Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Brief Lesson On The Power Of Buzzfeed And Facebook

My Buzzfeed opus on Aberdeen.

My Buzzfeed opus on Aberdeen.

You’ll be familiar with Buzzfeed and its listicles, the eminently clickable posts which have helped turn the site into one of the internet’s rising stars. But you may not be aware of Buzzfeed’s Community feature, which lets anyone put together posts for the site. As a bit of an experiment yesterday, I thought I’d have a go at doing one, to see how quickly it spread.

Calling on my hazy memories of my hometown and scanning Flickr’s Creative Commons for pictures, I quickly put together 31 Signs You Grew Up In Aberdeen in what I hoped was a suitably Buzzfeed style. I tweeted it once, Facebooked it once, stuck it on the Aberdeen subreddit, and waited.

But I didn’t have to wait very long. I was soon receiving emails from Buzzfeed telling me that the views were piling up. Helpfully, I didn’t have to take their word for it, because the Buzzfeed Community pages allow you to personally check the analytics for your post, so I could see it all for myself. Within 24 hours, it had 45,000 views.

My post made it onto the front page of the UK site for a while, and the BuzzfeedUK Twitter account promoted it once too, but the analytics show that it’s been overwhelmingly spread using Facebook. About two-thirds of total views are from Facebook, and almost all the rest are either clicks on the Buzzfeed site itself or are classed as Dark Social – sharing via email, third party Twitter clients and the like. Views from Reddit are only in the dozens, although that may be because the Aberdeen subreddit is not exactly one of the busiest pages on there. Views from search engines are in even smaller numbers, so far at least.

At the risk of reading too much into one little experiment which I did for fun (seeing friends I know on Facebook sharing the post without realising who’d actually written it was certainly that), it’s been a reminder to me of the persistent power of Facebook. We in the media might snark about it, but ordinary people are still on there in large numbers. And it seems ordinary people like listicles.

An Updated Quick Introduction To Twitter For Student Journalists

jointwitter

The screen where you join Twitter.

A lot of people are talking about Twitter these days. Indeed, some broadcasters are so excited about Twitter, they sometimes seem to discuss little else. So you could be forgiven for being a bit put off.

But if you are interested in the news and in becoming a journalist, you have to be on Twitter. More than half of journalists worldwide now use it, and the number is rising rapidly each year. That’s not to say it will be quite as useful in the future as it is now. No doubt something of a scale we can’t grasp yet will come along and supersede Twitter. But right now, in 2013, Twitter is essential for student journalists. This blogpost offers a brief explanation as to why.

What Twitter is

Two common ways of describing Twitter are that it is a “social networking” or “microblogging” tool. I don’t think either of these is particularly helpful as far as journalists are concerned. Although you can certainly use it to stay in touch with your friends, or for issuing brief thoughts about some topic or other, neither function begins to explain the impact Twitter is having on journalism.

Instead, think of Twitter as an information-sharing service. It allows people from all over the world to give information updates, and for these updates to be shared with other people almost straight away. So, not only do we have a lot more information, but that information is available everywhere very quickly.

Most of it (“I♥1D 4EVA”) is not particularly interesting to us as journalists. But, given that Twitter is used by people and organisations in positions of power who make news, as well as by members of the public who may be caught up in events, a lot of the information updates on Twitter WILL be interesting as news. “News travels fast” is an old saying, but it has never travelled as fast as this.

Why you need to be on Twitter

The main reason why it’s important for student journalists to use Twitter is that, well, lots of people in the media do. If you want to be part of that world, then you’d better start acting like it. Learning how to use Twitter and to get the best out of it for your journalism will add to the traditional skills you’ll be taught on your course, giving you an advantage over those who haven’t bothered.

Then there’s the whole question of journalism’s uncertain future. Although this is discussed in academic papers, chances are you’ll have too much other reading to do to spend much time sifting through those. Instead, the debate about the huge changes to our trade takes place every day on Twitter, as links to articles and blogposts are shared and discussed, praised and criticised.

It’s harder now to simply graduate from a good journalism course and get an entry-level position in, say, local radio. There aren’t as many of those traditional jobs around and competition is tough. Twitter is one way in which you can make yourself stand out, showcase your achievements and get tip-offs about the placements or freelance work that can help you get the job you want.

I believe it’s up to all of us who want to have careers in journalism to use new media to try things out, experiment with new ways of working, and to talk about what’s successful and what isn’t. Right now, Twitter is the best forum for the latter. Besides, that well-known journalist you end up chatting to on Twitter is the sort of contact you’d never have been able to make in the old days. You need to get involved.

hootsuite

Hootsuite. Helping us find our way to the good stuff.

The best way to use Twitter

You sign up for a Twitter account by visiting www.twitter.com and following the instructions (it’s free). You can post your tweets of up to 140 characters directly from twitter.com if you want, but it’s much better to use a third-party client. These interact with Twitter so you can see tweets in a more user-friendly way, with columns that display lists of interesting Twitter feeds that you can create.

Tweetdeck is the most popular and best-known client. Personally, I recommend Hootsuite, although this is mainly because I’ve used it for years without any trouble rather than because it’s necessarily any better. Both, along with many others, have smartphone and tablet apps as well as their desktop versions.

The best people to follow on Twitter

In order to see updates posted by others on Twitter, you need to subscribe by ‘following’ them. As soon as you’ve clicked ‘follow’ on that person’s account, their tweets will start to appear in your Home feed.

In order to help you get started, I’ve created a handy list of some notable journalists on Twitter. You can find it by clicking here (there’s another one of sports journalists here). If you become a follower of the list, you will be able to import it into one of the columns on your Hootsuite display. However, you’ll need to follow each of the accounts individually if you want to see their updates in your Home column.

You can send a tweet to someone by mentioning their username. When someone does this to you, the tweet will appear in your Mentions column. All of the tweets are publicly visible, although ones which mention a user at the start will not appear in the feeds of others, unless that person is following both the sender and recipient.

If you want to share a tweet sent by anyone with those people who follow you, then you ‘retweet’ it. You’d usually do this if you think something is interesting or funny, and this is the technique by which news travels fast on Twitter. An interesting update from a newsmaker or a breaking piece of information from a news company is often retweeted hundreds or even thousands of times within minutes, meaning that information is quickly available to huge numbers of people.

You’ll also notice tweets featuring ‘hashtags’ which are keywords relating to particular topics, preceded by the # symbol. Click on the hashtag, and you’ll be able to see every public tweet sent using it. A bit like a search engine that works in real time.

You can also send direct messages to individuals, which can’t be seen by others and are basically the same as private messages on Facebook, by putting a ‘d’ at the start of your tweet. But, as American politician Anthony Weiner discovered to his cost, be careful that you do.

Other things Twitter is useful for

Third-party clients such as Hootsuite are also able to connect to other social media accounts you may have, such as your Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, which certainly makes it easier to keep on top of everything.

Twitter’s not just there for the serious things in life either. Twitter is fun. In fact, it’s particularly worth reading during X Factor and such, for an often-hilarious running commentary on events. And, unlike Facebook, your Aunt Jemima isn’t on there. So you can swear as much as you want.

There are also lots of new tools which are useful for journalists, such as StorifyAudioboo, Medium and many more, which you can log into using your Twitter username. So that’s nice and easy.

But this blogpost is really just the most basic of introductions. There are lots of more detailed guides out there, such as this one from Mashable, which is well worth a look. Another good resource is Twitter’s own Twitter for News pages.

I’ll see you on there. I’m @rlwjones, by the way.

(Note: this is a slightly updated version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago)

What I’m Reading: Red Or Dead, Al Jazeera America, And More

redordead

Red or Dead, by David Peace.

I’ve read quite a few of David Peace’s books. The Damned Utd and his four-part Red Riding series, all set mainly in Leeds, are absorbing, unsettling and generally great. But I realised this week I may struggle to get to the end of his novel about Bill Shankly, Red or Dead, when I got to the passage in the image above.

Peace has taken his trademark style of repetition, almost incantation, a bit far this time. It turns Red or Dead into a dreadful slog, and I’m not even halfway through yet. Jonathan Wilson in the New Statesman has one of the best reviews. But in the week in which Elmore Leonard died, and his memorable ten tips for writing published in the New York Times in 2001 circulated online again, I’d suggest Peace is guilty of ignoring number 10: try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Still on football, Addiply founder Rick Waghorn posted some interesting reflections on his 20 years as a reporter covering Norwich City. On the cover of Sports Illustrated this week is Mario Balotelli, and the story by Grant Wahl is well worth a read.

Al Jazeera America began broadcasting yesterday. Brian Stelter had a comprehensive preview in the New York Times. Meanwhile, NBC has begun its high-profile coverage of the English Premier League, to favourable reviews such as this one from SB Nation.

Back to Yorkshire to finish. A couple of interesting snippets from the excellent Leeds Citizen blog: a welcome update on its attempts to record council meetings, and grim news about counterfeit booze found at a den of iniquity which I may have been known to frequent during my student days. And those interested in local commercial radio news will enjoy Richard Horsman’s latest thoughts at his always readable blog.

What I’m Reading: Jeff Bezos Buys The Washington Post, And More

The Washington Post building. (picture: vpickering on Flickr)

The Washington Post building. (picture: vpickering on Flickr)

This is the first in what I imagine will be a semi-regular feature on this site, with links to things I’ve enjoyed reading.

The biggest media news of the week came from Washington DC, where the Graham family announced it was selling the Washington Post to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250m.

That sounds like a lot of money, but everything’s relative. As Alex Massie points out, that’s basically what Johnston Press paid for The Scotsman as recently as 2005.

Of the American reactions to the deal, here’s the analysis on the Post’s own Wonkblog. It’s worth reading the thoughts of former Post staffer and New Yorker editor David Remnick.

Also at the New Yorker, John Cassidy offers a sceptical view of what Bezos’ motives might be. Back at the Post’s website, read this enjoyable open letter to Bezos from Gene Weingarten.

I’ve been checking out Medium this week, the writing-focused newish social network from the Twitter guys, Ev Williams and Biz Stone. Williams explains it all here.

A couple of things that I particularly enjoyed: Callie Schweitzer on how interviewing director David O Russell for her high school newspaper changed her life, and Dave Harte discussing a presentation on the internet he gave to a class of ten-year-olds.

Some rotten boroughs news to finish. Weep at Leeds Citizen’s account of councillors’ refusal to allow the recording of a council meeting. And, from Private Eye via the Telegraph’s Louise Gray, an explanation of how fracking permission was originally granted in Balcombe (there’s an easier-to-read follow up from the Independent here).

Just goes to show why it’s important to scrutinise even parish councils.

Ten Tips For Journalism Students

A new group of journalism students will soon be arriving at the University of Huddersfield, where I’ve now started work as a lecturer. Here’s a selection of ten pieces of advice I’d give any journalism student, to help them get the best out of themselves and their course.

The Today programme podcasts page.

The Today programme podcasts page.

1. Keep up with the news

This sounds obvious, but it bears repeating. If you want to work in the media one day, you’d better start reading, watching and listening to the professionals. And it no longer means having to go to a newsagent or getting up at 7am to listen to the Today programme: use websites, apps, catch-up services and podcasts. Think about what was good, and what you thought could have been done differently.

2. Know the difference between news and features

News is new information. News stories are brief and to the point, and should have the most important details at the very start. Features usually come later. They are often longer, can explore different angles and offer more context and analysis. If you’re asked to write a news story, do just that, and don’t hand in an essay.

3. Use the phone

Picking up the phone and calling people is the fastest way to get things done. Be polite but firm, and if the person you’re talking to can’t help you, ask them to suggest someone else who might. Don’t just send an email to someone, then wonder what to do next when they don’t reply.

4. Google stuff

If you read about something you don’t understand, if you’re told about a person you’ve never heard of, if you want to look at an issue but don’t know much about the background to it: Google it first. Google doesn’t know everything, but it knows a lot of things.

5. Contacts are vital

People telling you about things that are going on is one of the main ways in which journalists find news stories. If someone helps you out with a story, be nice to them and keep in touch. Next time you’re struggling with a deadline, you might find they’ve got another tip-off for you.

T'Hud magazine.

T’Hud magazine.

6. Do student media

Put your training into practice. At Huddersfield there’s a radio station, a magazine and an online video news service. Getting together with other people who are talented and enthusiastic about the media is fun, and it’s a great way to make friends too.

7. Be a publisher

Use social media, in particular Twitter. Write your own blog about something you’re interested in. Building an online profile of your professional self will be important when you’re trying to get work experience and jobs. And you’ll pick up useful skills from basic html to how to moderate comments without even realising it.

8. Follow your interests

Journalists often specialise in something, and you should too. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s macroeconomics or fly fishing, as long as it’s something you enjoy. Do stories about it for the course or your own blog, make contacts, put those contacts in a Twitter list so you can monitor them, become a ‘go to’ person for information about that topic. Being an expert in an area is a good way of standing out from the crowd.

9. Read all sorts

Sure, you can learn about how to do journalism from reading textbooks and articles. But journalism is about telling all kinds of stories about all kinds of things. If you read for pleasure, whether it’s novels, blogs, history books, magazines, whatever, you’ll give yourself more knowledge and ideas you can use in your journalism. And besides, it’s cool to know stuff.

10. Be sceptical

Ask questions and don’t take everything at face value. Even lists like this written by people like me. This is just one person’s opinion after all. And there’s no reason why, in time, you won’t know better.

This list was largely inspired by (and slightly borrowed from) a similar post on Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog. There’s also a useful list on Journalism.co.uk.

New Job Starts, Old Blog Ends

photo

I work here. Well, in a different building entirely as it happens, but you get the general idea.

This week I’ve started my new full-time job as a Lecturer in Journalism and Media at the University of Huddersfield. As well as teaching and research work, I’m going to be looking after admissions for the department from next month.

I’ll be keeping this blog updated more regularly with links to presentations and other material I’ve used in class, as well as the odd post about topical journalism issues.

Meanwhile, after four years I’ve stopped writing Like Father, Like Daughter, the blog of my time as a stay-at-home dad. Mainly because, well, I’m not a stay-at-home dad anymore. Sadly, this blog features 100% fewer pictures of ice cream.