BusinessWeek.com sees social media as key

In an interview with econsultancy.com, BusinessWeek.com Editor in Chief John A. Byrne discusses the site’s strategy for engaging readers. Byrne says that “We have one overriding goal: to have the deepest and most meaningful engagement with our audience than any other business site in the world. … We see engagement as core to what we do and how we do it.”

In the interview, Byrne makes it clear that the days of one-way communication are over:

Journalism, by and large, has been a product produced by writers and editors and delivered to an audience. That was fine when there was no technology to allow journalists to engage in an ongoing dialogue with readers and to allow for true collaboration between the writers and the readers.

What journalism needs to become is this digital age is a process that embraces and involves your audience at every level, from idea generation to reporting and sourcing and finally to the publication of the article when the journalism then becomes an intellectual camp fire around which you gather an audience to have a thoughtful conversation about the story’s topic.

If done well, that conversation, orchestrated by the writer or editor of the article, has as much or more value to a reader as the journalism itself.

Byrne notes that BusinessWeek.com has 28 blogs and more than 60 Twitter accounts, and cites a favorite example of how one of his writers used social media to great effect:

[S]enior writer Steve Baker … wrote one of the very first articles in the mainstream media on Twitter. But rather than writing that story and delivering it as a finished product to our readers, he engaged the audience in a novel and creative process. He tweeted the topic sentences of his story and asked his followers to tweet back the sentences they thought would logically follow his.

Steve used his blog to report on the back-and-forth of this process to make it accessible to a broader audience who could participate via Twitter or Blogspotting, Steve’s blog on our site.

The result of all this was a much better story on Twitter based on engaging his audience in the reporting of the story.

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Newspaper survival tips stress multiplatform reporting

In “12 Things Newspapers Should Do to Survive,” Vadim Lavrusik offers a range of suggestions for “what newspapers should be considering in order to survive and evolve with today’s technology-driven, short-attention-span world.” At the top of his list is “Putting web first and reporting from multiple platforms.” He explains:

Reporters need to focus on primarily gathering information and how to present that information in multiple formats: websites, mobile platforms, social networks and finally print.

The reason? Technology is changing the way people consume news, and though many are still getting their news through traditional print outlets, many others are shifting to get their news through various media, such as television, mobile phones, and the web.

Other tips focus on creating community, integrating real-time reporting and creating content for mobile devices. A good read with lots to get class discussions rolling.

Washington Post ends hyperlocal experiment

One of the most visible experiments in hyperlocal journalism came to an end Aug. 21 when The Washington Post shut down its LoudounExtra Web site. The site was designed for “Loudoun residents, organizations and businesses and feature community news, events and sports sometimes reported on by county residents and local bloggers,” according the The Loudoun Independent. Rob Curley, a key force behind the site, said on its launch in 2007 that “To us, LoudounExtra.com goes beyond the bells and whistles of community-publishing tools. It represents a real partnership with local residents.” However, Curley and most of his team moved to the Las Vegas Sun shortly after LoudounExtra launched, and it never gained traction with the community.

The future of the newspaper? Maybe it’s the nichepaper

A pair of recent articles discusses the role of the nichepaper in the future of journalism. In “The News About the Internet,” Michael Massing recounts recent attacks on the Internet as leeching content from traditional sources. But Massing say critics fail to acknowledge an essential truth:

Over the past few months alone, a remarkable amount of original, exciting, and creative (if also chaotic and maddening) material has appeared on the Internet. The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news. And unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they will hasten their own demise.

In “The Nichepaper Manifesto,” Umair Haque elaborates on some of those experiments and christens them “nichepapers.” The name is somewhat misleading, since like Massing, Haque also is talking about online journalism. But his definition is clear: “Nichepapers are different because they have built a profound mastery of a tightly defined domain — finance, politics, even entertainment — and offer audiences deep, unwavering knowledge of it.” Haque details eight essential rules and four models for such nichepapers. It’s a lot to digest, but it’s very important work.

Abandoned blogs and one-Tweet wonders

Debate rages about how “sticky” social media are. While it’s one thing for the average person to abandon a blog or Twitter account after an entry or two, that’s a practice that journalists should not emulate.

Writing in Salon.com, John Swansburg and Jeremy Singer-Vine look at the phenomenon of Orphaned Tweets:

After examining some 300,000 Twitter accounts, a Harvard Business School professor reported last week that 10 percent of the service’s users account for more than 90 percent of tweets. The study dovetails with recent analysis by the media research firm Nielsen asserting that 60 percent of Twitter users do not return from one month to the next. Both findings suggest that, thus far, Twitter has been considerably better at signing up users than keeping them.

Meanwhile, the same thing happens in the blogosphere, as Douglas Quenqua notes in “Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest.” He writes:

According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.

Judging from conversations with retired bloggers, many of the orphans were cast aside by people who had assumed that once they started blogging, the world would beat a path to their digital door.

The take-away lesson for journalists here is that persistence and engaging writing are the only ways to make your blog or Twitter feed a success.

Hostage situation raises question of withholding information

The EditorsWeblog considers the question of when news media might be right to withhold information from their audiences. The case in question concerned a New York Times reporter, his driver and another reporter who were taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The blog reports that “Thanks to the efforts of New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, for seven months news of the kidnapping did not enter the public domain. Fellow newspapers understood that lives were at stake and nobody was willing to compromise Rohde’s safety by breaking the media silence. In addition, the Times attempted to keep information about the kidnappings from their reporter’s page on Wikipedia:

Within days of [David] Rohde’s abduction, attempts were made to edit Rohde’s Wiki page with the news and so it was that a virtual tug of war began between the NYT and the online encyclopaedia. For seven months, unidentified individuals tried to update Rohde’s entry with the information only to have this erased. Eventually, a joint effort involving Catherine J. Mathis, chief spokeswoman for the NYT and Wikipedia CEO Jimmy Wales, among others, led to a temporary freeze of Rohde’s page, making editing impossible. No sooner was the function reinstated that new efforts were made to add the details.

The blog asks an important question about the Times’ efforts:

The media blackout that took place is probably to be credited for delivering Rohde to safety, but what does it say about the media’s lack of partiality? Keller and his colleagues thought long and hard about their options, ultimately concluding that a hostage as currency is worth less without the exposure. Yet, did this decision represent a disservice to other reporters in the region? Were their lives at risk because of NYT’s choice to look after one man? A reasoned answer is that if news organisations were able to keep the news from spreading, they were very likely able to inform colleagues on a need-to-know basis, particularly if any employees were operating in the same area without risking any leaks.

Of more concern is the inconsistency of news outlets when it comes to dealing with kidnappings when a terrorist organisation is at the helm, as the Poynter Institute’s Bob Steele points out: “Would a news organization apply different standards in the case of a government diplomat or a business executive or a tourist than they would one of their own?” asks the ethics instructor. Invariably the answer seems to be yes, insofar as non-media hostages make the headlines, although often with the support of the relevant families. In this particular case, the NYT made the best decision it was able to under the circumstances and perhaps saved their man in the process. After all, a human life is always worth more than a newspaper’s quest to remain impartial.

Blogger ruled ineligible to use shield law

Bloggers may find themself with no protection when they are asked to name anonymous sources, if a recent case becomes precedent. Techdirt reports that blogger Shellee Hale “tried to claim that she was protected under New Jersey’s shield law, which allows a journalist to protect sources.”However, the judge in Hale’s case “ruled that Hale is not protected by shield laws because she has ‘no connection to any legitimate news publication.'”

The Techdirt posts notes that

This is troubling for a variety of reasons. First, it leaves open entirely to interpretation what exactly is a “legitimate news publication.” The judge seems to think it only applies to old school media, saying: “Even though our courts have liberally construed the shield law, it clearly was not intended to apply to any person communicating to another person.” Sure, but that doesn’t mean that an individual who posts something in the pursuit of reporting isn’t media as well. It looks like Hale will appeal this decision, and hopefully other courts will recognize that you don’t have to work for a big media organization to be a reporter any more.