Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Web journalism’
02 Sep

NiemanLab’s Journo Ipsum generator: I love it and cringe at the same time

Comments off

Inspired by the Lorum ipsum, which is a random collection of Latin words often used by designers as placeholder text, Nieman Lab created the Journo Ipsum generator.

In a few paragraphs, you get randomly selected journo-buzzwords mashed up with every refresh/page load. Thanks to the randomizer, you get things like:

hyperhyperlocal plagiarism trolls TBD 5%”

Patch stupid commenters”

Jeff Jarvis prostate do what you do best”

election-night hologram media bias”

the medium is the message if the news is that important”

Aron Pilhofer Android”

if the news is that important, it’ll find me dead trees”

layoffs put the paper to bed”


It’s useful for dummy text, but also as a good lesson on how taking words out of context and randomly mashing them together is unintentionally hilarious.

While I love it, is a generator potentially a bad idea?

My gut tells me, this was a good idea on paper… but not such a good idea in practice… especially because it’s connected to journalism.

These are real people, companies and brands that are being randomly paired with words they most likely want to avoid.

I guess I’m sounding like a wet blanket… I know. But there’s a reason why we use Lorum ipsum: It’s to avoid awkward phrasing and taking random words out of context!

If it were me, I’d unplug the word generator/randomizer portion and just display a dozen or so paragraphs of Journo Ipsum text … I’d even edit some awkward ones out. You’ll still offer the awesomeness of the concept, without having the, for the lack of a better word, liability.

But hey… that’s just me. What do you think?

Also, join the unintentional hilarity of the randomizer by tweeting out your finds, using the #JournoIpsum hashtag!

Well, what I can say for sure is that I’m glad I’m not a big enough name to be in that randomly mashed up mix!

03 Aug

What’s your role in correcting a retweeted hoax?

It happens to all of us, and last week it happened to me.

I got punked… by a hoax.

That study that claimed IE6 users have a lower IQ, as much as we may still feel like it’s true, was a fake.

I’ve been punked by hoaxes in the past, I’m sure, but the difference with this one is that I retweeted it and helped spread the misinformation. And, in turn, my tweet was retweeted a half dozen times.

Now, I didn’t know it was a hoax at the time. I have to admit, though, I immediately bought into it. Old browsers are hated by Web Developers. But when I shared it I was thinking it was “proof” rather than trying to willing lie to people.

In other words, I don’t think I committed a journalistic sin because I didn’t know it was fake at the time. Retweeting a rumor and treating it as fact, that’s a journalism sin… this was more a case of journalistic laziness, because in my heart “I knew it to be true.”

Typically, I read the links before I share them with others – not endorsements, per say, but informed sharing. In this case, I didn’t even question it and re-shared. (NOTE: I still believe there is something wrong with you if you are using IE6.)

Tim Carmody, who wrote the piece exposing the hoax for Wired, said it perfectly:

.@ One thing I talk about in the article is how these hoaxes 1) give us ammo in an argument & 2) confirm what we already think.
@tcarmody
Tim Carmody

While I didn’t commit a journalism sin, I did, knowing or not, participate in spreading this hoax. So, what is my responsibility now?

I went straight to the correction expert and asked Craig Silverman, of Regret the Error, for advice. His response:

@ @ You should message anyone who RT’d your incorrect RT to let them know it was a hoax. And ask them to spread word.
@CraigSilverman
Craig Silverman

My response:

@ Will do! And I’ll say two ‘Our Fathers’ … that’s the Catholic side of me. I can’t help it. // @
@webjournalist
Robert Hernandez

While not a sin, I still felt dirty. So much so, that I also posted a correction on Google+ and wrote this piece.

I’m happy to report, moments after I asked those who retweeted me to spread the corrected info, nearly all did.

What are your thoughts? How would you have corrected this “error?” Do you consider it an error?

24 Jul

How to live broadcast your Google+ Hangout

The moment I played with the Google+ Hangout function I, like many others, immediately had a ton of ideas: communal movie-watching experience, a new form of Web chat, a vodcast and more.

The first question, though, was how do you record a hangout to make a simple, informal vodcast? That was answered right away. (While not ideal, the answer is screen capture software, like Camtasia or screencast-o-matic.com.)

The next immediate question was, why stop there… while there is a ten-person limit in a Hangout, how can I broadcast this and make it a live talk show?

Today, I found the answer!

Some background: I’ve been experimenting with livestreaming at locations for a few years. At Seattletimes.com we experimented with a few setups that led to live shots from bars, outside Safeco Field and an MST3k-style commentary of a governor’s debate.

Oh the challenges we faced… but the setup has been pretty much perfected by the crew since I’ve left, but I recall the hacker tools like the “Wok-Fi.”

Justin.tv, Qik, UStream and Livestream have been the key players exploring the live streaming space, each one releasing something new and advancing the technology.

I flipped when UStream released their mobile app that allowed streaming directly from your phone over the 3G network. There are more apps that offer this now, including Twitcasting.

But today’s tech development goes to Livestream.com (formerly Mogulus) that has been owning the desktop/laptop broadcasting space. They have a downloadable application called Procaster.

The piece of software has a simple interface and is loaded with a ton of features, including the ability to broadcast your desktop. What’s also great is that you can zoom in/out to frame your shot, which makes it the ideal Google+ Hangout broadcasting tool.

Here is the video of my test with Kate Gardiner earlier today:

The first minutes of the video are of me setting everything up, but jump 7:30 minutes in to see the start of the finished product. The main need to tweak is to amplify your Hangout colleagues’ audio, but that’s an easy fix.

All you need is a free livestream account, a Web cam, strong audio speakers and people to join you in a Hangout.

Let me know how your experiments go!

06 Apr

Crowdsource: What was your first, paid journalism job?

For many that graduated college years ago, the fear that embraced them as the graduation date approached is, if lucky, a distant memory. But, as you know, there is a new wave of journalists about to join our industry… so, I’ve collected stories from journalists when starting out. Through a Google form, Twitter, email and comments, here’s the collection.


Responses via email:
Juana Summers
First gig after college: Missouri statehouse intern for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

First full-time job: Politics reporter for a now-defunct Kansas City website

Now: I cover campaigns and elections for POLITICO

Best advice: You can’t make a first-impression twice, so get it right the first time. Whenever you’re in a professional setting, be it a conference, meetup or internship, treat it as a job interview. You never know who you’ll meet along the road that will play a huge role in your career trajectory going forward.

Also, never stop learning and don’t be afraid of change or to look for jobs in unexpected places. We all dreamed that we’d graduate and land a plum reporting gig at the New York Times (or, well, I did), but that’s just not reality. There’s great meaningful work to be done in lots of newsrooms – large and small – and in fantastic startups nationwide.


Responses via comments:
Khadijah M. Britton
My first paid gig was actually when I was 15, writing a column for a biotech company’s internal newsletter. It took me, oh, ten years to land another gig that sweet! My first GROWN-UP paying job was writing for Healthcare Investment Digests (now OneMedPlace.com), though I’m pretty sure I was mostly being paid to establish relationships with companies so we could get their data. I couldn’t say anything negative about the companies. Getting paid has really been a corporate-world reality for me; I’ve never been paid to write anything I feel proud of as a writer. That’s the hard, cold truth, kids! :p

David Veselenak
Now working at my first “real” job, a part-time reporter and online coordinator for Heritage Media, which is a chain of weekly papers near Ann Arbor, Mich. Took me a while to find one, but was lucky in finding it: the lead came from a response of a tweet I sent out. You never know where jobs may pop up, even in economically-challenged Michigan.

Mai Hoang
I guess to add to my initial Twitter comments, not everyone has to end up at a big-city metro to “make it” or “to grow.” I have learned a lot in my five years at the Yakima Herald-Republic and there’s still plenty of things to learn. Likewise you may have the skills to start out at a big-city metro. Or perhaps you thrive best by going from job to job. It depends on what works for you not on some formula or “right way.”

And in addition, newbies should go outside of the newsroom for professional development. I’ve learned so much from my involvement with organizations like AAJA and SPJ and through online venues such as #wjchat (an online journalism Twitter chat). With all that’s out there, I think one would be hard pressed to not grow wherever they’re at.

Chris Boese
At age 16, I started as a sports stringer for The Frontiersman in Wasilla, Alaska, covering high school sports in the Matanuska Valley, while also playing some of those sports (including basketball, against you-know-who, who tells the world she was an aspiring sports reporter. While some people in Wasilla were supposedly dreaming of it, some of us were already doing it).

Some years later, out of J-school, I came back to The Frontiersman, under new management. At the time I was very disappointed in the assignments I was getting, because I got stuck with the Beauty Pageant beat for every podunk town and hamlet in the Valley (including you-know-who as a flute-playing competitor).

I couldn’t take the coming darkness of winter and the isolation of Alaska, after so many years in the light, so I took off for parts South, where I happened to land photojournalism jobs at various publications and newspapers in Northwest Arkansas. I often found myself shooting events with state notables, including the genial governor and his very ambitious and activist wife…

In the end, I had to leave there too, because Reagan deregulated media ownership rules and venerable newspapers all around me were merging or shutting down, laying off my colleagues by the thousands.

Center-spread double-truck photo essays and feature stories, my stock in trade, disappeared overnight with the cookie-cutter layouts and short stories of the USAToday template-driven approach to newspapering. I saw my best work being reduced from the size of dinner plates in the Daily Fishwrap to the size of postage stamps.

Plus, nothing would ever happen in podunk Alaska or Arkansas. Why would anyone want to stay there? ;-)

Clay Duda
With no real emphasis on social media in my undergrad study I lucked into a part-time Social Media Strategist job with a journalism foundation. It took about 2 1/2 months to land something after my graduation in May 2010, but since then it’s evolved into a full-time position with more of an emphasis on multimedia production for some of the publications under our umbrella. If you would have asked me a year ago I could have never of guessed I’d be in such a position, but as the industry changes so must the industried.

Andy Boyle
First gig after college: Intern at the St. Petersburg Times

First full-time job: Reporter/News Technologist at the St. Petersburg Times

Now: I work on servers, blogs and help build interactive apps for a chain of papers at The New York Times Regional Media Group.

Best advice: They won’t hire you if you have the same skills as everyone else. I differentiated myself by attempting to learn more about building online projects. That doesn’t mean “Hey I can shoot video and record audio.” Everyone has those skills. Not everyone knows how to set up a server, do SQL queries or code for a production environment. If you can prove to your bosses that you have skills that set you apart from the influx of cheap labor, they may employ you. You could also do what I did: Get another job offer halfway through your internship, which pushed the St. Pete Times to hire me.

Everyone can be taught to be a reporter. Everyone can be taught to be a better writer. But not everyone can be taught how to build truly web-oriented projects. Only you can teach yourself that, with some help from the journalism community, of course. And don’t be shy about thinking your skills are worth value. Basic economics: If you have skills that not many have, and people are looking for those skills, your value goes up. So, make your value go up.

Emma Carew
Job info: in the tweets above.

My best advice: Say yes more than you say no: say yes when a reporter offers to take you out to lunch, say yes when the editor-who-isn’t-your-editor asks you to pick up an extra assignment, say yes to working the holiday shift during an internship, say yes to applying to jobs you never expected to get, say yes to a shift on the copy desk or a night cops shift, say yes to working with photographers or videographers.

Say no to working without being paid a liveable wage.


Responses via Google form:
I asked colleagues to talk about their first journalism jobs to help recent graduates as they begin their careers in the journalism. Here is a collection

Metro reporter, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. I covered education, but also sometimes cops and courts. I also covered a public execution at this job.


I wrote 5-7 stories a week about a rural part of Kansas City. It paid about 25,000 a year. After a year, they gave us a “raise” to 28K. No one stayed there past 1.5 years, even though it was a 2-year fellowship. I got a great backbone, but I almost burned out. Plus, I ate way tooo much spaghetti.


Working for a five day a week newspaper, The Angleton Times, with a circulation of 5,000. I made $200 a week in 1987. I worked as a bartender at night to make enough to pay the rent, for groceries and car repair bills. I did everything from taking photos to laying out the paper. I gained so many skills and I made so many mistakes at that small paper. But I tell aspiring journalists to start small and make your big mistakes in small places. If you make big mistakes in big places, it’s a lot more painful.


Page designer – straight out of college. Worked there for two years. No copy editing or headline writing. That was done by a different department. That has all changed and designers now edit copy/write headlines, proof pages, etc. And sometimes a lot more than that, too. We used to also have specialties, like sports or features. It’s a one-size-fits-all now.


I produced podcasts for The New Yorker.


Entry level online producer at the Hartford Courant. (Assistant Online Producer)


I started working at the paper I’m at now as a news assistant. It was a lot of grunt work but I made it very clear to the editors I wanted to be a writer. Two days after I started I was given an assignment and now I’m an education reporter.


State copydesk, taking the adjectives out of school lunch menus (“fresh green salad” = “salad”).


My first professional, paid journalism job after graduating college was a 5-month contract position doing research for a well-known business trade magazine. I got the position because of a professor that I did an assistantship with in graduate school who happened to be a former executive editor at another publication for the company. She knew they were looking for someone and she recommended me. That job led directly to a full-time position within the same company at another business trade mag that was the no. 1 publication worldwide covering that business trade.


Capital News 9 in Albany. One man band station. (I think they now are called Your News Now).


I talked my way into a job as an assignment editor at the Telemundo station in Miami.


I was taken on as a contractor doing web production for DenverPost.com while a junior in college. After graduation, I was hired full time. It has actually been my only paid work as a journalist, though I have done several paid and unpaid internships and some freelance work.


Town hall and health reporter for the Beaufort Gazette in Beaufort, South Carolina (circ. 12,000).


Contributor to the now folded Georgia Guardian writing pieces on urban affairs and revitalization efforts.


My first “real” newspaper job was copy editing and designing pages at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi. After three months, I became a producer/developer/designer/fixer-of-things for the paper’s website.


Reporter copy editor at Lexington Herald-Leader. John Carroll era.


General assignment/night cops reporter for 12K-circulation local newspaper


Staff writer for Midwest Real Estate News, a trade magazine in Chicago. Also, I never had an internship, for what it’s worth. Went straight into the job market in 2004. Was unemployed for 7 months before landing my first gig, though.


Copy editing and design at a smallish newspaper.


Staff reporter covering education/courts/cops/features and monthly columnist (outdoor adventure themed) at the Jackson Hole News&Guide in Jackson, Wyoming.


I started out as a casual reporter on a weekly community newspaper. I mostly wrote arts & lifestyle pieces. I landed the paid gig after completing an internship at the publication.


Writing for the technology section of a major newspaper


newspaper reporter at a small daily


I was an editor with the weekly community sections published by The Dallas Morning News. It was kind of life being in a small town paper, having to do everything for my sections — write, edit, blog, tweet, photograph, proof, content development, etc.


Freelance stories for a regional biz newsweekly.


copy editor at a small daily paper


Just got it! I’m the mobile/search/social producer for azcentral.com. I work 6a-3p M-F, managing the Facebook and Twitter accounts and helping our journalists with personal branding and social media education.


It was while I was in school. Clerk job at local paper.


editorial assistant for data and research at The Chronicle of Philanthropy


Job at The St. Ignace News. General assignment reporter.


I was a reporter at the Employment & Training Reporter, a weekly newsletter published by BNA in Washington, D.C. ETR covered employment and training programs for disadvantaged, chronically unemployed and laid-off workers.


copy editing on the Universal Desk at the Dallas Morning News


Well, it’s happening right now. I work for Sun Newspapers (@sunnewspapers) – a chain of 11 weekly community newspapers around Cleveland. I scored this gig (in my hometown, no less) five months out of college (Ohio University).


The job I have now. Associate producer for MassLive.com.


Neighborhood reporter, St. Petersburg Times


Reporter/Photojournalist at a 150th market TV station in North Carolina.


Research librarian at The Palm Beach Post


Responses via Twitter:

12 Mar

Tips and tricks for a successful SXSWi 2010

Comments off

NOTE: Originally published on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201103/1950/

Robert Hernandez: Well Pekka, we are just a few days away from the SXSW / SXSWi 2010 conference … aka Geek Spring Break. We’ve both been to the festival before and, for this post, are going to interview each other to share tips, experiences, goals, etc. as we do final preparations for the week. Let’s start with sharing our experiences. What number is this one for you? How many times have you attended?

Pekka Pekkala: This is my number three, did first one back in ’96! I was a starving student, so no Interactive tickets for me, just free music… You?

RH: For me, this is going to be my second. I was a n00b last year, a rookie. And, boy, did I learn a lot … and think I’m ready for the coming week.

How would you describe the conference to people? Mainly SXSWi.

PP: Best place to meet people like you who are not journalists. It’s really a good way to mingle with programmers and business-savvy people who understand content. And a total 5-day hurricane of seminars, meetups and parties.

RH: A ‘hurricane’ is a great way to describe it … tech, smarts, hipster glasses and more. I was really overwhelmed last year, attending so many different, random sessions and meeting great people. I have really started to prepare for this year.

For me, I think it’s an international meetup of innovative minds that mashup technology, business, art, culture, news and information. The Future of Journalism has been officially added as a track this year. I got inspired last year and hope that happens again.

PP: What did you pick from the Future of Journalism track? Is it all the same people that you’ve seen in journalism seminars before?

RH: Well, I have to be honest… half of the sessions did not resonate with me. Some of same ol’ same ol’ topics … and some things that aren’t really reflective of the topic. That said, there are some that I hope to attend. Naturally, I want to attend a breaking/late addition: Lessons Learned from the ‘Arab Spring Revolutions with Mashable‘s Vadim Lavrusik among other panelists. I’m a super NPR and Public Media fan and see a lot of sessions related to that, so I plan to attend those. I also am thinking of attending The Death of the Death of Longform Journalism, Conde Nast in Start Up Mode, and Hacking the News: Applying Computer Science to Journalism panels. Here’s a link to my SXSW schedule: http://schedule.sxsw.com/user_events/user_8645 Here is my event calendar: http://bit.ly/eaj5EK

Are you attending the journalism ones?

PP: There’s a lot of good stuff there, but I couldn’t help noticing the vast amount of consultants / inspirational speaker types. I’m trying to find the people who are actually making stuff and creating financially sustainable sites. So I’m probably hopping between the Journo and Business tracks a lot. My calendar here: http://schedule.sxsw.com/user_events/user_dc1b96a2231851a7ebe0e02fe4a0b1a5

RH: Yes, I noticed that too. Did you notice the number of advertising panels that suggested storytelling and journalism as the answer? Brand Journalism: The Rise of Non-Fiction Advertising is the session that surprised me. Journalism to save advertising? I might have to check it out.

PP: Umm… yes. That sounds like a trap :D I’m more interested in Free Your Content! Who Really Owns UGC? session. :)

RH: Ha! Speaking of ‘trap’ the beauty of SXSWi is the randomness of some of these sessions. I have a few personal interest ones I hope to attend like, Star Wars Uncut: The Force of Crowdsourcing. Other personal picks are: A panel about an audio-only video game, a TRON session (yes, I’m a geek!), trends in Internet art and hearing from the ad agency behind the Old Spice guy ads. Do you have some random panels that peaked your interest?

PP: Yes. My advice would be to pick some big names you haven’t heard yet. I’m trying to see at least Bram Cohen (BitTorrent), Jason Calacanis (Mahalo), Clay Shirky (NYU) and Christopher Poole (4chan). Secondly, pick some really weird stuff like “Singularity,” “Synthetic Life” or “IBM: What is Watson?” sessions. Thirdly, do some boring stuff just for networking. Which is not really that boring in SXSW atmosphere.

RH: I attended a session last year led by Jonathan Stark, who taught how to do an easy iPhone app … the guy has written several books about designing/building apps and will be a panelist on the Building Native Apps Across Platforms session. Also, I have to promo the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights session with USC’s Prof. Jack Lerner and Lisa Borodkin, both have spoken to my classes numerous times about media law.

Can you talk about your goals and strategy for SXSW? What do you hope to learn and get from going to this conference? What is your strategy behind what sessions you try to attend?

PP: I always try to get away from the journalist mindset: I’m really scared of the journo hive mentality in every aspect. Mix it up! Trying to find some interesting cases to be interviewed for my Sustainable Business Models for Journalism study. Bootstrappers and small sites mainly. What about you?

RH: Yes, agreed. The session I pick tend to be more techie… I like to go to ones where I learn something new and, ideally, I can find ways to incorporate it into journalism… long before someone else even thinks about that angle. Right now I’m obsessing about Augmented Reality, and there are several sessions on that… mainly on biz/dev side. My goal is to learn more and more coding, building… and that tech constantly evolves. Last year I attended a great HTML5 vs. Flash panel … this year I hope to attend a few of those. Anything that experiments and pushes me to grow and think about the mashup of technology, design and information. Lots to choose from… and, sadly, some are at the same time!

PP: Sounds like a cool plan and something SXSW is really good for! Last year I went to Jaron Lanier speech and right after it (the cyncical journo in me) was saying “blah, another hippie from the Bay area saying you guys spoiled our Internet.” But the stuff he said really haunted me somehow and now I’m turning into a hippie myself. :D Ted Nelson FTW!

RH: He’s an extremely interesting guy. He recommended reading The Machine Stops … a must read for tech people.

Let’s get to some tips … what apps/tools do you use when at the conference? Now and while attending? What tips do you have while there?

PP: Just mark down everything that looks interesting via the SXSW schedule page, download the mobile app and off you go. Having a plan doesn’t mean you have to go according to it but it helps to visualize what is going on. It’s a shame sxsw.lanyrd.com doesn’t sync with SXSW schedule, would be great. Any cool apps you’ve found?

RH: Exactly right, I’ve signed up for a ton of things … who knows if I’ll attend them. But at least I know what’s, generally, out there. Last year’s app was, well, less than satisfying. That said, I’ve download this year’s version and it looks much better. I’ve used the official session selector. But I have to also pass along a great recommendation from SXSW veterans that recommended sched.org because it includes *all* events, even the many unofficial ones. I also used SitBy.Us last year and thought that was very cool. I’ll be tweeting and checking in on FourSquare, of course. Mashable has a SXSWi great guide, which has a good collection of apps/tools.

PP: Sched.org looks cool, have to try that one. Being from Finland, I have to plug @dittoapp! Any tips how to survive the physical aspect of SXSW, meaning the walking, not sleeping and forgetting your gear in the cab at 1am? (I’m still pissed I lost my FAIL book with Ben Huh‘s autograph last year!)

RH: Oh yeah… I learned you have to ditch the laptop! I have a shoulder that is about one inch lower than the other because I’ve carried a messenger bag with my laptop for years. Skip that! This year I’m rolling with just my iPad and iPhone. I also bought an external battery to charge them both :) I’m still traveling with my laptop, in case my plan backfires. Also, wear comfortable shoes, ’cause these will be looooong, fun days. I just downloaded Ditto (but it keeps crashing).

PP: iPad 2 I hope, it’s SXSWi! I find it hilarious when people take iPhone, iPad and MacBook out in a seminar: tech is supposed to make your life easier, not _literally_ harder :D I’m taking my Droid 2 Global (physical keyboard is still WINNING) + charger. Travel light.

RH: Let’s end with this question… how will you know you’ve had a successful SXSW 2010 experience?

PP: I fall asleep in the plane before it takes off from Austin. And when I’m home, I notice my brain is a mess of weird ideas and my pockets are full of business cards with hastily written notes on them. You?

RH: Ha! Well said. For me, if I feel like I’ve learned some new things and expanded my network of smart innovators, it’s been a success. I want to walk away energized and ready to go try some new tech experiments.

Well, sir, it was great chatting with you and I’ll see you in Austin!

PP: Same here, can’t wait! Let’s keep in touch via Twitter! @pekkapekkala

RH: Yes. I’m @webjournalist

09 Mar

Q&A with Al Jazeera Online Producer Bilal Randeree

Comments off

NOTE: Originally published on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201103/1949/

Without a doubt, the leading news organization covering the historic Middle East unrest is Al Jazeera. Available in limited markets here, their Web site has been the home for its impressive coverage.

“We had figures that indicated that we had 2,500 percent increase in traffic; 60 percent of that traffic was from the United States of America,” said Satnam Matharu, the director of communications, in a recent interview with NPR.

From my point of view, the lack of distribution for the English broadcast, the use of technology in the unrest and the quickness of the evolving news has been a prefect combination that has enabled Al Jazeera to be a leader in coverage and use of tech.

Bilal Randeree, Online producer for Al Jazeera EnglishFor this week’s post, I ‘interviewed’ Online producer for Al Jazeera English, Bilal Randeree. Because of the time difference and the constant news developments, Randeree and I ‘met’ on a collaborative document to have this conversation over several weeks.

First, Bilal, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you and the entire Al Jazeera crew have been extremely busy. Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself, your role at AJE, and how you started in journalism? Also, while it’s clearly been a newsy few weeks… how does it compared to your usual daily routine?

Hey Robert, sounds good. Really busy with Libya at the moment – I’m sure you’ve seen all my tweets (@bilalr) – our live blog is hugely popular once again!

I’m going to give a few very brief answers now cos I’m taking a quick break from the shocking news, so here goes:

I’m from South Africa – worked in banking for a few years, based out of Johannesburg – I then moved to London, but the timing was bad cos the financial crises hit as I was settling in!

As a freelance writer at the time, I was constantly asked to cover the crises from the ‘inside’ – what I learned then made me realize that working in corporate was not for me. I went back to school and did a post-grad in journalism. It was that degree together with my experience in corporate that landed me the job at Al Jazeera as a Business Journalist.

However, after moving to Doha I soon changed over to a general Online Journalist. I write for the Al Jazeera website, and update and maintain our various social media and online platforms. The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, with most of my colleagues and I working long shifts, day after day.

Can you describe the online operation at Al Jazeera? How incorporated is the Web staff? Do the different ‘sister stations’ with different languages have different Web staffs?

The English and Arabic channels are largely editorially independent – and so are the two websites. However, there is always the necessary collaboration and exchange of information, sources and resources.

The English website actually started before the English channel, but I’m not sure how things operated back then. These days, the website news desk is in the AJE newsroom, so we interact with broadcast quite a bit.

Typically, broadcast has reporters around the world covering the news for us – they are limited in terms of time on air, so the website is where our audience comes to for in-depth coverage and analysis of international news. Together with news from our reporters, we use the main news wires as sources, together with good old fashioned telephone journalism – the internet is a major source obviously, and we are constantly finding and using new online tools for news gathering and contacting sources on the ground.

Bilal Randeree, lower right hand corner, works a only few feet from the set.

Bilal Randeree, lower right hand corner, works a only few feet from the set.

So, when it comes to AJE, the Web site came first … that’s a quite different experience from most newsrooms. And it sounds like it has had some interesting effects. How would you describe the culture of the ‘converged’ newsroom?

Well, to be honest I’m not in the ideal position to answer this question, seeing that I’ve been here for a year now, and the English channel has been running for a good few years already. In terms of convergence, its a constantly changing relationship – broadcast and web are continually finding new and better ways to work together and support each other, over and above the obvious. The most recent development, starting with our Tunisia and then Egypt coverage, has been the ‘Web Desk’ that TV hosts – they prop a presenter in front of the camera, that discusses what is going on online, how readers are interacting with us on different platforms, and also what is being shared, discussed and debated on the internet.

Can you talk about, and perhaps list, all the different Web platforms and tools AJE employs (Twitter, Tumblr, iPhone Apps, etc.)

I have only recently started the Al Jazeera Tumblr account, but we’ve been active on Twitter and Facebook for a while now. The New Media team has traditionally been very strong and innovative, but the link between the tools they develop and experiment with, and how they are used on the News Desks was not at its best about a year ago. In that time however, Network wide training courses in Social Media were held, and the change is quite noticeable – besides the Web team, lots of other AJ people are active on different platforms.

Our live blog has been the latest hot development and we are seeing an incredible following, mainly for the hot news events that are constantly developing – first with Egypt, and now with Libya.

I tweeted that I was interviewing you and got this question from @Abdulla_AlAthba. He asks ‘Did twitter make it easier for [journos] @ AJA to track the news?’ Can you talk about how technology has changed the way Al Jazeera does its reporting.

Well, while Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic both form part of the Al Jazeera Network, the two stations operate relatively independent of each other. There is collaboration between journalists on both sides, but not all stories are covered by both, or in the same way.

In my personal experience, from the beginning, when things started in Tunisia and English broadcast was not covering the story in depth, due to a lack of sources on the ground, I was able to build up a good network of trusted sources through Twitter. While Twitter does alert us to events that are unfolding, its rare that Twitter itself will be a source – rather, a journalist can find sources and make contacts on Twitter, and then follow up with phone calls or emails, etc.

What stands out for me, when I look at Al Jazeera, is how technology is so embraced and employed in all different types of coverage. What do you think is the reason why it seems to be more open and willing to embrace technology, while other news orgs may be… a little… more reluctant. Or, is it my imagination, and Al Jazeera is facing with the same tech cultural issues other newsrooms are?

Well, I can’t speak for how other media organizations work – and for us at Al Jazeera, it’s not just the way we embrace technology, etc that makes us stand out from the rest, but rather almost every aspect of our coverage.

I would assume that compared to most other big media organizations, the fact that we are still not able to be broadcast extensively around the world, we know and value the importance of the internet more, and hence make more/better use of it.

Can you talk about the equipment/gear Al Jazeera reporters, those that cover breaking news and file for the Web, carry with them? I hear Flipcams and phones instead of laptops.

We have been using Flipcams for a while now, and have some cool campaigns running where we give citizens Flipcams and they produce content that feeds back to us.

For reporters and producers that cover live events, there are a few different tools they use – mobile phones for tweeting, sending through Audioboos and Twitpics, from places where there is no internet or the internet gets blocked, we issue Thuraya IP modems.

Our New Media team also has iPhones and BB‘s that they issue out to anyone going out into the field, that has all apps and software, customized and tested for ease of use.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you’ve been quite busy!

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail (r.hernandez@usc.edu) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

07 Jan

Digital + Diversity: What does your newsroom reflect?

Comments off

NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201101/1926/

If you ask a Web journalist what the newest, important tool a news organization needs to embrace today, they’d probably say Social Media. They’re right, it’s not a fad.

If you were to ask them to make a prediction or guess where the future of technology is headed, chances are they’d say mobile. Smart phones are getting smarter, smaller and cheaper. (And, one day Verizon will carry the iPhone – I believe!)

If you were to ask me what one element newsrooms need to embrace, outside of technology, my answer is a simple one: diversity. Can we make that a New Year’s resolution?

I’m not talking about being politically correct. I’m talking about having diverse experiences and points of views that shape and literally define what is news.

I believe that the lack of diversity – gender, age, religion, sexual-orientation, socioeconomic background, politics, bus riders, cyclists, video game addicts, etc. as well as ethnicity – in our newsrooms in all roles, especially leadership ones, is one of the main causes of lower circulation and loss of general reader/viewer engagement.

Again, I’m not talking about being politically correct. I’m just saying if we are not made of all our communities, how are we expected to relate and be relevant to all those communities?

Let me give you an example:
One of my early Web specials I did in my career was the 20th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. I was representing SFGate.com as I sat around the table with print reporters and editors. You have to understand, the San Francisco Chronicle was crucial in the news coverage twenty years before with the incredible work by Randy Shilts.

These people were professionals and I was still the relatively new kid working with that new medium.

But as they spoke, I noticed that all the stories were about gay, white males. No one talked about that the fastest growing HIV/AIDS demographic was straight, black females.

They were the pros. I was just a punk kid.

Staying quiet is one of my biggest regrets in my career. I swore no matter how awkward or uncomfortable, I had to always speak up.

That chair I was sitting in wasn’t just for me. It was for all the communities I was a part of… and all the others that I wasn’t, but weren’t at the table. I have to rep everyone. You know, that voiceless thing.

Here’s another example:
Do you remember when someone tried to reinstate the draft back in 2003? I was sitting at the morning news meeting as the draft talks began to heat up and we started brainstorming on how to cover the story.

In a room of incredibly talented and experienced journalists, the angles included talking to teachers, parents, Vietnam vets, recruiters … but I was shocked that well into the discussion I had to raise my hand and mention, how about talking to high schoolers?

The room forgot to include the demographic that was going to be most affected by the draft.

But the lack of diversity in newsrooms isn’t new. Women have been battling the glass ceiling for decades and studies, like the one from ASNE, have shown a depressing lack of ethic diversity for years.

So, why am I bringing it up?

Let me give you another example:
In a recent PEW study, it found that African-Americans and Latinos “are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white internet users.”

In several not-so-recent studies, they found that Latinos are ahead of the curve in embracing mobile devices and its behavior. They are more likely to text message, download music, play games and access social networking.

Yet, how come there isn’t a reflection of that diversity in those Web journalism jobs? While there is a lack of diversity in newsrooms, why is there even more so on the Web side?

The digital divide? Sure, but not the one you are thinking. Those studies show “minorities” are on the advanced side of the divide and others are behind.

Diversity, and the possible lack there of, was raised as a concern after the recent invitation-only Newsfoo submit.

At last year’s SXSWi panel about the future of news it was all white men.

Look, I’m not saying that your ethnicity or gender or whatever is a requirement to do a better job for any of these tasks.

What I am saying is that if we don’t reflect our communities – both on- and off-line – we’re doomed. If we don’t listen to others outside of our own, individual communities we’ve missed the point of journalism.

This isn’t about hiring “us” over “them” … this is about how all off us strengthen journalism by reflecting our diverse communities through relevant coverage … and that the coverage is shaped by those that make up the newsroom.

That’s the premise of hyperlocal journalism, isn’t it? That a local or insider would know what is more relevant to their community rather than an outsider.

So, why can’t we overcome this challenge? It’s 2011.

PBS’ MediaShift recently held a Twitter chat on media diversity.

Thankfully, it’s on people’s minds again.

I routinely get asked for names of diverse candidates to apply for Web journo jobs… but here’s the thing, while I know plenty of reporters, editors photographers, etc., my network of diverse Web journos isn’t as strong as it should.

Y’all, I’m a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, board member of Online News Association, been to nearly every alphabet soup of conferences and I’m still struggling to diversify my Web journo network.

So what do we do about it? We need more solutions outside of forming another damn diversity committee.

The fact is, these diverse communities are already on the advance side of the tech divide… but they are not on the journalism side. Perhaps they aren’t aware of a journalism career as an option? Perhaps they don’t see themselves in our coverage? Perhaps they feel like there is no place at the table for them to help shape news?

Whatever it is, we need to do something. And I need some help in figuring this out.

In addition to being on the ONA board, I’m overseeing the all day workshops at the next conference, I’m co-program chair for UNITY 2012, I’m the New Media track coordinator for the NAHJ annual conference and I run #wjchat, a weekly Web journalism chat.

If we don’t invest in recruiting and training members of diverse groups to help us do and advanced journalism … we are royally screwed.

My New Year’s resolution is to harness my access and network to improve diversity across the board for Web journalism. But I need your help. I need your ideas.

More importantly, in your newsrooms, your communities (and those you are not a part of) need your help. Reach out, connect, participate, preach and downright fight to ensure your news org’s journalism reflects the diverse community it covers. Help it stay relevant.

15 Dec

Journalism of the Web, not just on it: Q&A with Jim Brady

Comments off

NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201012/1920/

In the Web journalism world, it is hard to find someone who has been more of a pioneer than Jim Brady. From being a print sports reporter to becoming the executive editor at Washingtonpost.com to, most recently, launching (then leaving) TBD.com as the general manager, his career path is a proven track record committed to exploring Web journalism.

Jim BradyFor this week’s post, I had the privilege to “talk” with Brady a few days after he was the guest host on #wjchat, a weekly Web journalism chat held through Twitter. There were a few questions we had to cut because of time and hope to ask and explore them here. [NOTE: Play back the raw interview here]

Can you tell me a little about your background? Mainly, what was your first Web journalism job? How did you start? What was the environment like at the time? The culture?

The first web job I had was in 1995. I’d been a sportswriter at The Washington Post for a while, and had always been interested in new media, as they called it back then. I had a Prodigy account, an AOL account and even an eWorld account. Loved the idea of getting information whenever and however I wanted, but there was no practical application for a journalist to work online in the early 1990s. But then The Post launched a subsidiary called Digital Ink, and I joined in April 1995 to help it launch The Post’s first online adventure. We were a channel on a dial-up proprietary system called AT&T Interchange, which launched in late 1995. But we jumped on the proprietary bandwagon right as the web took off, so we quickly shuttered our presence on Interchange and I was sports editor [for] the team that launched Washingtonpost.com in June 1996.

The culture was totally freewheeling and wide open, and none of the web-print newsroom tensions existed at that point because, frankly, very few people at the paper gave a crap about what we were doing. We had an amazing creative bunch of folks there at that time, and many of them are still in digital media. It was a blast.

You have an amazing Web journalist, pioneering career. Your last adventure was with the D.C., local start up TBD. Can you describe the news org for folks. And, the question on people’s minds, the reason why you left it?

The concept of TBD was to produce a local news operation that wasn’t just on the web, but OF the web. What that meant, in my view, was avoiding the trap of producing traditional journalistic forms and just throwing them up on the web. To truly be OF the web, you have to produce journalism in ways that works in that medium. Sometimes, that still means producing a traditional all-text narrative. But, more than that, it means truly engaging with your audience, which we did via very aggressive conversation and newsgathering done via social media, via live chats and by building a network of more than 200 local blogs and linking to them and selling advertising for many of them. Being of the web means linking to other sites, so that you can become the first stop for readers interested in a topic and expose them to multiple voices in a region. It means not viewing mobile at something you have to do to check a box, but truly making an effort to produce a mobile site that thinks about that kind of information someone would want when disconnected from a laptop or desktop. It means not viewing the web as just another platform. I hate the term “platform agnostic.” I think it’s totally backwards. Some content works on multiple platforms; most of it does not. So we tried to blend these elements — all of which had been done separately in other places — into a unique local blend. And the audience response and traffic suggests TBD is on to something. And many of the calls I’ve gotten about consulting are asking for guidance on how we built TBD, which suggests others see it as a viable model as well.

As for why I left, despite the vision I just laid out, ownership of the company I worked for, Allbritton Communications, suggested we were out ahead of the audience and that we should scale back some of the aforementioned elements and focus on hiring more reporters and scaling back on the stuff I thought made us unique. We tried to find a middle ground, but in the end, there just wasn’t any. Both sides were pretty strong-willed in what they thought was right, and, as I told my friends, when you get into a significant dispute with the owner of a company, you’re always the one who ends up leaving. :-)

True. What do you make of the reactions about your departure? It seemed to be the talk of Web journalism, for better or worse.

Well, I think the fact so many people were so surprised suggests to me that they also thought we were doing something interesting, different and worth watching. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot we were still struggling with, and the site launched with about half of what we originally envisioned. So we had a ways to go. But the reaction, the comments I’ve gotten and the desire for many others in media to get more details on what we were doing suggests there’s something there. And people should continue to keep an eye on TBD. Erik Wemple is a tremendous editor, Steve Chaggaris has done an amazing job leading the TV side of TBD and there’s a ton of talent there that will continue to do interesting things, assuming management doesn’t declaw the good ideas over the coming months.

You talked a little about it during #wjchat, but can you talk about what’s next for you. What are you looking for? You mentioned people want to talk to you about replicating TBD’s successes, is that the immediate future for you? What’s your dream gig, anyway?

Honestly, I don’t know at this point. Going to start consulting next week, and have a few gigs lined up, some longer term and some one-day jobs. But I want to be patient and wait for something that’s the perfect fit. I know what I don’t want to do, and that’s go back into a newsroom full-time and evangelize the web anymore. I freely admit to being tired of that particular part of working in legacy media. I have reached the point where, after 15 years, the burden of proof really needs to shift to those who have decided to keep their heads in the sand. I don’t think I should have to explain to journalists why they need to pay attention to the web; I think the companies they work for are owed an explanation by those folks as to why they’re not paying attention. To be fair, I think those folks are in the minority in newsrooms now, but many still holds positions of significant power, and getting the web and print or TV or radio to work together requires real effort from both sides, and that effort needs to start from the highest levels of a company. But if I can find a job where that’s not a key component, that’s great. But what’s most important to me in the next job is to replicate the startup feel that the folks at TBD had for a while. The ability to launch something new, with a talented staff you get to hire and supportive management, is something I want to do before I get out of the business. I felt like we were close to that at TBD, but didn’t quite get the complete support of management there, though Robert [Allbritton] deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to support the idea.

Why do you think that is… that makes leadership/management still not understand or value the Web and its opportunities/possibilities? And what advice, if any, do you have to those that are still in newsrooms fighting this good fight?

Well, let’s be honest: A lot of it has to do with revenue. The legacy businesses still drive a significant majority of the revenue. And no one is suggesting — as I often see ill-informed types write on Twitter — that most of us digital types want companies to shut down those businesses. We don’t, and they can’t. But you see places where 80 percent of the revenue is from a legacy business, and 90 percent of mindshare is going toward the legacy business. To me, to have an effective long view, companies should be spending half their mindshare trying to build a business model in the medium that is clearly going to the future of most of these companies. That’s the frustration. I think people get that the web is a huge part of the future, but for whatever reason, it’s still hard to get those folks to actually focus on it.

As for those still fighting the good fight, my advice is the same as its always been: To be successful getting newsrooms engaged in fighting on the web, you have to show them what they get out of it, other than an occasional pat on the back. Find a few pioneers in your newsroom who are willing to try anything, then make sure the rest of the newsroom knows about those successes, which inevitably appeals to the competitive nature of journalists. And do everything you can to make sure successes are celebrated at the highest levels of the company. One of my criticisms of the management at Allbritton is that they never got TBD and Channel 7 together to share an overall vision of why the entire project had been greenlit. You need air cover from management in cases where you’re trying something new. The mangers and staffers lower down in the org have to make the day-to-day work, but without public top-level management support, it makes the battles in the trenches much harder.

Can you briefly talk about how you got started with TBD. Did someone approach you? Did you pitch the idea to someone?

I met with Robert Allbritton when I was doing some consulting for Politico, and he asked me what I was interested in doing next, and I mentioned local as something — based on my experience at The Post – [that] seemed like a real opportunity. He was interested, so I went off for a few months and pulled together a business plan, a competitive analysis and a strategy for the site. He thought about it for a while, and decided to go ahead and do it, to which I owe him greatly.

Because of time, we had to cut out some audience questions from #wjchat … I’d like to ask you a couple of them here. The first one is from Saleem Khan (@saleemkhan): If you were launching a news startup today [@TBD-scale and bootstrapped] what would you do differently?

First one is obviously [to] pick a niche. (Although we did that at TBD as well, though it was a big niche called “local”). As for what I’d do differently, I think the first part is to have a sales force with deep digital backgrounds. That was the original plan at TBD, and we hired some talented people with digital chops. But the company changed the structure before launch, and all those folks were put under the TV sales structure, and all soon left. I think that was a mistake. The TV sales forces did a pretty good job of selling the site once it launched, but we struggled to get traction in any sales area outside straight CPM-based display, and I don’t think that’s enough to support the site long term. That’s why we had the blog network and wanted to focus on selling geo-targeted ads and maybe even get into providing some self-serve tools for smaller local advertisers. But we didn’t get anywhere with those, and do think some other revenue streams will be needed. So my biggest piece of advice is to hire people who know the medium in which you’re living.

The next question comes from Sarah Fidelibus (@verbalcupcake): What startups have particularly impressed you? What have they’ve gotten “right”? Who has a biz model that you think is working well? Examples? What are they doing right, and how so? (These were two separate tweets from Sarah.)

I think there are different types of startups that have impressed me, and in different niches. On the news side, I do like what many of the non-profits are doing. I think ProPublica does phenomenal work on the investigative and data sides, and it’s been interesting to track local startups like MinnPost, Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego and Bay Citizen. I also find myself fascinated by location-based services like Twitter and Gowalla. I am not quite sure how they tie into local journalism yet, but there’s an answer there, which [is] why I check in just about everywhere on FourSquare. I think that’s the only way to really learn about these things. I am also really interested in what SB Nation is doing here in DC. They’ve done a great job of aggregating strong voices throughout the world of sports, telling stories in a more fun and more open way than most sports sites, and they seemed to have managed to tap into the community nature of sports that even an amazing site like ESPN can’t quite go at as hard, because they have so much stuff from their various platforms to promote.

As for the business models, I think we’d all agree there [isn’t] a massive list of new news sites that are making a ton of profit at this point. Honestly, that’s part of the reason the TBD idea seemed so interesting for me to pursue: I think, even if we figure out how we best evolve journalistically to the web, it won’t much matter if we don’t get the business side figured out. And as someone pointed out during the wjchat the other night, I think the business side is farther behind in figuring out the web than the newsrooms are. But neither side is where it needs to be yet.

Agreed. The last crowdsoured question comes from Andy Boyle (@andymboyle): I heard you very much dislike the “web producer” title of people. Or so you said at Nebraska. Tell us more?

Yeah, not a big fan of that title, but only because I don’t think a lot of people in legacy newsrooms know what the hell it means. As a result, I think sometimes web producers are treated like technical people and not the journalists that they almost always are. So you hear stories where a web producer is handed a headline and blurb to post by a newspaper staffer because that person doesn’t realize the producer actually can do that task as well. There are a lot of titles on web teams that don’t always explain what someone actually does. Sad that issue still exists, but I do expect that, over time, titles will flatten out and everyone will understand what everyone else does. But, sadly, we don’t seem to be there yet. I think, what it really comes down to is that, as long as people understand your skillset and what you do, you can give them the title of the “king of the universe” if you want. Understanding who someone is ends up being far more important than what they’re called.

Titles certainly have been somewhat of a joke in the Web journalism world. I was feeling good about my “Director” title until I met a “Senior Director.” But putting those labels aside, how do you describe your skills… how do you describe what you do in journalism? Meaning, I’m a journalist… more specifically a Web journalist. But, I’ve been describing what I do as being more like a Mad Scientist for journalism. A guy that bridges tech and journalism for the advancement of storytelling/journalism. How would you/do you describe what you do?

I am a journalist who speaks multiple “languages,” if you will. I understand the differences between platforms. I am a journalist who advocates assessing a story first, and then determining the best tools to tell it effectively, as opposed to going into a story knowing it’ll be text or video or photos, etc. But it’s a good question. I’ve never really boiled it down to a sentence. I guess I’d call myself a journalist who has found his true home in digital, but still rents a house in other media.

Ha! Well said, sir. I have so many more questions to ask… but we are running out of time. Let me ask you one final question that I’ve been asking journos for the last few months. In your career, you’ve had your ups and your downs… not to sound to negative, but as Web journos we get frustrated… but any way you look at it, we’re still here trying. Why? Why do you stay in this business? What keeps you going and fighting and evolving? Why are you a journalist?

Well, as to the question of why, I saw “All the President’s Men” in the theater with my parents when I was seven, and am probably still one of the only kids who always thought it was a cooler movie than “Star Wars.” So I fell in love with journalism at that point. But in the early years of my career, I started getting really interested in technology as well, and damn near almost quit the business in 1992 to go get a computer science degree. So the last 15 years of my life have been wonderful, as I’ve gotten the chance to mix two real passions. As for why it’s important to keep pushing, it’s trite and simple: The journalism business — and I use the word business intentionally — is in trouble, and journalism remains a crucial piece of our democracy and I fear for its future. Even though the money isn’t where it needs to be on the digital side, I find it thrilling to be aboard the ship that [is] going to eventually be the rescue ship. So that, to me, is where I find the excitement and desire to charge on. Having said that, I’m at a point now where I’d rather go off and build a whole new digital ship and leave the evangelizing to others. I’m starting to believe the future of journalism may well be a whole host of shiny brand-new ships as opposed to the repainted ships of old. I expect the major media companies of today to be around going forward, but they’re going to have to survive against a whole host of new competitors.

Well, I never thought I’d see a sentence that [would compare] both “All the President’s Men” and “Star Wars” … perhaps one can argue that Woodward and Bernstein were the Luke and Han for newspapers in their day.

I always said that the character of Darth Vader had nothing on Ben Bradlee in that movie. He was a much cooler cat, if you ask me.

Ha! Well, thank you Jim for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

My pleasure. Thanks for the great questions, and for hosting wjchat the other night. Fun times.

I’m glad you enjoyed it!

29 Nov

Was the Washington Post ‘s Twitter ‘Election’ sponsorship a success? Yes

In a recent interview with On The Media, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams mentioned that The Washington Post’s purchase of the trend ‘election’ yielded a “9 percent engagement rate.”

Host Bob Garfield added context to the result by saying “the click through rate on a display ad across the Internet is substantially less than 1 percent.”

NOTE: Jump to 3:25 to hear the exchange.

At posting, there is no transcript at the moment, but here’s a link to the story: http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/11/26/04

Whether it was a gimmick and a proof of Twitter advertising concept, you have to admit it is a bit of a success… well, compared to the crappiness of Internet advertising, which you know is, well, crap.

Two questions come to mind:

1. Whose idea at WaPo was this?

2. What were the factors in this scenario that made for a “success?”

If you know the answer to Q1, let me know. And what’s your theory on Q2?

03 Nov

Is Patch evil? Someone had to ask, so I did

NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201011/1903/

Hi, I’m “Evil Man.”

Well, that’s according to All Things Digital‘s Kara Swisher, who moderated a keynote presentation with America Online‘s Tim Armstrong and National Public Radio‘s Vivian Schiller at the Online News Association conference in D.C.

She dubbed me that after I asked a question that, to me, was clearly the elephant in the room.

For months before the conference, there has been a buzz in the journalism industry with people trying to understand AOL’s Patch.com, a venture in hyperlocal news.

According to its Web site, the Patch network is in 14 states, but expects to expand into three more. It’s already in more than 300 cities (63 of them in California alone), and plans to add nearly 200 more.

The ISP-turned-content network is putting its money where its virtual mouth is by committing an investment of up to $50 million to this project.

They have hired a ton of people, among them laid off journalists and recent j-school graduates. It has even partnered up with several universities, including USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

I know a few of their folks and they rave about their new, exciting job.

But, there are reports painting a less-than-positive side to this network. From claims of plagiarism to descriptions of “sweatshop” like hours, these reported issues have raised concern.

At a recent Hacks/Hackers meetup in Los Angeles, the topic of Patch came up and there was concern that local, independent bloggers would be killed off. That said, it was also admitted that not enough was known about the venture, but the group would like to explore the concerns.

Still, even while I was at the conference, people were asking each other what they thought of Patch. In fact, there was an unconference session (an impromptu session proposed and voted upon by the conference attendees) that wanted to explore this question.

But by 45 minutes into the talk, it looked like no one was going to ask the question. So I tweeted this out:
Ugh... I think I'm going to ask the Q on people's mind: Is Patch evil? @ONA10 #Ona10

And, once I was handed the mic, I did.

You can see the exchange, which aired on C-SPAN live (jump to: 00:45:58). It was also written up by Lost Remote. You can tell that the attendees were the shocked that I asked, but applauded the question.

One person told me she literally spit out her coffee when she heard my question while watching the live video stream.

For the record, I was not trying to say Patch is evil with my question, but merely ask the question that people were thinking. Prior to the conference, I had been on the fence about Patch and engaged other folks about this topic.

The reaction to my question has been overwhelming positive, but what has been interesting to me has been how a few folks thought I was either too soft or too hard on Patch. To me though, that averages out to the spot that I had intended: straight down the middle.

As you may have heard, the ONA10 attendees took to Twitter making me a local trending topic. Here are some of the reactions:

Maureen Linke
Vadim Lavrusik
Ken Sands
Heather Billings
Dave Stanton
Amy Webb
Bob Payne
Mel Taylor

A search of Twitter will show you a ton more, but Dani Fankhauser also compiled a list of her favorite tweets.

Outside of the comments, the two questions I got asked most were: What did I think of his answer? And, do I think Patch is evil?

Personally, I was mixed on his answer… I was surprised that he seemed like he didn’t know this vibe was toward Patch. While he talked in general terms about pay and pace, I did like his idea of partnering with local bloggers.

After all that, is Patch evil? From what I can tell, no. It’s hiring journalists. It’s trying to be a service to many communities. It’s investing in informing the public, while other media companies have just stopped cutting budgets.

But, I also don’t think it is all a giant Patch of roses. To me, it seems to be a move to become one of the largest ad networks in the country, going after local advertisers. Under the umbrella of “we care about the community,” this is a business venture. That’s not evil, that’s capitalism.

The bottom-line in this story isn’t my personal opinion. That alone doesn’t really matter. What mattered was that someone asked the question on everyone’s mind. What I did was not brave… it was journalism.

Not sure it merited being called “Evil Man,” but glad that the act of asking was applauded. I also like that the questioned spurred a dialogue about the project.

So, in keeping with that ongoing dialogue, what is your take on Patch? Are you a supporter or a hater? Email, comment or @reply me with your thoughts. I’ll publish the crowdsource response soon.

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail (r.hernandez@usc.edu) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

π