Tag Archives: #ONADC

New digital journalism tools and platforms to connect, present and inspire

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” said Alexis Madrigal. “You don’t have to write bad stuff to get people to come to a website”
Tonight at the August meeting of the Online News Association in D.C., +Madrigal shared several of the tools that he’s been experimenting with to connect with his audience and rethink the way he shares information in his work as senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly.

You can find his digital journalism at www.theatlantic.com/alexis-madrigal and on Twitter at @alexismadrigal.

I’ve been reading his book on green energy, “Powering the Dream,” over the past few months. It’s excellent. Alexis also co-founded longshot magazine and wrote for Wired for years.

Given that context, when he talks about the digital tools that he’s using for work and the new applications or platforms that he’s experimenting with online these days, I paid attention. Here’s the breakdown of some of the tools he shared tonight.

First, Google Forms. Alexis described them as “frictionless, easy to set up, and then pull into spreadsheet. He referenced Amanda Michel‘s work using them in her crowdsourcing work at ProPublica.

Second, SoundCloud. That was a new one to me. Time to experiment.

Third, Twitter. This one was not new to me. Alexis said Twitter worked very well for Longshot. He did, however, say “the retweet is dying.” There’s an issue of splitting the incentive model, between “native” vs “manual” RTs, and tracking. Alexis said that he’s noticed all around that retweeting is way down, which has made Twitter less effective.

So, off to explore new places.

One such platform is Tumblr. The problem, said Madrigal, is that Tumblr has its own ecosystem. (I agree with this.) There’s no natural move over from another social media platform, he said, and that sad fact is that you have to put in the same damn work, and then see what moves. On that count, they’ve brought in curator to the Atlantic video channel who’s deeply immersed in the culture but it’s still challenging.

Another new destination is Google Plus. Alexis likes Plus conceptually, given how it allows back and forth, but doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to do with it yet. Alexis said he has largely left Facebook and streamlined his social media use. His Google Plus use went way up during the first couple of days and then leveled out. Now he needs to decide what to do with it. (I know the feeling). Alexis is experimenting with “The Atlantic Tech Plus,” which he described as a behind the scenes look at what his team is working on. He’s not sure what’s next. The digest has driven little traffic to date, but Alexis feels like he “has to be here and know how it works.”

Alexis moved from tools for publishing or sharing to presentation tools. He’s interested in timed slideshows and made the analogy that they’re like “full bleed” in a magazine. He used to think they’re just a way to get pageviews but now he thinking that they’re “a way to get content horizontally. ”

Two points here: beautiful tools are awesome and people are limiting themselves in the way they think about them. In that context, Alexis wants to exploit the behavior readers exhibit in compulsive clicking through a slideshow for good. This sort of thing is “gamification,” though Alexis notes that they just ran a story “called gamification is BS.”

Given this list of of tools, I asked him about Facebook for journalism. Alexis said that he chose to keep who he is as a person vs his work separate there. He hasn’t started a Page but knows people like science writer Steve Silberman who have had “wonderful generative conversations there.”

Finally, Alexis shared two sites that are doing work that can push us to think differently about what an editorial product can be online.

DomusIT (http://domusweb.it) is an Italian art magazine website worth looking at because of its vibrant, colorful and dynamic design:

Zeega (http://zeega.org) is a next generation content management system. Zeega pushes website design to a “crazy extreme,” with HTML5 in fully full bleed experience, including video, animations. Alexis suggested that Zeega can enable a different kind of publication online, something “more magazine-y” and interesting. Less cookie cutter. He expects that this or something like it will open up a new way of telling stories.

We’ll see! I know I have some new places and platforms to explore, along with Twitter, Google, Plus and Tumblr. The lesson that Alexis drew from turntable.fm is that “feeling like the Internet is alive is awesome.” I’ll drop by tomorrow.


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Using social media for better journalism: @Sreenet at #ONADC

“I used to say “justify every pixel,” said Sree Sreenivasan. “Now I say earn every reader.”

Sreenivasan, a dean of student affairs and professor at the Columbia Journalism School, went beyond “what Jeff Jarvis calls the blog boy dance,” offering up more than an hour of cogent advice, perspective and tips on social media to a packed classroom populated by members of the DC Online News Association at Georgetown’s campus in Virginia.

Where once he used to go around newsrooms to talk about email, then Google and blogs, now he’s moved to new tools of digital journalism grounded in a reciprocal relationship between the audience and the reporter. After all, Sreenivasan had to tailor his talk to the audience, a collection of writers, editors and producers already steeped in the tools of digital journalism, moving quickly beyond listing Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to the tools and services that that enable journalists to use those social media platforms improve their reporting, editing and careers.

“The best people find the things that work for them and skip the rest,” said Sreenivasan. Services need to be useful, relevant and extend the journalist’s work. Quoting a student, now at the Wall Street Journal, Sreenivasan observed that you “can have greatest content in world but will die on the vine if we don’t have a way for our readers to find it.” He classified the utility of social media for journalists into four broad categories:

  • tracking trends on a given beat
  • connecting with the audience, where ever it is online
  • putting that audience to work, aka crowdsourcing
  • building and curating the journalists personal brand

“Tools should fit into workflow and life flow,” he said. “All journalists should be early testers and late adopters.” In that context, he shared three other social media tools he’s tried but does not use: Google Wave, Google Buzz and Foursquare. Sreenivaan also offered Second Life as as an example, quipped that “I have twins; I have no time for first life!”

The new Listener-in-Chief

One group that undoubtedly needs to keep up with new tools and platforms is the burgeoning class of social media editors. Sreenivasan watches the newly-minted “listeners-in-chief” closely, maintaining a list of social media editors on Twitter and analyzing how they’re using the social Web to advance the editorial mission of their mastheads.

He showed the ONA audience a tool new to many in the room, TagHive.com, that showed which tags were trending for a group. What’s trending for social media editors? This morning, it was “news, love, work, today, great, people, awesome and thanks.” A good-natured group, at least as evidenced by language.

Sreenivasan also answered a question I posed that is of great personal interest: Is it ethical to friend sources on social networking platforms?

The simple answer is yes, in his opinion, but with many a caveat and tweaks to privacy settings. Sreenivasan described the experiences of people in NGOs, activists and other sources whose work has been impaired by associations on social media. To protect yourself and sources, he recommended that Facebook users untag themselves, practicing “security by obscurity,” and use lists. As an example of what can go wrong, he pointed to WhatTheFacebook.com.

Where should journalists turn next for information? Follow @sreenet on Twitter and browse through the resources in his social media guide, which he referenced in the four videos I’ve embedded in this post. He’s a constant source of relevant news, great writing and good tips.

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What can news organizations learn from the DC media market?

It’s no secret that the media industry has been massively disrupted by the Internet and mobile communications technology. Newspapers no longer have monopolies on the market for local advertising. And news breaks in real-time across social networks like Twitter, splashing on the the 24 hour news networks minutes later.

The media market in Washington, D.C. has been similarly affected by technological change, particularly as new, nimble online players have moved into the nation’s capitol. Last night, I visited FedNet’s officers in D.C. for the Online News Association‘s February meetup. The night featured a panel moderated by Keith Carney, President of FedNet and featured Mike Mills (@Mike_Mills), Editorial Director of the Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call Group; Howard Kamen (@hkamen) Partnership Editor for USA Today, and Karl Eisenhower, Editor, New Media Strategy for NationalJournal.com. Fednet will be posting video soon; in the meantime, the livestream I recorded is below:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “#ONADC on USTREAM: The Online News As…“, posted with vodpod

The panel primarily focused on the business of online news as practiced by these different organizations. Congressional Quarterly (CQ) and Roll Call have a combination of a subscription model focused on high-value, scarce information gleaned from dedicated reporting on the minutiae of legislation, lobbying and political news. The combination of access, high value eyeballs and profit didn’t escape another provider of high value information: As Mills observed, the Economist Group owns both Roll Call and CQ now. The same media group also runs Congress.org, which Mills says is for “citizens to learn about Congress engage in grassroots activity.” He’s not worried about losing content to search engines, either, given a closed subscription model. “We’re not on the Internet, we’re on the intranet,” said Mills.

USA Today, by contrast, is a national newspaper with a generalist focus. According to Kamen, partnerships with other organization are providing USAToday.com with data for interactive graphics. Those interactive features in turn provide sustained traffic over time to support an advertising revenue model. When asked by Carney if a paywall might show up at USA Today to match the reported metered model at the New York Times, Kamen responded that “I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.” USA Today has moved into mobile news, recording over 2.5 million downloads of its free iPhone app. “We made it free to get eyeballs first,” said Kamen.

Even though the paper’s leadership has focused on retaining its position as the most widely circulated paper in the US, Kamen’s comments made it clear that USAToday.com is an important part of its future. “I truly think we do have an ‘online first’ model now,” said Kamen, although there coordinating print and online remains a “work in progress.”

The bridge between writers and coders has been bridged at National Journal, where Eisenhower said every newsroom has dedicated IT resources. The need to connect developers with reporters is felt across town, too: “The real merger that needs to happen is between editorial and IT,” said Mills.

National Journal is also shifting with the times, looking carefully at where and when readers are consuming their content. “Knowing our audience means knowing their work habits,” said -Eisenhower. “Mobile is very important.” Like other glossy weekly magazines, National Journal is experimenting with new advertising models as print circulation wanes.

Each publication also fits into a hypercompetitive emerging media landscape in DC. Whether it’s Politico, the DailyCaller.com, the Fiscal Times or Bloomberg’s coming “BGov” http://bit.ly/cTD1m8, there’s a host of new players that are competing for eyeballs and ad dollars with the Washington Post, Washington Times, the Hill, the Washington City Paper, the Metro Weekly. And that doesn’t even factor in local blogs like the DCist, KStreetKate and We Love DC, or the influence of NPR/WAMU and local TV stations.

What will 2010 bring? Innovation and disruption, without question. Certain takeaways from last night, however, should be of use to every media organization, even those without immense national circulations or access to information of interest to readers with attractive demographics for advertisers.

First, go where the readers are. Mills observed that failures in business models were often rooted in not following the audience to where they’re getting information.

Second, go mobile. Create applications, stripped down websites and email alerts that allow the audience to get news on the go.

Third, use data to create evergreen content. Organizations like Gallup or even governments themselves are providing data feeds or sets that can be used for interactive graphics.

Finally, get social. Facebook recently passed Yahoo as the second-most visited site in the world. Many news organizations are finding that social networks are a significant source of traffic, as the audience shares what it’s reading.

All in all, a great night. I enjoyed talking with the always-entertaining Tiffany Shackleford about celebrity culture online and Lee from NPR’s “Tell Me More” about digital distribution and syndication. Even as old models crumble, there’s no shortage of innovation in how we share the news in 2010.

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