got 32 likes, 55 shares and 2 comments. Another posting later in the week got 69 likes, 73 shares and 14 comments.

Importantly, we’ve gotten a lot of traffic from people clicking through to the app from the link in the photo’s description. And we picked up about 1,000 new fans for the Facebook page, which is a huge chunk considering we had about 26,000 to begin with.

So the take-away: If you have great art, whether it’s a graphic or a photo, let it be the main attraction. You don’t have to post everything as a link. Imagine the missed opportunity if we had presented the same thing like this:

(Side note: If you wish to share this post on Facebook and you’d like to help make the point, you might consider sharing this image created specifically for this post.)

JOB: Social media producer needed at ProPublica

UPDATE: The position has been filled. Welcome, Blair Hickman!

I was recently hired as the social media editor at ProPublica, taking the place of the Guardian-bound Amanda Michel.

My first responsibility will be finding someone to join me.

We need someone who will be largely responsible for the day-to-day use of ProPublica’s social media accounts. Furthermore, we need a daydreamer who demands to be a leader in how an investigative newsroom can use social concepts to aid its reporting. We’re seeking experience in social media, but we also need someone who insists on coming up with fresh ideas. Read this recent interview for more on what we’re looking for.

Wanna know why I was attracted to ProPublica? It’s a Pulitzer-winning newsroom that focuses on investigations of “moral force,” so you know the work you’re doing is significant. Under Amanda’s leadership, ProPublica has a history of valuing social media and crowdsourcing. The news app team is an industry leader. In short: It’s a great place to do great work.

The position is full-time with benefits, and you will work out of the office in New York. We may have a fuller description available soon, but I wanted to get the word out there now. Please get in touch if you’re interested – email or Twitter – but also please accept a delay in my getting back to you. I’m still employed by and won’t tend to this during work hours.