Social Media Report

19 Apr

When I was told I had to write a blog on a topic that interests me, I was honestly at a loss. I’ve tried to keep a blog or two (or twelve) in the past, and I always let life give me reasons not to update it on a stressful day. That one day turns into a week. Next thing you know, it’s been seven months and you wish you could wipe the blog off the face of the Internet and pretend it never even existed.

Well, I knew this blog would be different. Mostly due to the fact that it was for a grade, so it had to be done. Yet, I thought, the motivation not to fail this class might actually give me the necessary oomph to really delve into my writing. It sounds contradictory, but I haven’t had much creative freedom as a journalism major. Sure, words are wonderful and encouraged, but having professors focusing on hard news instead of editorials means just knowing how to plug the right pieces of stories into the right spots before deadline, kind of like an intellectual Mad Libs puzzle where you’re racing against a timer. Having a required blog would help me break my usual mold and get back to enjoying the way words flow from my fingers. There was just the problem of what kind of words I wanted to focus a semester-long blog on.

I sat down to ponder this and decided a list would do. The forerunners on it were fashion, food and reading. As much as I like books, I feel accomplished when I manage to read the four magazines I subscribe to before the month’s end, so there went the idea of trying to read ten books to blog about. I’m barely making ends meet and haven’t been worry-free shopping since this summer, so I crossed off fashion. That left food.

I like to eat, so I thought, “Food it is.” Then, I realized I was in a bit of a stump. I live in my sorority house, so I don’t have a kitchen to whip up crazy Pinterest recipes or the cupcakes I’m slowly mastering on each trip home. Again, this thoughtful elimination left what I eat on weekends, which is when I have to find places to buy prepared food that satisfies whatever cravings I’m experiencing. So, I would blog about restaurants.

Alas, Gainesville Grub was created to document my weekend noshing. However, don’t let my internal conflicts on blogging deceive you. No, they were also external. I also would talk about it with my friends, wondering if it was a good idea or would even work or if I would magically manage to become a healthy eater and be able to subsist for 48 hours on salads I could create from Publix’s raw veggies. Obviously, none of the above happened and the blog occurred.

It turns out people are actually interested in a food blog. When I would be at a restaurant with friends, I would mention something like, “This is so good! I’m going to put it in my blog!” This would cause initial questions of me having a blog, and after my explanation, them telling me it was neat in a nonsarcastic tone. Though face-to-face interaction is always a great selling technique, I don’t know if that ever prompted anyone I spoke with to actually look up Gainesville Grub. I’d like to think that they didn’t forget – they were only distracted by their intake of delicious food.

Facebook was definitely my greatest marketing tool for my blog. The virtual version of my meal outings, I would be Facebook chatting with friends and mention that I was working on a blog post. They would ask about it, and I would send them the link. This sometimes would garner a few hits in a day, at best. It was at least nice to know if a friend actually was interested enough to click into the site, rather than go back to playing Angry Birds or whatever Apple’s best game app currently is.

My greatest success in gaining views was to post my blog link as a status saying what restaurant I wrote about. I would simultaneously do the same on my Twitter account. Then, I would sit back and watch my stats climb. I found out the best time to do this was in the evening, after dinnertime. I can guess that people were trying to settle in to do schoolwork but were looking for excuses to procrastinate, which I know I’m guilty of. Ridiculously late status updates and tweets would get maybe 15 views at most, as people were probably sleeping or focused on the project they had due in the morning. My daytime statuses and tweets got 30 views one day, but were normally half that. I imagine people are on-the-go during the day, rushing to class and completing study guides and whatnot.

My highest hits in a day was 55, I am proud to write. The post-dinner crowd was plentiful and especially eager for reading, I suppose. The most rewarding part of using social media to spread the word on Gainesville Grub was the comments I would get back under my statuses on Facebook. Even simple things like “I read it!” would make me happy. A freshman commented that she had never heard of the sushi place I reviewed and she really wanted to try it now. What’s more, a senior who had befriended myself my freshman year commented one night, saying she was excited to know where the good places to eat in Gainesville were because she graduated so long ago.

It turns out this project was twofold in its outcome. I really was able to experience the social aspect of social media. Instead of using Facebook to look at someone’s photos or Twitter to read their sarcastic thoughts, people were able to connect to what I was doing, at my own urging. Getting feedback through comments made me feel great, and it turned the experience into a rewarding one. Secondly, I discovered how much I truly missed sitting at a computer to write at my own free will. It felt like I hadn’t done much creative writing since high school, and I missed it. Now that I let myself get a taste of blogging my thoughts and feelings, I have a hunger to write more. Pun intended.

Jack of all (news) trades

18 Apr

The “total journalist” is a term Robert Peston used in a memorial lecture. He describes that the old state of journalism, writing a couple of stories every week, is gone. Now, a journalists churns out stories on the hour, keeps up blogs and incorporates multimedia into their online presence. Seems like a lot to handle, no?

Peston is a business editor for the BBC, so he has a specialized knowledge of the financial state of journalism, combined with the hardships a journalist faces in these economic times. These issues have been coined as “newsonomics” and deal chiefly with the changing state of journalism.

But, as newspapers fight to stay afloat against the current and the large, luxury cruise liners that tablets seem to be sail on by, the consumer must also be remembered. News organizations need to focus on readers. They must keep their content engaging, yet have readers be able to understand the scope of a long-running story if a publication wants to not lose business. By offering a quick overview, a news organization might not lose a potential reader to Wikipedia, which offers this insight without so much digging.

So, as total journalists become a necessity in the news room, publications might want to consider adding a lifeguard certification course as part of staff on-boarding. It could prevent them from getting caught up in the internet’s overpowering wake.

Word Patterns

18 Apr

We all have favorite words. Those favorite exclamations when something really exciting happens (or something frighteningly unexpected). We have words we like to address our friends with. Words we go to out of habit. As  journalists, we are taught to be aware of our words. What words we consistently use because they’re comfortable, like a security blanket. What words we turn to when a sensitive topic is being dealt with. What words we use when we’re trying to a remain neutral though the topic sparks a million different opinions.

Lucky for all of us, we can use Wordle to track these habits. It’s quite simple to use: simply enter text or a URL. Words used in the given text appear in a systematic jumble, and the bigger the word, the more frequent it is. While the site can be a bit buggy due to its reliance on Java, the cloud of words it generates seems almost like a work of art.

Wordle is a wonderful tool for writers as a whole. We can quickly pick out our go-to words and, therefore, seek to expand our writing vocabulary. It’s an entertaining way to self-edit and improve our stories, save catching grammar mistakes. As journalists, we can take advantage of the URL or RSS feed option to track trends in the news. This can lead to many story leads, some of which may have gone unnoticed when read as separate articles.

Writers, as well as common citizens, aren’t the only ones suspect to using words on repeat. The president has favorite words too.

This is abundantly clear in his State of the Union addresses. This is the United States of America, and he certainly has cared about addressing the Americans who live there. His first State of the Union brims with hope of what his time in office will bring, as do citizens when there is a new president. After that, the next three messages have a heavy emphasis on the economy and jobs, which is still a strong worry in today’s hard times. Interestingly, there was a shift in the emphasis on energy this year. Given the climbing rate of gas prices, it’s only right that the rate the word is used climbs too.

2009: 

2010: 

2011: 

2012: 

 

 

11 Apr

According to Aristotle, “Change in all things is sweet.”

Yet, the world of journalism is finding it a struggle to embrace social media, much like someone on a diet struggles to not buy anything when in a candy store.

Yes, social media brings wonderful advantages, such as collaboration and real-time updates. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a fine example of this. Social media has also become a resource, acting as a quick trend tracker or source finder.

Ludtke points out that “There are times when technological change catches up with an idea.” This is now the time that journalism and social media are becoming intertwined, though it has yet to be seen if this symbiotic relationship will end up resembling commensalism or mutualism.

The sugary sweetness that social media brings to journalists may be a bit of a cavity for news organizations as a whole. Media entities are struggling to define their policies on social media use, such as the E.W. Scripps company. Additionally, companies are having to spend unforeseen costs to run cloud computing, such as building server farms and dealing with the resulting carbon footprint.

While change is a good thing, if it is as sweet as Aristotle said, let’s hope there are some journalists with dental backgrounds.

Google Trend and Google Correlate are two useful tools for journalists. They allow a wide web audience’s interest to be tracked. It’s almost like spying on everyone’s computer searches, but you can keep your peace of mind because Google gave you the go-ahead. Journalists can notice strange spikes in searches or what words are being linked together, thus gaining insight into people’s concerns, interests or perhaps even things they have noticed in the media. This allows for story developments to occur, which may have been missed opportunities before these tools came about.

Broward Bulldog focuses on investigative journalism while trying to survive online-only world

5 Apr

The Broward Bulldog is the epitome of new-age media. A not-for-profit, independent online-only website, it focuses on investigative, watchdog journalism in Broward County, Fla.

“We try to look behind the scenes,” said Dan Christensen, editor-in-chief of the Bulldog. “We do a sort of ‘watchdog’ reporting and look at stuff with a critical mind, trying to get to what’s actually happening rather than simply relying on government hand outs.”

It all got started when Christensen was laid off by the Miami Herald in the late spring of 2009. He wanted to continue to report and didn’t want to move anywhere else. He had been a reporter in South Florida for roughly 30 years and didn’t want to stop. That’s how Florida’s first not-for-profit news site, which is staffed by professional journalists, made it online in October 2009.

The Bulldog focuses on doing stories that the main newspapers of the area (mainly the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald) haven’t done, Christensen said.

“The gist of it is that there’s been a large meltdown in the news industry in South Florida and all over the country,” Christensen said. “Thousands of journalists [have been] laid off, and that means there are simply not enough bodies to go out and cover what needs to be covered in government. We’re trying to help plug the gap.”

Just like any startup business, the greatest challenge Christensen faced was making his project work financially – and he still hasn’t quite figured it out.

“We get money from several different sources, but we’re not rolling in it,” Christensen said.

The Bulldog has a business plan, but it’s only been able to implement it partially. Christensen used his own money to pay for the start-up costs, and has since relied on donations, fundraisers, selling stories and ad revenue to pay his staff. Crime writer Michael Connelly, author of the novel “The Lincoln Lawyer,” has given the most substantial donations to date, but the Bulldog has not been able to rely on individual grants alone. Ad revenue is something that Christensen hopes to increase, however, because most of the ads that can be seen on the website are Google ads that don’t make much of a profit.  The Bulldog still hasn’t been able to hire an ads salesman.

While the Bulldog figures out its finances, editing positions are voluntary. It pays reporters a small amount for each article and hopes to increase this amount to make the project viable for all who participate.

“If people weren’t volunteering, [the Bulldog] wouldn’t exist,” Christensen said.

Aside from being editor-in-chief, Christensen posts all of the stories to the Web, writes headlines, manages social media and also has to deal with the business side of the project – stuff he would never have to worry about if he was at a newspaper.

With a small staff of about nine, five of those are reporters, but the number is constantly fluctuating. Every story gets edited at least twice by the experienced editors Christensen has on board.

On average, the Bulldog posts two to three stories a week, a significant increase from last year.

“The goal is to get up to five days a week,” Christensen said. “We aren’t there yet, but we’re moving along.”

Like any online news website, the Bulldog is using social media to share its stories and alert followers when it’s added something new.

It offers a variety of ways to connect through social media, including RSS, Digg, Twitter and Facebook links that are prominently displayed in the upper right corner of the webpage.

However, any visitor can see that social media are not the Bulldog’s first priority. Digg, a site that is “a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web,” has not seen an update from the Bulldog since Jan. 6.  The Bulldog’s Twitter site is updated periodically, with some days featuring several links to stories followed by no tweets until several days later, when a single story link is tweeted. The site’s Facebook page is regularly updated with stories, though several days can pass before anything new is added.

Despite the irregularity in updates, about 600 people on Twitter and 700 Facebook profiles follow the Bulldog. Christensen said social media play a significant part of the promotion of the Bulldog and are a way to tell people there is something going on. The Bulldog hopes to eventually be able to hire someone to manage the site’s social media and improve its search engine optimization, or SEO.

The website is organized to include a front page featuring the latest stories from the staff, a Bulldog Extra section for featured articles not written for the Bulldog or by its reporters or freelancers. A separate section features a blogroll with links to multiple regional independent news sites like BrowardBeat.com and public records resources. Instead of repackaging press releases into articles, the Bulldog has a section on its site dedicated to posting releases.

The news site has been featured in and attributed by publications from around the country, including Quill Magazine, Investigative News Network, The Brechner Report, New York Daily News, The Miami Herald and the South Florida Business Journal.

Christensen hopes to establish the Bulldog as a working news organization in Broward County, becoming a permanent source of news for the community. Although sometimes progress can be frustratingly slow, the community is responding and numbers have been increasing, he said.

In terms of traffic, the Bulldog had about 9,000 to 10,000 unique hits per month last year. In February of this year, it hit about 20,000. In March, it hit about 25,000.

Ultimately, the goal of the Bulldog is sustainability, or being able to have a better income. Christensen said he’d like for the Bulldog to have an actual staff where people get a salary, including benefits. While he’s not sure when this will be possible, the Bulldog is working toward it all the time and hopes to create jobs for journalists in South Florida.

Showing your stance on abortion through reporting

4 Apr

Before reading this article, I did not know there was an additional charge to killing a pregnant woman.

There is, apparently. There is even a federal law about it – the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. The practice of recognizing a fetus as a victim is also a law in 36 states. Illinois, the state in which the incident took place, is one of them.

However, stating a charge that goes hand-in-hand with the abortion debate is a tricky business. Handling the story of a pregnant woman’s death needs to be delicately and with utmost concern of not angering readers, regardless of which side of the abortion debate they are on. The original article succeeds in this.

The public editor’s reply does not. McNulty calls attention to the phrasing and that saying ” three counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional homicide of an unborn child” makes it sound as if there were four deaths. Well, according to the law in Illinois, it does sound that way. Yet, some may not quite read it that way. Some readers might simply choose to think of it as an extra penalty for killing an expectant mother, and the article will not sway them to question their point of view.

What McNulty fails  to acknowledge is Smith and Shah seem to leave the conclusion of just how many died up to the reader.  By following protocol, they should not be thrown under the proverbial bus. Whoever allowed this editorial to run in a credible news source should be called in for review. While McNulty was simply responding to the coverage of the news, he was bringing up a moot point because the writers were simply following the Tribune’s stylebook. There are enough pro-life supporters to unleash their wrath on the way the article was written. Such controversial whistle blowing should not be coming from a fellow journalist.

New ways of the newsroom

4 Apr

The state of journalism is changing.

While the above sentence is dramatic, it is also true. Some might even call it a period of hybridization. Reporters are leaving institutional papers to found their own notable news site. Bloggers are changing their affiliations to big-name papers. The examples are ongoing, with new instances every week. These occurrences are so common that they have earned an abbreviation: FON, short for future-of-news.

While newsrooms must question the FON to stay afloat, it is a debate topic of scholars as well. Shirky radically states that news organizations can change their structures or fail. He further backs up this belief by saying, “News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free.”

His three rules can be seen in many online news startups. Currently, Penn State is experiencing a fight of new-versus-old news sources. Though there is a reputable and established newspaper, students are turning to new media for their news. And, if Shirky’s theory holds true, students will eventually turn their backs entirely on a published paper in favor of a website.

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