Tag Archives: online communities

How the Guardian’s community of commentators contributes to the story

A community of commentators provides the Guardian storytelling process with “cross-fertilisation from below the line”, David Shariatmadari, deputy editor of Comment is Free (CiF), the Guardian’s comment, analysis and discussion platform, told readers at the Guardian Open Weekend event today.

In a session called “digital revolution: how publishing is becoming collaborative”, Shariatmadari explained how 400 non-Guardian staff are commissioned to contribute to CiF every month.

In addition to commissioned commentators, a post-moderated commenting system,  and reposting content from niche blogs, the “opening processes” provided by social media results in “unearthing unexpected gems from the readership”.

“It’s difficult to say where the future of digital collaboration might go next,” Shariatmadari said, but feels “moderation will always be necessary”.

The Guardian trys to reduce the need by moderators by “managing the conversation”, with journalists, community coordinators and moderators joining the debate.

Laura Oliver, a community manager who is one of those “embedded” within the news room and areas such as CiF,  works to reduce the need for moderation by encouraging a healthy community of moderators.

Oliver sees her role as to represent and be the “voice of the reader”, encouraging a “two-way conversation” and broadening the overage.

Once a story is published, that’s not the end of it as that’s where the readers come in.

The Guardian wants to build a returning community, Oliver said, beyond asking readers to “send in pictures of snow”.

She gave the example of ensuring the team “connected” with those contributing from North Africa during the height of the uprisings and ensuring those commentators “would come back to us”.

She also highlighted the collaboration from readers and expert commentators during the daily blog on the Health and Social Care Bill, run during the debate around the amendments to the bill, the pause and its passage through parliament.

Claire Armitstead, literary editor of the Guardian, talked about crowdsourcing and call outs for reader responses and how they influence the sections such as Books.

What this new journalism has opened up is new ways of responding to criticism within the arts.

Dan Roberts, national editor of the Guardian, the chair of the debate, explained how his team started trying to capture witnesses to events, harnessing citizen journalists, and has evolved into opening up to publishing the daily newslist.

The idea is that publishing the list encourages feedback, Roberts said, “in the hope we get some advice and help”.

That way we know that we are chasing the things that readers care about.


Ten things every journalist should know in 2012

Image by Tormel on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Here are 10 things every journalists should know in 2012. This list builds on 10 things every journalist should know in 2009 and 2010. It is worth looking back at the previous posts as the ideas are still relevant today.

1. Learn from Leveson. The Leveson inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media has specifically scrutinised journalism and the industry, but social media (and therefore popular opinion) is also holding it to account. Journalists need to be sure that the means really do justify the ends for a story and must be crystal clear about the legalities of their actions. And they need to be more transparent about the sources of stories, where the source will not be compromised. If a story originates from a press release, acknowledge it.

2. Curate and share. Social sharing is a great way for a journalist to add value to their personal output (also see point 9).

You can share articles of interest to you by tweeting, adding curated links on your personal blog and using bookmarking site like Delicious or Pinboard.

Doing so will raise your social capital and help you to engage with your peers, contacts and your audience. Online influence and reputation may well become as important as your CV with the rise of tools like Klout and PeerIndex.

3. Invite others in. Your readers graze content, snacking from several news sites – so help them out. Include links to external content on your news site and post news from other outlets on your organisation’s social networks.

Although readers will still have a brand affinity, they are much more promiscuous in their reading habits, consuming content from a wide variety of news outlets. So acknowledge this and make your news site a destination not just for your journalism by providing links to content from other publishers.

4. Know your niche. Technology is driving the delivery of niche content. Where specialist titles once required consumers to hunt them down via postal subscriptions and visits to larger newsagents, niche content is now delivered instantly online and via apps and is more easily found. Specialise in an area that interests you, blog about the subject and share links.

5. Think multimedia on multiplatform. There has been much debate about tablets revolutionising publishing, but many magazines are simply pushing out their print version via non-interactive PDFs, aided by new delivery systems such as Apple’s Newsstand.

Publishers are opting to offer consumers a laid back reading experience in the knowledge that tablet owners read in the evenings when they have time to consume in-depth news. Publishers will also need to play to the strength of the tablet device, allowing interactive content such as video to shine, and focus on providing consumers with a reading experience that is different to that of a newspaper.

Journalists can be ahead of the game by developing skills in video, audio and other types of multimedia that can be used to enrich storytelling in apps and on other digital devices.

6. Data is not just for geeks. Data is driving journalism but many journalists are afraid of the numbers, spreadsheets and code. But all journalists need to know how to spot the nonsensical numbers in a press release, to be able to accurately make sense of statistics, and understand how to find a story in a study.

Take these examples of data used for investigative journalism from the Guardian: Afghanistan war: every death mapped and reporting the riots. But as well as in-depth data reporting, be aware of the free tools to get you started such as these ManyEyes visualisations, showing the number of women in British politics by party, of Manchester City Council spending or debt in the English premier league.

Be aware that data can be misinterpreted. Take this Express front page splash on a cancer study and read about the pitfalls highlighted by data journalist James Ball in this presentation given at news:rewired, a conference for journalists.

7. Focus on what works – do less to do more. No news organisation however well resourced can achieve everything. Work out what works and strive for excellence in that area.

Sometimes you need to take a step back to see where your priorities should lie. You may realise it is better to write one original feature than chase five stories already in the public domain.

8. Look to new off-site audiences. Don’t just focus on clicks on your site. If 10,000 people listen to your podcast on SoundCloud, 1,000 people click on a Storify or 10 people comment on a story on Facebook without visiting your site they are still being introduced to your title and brand and may visit in the future.

9. Add value. Readers will be able to get a story that is in the public domain from several sources so make your content count. Consider yourself a collective educator by adding value to everything you produce by including links and background information. Think of the way the Guardian’s liveblogs, such as Andrew Sparrow’s politics liveblogs, curate and add context. Act as a guide to your readers on your site, on Twitter and on other platforms.

10. Online communities are no substitute for offline communities. Journalists must still meet people, build trusting relationships and nurture real-world contacts.

  • For a day of inspirational ideas in journalism sign up to attend news:rewired – media in motion, a conference for journalists. It is being held at MSN HQ, London on 3 February 2012.

Poynter: NY Times introduces unmoderated comments for ‘trusted commenters’

Poynter has an interesting post highlighting the overhaul of the New York Times’ commenting system.

The news outlet has introduced “trusted commenters“, which the Times describes as an “invitation-only programme designed for our most valued commenters”.

Those who have proved to be trusted by consistently having comments approved will be allowed to leave comments that will be made live immediately without the need for moderation.

Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman explains the overhaul of the NY Times’ commenting system:

The trusted commenter programme is the most significant new feature, in my opinion. Those who join will have to submit and verify real names, a profile photo and hometown by connecting a Facebook account. (Some people object to using Facebook, so other identity verification methods may be supported later, [Sasha Koren, deputy editor of interactive news] said.)

In exchange they get instant commenting, as well as a higher profile on the site. With a special “trusted” logo attached to their color photo and full name, they stand out visually from the other commenters who usually have an anonymous username and no profile photo.

Sonderman’s full post on how New York Times’ overhaul of its comment system and how it grants privileges to trusted readers is at this link.


#ijf11: Are paywalls incompatible with community engagement?

A member of the audience in this morning’s online community engagement session at #ijf11 asked the panelists this interesting question:

Are paywalls entirely incompatible with community engagement?

The general response from the panel was no, not necessarily. Justin Peters from the Columbia Journalism Review compared community engagement behind the paywall to a private members club:

At a private club, membership is restricted, so there are less people there, but you could say that they feel more connected to each other and to the club. The quality of the interactions and ties that are forged are stronger.

But, Peters added, “the bet is, does anyone want to join the club? Is it sustainable?”

Ed Walker, online communities editor at Media Wales, (pictured left) referred to Joanna Geary’s keynote speech at Journalism.co.uk’s most recent news:rewired conference, in which the Times’ communities editor talked up the value of having a smaller number of readers that the publisher knows more about, and who engage with the content in a more valuable way.

With Media Wales, Walker said that “it is better to have two really well informed comments than twenty that just say something like “I agree”.

How to approach comments formed the heart of the discussion during the session, with panelists addressing how publishers can drive comments on more complex or long-form content and whether good comments should be promoted somehow.

Walker said that the problem with users commenting on certain stories and not others was to do with confidence. He said that Media Wales had tried to address the issue by encouraging users to use recommend buttons as well as commenting.

We turned to recommend buttons, because people don’t have the confidence to comment on the large investigations or complicated stories. And when you look at the stories that have been recommended, compared with those that have comments, they are often very different.

Walker also described how Media Wales often take the best comments and publish them in the next days newspaper, often alongside a related article, as a way of encouraging print readers to become more involved online.

In terms of publishers attempting to promote and reward good quality comments, the Huffington Post’s Josh Young said that the site encouraged its quality commenters by offering badges for a history of good contributions, but he stressed that it was essential for news sites not to shut out comment threads that became off-topic conversations.

Its great that people are talking on your website instead of in their living room, you should be proud of that. If you can restructure, rearchitect your site so that poeple can have conversations like they have in cafes and in their living rooms, you have really succeeded.

Young added that the Huffington Post had experimented with two ways of promoting quality comments on the site:

You can absolutely find ways to elevate the most enlightened comments. At the Huffington Post we had two ways of doing this, one was an editorial way in which the writers indicated which comments were good, then readers would get a little badge that indicated they had a history of good comments in politics, for example.

The other way was a machine learning engine. We took a thousand comments and entered looked for statistical tendencies about what makes a great comment and what doesn’t. It doesn’t work perfectly but it works beetter and better as we continue to improve it.

Paola Bonomo, head of online services at Vodafone Italia, said that she thought that using technology to improve the quality of comments was a good thing, but echoed that a balance was needed between rewarding quality comments and heavy moderation, which just discourages people across the board, she said.

Ed Walker took part in a similar session at Journalism.co.uk most recent news:rewired conference. You can see video from the session here: news:rewired video: Building an online community from scratch

See the full agenda for Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired at this link.

Sky News forums: what went wrong?

Suw Charman-Anderson looks at what went wrong with Sky News’ forums, which were shuttered last month. A thoughtful post on community management more generally:

If Sky News have not been paying full attention to their community, then they only have themselves to blame when things go south. You can’t just leave people to it. As human beings we are used to living within constraints, and the idea that the web is a place where they are not needed is a myth. Communities need limits, and those limits need to be communicated, discussed and thoughtfully enforced.

Full post at this link…

Sky News website closes down discussion boards

Sky News last night closed down its website’s discussion boards claiming that debate on the platform had been reduced to “meaningless abuse”.

In a post Simon Bucks said that although the boards were “very popular” they had been hijacked by a small number of people.

At Sky News we welcome robust debate about the news, but we want it to be of a high standard. I am afraid that too often on the discussion boards threads which started intelligently would degenerate into mindless name calling.

If you want to contribute to the broad debate, you can still post comments on news stories and on blogs. In addition we intend to run more web chats like the ones last week with our correspondents Alex Crawford and Stuart Ramsay and will develop other ways of allowing intelligent debate about current events.

To those who used the discussion forums sensibly and did not abuse them, or other users, I can only apologise. A small number of people have spoiled it for the majority.

The changing face of the news editor in the world of social media

The freedom attributed to the world of online journalism supports the notion that the internet fosters equality. When it comes to news, we can be our own gatekeepers and use social media to carve out our own news agenda.

The issue is at the heart of a post on Nieman Journalism Lab by Ken Doctor, looking at the evolving image of the news editor within social media, from the experienced newsdesk figure to our community of online friends.

In this hybrid era of straddling print and digital publishing, the role of the gatekeeper has markedly morphed. It’s shifted from “us” to “them”, but “them” includes a lowercase version of “us”, too. Gatekeeping is now a collective pursuit; we’ve become our own and each other’s editors.

With social media, the serendipity that came with turning pages and suddenly discovering a gem of a story that an editor put there happens in new ways. We’re re-creating such moments ourselves, each of us―individually and collectively―as we tout stories and posts to each other. A friend e-mails us a story; we might read it, time permitting. We get the same story from three people, and chances are good that we’ll carve out time to take a look.

Doctor says that in the future news organisations will need to “harness this power” by combining a professional and traditional news judgement with the value and reach of social media networks. Additionally – never underestimate the importance of aggregation in appealing to social media audiences.

Go ahead and call it gatekeeping, but think of it with a different slant when it comes to flexing those well-honed news judgment muscles. These days editors have a much bigger bank of news and features on which to draw. It’s not just what staff reporters and wire copy offers; it’s the entire web of content.

See his full post here…

Cloud on Economist.com aggregates reader comments

Not sure how long this has been a feature on the Economist’s website, but aggregating readers’ comments around different topic areas is an interesting way in to a story.

The cloud of terms show the most popular topics from across the site and can be viewed for one-week, two-week or a 30-day period:

Clicking on a term displays all reader comments from across the website relating to that subject, with a link to what article they were left on.

Currybet.net: Lessons on handling an internet brand crisis from Jan Moir

Martin Belam has produced a really useful guide for news and media organisations when responding to the kind of online crisis illustrated by the reaction to Mail Online’s publication of a piece by columnist Jan Moir and her comments on the death of Stephen Gately.

[See related links below]

Belam covers making changes (don’t do so in haste; be transparent and thorough); and planning an ‘escalation procedure’ for your online community.

It’s also important to respond to criticisms and comments everywhere your audience is looking, he says.

“It is going to get easier and easier for people to exchange outrage, and the links and information required to act on that outrage to make a complaint. You need to have a plan for what happens if you find yourself at the eye of a perfect internet storm,” he writes.

Full post at this link…

Nieman Journalism Lab: Gawker stirs up online commenting with new #tips tags

Gawker is encourage commenters and readers of its site to share news, links and tips using a new tagging system.

Using a text form on the site, tagging a message with #tips for example will send it to a ‘tips’ page, where all similarly tagged submissions will be pulled together to create a stream.

Individual hashtags for different sections of the site have been introduced as part of the new Gawker Open Forums, reports Nieman Journalism Lab.

“[A]s the front pages of our sites become ever more professional, it’s even more important to allow anarchy to bubble up from below. The goal is to blur the line between our editors and commenter-contributors,” publisher Nick Denton told Nieman.

Starred contributors – e.g. those members of Gawker’s commenting community that have been given a star rating by the site’s editors – will have their tagged submissions immediately fed to the aggregated pages. Other tagged contributions will need to be flagged up by these starred users.

Full story at this link…