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The Guardian’s Matt Wells on live blogging the Egypt protests, in Arabic

Followers of the Guardian’s Egypt protests live blog in the last few days may have noticed short passages of Arabic text appearing amid the blog’s customary roster of updates, summaries and other multimedia.

Then later an entire news article or two appearing on the site in the unfamiliar language.

I spoke to blogs editor Matt Wells about the decision to translate the Guardian’s coverage into Arabic.

It began a few days back when one of the newspaper’s journalists suggested embedding Google’s translate button, which automatically translates any webpage, into the live blog. With independent news organisations such as Al Jazeera harassed by the state and foreign journalists reportedly suffering obstruction and detention, impartial Arabic-language news is not necessarily readily available in Egypt.

“The news there is dominated by state-run media,” Wells said, “and unofficial sources are mostly in English or under-resourced.”

Online translation services, however, are generally not very accuarate, even if Google has come a long way since the early days of Yahoo’s BabelFish.

The Guardian asked a native Arabic speaker in the office to take a look, and she confirmed that it “wasn’t exactly 100 per cent accurate”.

Then the blogs team put it to the readers, asking, what do you think of the Google translate service? We’ve had our native Arabic speaker cast her eye over it and don’t think it’s accurate enough.

Proving that reader comments aren’t the trash they get slated as by some, one reader joined the dots that the staff hadn’t.

If you have a native Arabic speaker, why don’t you translate some of it yourself?, they asked.

And so the Guardian started publishing live blog summaries in Arabic, and will be translating two or three news articles a day with the help of a professional service, Wells said.

“Clearly we are not going to become an Arabic news service, but we saw it as a useful feature.

“It is more of a gesture to our readers to show that we are appreciative of our audience in that region and of the fantastic response we’ve had.”

Wells said that the Guardian’s commitment to community management was key to the live blogging strategy, especially with coverage like that of the Egypt protests. The paper has two dedicated community managers – Laura Oliver and James Walsh – who sit and work with the news teams but “have the specific brief of engaging with readers in the comments below the line and on Twitter.”

That means flagging up useful information posted by users, pulling material into the live blogs from elsewhere and responding to comments or letting reporters know when it might be best for them to do so. It is a role that the Guardian is serious about developing, Wells said.

“It results in a much more engaged and two-way conversation with the users.”

As for the live blogging, there is no doubt that the Guardian likes, and does a lot of it. With more than 250,000 hits a day for the Egypt live blog alone, Wells called it the “centrepiece” of the paper’s coverage.

“This time it really feels like we’ve pushed on the form again.”

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Google’s Spotlight – highlighting journalism of ‘lasting value’

September 4th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism, Search

A new feature has been added to Google News, Spotlight, which (according to a very brief explanation by Google) is :

“(…) section of Google News [that] is updated periodically with news and in-depth pieces of lasting value. These stories, which are automatically selected by our computer algorithms, include investigative journalism, opinion pieces, special-interest articles, and other stories of enduring appeal.”

By looking at both the search engine’s own explanation of Google Spotlight and the selection of stories it has flagged up so far, Nieman Journalism Lab’s Zachary M. Seward suggests, “Spotlight shines on longer features that have bounced around blogs for a few days.”

According to Seward, lifestyle and opinion pieces fare well, while the New York Times is a frequent source. He does see potential for the new section, however, as a way of using people’s online activity to highlight interesting and important material.

[Laura Oliver adds: The usefulness of Spotlight will perhaps be greater for those who use Google News as their first port of call for the day's headlines - but what portion of Google News' users behave in this way (figures welcome) needs to be taken into account.]

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Advice from Guardian.co.uk’s online journalism Q&A

On Friday Journalism.co.uk took part in a live Q&A  hosted by the The Guardian’s careers section, allowing new and experienced journalists the opportunity to ask industry professionals for advice on conquering the world of online journalism.

The multimedia panel on hand to answer questions were:

Paul Gallagher, head of online editorial, Manchester Evening News
Laura-Jane Filotrani, site editor, Guardian Careers
Sarah Hartley, digital editor, The Guardian
Alison Gow, executive editor, digital, Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post
Laura Oliver, senior reporter, Journalism. co.uk
Madeline Bennett, editor of technology news sites V3.co.uk and The Inquirer
Paul Bradshaw, senior lecturer in online journalism, Birmingham City University
John Hand, duty editor, UK desk BBC News website
Alison White, community moderator, The Guardian

Here’s our round-up of the best advice from Friday’s event on how to make it as a successful online journalist in the digital age. You can also read the panel’s responses in full on the online journalism Q&A page on Guardian.co.uk.

Jump to:

What is the best subject to study to help me break into journalism?

[asked by Matt, who is studying English literature and language at college and asked if going on to study an English degree would help him prepare for a career in journalism]

John Hand: “I’m often asked which is the best subject to study at university and the answer is really that there is no particularly bad choice. The best newsroom has a good mix of people with different knowledge areas – for example, I think every editor in the country would love to have someone with the in-depth health knowledge of a medical degree on their team. Of course, any degree course that allows you to develop your writing and analytical skills (I always think history is a clever choice) would be better than most.

“The most important thing is to get some vocational training. Many editors themselves initially came through NCTJ courses (http://www.nctj.com/) so would respect those, but there are also many media organisations that offer their own in-house (or even external) training. If you want to get into news journalism, the key question to ask of any training scheme is how good their law course is.”

Sarah Hartley: “Grab as much work experience as you can throughout your uni years. Who knows what the economic climate will be like when you graduate but it may well be that you can find an employer who will put you through a block release course or similar. New schemes for apprenticeships, internships and such are bound to come through in that time.”

Madeline Bennett: “Has your college got a student newspaper or website? If so, volunteering to write for that would be a good starting point and showcase for your work. If not, why not start one? This is also the case for when you go to uni, student papers can be a great place to launch your journalism career.”

But what if I can’t afford to go to university?

[Forum user Dan Holloway asked: how does someone who has no choice but carry on a full-time job to make ends meet go about switching careers to online journalism?]

Alison White: “My advice would be to perhaps take some evening classes in journalism if possible – while I was at uni I did a 10-week course, one evening a week, about freelancing and a two-day course about getting into journalism. Or how about some work experience? Newspapers and other organisations are less well-staffed at weekends, I’m sure they’d appreciate some help with uploading content or other duties. Once you’ve got to know some people you can always keep in touch in the hope they might point you towards job opportunities or further work experience.”

Madeline Bennett: “Look for courses that focus on online journalism or multimedia skills, there might be some weekend or evening classes available that you can do to support your NCTJ. Also these courses are a good place to meet people who can help you get your first job in journalism, as they’ll often be run by current working journalists.”

Laura Oliver: “Start experimenting – if you can find the time outside of work to run a blog, contribute to other websites, you’ll learn a great deal about the basics of online publishing. Contact sites and other blogs that interest you and offer postings. Look at successful bloggers and think about what they are doing that makes them influential/profitable. Here are a couple of posts that might help too regarding building an online brand as a journalist:

“http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2009/08/17/adam-westbrook-6×6-branding-for-freelance-journalists/

“http://www.journalism.co.uk/5/articles/534896.php

What skills do I need to be an online journalist?

[Forum user Dean Best asked: what are the top online-specific skills I should attain to improve my online skills and better my chances of moving up the ladder?]

Laura-Jane Filotrani: “To be able to demonstrate a passion for digital – by this I mean that you are active online; you use the net; you have a profile online; you use and understand community; you are excited by being able to reach people using the internet; you want to find out the latest developments.”

Alison White: “A good knowledge of SEO and the importance of linking to others and providing ‘added value’ to the reader; i.e. give them the story but perhaps with a link to a video, an online petition, a Facebook page etc. News to me seems more of a package now rather than a traditional delivery.”

Paul Bradshaw:

“1. Understand how RSS works and how that can improve your newsgathering, production and distribution. I cover a little of that in this post:

“http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2008/04/21/rss-social-media-passive-aggressive-newsgathering-a-model-for-the-21st-century-newsroom-part-2-addendum/

“2. Engage with online communities around your specialist area, help them, provide valuable information and contacts, and then when you need help on something, they’ll be there for you in return. It will also build a distribution network for your content.

“3. Possibly hardest, but force yourself to experiment and make mistakes with all sorts of media. If you can make yourself entertaining as well as informative then that can really work very well.”

How can I make the transition to online journalism?

['Malini' asked: how do I go about breaking into the field of online journalism? And why would anyone pay and retain a writer when they can easily get so much content for free?]

Paul Bradshaw: “Use free writing to build a reputation and contacts; and sell the valuable stuff that you generate from that. Ultimately you should aim to become reliable enough for them to want to hire you when they are hiring.”

Sarah Hartley: “Writers have always provided free content – be it letters to the editor, local band reviews, poetry or whatever, so being online will only further the opportunity for that sort of exposure and that can only be a good thing for diversity and choice.”

Paul Gallagher: “I have taught myself some coding skills like HTML and I believe it does help a lot to have some technical knowledge, not necessarily because you will need them in the job but because it really helps to be able to communicate well with the programmers and developers in your company.”

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DNA09: Journalism.co.uk coverage from the digital conference

March 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Online Journalism

So, here we are in the land of waffles and fruity beer, live from DNA 2009 in Brussels. Have a look at the agenda here. It should be two days of varied, and if we’re lucky, heated discussion – just to keep things lively.

On Day Two, Journalism.co.uk’s very own Laura Oliver will be participating in a panel on Twitter: is it possible to tell the news in 140 characters?

We’ll be live-Tweeting from @journalism_live, with news updates from @journalismnews. You can follow an updating blog post tracking the Twitter conversation (#dna09) or a post with an embedded live-blog from the De Fontys Hogeschool Journalistek.

Alternatively, try out this socialplume page which will also be tracking the conversations.

If you’ve got any questions you’d like to ask any of the participants on the list just drop laura or judith @journalism.co.uk a line.

Enjoy!

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How to: Track a conversation in Twitter

Twitter is increasingly being used by journalists to make contacts and track news events, but the Twitter user-interface (UI) itself is pretty limited making it difficult to track conversations. Fortunately its open API structure and the ability to subscribe to various types of RSS feeds from Twitter means there are a number of ways to track a ‘buzz’ around an event or specific conversations.

Hashtags are one way to identify conversations based around particular subjects or events. If you don’t already use them, you might have at least seen them being used by others in your network. Basically it’s a keyword that you use in your Twitter post to associate it with a group, topic, or event. For example, every Monday night there is debate on Twitter ‘hosted’ under the hashtag #journchat, aimed at public relations professionals and journalists. If you consider that an unholy mix, then there is a tag just for journalists #journ plus other, less popular, variants such as #mediachat and #journalism.

Another common usage for hashtags is at events. For example, our senior reporter Laura Oliver recently attended the Oxford Media Convention and was one of several journalists Twittering using the hashtag #omc09 (Journalism.co.uk has a dedicated Twitter channel for live event coverage – @journalism_live).

So if you want to monitor posts with those hashtags, one simple way is to create an RSS feed based on a keyword search of Twitter or, better still, Twemes. But there are also a number of other tools you can use to track conversations.

Tools:

TweetDeck – This desktop application (still in beta) enables you to split all the Tweets you receive into topic or group specific columns. The default columns can contain all tweets from your timeline, @replies directed to you and direct messages. You can also make up additional, live-updating columns using the ‘group’ (to create a sub-group of just your favourite Twitterers, for example), ‘search’ and ‘replies’ buttons. You can also filter each column to include or exclude items based on keywords or users. Unfortunately it does not support multiple Twitter accounts (otherwise I would definitely prefer it as my main Twitter client to Twhirl).

Tweet Grid – This is a browser-based application that allows you to search for up to nine different topics, events, conversations, hashtags, phrases, people, groups, etc. As new tweets are created, they are automatically updated in the grid. One particularly neat feature is that it can automatically add hashtags if you Tweet directly from their web page.

Monitter – A browser-based application that is very similar to Tweet Grid except it is prettier and you can search for Tweets made within a certain distance of a chosen location. A widget is available for your blog or website but you would need to know a little html to install it.

Roomatic – A browser-based application that creates an output page of Tweets based on a keyword or hashtag. Unfortunately it does not seem to do much else but could be handy if you need to direct readers to a page containing live updates on a particular event or topic.

TwitterThreads – A browser-based application that threads your twitter feed, making it easier to follow conversations or connected Tweets. However, it does not seem to keep the threads together for long, or in quantity.

Tweetchat – A browser-based application that allows you to monitor and chat about one topic. You can tweet directly from the page and it will automatically add the hashtag of whatever ‘room’ you are in. The Twitter stream live updates.

Tweetree – A browser-based application that puts your Twitter stream in a tree so you can see the posts people are replying to in context (but does not properly thread them). It also pulls in lots of external content like twitpic photos, youtube videos etc.

Can you recommend any other tools? Let me know in the comments.

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#soe08 Live Twittering from the Society of Editors conference in Bristol

November 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Events

Here’s the last 30 updates using the Twitter hashtag #soe08 – you will need to refresh the page to watch it update. Alternatively, you can simply follow the RSS feed or, if you prefer just our own fair Tweets from the very able Laura Oliver, subscribe to Twitter.com/journalism_live

[carpwp:feed{http://www.hashtags.org/tag/soe08.rss}][/carpwp]

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