Friday, 27 February 2009

Final deadline at the Rocky Mountain News

The Rocky Mountain News is a paper I've admired for a few years now. Their soundslides have inspired envy in me, and their use of hyperlocal UGC showed UK papers like The Gazette the potential out there.
I thought it was doing a good job of future-proofing itself (horribly misplaced Twitter moment aside). I was wrong.

This quote by John Temple jumped out at me from the audio:
"There's always been an attitude of 'let's embrace opportunity, and let's embrace change"

Makes you think, doesn't it? As do the quotes from local people who speak so fondly of the paper (but don't buy it?). Brand means very little, I suppose, if what you offer is deemed worthwhile but not valuable by the consumer - be they reader or advertiser.

This film (and even if you don't want to watch it all, it's worth skipping to the end, past the credits, to see an apology that made me well up too) is from the Frontline Club blog - I've linked to the post but I wanted to do my little bit to mark the end of 'The Rocky' and the journalists who worked so hard to try and save it.




Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

I wonder, will the people of Denver miss the Rocky one day? There's a rather mean, but undeniable, part of me that really hopes so.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Year of the Blog (Part II)

I've started new chapter in my life as a journalist but I'm not alone in this - the collective newsrooms of the Liverpool Daily Post, Liverpool Echo, and the Merseyside weeklies are travelling the same road as me.
We've become (or, more accurately, are becoming) a single news-gathering operation, working together in what is being called the multi-media hub. It's hard work and confusing at times. It means I have a new job - Executive Editor, digital, for the Post & Echo - and so I guess it's an opportune moment to look back at the second half of my blogging year.

September 2008
One of the busiest months of the year, on reflection.
Comparing how the traditional news-gathering and story-telling methods were being enhanced, and in some cases supplanted, by Web 2.0 tools provoked plenty of debate. A lot of people I respect hugely said some kind things about the post, which was a relief as there were plenty of people I annoyed too.
I guess it would be a boring old world if we all agreed... but I am right, you know.
The Post & Echo liveblogged the visit of La Princess, the giant mechanical spider, in Liverpool with reporters tweeting and live-streaming, and Dipity's TimeTube, using using Flickr and YouTube tags, provided a great addition to the live blog.
I bought a Flip, had a rant about how deadlines constrain journalism, and considered the 13 Web online tools I find essential for my job, from Ask500people.com to YouTube.
What I learned: We are being given new tools to tell our stories and reach new audiences - use them and they will help you be a better journalist, connect more with your readers, find more stories and make your editor happy (if you don't want that, why are you in the job?); a Flip is a fun bit of kit that delivers great results and is confidence-building for journalists starting out making their own videos; when you enjoy your blogging it shows - and much of the pleasure that comes from blogging is down to the great conversations that spring up in the comments.

October 2008
A bit of blog washout really - work took over my life. I was leading the (rather sad) project to take the Daily Post from a 6-day publication to a 5-day one; and editing the paper most of the time as the merged news operation project began in earnest.
A blog post by Vicky Anderson about Steve Coogan's hopeless Echo Arena show led me to conclude:
1. Most of our online readers are from our circulation area - contrary to popular belief (in this case, they attended the show then turned to the blog to express their dismay at its quality)
2. Interacting through blogs can feel more natural to readers than forums
3. A blog post with relevancy is valuable to users
4. Blogs can create content for reverse publishing
The post started a great debate on whether reporters could/should write all their stories as blog posts online. For the record, I think they should.
I learned a valuable marketing lesson from Darren Farley, who made himself a brand without going near his local newspaper, using a mobile phone and YouTube. The blog post turned into an SEO phenomenon almost as big as Darren himself. Well, not quite. He really is a phenomenon.
What I learned: When we talk about engaging our audience, we have to remember what we mean - Transparency, Interaction and Conversation (this can be confusing for a journalist trained to protect sources and guard information, but it is vital); no matter how positive we try to be, the evolution of newspapers involves hard decisions and heartache; anyone who thinks their paper is the only brand that matters - and it's depressing how many people in the industry think that - should spend 2 minutes surfing YouTube.

November 2008
In November the LDP's Flickr book was conceived - one of the most taxing and rewarding projects I've been involved in. It was a celebration of Liverpool's Capital of Culture Year, using staff images and photographs from the Daily Post's Flickr group. I believe other TM newspapers are asking their Flickr groups if want to do the same.
In other news, I ran my blog through Typealyzer and discovered I was a Mechanic. This means, apparently, that I'm independent and problem-solving, good at responding to challenges that arise spontaneous and avoid inter-personal conflicts. Yay me!
Erm... not quite. Typealyzer then said I was in the wrong job, and should consider a career as a racing driver.
What I learned: My advice to anybody attempting a book project involving multiple contributors is plan, share the plan with everyone involved, rip it up and put together a fresh plan taking into account the views and comments that come back, and then Put It In Writing and stick to it. Rigidly. Because the Flickr book was a bit ad hoc (or "grew organically", if you're a senior manager, there wasn't much time to plan and we ended up doing twice as much work as we might have. But it still looked awesome.
Oh yes, and according to a bit of code I'm in the wrong job. I've not really learned my lesson there.


December 2008
I was lucky enough to get a place on an Andy Dickinson training course at the Birmingham Post & Mail's new Fort Dunlop offices. Andy's course was head-spinningly good and very entertaining; I sat on the train back to Merseyside bursting with ideas, one of which was to use information from Whatdotheyknow.com , credit the site and tell people how they could use it too.
The decision caused some debate in the newsroom because it does go against what we journalists do (not reveal sources, gatekeep information, control copy) but we linked to the website, and the site kindly linked back to us. Everyone won - including the reader.
I got perplexed by blog spam (my current favourite is one which has the words wow! nice gold subliminally inserted through the comment) and outlined my thoughts on when to ban readers who abuse forums.
The blog was becoming less of a practical testing station and more of an ideas-crucible.
What I learned: Share knowledge at every opportunity. Andy shared his with me, I shared it with journalist Ben Schofield, he used the site, investigated, asked questions and filed a story that made the front page, then shared the knowledge of how he built the story with readers, so they could use it too. Sharing information, knowledge - or, crucially, lack of knowledge can increase a journalist's power and ability to do their job. Incidentally, that's why Twitter is such a fantastic tool for reporters.

January 2009
Talking of Twitter, it was undergoing a sea-change in January. The arrival of 'slebs' meant it was becoming more mainstream, and I noticed many of the people I followed were moving from avatars or photos that didn't show their faces to portrait headshots.
And I started to feel a bit uneasy about whether I was preaching transparency while hiding behind my little devil. I asked Twitter and Ask500people.com, and as a result of the responses stuck with the devil. I also noticed Plurk was was on a decline, which saddens me still as I love it, and got back on the Twitter subject to ask why people were protecting their updates and what did they think they were protecting, exactly. Work was overwhelmingly busy with the newsroom merger and I managed just five posts. Shameful!
What I learned: Twittering slebs hold no fascination for me (Stephen Fry & Neil Gaiman excepted); having an avatar doesn't mean you're hiding something, and my odd little online representative can actually make it easier to pick me out of a busy Twitter stream; Ask500people really is a great medium for conversations and engagement; anyone protecting their Twitter update is doing it because, generally, they don't understand how Twitter works. Finally, when people ask me to explain how Twitter works I've found it's more important to show them my network, and then explain why Twitter works.

February 2009
Happy birthday blog! Where did the year go? In 12 months my whole outlook on journalism has been turned on its head and I've had more fun that at any other time in my career (although getting a job in a massage parlour runs a close second).
In the time I've been a blogger I've learned just how supportive the blogging community can be, shifted (I think) more towards using the blog as a medium to explore ideas and ask questions, found the comments people post tend to be more worthwhile than anything I write, and - ironically - felt more connected with the real world than I have at any other time as a journalist.
For that I can thank a whole host of people, some I seldom meet face-to-face, but I talk to them most days and count them as valued friends.
A networked journalist is, I believe, a better journalist but it's more than just how it affects my job; my network is hugely important to me, every day it surprises, challenges and stimulates me, supports me, and helps me be more relevant.
My new jobs started today; what will the next 12 months bring? I don't know - the current debate is whether people will pay for content, last week it was Do We Need Subs? and within the week it will have moved on to something else.
For what it's worth, I believe we have to keep telling our stories, share more of our knowledge, make our newspapers and websites communities instead of silos, be relevant, be accountable, demonstrate interaction instead of talking about it, both online and in print, and do what we should do best - serve our local area to the best of our ability, ask questions for them and listen to them when they come to us. We sometimes get things wrong but overall we're pretty good at what we do and we care. Personally, I think that's half the battle.

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.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

"No one tells a story like a journalist"

I was lucky enough to spend a day with the Journalism Leaders Programme members last week. As ever, it was like having a brain-valet and I came away with a lot to think about.

As part of the day I got to attend the University's Harris Lecture, which was an insight into the digital transformation of the Daily Telegraph by Mark Skipworth, executive editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.
He spoke with enthusiasm, fielding some searching questions from Journalism students along the way.

And then he said something so unexpected, you could almost see people asking themselves if they'd heard right. The phrase that stopped us in our tracks was this:

"No one tells a story like a journalist."

Ouch, that's a poorly-expressed phrase, I thought. Except it wasn't - it was what he absolutely believed... with his next breath he went on to dismiss the ability of bloggers to provide quality, impartial reportage.
I think it proceeded along in this vein but the muttering around me had actually become more interesting than the fuddled point the speaker was labouring towards. (Which was, I think, that journalists are impartial and quest for the truth.)

Now, as a journalist I do indeed strive to be impartial; I have even been known to quest for the truth. I also know, however, that it's incredibly easy pick an angle, inject my own views and editorialise the words as they are written.
Once a reporter has written their impartial story, it passes through several other pairs of hands, who might each add their own views, without necessarily even knowing they are doing it.
Story construction, where it is placed in the paper or on the homepage, the occasional adjective, headlines - even how accompanying images are laid out can shade meaning and influence a reader.

Now consider a story told by Terence Edent, a Vodaphone employee, who last summer filmed himself as a train passenger being stopped and searched by police at under the Terrorism Act. No one, I'd suggest, could tell this story like Terence Edent. It is perfect - right down to the police comment (although you can tell they'd much rather he rang their press office.) A journalist could add to this but why? What would they be adding? Some back-story perhaps.

The truth is that everyone has a story that they tell best, it usually begins "Guess what happened to me...". Some people have a skill of telling others' stories (often using a mobile, loudly, in the train's Quiet car), and some people are lucky enough to get a job that pays them to tell others' stories.

If you believe only a journalist can tell the story then you're closing your eyes, ears and mind to the millions of people out there who are telling their own stories their own ways - from blogging to microblogging, Flickr to YouTube, Bambuser to Blip.FM.
If as journalists we are open minded enough to listen, then we can sometimes find and re-tell these stories to our readers. Remember Stephen Fry's 'stuck lift' story? I followed it on Twitter using hashtags but it was repackaged and retold in the tabloids two days later.

If we aren't open-minded, then we may find ourselves headed down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. I am not a dinosaur; I don't intend to drown in the newsprint tar pits. I'm going to try to keep listening out for other people telling their stories instead.


* If you want a summary of the Digital Editors Network session I'd recommend Sarah Hartley's post here and there's an unedited recording of the Journalism Leaders Forum to be found via here.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Using Slideshare for a blog post

A while ago I wrote a blog post on the lifecycle of a news story, that our editorial training editor suggested I turn into slides, as a potential teaching tool.
I messed around with the idea and then showed my attempt to an old mate, Glyn Mottershead, Professional Tutor in Newspaper Journalism at Cardiff University and general star (find him here ).
He performed ppt kungfu on my slides, and I finally got around to uploading it to Slideshare...