What newspapers and other media could learn from Reddit

Reddit Sticker

Reddit Sticker (Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg)

Matthew Ingram’s story at GigaOM  shows how the media giant acquiring the Reddit online community made the purchase a success by not attempting to integrate Reddit with the rest of its business.

The lesson is clear, leave a decent online operation alone and let it carry on doing what it is good at. Fairfax followed this script when it purchased TradeMe.

Reputation management, online advertising: not a good mix

Tweets began appearing within minutes of yesterday’s yarn about the launch of a New Zealand book on managing reputation risks. At the bottom of the page was an advertisement for Nickelback’s Auckland gigs. For those who don’t know, Nickelback is a Canadian faux rock band that most rock fans regard as, well, let’s just say ‘dubious’ .

The advertisement damaged my reputation as a cool dude around town. There’s a lesson in that.

I’ve experimented with WordPress’ WordAds programme. WordAds is like Google Ads, serving up advertisements to readers based on words found in the posts.

Google Ads gives users a little control over the ads it displays, WordAds gives you no control at all.  Given the choice I’d prefer not to promote Nickelback on my site, after all I’ve a reputation to protect.

I fail to see how the WordAds algorithms made a link between reputation management and Nickelback. Ah, hang on, no perhaps it isn’t.

Either way, the important point is advertising is yet another avenue of reputation risk for online publishers to worry about. It was easy in the old days when publishers sold their advertising directly, but there’s less scope to reduce risk when using an automated service like WordAds.

Jokes about Nickelback aside, WordAds hasn’t shown anything really flaky so far. I’ve used Google Ads on other sites and some advertisements have been extremely embarrassing. So, if you’re really worried about your online reputation, you may need to accept you can’t afford to display advertising.

10 best Twitter practices for Twitter for journalists

Writing at Reportr.net Alfred Hermida says most journalists approach Web 2.0 services like Twitter with a 1.0 mindset. He’s right, my personal bugbear is that many media organisations insist their reporters use Twitter as a broadcast media and not for dialogue.

Hermida, a journalism professor, looks at a list of best practices guidelines for journalists using Twitter. Top of the list are two I consider the most important:

  • Have a voice that is credible and reliable, but also personal and human
  • Be generous in retweets and credit others

Too often media tweeters come across as cold and impersonal. In some cases the Twitter accounts feel robotic, because that’s exactly what they are.

And media outlets are often the least generous when it comes to crediting sources. Perhaps they fear they’ll lose readers if they point them elsewhere. Of course, they will lose some traffic that way, but they’ll gain more in terms of credibility by being more open and generous.

Reportr.net » 10 best practices for Twitter for journalists.

LinkedIn’s Rapportive acquisition shakes contact scene

If Liz Gannes’ story about Linkedin acquiring Rapportive at AllThingsD is correct, the contact management sector is set for a shake out.

A shake out is long overdue: single-user and small business contact management tools remain a weak spot. At the time of writing there isn’t a single must-have contact management tool. With Rapportive on-board, Linkedin has the technology and data to create a category killer.

Gannes says the companies concerned declined to comment on reports of the take-over and the deal has yet to close.

Rapportive is a Gmail add-on which shows basic CRM-like information about an email sender in a sidebar on the mail application’s screen. Rapportive is lightweight with the cloud doing the heavy lifting. It pulls data from social media sites and can show photographs and recent on-line activity.

With Linkedin owning a huge, largely up-to-date database of contact and job movement details, the take-over could lead to improved reporting on incoming emails.

When live blogging works

New Zealand’s news outlets were late to the live blogging party.

British news sites had been using live blogging successfully for around 18 months before it blossomed here during the election. Most UK newspapers and the BBC use it to great effect on their web sites.

Live blogging is, without doubt, the single most important development in journalism of the past few years. It is the first uniquely digital format. Until live blogs, almost every piece of online journalism used formats re-purposed from print, TV or radio news reporting.

You might argue that tweeting news predates live blogging. I’d say tweets are a truncated, maybe even crippled, version of the live blog.

New Zealand live blogging

Live blogging took off in New Zealand during the 2011 election. It was used before then, but it took the sustained political campaign to really hit its stride. There were live blogs at the NZ Herald and on the Stuff website.

Special mention should go to Toby Manhire at the Listener, who gave his election live-blog a highly personal flavour – for my money he is New Zealand’s first successful live-blog by-line. I also enjoyed Alex Tarrant’s election diary at interest.co.nz.

Where NZ Herald and Stuff went wrong

One criticism I have of the NZ Herald and Stuff live blogs during the election was they would close mid-afternoon, at around 4PM – long before the day’s news cycle finished.

I guess that was a function of the shift systems at the papers, but it would have been best to have journalists pass the baton rather than shut down. An election live blog needs to run almost 24 hours.

Before the election

A few New Zealand reporters were early to use the live blogging format, most notably my erstwhile colleague Chris Keall who live-blogs press conferences and important meeting for the National Business Review. It didn’t always work, but hat’s off for pioneering the format.

Live-blogging works brilliantly when a story or event unravels at a steady pace. It is perfect for Cricket, other sports coverage tends to be good too. This is why it was a success during the election.

Fast moving news

With fast moving news stories it gives reporters a way of keeping up with developments. Live blogging is better than constantly updating a static news story. It allows links to other coverage and, this is important, it encourages people with news to contribute. Reader comments can be worked into a live blog.

Live blogging doesn’t work well when the story is too long and rambling, it can get confusing. It often tends to be weak on providing background because live bloggers get caught up in unfolding events. Likewise it doesn’t lend itself to analysis.

Where it really didn’t work

One story that a number of outlets tried to live blog — and in opinion failed badly — was when Steve Jobs died. Effectively this was one main piece of news, his death, which could have been dealt with in a more conventional news story. The live blogs struggled to find interesting things to say and varied between mawkish and ghoulish.

When live-blogging works

Live-blogging shines when skilled writers cover complex, unfolding news stories. It tends to be less useful dealing with scripted or structured events. There are times when it stinks.

Rarely a day goes by without a live-blog on one of the top UK newspapers or at the BBC website.

Recent months have seen The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC successfully live-blog events as diverse as riots, cricket matches and the European economic melt-down.

Live-blogging strengths:

  • It’s a quick and inexpensive way of staying on top of a rapidly developing story.
  • Live bloggers are able to add and verify incoming items from journalists in the field, social media services like Twitter and from other news media.
  • It’s easier for live-bloggers to get away with including links to rival media than it is for journalists writing conventional news.
  • Likewise, the informal nature of a live-blog gives journalists freedom to depart from strict news structures.
  • Readers are able to get involved and can pass journalists extra information and make comments.
  • Live blogging has built-in feedback mechanisms.

Live-blog the election

The ultimate live-blog opportunity would be an election count. Combined with good graphics and live data it is potentially the best way to follow developments. Likewise live-blogging sports events is also a great alternative to radio or TV, especially on a smartphone. It works especially well with cricket which has just the right structure for the format.

There are problems with live-blogging. It is sometimes hard to make sense of what’s in front of you if you join part-way through the unfolding story. Scrolling back through the story can be confusing at times. Live-blogs can get out of control and the person in the driving seat may be distracted. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Facts missing in action

Most of all, the important facts can be buried in a live-blog. Writers sometimes assume readers joining the live-blog are up to speed and so they don’t repeat key facts.

Live-blogs rarely compete with a well-written, structured analysis. There are times when the classic inverted pyramid approach is still king.

Live-blogging gets story out fast

I’ve seen live blogs of important product announcements. It’s a great way of getting the story out fast, but there’s not always enough time for the research and information gathering needed to put things in context. Live-blogs of announcements generally follow the public relations script.

Similar criticism applies to events like company annual general meetings – or anything that is stage-managed. A little distance helps journalists get past manipulation.

When it doesn’t work

Live-blogging doesn’t always work. One of my jobs involves monitoring and commenting on Australia’s technology press. I found the live blog coverage of Steve Jobs’ death disjointed and confusing. Others found it disrespectful and I know of a few who objected to the semantics of live-blogging a death.

At the moment journalists are constrained by their tools. Newspaper content management systems don’t take kindly to live-blogging, they tend to have strict, inflexible formats. No doubt this problems will solved soon and some of the problems will go away.

That’s more than can be said for live-blogging itself. It’s here to stay. Now we need to get better at it.