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Public notebook

Instagram for writing

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Two dots to connect on this one. The other day a friend mentioned that “Instagram comments are the new blogging” for some young people. Then the Wunderkammer email (worth subscribing to) offered a story about journalists using it to post stories.

Initially sceptical when his editor suggested he use Instagram to share reportage from a trip to East Africa, Neil Shea was eventually won over. He notes how it affected his style:

I didn’t want to choke his story with factlets. So I wrote for mood and tone, distilling the transformative event of the man’s life into 268 words. I used simple techniques of lede and arc and kicker that I’d learned a long time ago, in the newsroom. I examined each word to see if it deserved a place. Mostly I kept hitting delete.

Take a look at more of of Neil’s Instagram reporting in his feed.

It’s quite inspiring – maybe something I’d like to try.

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Public notebook

Free doesn’t always put the customer first

A lovely article by Jessica E Lessin, the founder of subscription-only tech news site The Information describes how a tight customer focus and and prioritising quality content over quantity helps build and audience.

There’s lessons here for brands in any sector:

We believe the best way to build a brand is to be indispensable to some people, rather than try to appeal to everyone. The business model aligned with that mission is a subscription business where our only incentive is to write articles our customers want so badly they are willing to pay for them.

This echoes Cynthia Montgomery’s advice in The Strategist, that if your company has a strong strategy it would be missed by its customers if it were to disappear overnight.

An insistence on creating a premium service creates a strong business model and value that goes beyond financial returns:

One benefit of the model is it helps build our revenue quickly. But a far more important outcome is that it puts the focus exclusively on high-quality, original journalism. In the world of ad-supported media, traffic volume is everything. Too often that means sacrificing quality for quantity and prioritising stories that generate clicks. In the subscription world, quantity doesn’t move the needle. Quality does.

Hat tip – the excellent Fraggl curation service. 

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Public notebook

Metered media

Kevin Anderson looks at the online paid media landscape and says one business model is emerging as a leader:

Metered – This model allows casual readers to read some content for free, but then asks readers to pay after they have read their monthly allowance. This is the model the Financial Times has used for years, and this was the model that the New York Times chose.

This works for me as a user or reader.

Every now and again I have a subscription cull when I realise I am paying for too many things I am not reading or using enough. Metered models mean you end up paying when you realise you really are getting value from a particular site or service.

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Public notebook

Bild’s Vado publishing eco-system and the promise of user generated advertising

Image: The Bild.de Vado from Creative
Image: The Bild.de Vado from Creative

This was an amazing week, that passed at a few hundred miles an hour, so sorry for the silence.

First thing that has grabbed me this morning as I peruse my feeds is this story from Jeff Jarvis about how the German magazine Bild, took the concept of the Flip‘s small, simple video camera, made it its own and sold 21,000 to readers in five weeks for just 69 EUROs each.

Result: thousands of “reader reporter” videos being submitted. Soon, the magazine says it will be using this growing installed based of video camera’d readers to launch a concept called “user geenrated advertising” in four weeks.

Intriguing…

Here’s Jeff talking to Kai Dieckmann, editor of Bild about the story of the Vado so far…

The magazine worked with electronics company Creative to make the camera which sells cheaper than the already reasonable Flip. Even at the poor Sterling / Euro rate we’re looking at a Flip-like camera for about £50.

The uploading of video via USB to your computer defaults to Bild’s website… which encourages people to post their videos there, naturally.

The model reminds me of iPod+iTunes, only in reverse – it’s about creating content rather than just comnsuming it. In this case it is camera+platform+media company to go and promote that platform…

Really looking forward to seeing what this highly innovative media company does with “user generated advertising”. I’ll be asking my colleagues at iCrossing Germany to keep a close eye on how this thing evolves…

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Public notebook

Butching out the credit crunch – with some help from social media

In terms of useful tips and advice, although I’m not a freelance journalist I found Fiona Cullinan’s post Freelancing in a Recession interesting on a couple of counts.

First, she reflects a change in the demands of the market away from her sub-editing skills to a more diverse range of content creation and blog-related editorial.

Second, it was great to hear about the very positive impact that first blogging and then Twitter had had on her ability to pull in work. Blogging’s a direct-to-market micro-business for her, while her personal blog and Twittering helps her maintain and grow her professional network.

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Public notebook

Un-filtered news: Twitter, the BBC and Mumbai

Media Guardian carries a timely analysis of some of the discussion of Twitter informing, in some cases becoming part of, the coverage of the terrorist attrocities in Mumbai. 

It picks up on a blog post by Steve Herman, editor of the BBC News website: 

 

As for the Twitter messages we were monitoring, most did not add a great amount of detail to what we knew of events, but among other things they did give a strong sense of what people connected in some way with the story were thinking and seeing. “Appalled at the foolishness of the curious onlookers who are disrupting the NSG operations,” wrote one. “Our soldiers are brave but I feel we could have done better,” said another. There was assessment, reaction and comment there and in blogs. One blogger’s stream of photos on photosharing site Flickr was widely linked to, including by us.

All this helped to build up a rapidly evolving picture of a confusing situation. 

 

Where Twitter added to the understanding of what was happening for a reader of news, was the emotional immediacy. There were voices of people like me, on Twitter, shouting out loud about the horror happening around them. 

It brought Mumbai closer. That’s a good thing, because the whole world needs to feel closer to events like these, the more likely for people to act in small choices and large to fight against religious fundamentalism and zealotry.

 

Image of a peace march by Mumbai blogger Vinu (http://vinu.wordpress.com)
Image of a peace march by Mumbai blogger Vinu (http://vinu.wordpress.com)

 

But in the newsroom at the BBC it also led to a rumour being reported as fact (that the Indian government had asked people to stop using Twitter), which Steve feels was a mistake that should not be repeated: 

 

Should we have checked this before reporting it? Made it clearer that we hadn’t? We certainly would have done if we’d wanted to include it in our news stories (we didn’t) or to carry it without attribution. In one sense, the very fact that this report was circulating online was one small detail of the story that day. But should we have tried to check it and then reported back later, if only to say that we hadn’t found any confirmation? I think in this case we should have, and we’ve learned a lesson. The truth is, we’re still finding out how best to process and relay such information in a fast-moving account like this.

 

More rumour, more noise, more information, more pitfalls: that’s what the continued onward march of social media means for news organisations. 

It’s not a new challenge for the Beeb, as a news organisation that puts accuracy and fact above rumour. Twitter just adds a host of potential sources to the mix during a breaking news story. 

I wrote about this a few years ago in post called Rumour or Raw Data, during the pre-Twitter age if you can remember that, when the then Metropolitan Poolic Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said he instinctively turned on Sky News when the first news of the London tube bombings reached him.  

In the heat of the moment, our instinct says I would rather have the unfiltered news, with the risks of inaccuracies and misinformation, than be late to hear. But – and it’s a significant but – you always want the option of a flight to fact: and that fact is usually found on the BBC, 

The BBC is right to resist falling the Sky News of the line. That’s its role: to tell us what the truth is, when it is as sure as it can be what the truth is.

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Techmeme turns up the human in its news aggregator mix

Aggregators were my first love, when it comes to news and social media – I’ve always been infatuated with the idea of Digg, lover of Techmeme and I basically see most of the world through my personal aggregator, the ever flexible and accesible Google Reader. 

So it’s nice to see some fervent discussion among bloggers about the best combination. Some love Twitter for the links it brings their way (so do I, sometimes), others eschew the RSS reader for a combo of automated aggregators like Techmeme and Hacker News

What’s sparked the discussion is Techmeme (which has sister aggregator sites Memeorandum (web / tech news), Ballbug (baseball news) and the auto-scurrilacious We Smirch (celeb gossip)) announcing that it will be introducing moe human editorial interventions to keep its list fresh. 

In part this is a response to people trying to game the Techmeme algorithm to give their posts prominence (shame on you). But, as Gabe Riviera, creator of Techmeme explains, it’s also because in lots of other ways “Guess what? Automated news doesn’t quite work“. 

Humans have always edited Techmeme of course, just implicitly. For instance, when a blogger links to a story, the headline might move higher on Techmeme. What’s different now is that an additional human editor will carry out changes explicitly to directly improve the mix of headlines on Techmeme.

I really like the explicit / implicit way of explaining this. Even the great technical marvel that is the Google search engine algorithm is implicitly affected by humans – it is trying to read the clues (links, traffic, words, reputation) that people leave as to which are the best websites on any given keyword.

As Riviera points out – by way of a link to VentureBeat – even Google News has problems in adapting to the mercurial and unpredictable shapes of breaking news. 

Alan Patrick at Broadstuff has an interesting slant on this topic too. Taking a historical analogy, he says that it is early days still for news aggregation:

Long term we suspect bit by bit the human bits of curation will be replaced by better and more intelligent automation. We are in the spinning jenny phase of automated aggregation…. just starting to pick up the threads, as it were :-D 

: : Just read this post by Adam Tinworth, who heads up blogs for Reed Business Information – his take on Techmeme is about the significance for news sites:

“This is a high traffic tech news site – run by one editorial person.”