Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Year of the Blog (Part I)

I've just realised this blog has notched up its first anniversary.
Where has the time gone? So I thought it was an opportunity to take stock, consider how blogging has helped me become (I think) a better journalist and what I've learned.
Please forgive the naval-gazing and, yes, it's going to take more than one post.

February 2008
Blog debuted after a week of learning about social media on the Trinity Mirror Journalism Leaders course at Uclan, where I also got introduced to Twitter. Of 13 newbies on my course, four of us are still tweeting.
I thought a blog might help me learn about Web 2.0 and the potential it offered for journalists. I wasn't sure what to write then Vernon Scott, who started me off as a journalist (as opposed to a teenager who turned up and typed inaccurate pieces of copy then went drinking) died and I posted a tribute to him. I miss him still.
What I learned: Blogging is addictive; watching your audience grow makes you want to deliver better blog content - your readers make you up your game; you can teach old dogs new tricks, but some don't want to learn, and you can't force them.

March 2008
Markmedia introduced me to Utterz (now Utterli) and I started building a network there, podcasting onto my blog and posting photos through it.
The idea of online tribes and forum building intrigued me so I asked Rob Marcus from Chat Moderators how newspaper social networks could succeed. His advice, in a nutshell, was:
1). Control freakery is as unattractive in newspapers as it is in people; take part, don't take over
2). Have a little humility
3). You only get one chance to make a first impression
I wrote/spoke 24 blog posts, made a blidget using Widgetbox, discovered SpinVox, Qik, Bambuser and bought an N95 (one of my most worthwhile purchases ever).
I also wrote this sentence...
I've got the editor's sign off to live stream conference on Qik

...but it turned out to be a little more ambitious than that.
What I learned: A blog is a great way to test out new ideas; making apps is a lot easier than it looks; building an online community takes time but the rewards more than make up for the effort; editors will take risks if they can see the potential benefits.

April 2008
In April I was back at Uclan, where I was baffled by Yahoo Pipes and marketing strategies. I tried Friendfeed (again) - some people swear by it, I just swear at it - wrote about Cartoon Avatar day on Twitter, a post which still brings massive amounts of traffic to my blog through the wonders of SEO, and started my own YouTube channel, with Nyx cat as my d├ębut film.
April, while not the cruellest month, was frankly a bit of a triviafest blog-wise. But writing posts and experimenting with new sites and tools was helping me learn new tricks, and test out new thoughts.
What I learned: SEO is really all about the headline; the long tail can be very long indeed; blogging is another way of thinking out loud - solutions often appear as you type; Friendfeed is, like Plurk, not for everyone.

May 2008
I discovered how far-reaching a blog post can be. A throwaway remark on an earlier post about artist Ben Johnson annoying the two Liverpool newspaper editors by describing the press as lazy led to him phoning them, apologising and explaining he meant the national press. I'd noticed a lot of traffic to the blog from National Museums Liverpool IP addresses and knew they'd been reading it, but it was an interesting development.
I also had an idea to live-stream a day in the life of the LDP. I posted my thoughts on Bambuser, describing how and why I thought it would work, and then pitched it to the editor. He said yes... David Higgerson suggested using CoverItLive, and we did it. The day was so much fun (and hard work).
What I learned: Liveblogging is a great way to introduce online social media to an un-networked newsroom; blogging has consequences - this might be my own personal blog, but what I write can have repercussions for my employer, and my colleagues; cultural evolutions can be exciting and engaging for both journalists and readers.

June 2008
The impact of how much knowledge is available through online networks really struck me this month. I wrote this
Contacts on my networks point me - either intentionally or as part of wider community sharing - at blog posts, sites, information streams and applications I would never have found out about on my own.

And it is one of the most fundamental reasons I strive to keep maintaining and building my network. It's very precious to me, both personally and professionally, and it has made me a better journalist, and a more aware, informed person.
June also saw the arrival of mini Superlambananas in Liverpool



(they were another SEO phenomenon for my blog) and I found Plurk. I loved it; I still do.
What I learned: You can write the most thoughtful, observant post ever but a headline with the words 'baby Superlambanana' is the best way to drive traffic to your blog; social media has made my real world network wider than I ever thought possible.

July 2008
Paul Bradshaw's Seemsic debate on the future of journalism provided some real food for thought and sparked a 5-point blog post that boiled down to this: Ask for help; embrace change; Listen to people; Evolve; Share knowledge.
I found Dipity's TimeTube and Mento (both of which I still use) and had a bit of a rant about newspaper forums and why most newspapers don't seem to build successful, thriving, friendly communities.
What I learned: Video is a great platform for debate; networked-journalists who use tools to tell stories are able to promote their work quickly and crowdsourdce/gain feedback much more easily; newspapers' online forums can, if not resourced, nurtured and engaged with, swing from being communities into troll ghettos where new users are in danger of being driven away (and believing that the forum represents the newspaper's own character)

August 2008
August was a Red Letter Month - I built my first Yahoo Pipe after being taken through the process by Paul Bradshaw. I was so happy I went on a bit of a pipe-building oddessy for myself and the office - whether colleagues wanted them or not. Among other things, I found Ask500people.com and started polling like a mad thing, tried out story-telling opportunities through Dipity and asked Twitter when newspapers should break exclusive stories online. I concluded 'Exclusive' means far more to us than our readers. I still believe that is true.
What I learned: Yahoo Pipes look more daunting than they really are; readers love timelines and so do reporters once you show them the rss feed makes them simple; the future is going to find us no matter what and the trick is to be ready for it. Some people aren't yet but they will be.

Phew! I think that's enough for now. Part II at some point.
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