What's a beatblog? Pushing the Practice of Beat Reporting
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Serious pageviews for serious news at The Sacramento Bee

Monday, July 27, 2009 22:36 - by

Jon Ortiz’s The State Worker blog is proving that serious news can get serious pageviews.

It’s not sports, nor gossip, nor opinion garnering the most pageviews at The Sacramento Bee, but the rather it’s Ortiz’s excellent beatblog on state workers in California. Ortiz picked the perfect time to start the blog — right as the budget impasse in California was beginning a year ago — and has provided incredible coverage ever since. The budget still isn’t fixed in California, workers have faced furloughs, IOUs are being issued instead of payment and, in general, the state is in upheveal.

Ortiz picked the perfect time to provide his unique brand of dogged coverage and community building and engagement. His blog is a great source for original news, curation and a strong community of state workers. Ortiz estimates that the blog is reaching one-third to half of all state workers in California.

Ortiz is showing that people are interested in serious news on the Web, especially if it A) impacts their lives, B) is timely and C) provides a great community.

Below you’ll find the top five blogs at the SacBee. Each had at least 250,000 pageviews last month, with The State Worker more than doubling that:

  • The State Worker
  • Sacto 9-1-1 (has a link on Yahoo! news)
  • The Frame (a photo blog that The Bee is aggressively marketing)
  • Capitol Alert (The State Worker’s sister political insider blog)
  • 49ers Blog Q&A

Also keep in mind that The State Worker is a little more than a year old. It didn’t take long for this blog to really take off.

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Thought of the Day: beatblogs as mini newspapers

Friday, July 24, 2009 16:44 - by

Today’s Thought of the Day comes from Theodore Kim, a beatblogger and reporter for The Dallas Morning News.

Because of the realities of today’s newsroom and tough economic times, Kim said pretty much all reporters are contributing to blogs in some ways. He said that blogging is just more efficient:

As much as I hate to say this, blogging is becoming a far more efficient way of publishing news than a newspaper.
As we’ve come to find out, a beat blog is, in essence, a tiny newspaper.

The blogger acts as reporter, editor, designer and publisher. In that vein, the blogger also serves as a, kind of, traffic cop for feedback (much as someone overseeing letters to the editor might). That construct, I think, is made for leaner newsrooms and times.

Theodore, like many beatbloggers, feels ownership over his blogs. He monitors and guides comments after his posts and actively engages users. His job is much different than a reporter of even a few years ago.

I have to wonder if a news organization composed of individual beatblogs like Theodore’s could be a good model moving forward. Beatbloggers would have a large degree of autonomy over their beatblogs, would post most content unedited and would cultivate communities around their beatblogs.

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Silencing media doesn’t work anymore in a citizen journalism world

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 21:53 - by

Recently Lebron James was dunked on by Xavier University Jordan Crawford at James’ Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, and Nike tried to stop video from getting out.

The problem for James and Nike is that they forgot that we live in a world of Flip Cameras, cell phone cameras and plenty of ways to capture and disseminate video without professionals. Sure, Nike was able to stop professional videographers from sharing video by confiscating their video, but silencing professional media outlets isn’t a good way to stop information from being disseminated.

In many ways, the rise of citizen media is allowing for a greater defense of the First Amendment and freedom of expression. Now would be censors have to realize that it’s not easy — if not near impossible — to stop every single citizen from documenting what they witness. We’ve seen this in China, Iran and other parts of the world.

Stories will be told with or without traditional media outlets. In fact, citizen journalists are willing to show far great portrales of the world (citizen journalists don’t know or care about the Rice Krispies test). Instead of often sensitized Western media reports, citizen journalism is willing to show us the horrors of oppression and civil unrest.

Instead of actually stopping information from flowing, governments and, in this case, large corporations merely paint themselves as overbearing censors and bad guys. Sure, Iran, China and Nike were able to stop professional reports but they were miserable at stopping citizen journalists.

What did Nike end of accomplishing? They created a monster out of a rather pedestrian dunk in a pick-up game (check out the dunk yourself). They sullied their own good name and the name of Lebron James. And, of course, the video of the dunk got out anyway.

Twitter users seem to agree that the hype around the dunk was way bigger than the dunk itself:

realhiphopfan88 lebron should never have hid that video the uproar was worse than the actual dunk he made it more of a big deal than it really was smh

LouisburgCoach The craze is over & the video is out: Lebron James gets dunked on. Hyped WAY too much but…http://bit.ly/Uz0lr

Watts4 Ok yea LeBron got dunked on but It wasn’t as bad as they made it seem! It was kinda weak to me….

a_jucks @OGOchoCinco did you see the “dunk” over lebron?? why did they make a big deal about that? it wasnt that bad..

Guruofsports just saw the Lebron gettin yammed on it wasnt that bad.. damn somebody dnt kno how to take a L

DjFonzie I can’t believe all the hype over the lebron dunk.

Now both China and Iran are totalitarian regimes that afford their citizens few rights by Western standards. They are often censoring media — particularly foreign media — because they don’t want their often grotesque acts of oppression being noticed. And a large part of running a totalitarian regime is controlling the flow of information.

In Nike’s case, they turned something that was barely news or not news at all into a major story in the sports world. They also hurt the reputation of one of their biggest stars.

And for what? I don’t know. What I do know, is that Nike shows us that there are plenty of big corporations out there who don’t get how social media and citizen journalism work.

I think traditional journalists should take this to heart. Would be censors may begin to realize that censorship is futile in the age of citizen journalism. That realization may never come, but I do know that censorship just got a whole lot more difficult.

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Leaderboard for week of 7-21-2009: Dave Levinthal memorial edition

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 23:16 - by

We’re sad to see another outstanding beatblogger leaving the industry.

It’s been a rough for years for journalism, and many of the top beatbloggers we have been following have left the industry. People like Kent Fischer and Ed Silverman helped pioneer the practice of beatblogging, but now they have moved on to new, non-journalism careers. Our first leaderboard member this week, Dave Levinthal, was inspired by Kent Fischer and modeled his beatblog after his.

But Levinthal like his inspiration has left journalism.

Dave Levinthal | The Dallas Morning News

Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee

  • Ortiz is taking his link journalism to the next level by incorporating Publish2 into his work flow. This will allow his users to submit their own links to interesting content from around the Web. Together, their link journalism should be very good.
  • Ortiz started a Publish2 group for news from around the Web related to state workers.  The beauty of a Publish2 group is that Ortiz can allow users of his blog, state workers and other knowledgeable people into his group. Publish2 has a verification process that keeps marketers and spammers out, and that’s a big reason why we like Publis2 for link journalism, as opposed to sites like Delicious. Ortiz can hand select who he wants to let into his Publish2 group, which should help him get the most out of his link journalism efforts.
  • One of the things that Ortiz is doing with his link journalism is linking to state worker-related news that isn’t just about Californian state workers. This will allow Ortiz to showcase state workers issue from around the country and compare those to issues facing state workers in California. Ortiz is one of the best reporters on state government in California, but the only way he could tell the larger story of state employees across the country is by linking to the best.

Stimulus Spot Check | ProPublica

  • ProPublic was nominated by Ryan Sholin, who said this about the Stimulus Spot Check project, “I’m moderately fascinated by ProPublica’s crowdsourcing process (and platform) for listing, assigning, and gathering information on local stimulus projects.”
  • The stimulus is a massive bill with billions of dollars being spent all over the country. Crowdsourcing is the most logical way to track how stimulus spending is going. ProPublica’s Stimulus Spot Check is an interesting case study into how effective crowdsourcing can be. Perhaps more importantly, this project is a great case study into how to build and manage large-scale crowdsourcing efforts.
  • ProPublica is looking for users to “help us figure out the status of these projects — whether the project has been started or has been completed, what company got the contract, and how many jobs the company says it retained or created for its stimulus contract. Everyone who contributes will be credited in our story.”
  • The project is very young and there aren’t many results yet, but this is a massive crowdsourcing project worth keeping an eye on. As resources continue to be cut at traditional news organizations, harnessing the wisdom and time of the crowd will continue to be more and more important.

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Monday Dose of social media: Facebook most popular way to share links

Monday, July 20, 2009 17:10 - by

Sharing on Facebook Now More Popular than Sharing by Email — Facebook tops all other Web sites and even e-mail when it comes to sharing content via the AddToAny widget. Yes, this is just one widget, but it is one of the most popular. 24 percent of shares were via Facebook, while e-mail had 11.1 percent and 10.8 percent via Twitter.

Personally, I’m much more likely to share links via Facebook or Twitter than via e-mail, and I suspect this is increasingly becoming the case for many people. Now, we have some data to back up this point.

For content producers, this means getting content onto Facebook. People are using Facebook more and more and sharing is a big part of that.

Confirmed: Digg Just Hijacked Your Twitter Links — “Earlier today we mentioned that Digg.com appears to have changed the behavior of its short URLs so they no longer go to the source of the story for logged-out users: instead they direct visitors to a landing page on Digg (Digg).com.

The change has many negative implications for publishers, including the fact that readers who think they are creating a link to your content are actually just pushing traffic to Digg.”

Content creators, there are plenty of better short url services out there like tr.im, bit.ly and the original, tinyurl.com.

Love it or hate it, spymaster is invading Facebook — Spymaster is now on Facebook, but that’s not the real news here for content creators. The real news is how a viral game like Spymaster has exploded all over Twitter and now Facebook. It’s an innovative concept, and it’s one content creators should study closely.

Twitter’s 1,928 Percent Growth and Other Notable Social Media Stats –This is a great collection of stats. Here is my favorite

  • MySpace (MySpace) leads all social media sites (presumably excluding YouTube (YouTube)) in unique video viewers, with 12.9 million.

MySpace is still relevant in the entertainment sector, it’s just stagnant elsewhere. I think we’ll see MySpace drastically change within the next year or two into more of an entertainment portal and less of a traditional social network.

IE6 Must Die for the Web to Move On — Amen.

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Leaderboard for week of 7-13-2009: Live tweet edition

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 16:26 - by

This week’s Leaderboard focuses on live tweeting, the cousin of live blogging.

In many ways, live tweeting is almost the same as live blogging with a service like CoveritLive. But there are differences. First, Twitter is more open and much easier to discover.

People need to know about a CoveritLive live blog ahead of time, but via #hashtags, retweets and @replies, more and more people can discover a journalist live tweeting.

There are negatives from live tweeting, such as having tweets get lost in a stream of other people’s tweets. This can be rectified by embedding a Twitter feed onto a blog or other Web site.

In the end, however, both live tweeting and live blogging offer real promise for journalists and provide a new level of coverage for users.

Tracie Mauriello | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • Mauriello is nominated for her excellent live tweeting of “bonusgate,” a public corruption investigation in Pa. Her fellow reporters in Harrisburg retweeted her excellent work all day long and even relied on her to provide blow-by-blow details of a hearing on the investigation.
  • More than 100 lawmakers and staffers from the general assembly were subpoenaed to testify for the defense in this public corruption investigation.
  • Mauriello posted what amounts to a day-long account, all on twitter, of a hearing on the investigation. She did this all day long and didn’t stop at any point. It amounts to an interpretive transcript.
  • Fellow political reporter Alex Roarty said, “It’s how everybody in the Pa. political community is getting there news from [the hearing].”
  • Citizens interested in learning more about this hearing were also treated to a live, interactive transcript of this event. Something like this wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.

Nick Martin | Heat City

  • This non-profit startup focuses on hard news and public interest journalism in the Phoenix area. We especially like the use of social media for soliciting tips. Editor Nick Martin is also active on social networks like Twitter.
  • Martin is a very good user of Twitter. He links to interesting stories, solicits tips, interacts with users and more. Too many journalists use their Twitter accounts to just push people to existing content. Martin’s Twitter account offers additional value for fans of Heat City.
  • Martin also created a second Twitter account, @SerialShooter, to live tweet from trial of an accused serial shooter.
  • Martin has Google ads and a tip jar on the site to support his efforts. It remains to be seen how Heat City will be received by the community — especially those who might send in donations — but Martin has several great examples of how to mix new and social media with public interest journalism.

Ledger Live | The Star-Ledger

  • Over the past year this video show from The Star-Ledger has gone from a more traditional show to a show that feels more like a video blog. Users have reacted to the change and the show has become more popular. Many news orgs have jumped head first into video, often hitting their heads at the shallow end of the pool.
  • Ledger Live was always an interesting take on a daily news show with a more casual style, but even that wasn’t enough for Web users. People have different expectations for video on the Web, and broadcast standards don’t cut it. Plus, young users are often turned off by network news-style video shows.
  • The Nieman Lab reports that the changes were brought about by the Ledger beginning to understand how people consume video: “The show used to broadcast live at noon, but few viewers remembered to pull up the live stream on the newspaper’s schedule. Others didn’t understand they could watch past episodes on demand. Over time, the newspaper found that the Ledger Live audience was not particularly interested in watching a videotaped version of print news, which forced the show to become more topical. Donohue still addresses important news, but not in the way the newspaper does. He’s more dynamic — he even takes calls sometimes — in an effort to let readers and viewers peer into the newsroom.”
  • The videos got shorter and were longer a part of a giant video package, like the news shows of yesterday. People consume video on the Web in bits and chunks, and that is something the new Ledger Live has tapped into. People also like to interact on the Web, and Ledger Live has become more interactive as well.
  • The idea of doing a video show as almost a video blog is an idea to watch. The Star-Ledger has seen a lot of upheaval over the last year, but it is trying some really innovative ideas and experiments.

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Podcast: ReportingOn allows journalists to ask & answer questions for better reporting

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 22:31 - by

Ryan Sholin’s Knight News Challenge funded project ReportingOn just hit version 2.0 with a new design and some new features that Sholin hopes help journalists improve their reporting by connecting journalists on like beats together.

The site itself looks similar to Twitter and Yahoo! Answers and is centered around people asking questions and receiving answers from knowledgeable people. For example, technology reporters can get together and seek help from each other. The site is also a great tool for journalists to discover knowledgeable people that they don’t already know.

In fact that discovery of new people is one reason Sholin isn’t currently allowing people to important contacts from Gmail and other services. He wants journalists to meet new experts and sources, and believes that meeting new people can only help journalists’ reporting.

Asking and answering questions is the heart of ReportingOn. For instance Chris Amico recently asked, “I’m looking into US foreign aid funding and spending. Anyone know a good source for data on the subject? Especially which agencies/departments (USAID, DoD, State) distribute funds?”

That question was met with a response from Chrys Wu, “Start with foreign aid data from U.S. Census Bureau: http://tr.im/sm4e . Information from the Bureau of Economic Analysis may also be useful to you: http://www.bea.gov/scb/index.htm

Users have profiles that show their recent activity, how many questions they have asked, how many questions they have answered, whether people liked their responses and more. Users now get points based on whether or not people like their answers. This point-based system is an incentive for users to submit quality answers and is also a way for people to see how knowledgeable and helpful a user is.

Sholin said on the ReportingOn blog that the point system will be expanding in the future:

A points-based system in RO 2.0 helps feed the egos of power users while acting as a guide, beat-by-beat, to who might have a good answer for your question.  There are still leaderboards to be built, and I’m thinking up other ways to use the points system to motivate users, especially as the network gets off the ground.

ReportingOn originaly had a 140-character limit like Twitter, but Sholin got rid of that feature/limitation. He realized that it works well for Twitter, but ReportingOn questions and answers sometimes needed more space:

As has been pointed out more than a few times, Twitter is a good place to start an argument, but a really poor place to finish one.  Although I’d hesitate to frame the sort of exploratory, qualitative Q & A that could happen on ReportingOn as “argument” or “debate,” I’d like to believe that highlighting a “good answer” as noted by the person who asked the question will help lead to a permanent archive for reporting resources in a way that Twitter simply doesn’t do.

To put a finer point on it, if I ask a question of my followers on Twitter and I get a great answer, I get it in a stream of replies that are useful to a certain subset of Twitter users at that moment, but fly right by in the stream and never come back unless I pull them out of the flow of Twitter and display them somewhere.  At this particular moment in time, Twitter’s search functionality is highly ephemeral in nature, as it starts and stops indexing from time to time, and rarely dips back in the chronology as far as might be useful.  So where the quick-answer utility of Twitter stops, the long-term archive of ReportingOn begins.

ReportingOn is still young and doesn’t have a large user base, but it does hold promise to help connect journalists from around the country who cover similar topics and beats. Journalists working together can be exponentially more powerful and impactful than journalists working alone. Collaboration is here to stay.

Some topics discussed in our conversation:

  • How can ReportingOn help improve a journalist’s work?
  • How does Sholin envision ReportingOn being used after it becomes more popular?
  • What’s next for ReportingOn? What new features may be developed?
  • ReportingOn’s code is open source. What could news orgs do with that code?
  • Why would someone want to leave an answer?
  • And much more.

Click here to stream the interview. Or download the MP3.

About BeatBlogging.org

BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.