Posts Tagged ‘community building’

How to attract followers on Twitter and build a useful network

Friday, June 26, 2009 14:18 - by

Twitter’s power only becomes apparent to new users once they get some followers and find worthwhile people to follow.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to attract followers or build a community on Twitter. Without a good community of people that you are following and that are following you back, Twitter offers little value. But Twitter is a fantastic tool for journalists, content creators and just about anyone really, and that’s why if you take a little time to first build your own little community on Twitter, you’ll find much better results in the long run.

Twitter is a phenomenal powerful reporting tool. We have a tutorial that will help you learn how to use Twitter as a reporting tool.

Thankfully, it’s not hard to build a community on Twitter that will offer you real value. Always keep in mind that Twitter is not about you. It’s about being social. It’s about the community.

Here is a little guide to getting people to follow you:

  1. Make your account complete before anything else — Don’t have a profile photo? Don’t list a real name? Don’t have any profile information? Then you’re not ready to attract followers. Have a profile photo, use your real name, link to your personal site/blog/company, write a thoughtful profile and pick a background that works for you. This must be done first if you want to be taken seriously on Twitter.
  2. Join the community – If you’re using Twitter for work (or to talk about your favorite hobby or personal branding purposes or whatever), there is a specific community that you want to connect with (or should want to connect with). If you’re a education reporter in Baltimore, you want to connect with educators, school administrators, parents and students in the Baltimore area. These are the first people you should target to follow and engage with.
  3. Find followers — Wait, isn’t this post about attracting followers, not following other people? Following relevant people is a good way to attract followers. Sites like WeFollow (a Twitter user directory) can help you find followers to get started and doing a few Google searches will help yield quality people to follow as well. If a colleague recommended joining Twitter, go through their friends list and follow relevant people on it. Once you start following people (and you enjoy their tweets), start looking through those users’ friends lists to find additional people to follow. The #followfriday hashtag isn’t a bad place to look for people to follow either. If someone you really enjoy following recommends someone, then that person is probably worth following too. Also, search.twitter.com is a good place to search for topics and find people to follow based on those topics. Here is a tutorial on getting the most out of search.twitter.com.
  4. Don’t follow people blindly — Finding value on Twitter is all about building a quality community. If you indiscriminately follow people, your Twitter stream may be all but worthless to you. Back to our example, if you want to find value in the Baltimore education community, you should primarily follow people in that community.
  5. Offer value — Perhaps even before you join the community and start following people, you need to begin offering value. It doesn’t matter if you have zero followers, because if you start following people before you offer value, they won’t follow back. If you want to enter the Baltimore education community, start tweeting links relevant to that community, ask questions and offer some of your thoughts on education in the Baltimore area. That way when people come across your page, they’ll know what you’re about and will be much more inclined to follow you.
  6. Start discussions – Once you’ve joined a community, started following relevant people and started offering value, it’s time to start conversations. Twitter is a social media site. You need to be social. One of the best ways to be social on Twitter is to start discussions. Ask questions and respond to @replies.
  7. Be social — Starting discussions is part of being social, but it takes more than that. Monitor your Twitter stream and engage people when they say something interesting or link to something worthwhile. The @reply is your friend. Don’t be afraid to have back and forth exchanges on Twitter. It enriches everyone’s experience. And retweeting (RT) is fine as long as your retweeting something of value (especially to your followers). Better yet, add your own take to that RT. But be judicious with RTs, because too many RTs — especially those of dubious quality — will not please your followers.
  8. Don’t just be about yourself — One of the biggest traps people fall into (especially those coming from traditional, one-way media) is that they make their Twitter account all about themselves. These people just link to their existing content (such as newspaper stories they’ve just written). Others just talk about themselves. People who are all about themselves rarely, if ever, interact with other people on Twitter and don’t understand that social media is all about being social. Unless you are Oprah or someone similar, you need to interact. Otherwise, you’ll never have a chance of building a worthwhile network on Twitter. Is you’re not prepared to give something to the community on Twitter, you will not find success on Twitter. It’s that simple.

If you find this post of value, you might find my Twitter account, @jiconoclast, of value too.

How should the NYT & established news orgs use social media?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 16:44 - by

Jennifer Preston was named social media editor of The New York Times today.

Yes, the Gray Lady now has someone in charge of social media. The idea and title may seem funny to some, but it’s better than what The Wall Street Journal and others have been doing lately. It remains to be seen what Preston will do exactly and if she will really help make the Times more social, but early returns have been promising.

Preston asked users on Twitter today, “How should @nytimes be using Twitter?”

My first suggestion to Preston and the Times would be to be social. This is a given right? Wrong.

Check out the main NY Times Twitter feed. It’s anything but social. It’s a glorified RSS feed, composed of just headlines..

That should be corrected ASAP. The Times has almost 1,000,000 followers on that account, and the paper isn’t doing anything meaningful with it. First order of business for Preston should be to figure out how to make that Twitter feed social and useful.

It’s important to understand a news org and its readers before making suggestions. The Times has a rich history which must be kept in mind, and many of its readers are older. The Times should approach social media differently than a new media startup like TechCrunch.

There are, however, a few suggestions that I think all news orgs could benefit from. Here are a few suggestions from BeatBlogging.Org to the Times and other traditional news orgs:

  • Be Social — If you’re going to be on social media, you should be social. This means engaging in two-way communication from the start with all social media accounts. This also means avoiding the urge to make Twitter into a glorified RSS account.
  • Transparency — Social media is a great way to humanize reporters and pull the curtain back over a news orgs. Why not Twitter page one meetings and talk about upcoming stories? This would get people excited about upcoming content. A news org like the Times might even be able to charge for this access. People and organizations that are successful with social media are almost always transparent.
  • Encourage every employee to experiment with social media — I mean everyone, just not content producers. Even editors who may not use social media for their jobs should be encouraged to play around with social media in their spare time. After all, if an editor is going to be managing other people who use social media, that person should understand social media too. Every employee at news organizations needs to at least understand and appreciate social media.
  • Make two-way communication a requirement of content producers — The era of one-way media is over. The era of one-way stories is over. All content producers should be required to engage in two-way communication for their jobs. Content producers should take ownership of the comments after stories, posts, videos, etc. If content producers are required to engage users, it will be much easier for news orgs to build meaningful communities around their products. This could help end comment ghettos.
  • Build a bigger network of sources — Social media can help content producers build bigger networks of sources. A bigger network directly translates into more tips, more confidential documents, etc. A bigger network will mean better journalism. Social media is a great way to build a bigger network.
  • Crowdsource — Working on a story? Need to find experts or people to comment? Social media is a great way to do that. Need to get people’s experiences? Social media is a great way to do that too. Social media can even be used to get people to help report on a story. Our audience is a great, untapped resource. It’s time for us to harness it.

What would you suggest the Times do with social media and Twitter?

Creating the perfect beatblog

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 14:32 - by

A cutting edge beatblog, and the sites of highest interest to Beatblogging.org, are those using the two-way, social part of the Web, to cover a beat in a networked or user-assisted way.

Here we find information and newsy items, advice and ideas regularly flowing in from readers as the blog becomes a platform for extending the network of the beat outward until hundreds and thousands of people are helping to… cover the beat.

But — truth be told — there aren’t any beatblogs that get it all right. Mostly, this is due to lack of time and resources. Where one blogger spends time on original content, another blogger spends time on two-way communication with readers/commenters.

So, let’s say that it were possible to create the perfect beatblog; that time and resources aren’t an issue. And let’s say that we created this blog using only elements from existing blogs. In other words, a mash-up.

What would this blog look like?

The Creators

First of all, it’s important to note that a beatblog does not have to be run by a large media company. It can be created by a single person or a team, a pro or an amateur journalist. The idea is that the creator(s) whoever he/she/they are, are people who care deeply about regularly covering a beat and focusing on content that is not only valuable to their readers who are interested in the niche topic, but also focus on content that their readers suggest be written or covered.

In other words, the creators “get it” — all of it. From the look and feel of their blog, to its subject to their linking ethics and social media leverage — they focus on truly becoming a “beatblog” and not just a blog that “happens to have a beat.”

They would have the reporting drive of Kent Fischer, the networking savviness of Monica Guzman, the friendly, open-mindedness of Brian Stelter and the entrepreneurial spirit of Daniel Victor.

The Design

It must be stressed that design goes a long way online. As much as “Content is King,” design can really change the way readers approach your blog and interact with it.

A beatblog that really hit the nail on the head in terms of theme and design is GothamSchools. It’s a blog focused on breaking news and analysis of the NYC public schools. If you take a look at the site, you’ll find that it’s header is properly tied in with the subject — it has the New York City skyline and the image of a public school.

picture-1

The rest of the page is very minimalist and straightforward, designed to look like the pages of a notebook. What is great about GothamSchools is that there is no way anyone can get lost or confused with where to find more information, how to contact the creators or what the site is about. Everything is neatly organized and tagged, exactly the way beatblogs should be.

I’ve stressed before that many beat blogs fail to provide enough transparency and contact information on their pages. This is because so many of the best beatbloggers are attached to legacy news organizations, and thus, their pages are not stand-alone sites but rather limbs of the main news site.

I think the proper way to run a beatblog is to make it it’s own Web site, with it’s own contact information and “about” page. It shouldn’t just be a link from a drop-down menu on a news organization. Of course, if it’s affiliated it should have the proper attributions and links, etc.

But making the beatblog it’s own page can make it more comfortable for readers, easier to find and easier to interact with. Just as a news site’s Twitter feed or Facebook page is separate from the organization and more personalized, so should a beatblog be.

The Strategy/Execution

Properly running a beatblog can be difficult if there are time constraints or not enough helping hands. For example, Pharmalot, a beatblog run by journalist Ed Silverman about the pharmaceutical industry, featured really good daily journalism and link journalism. It was a beatblog that doggedly covered its niche.

But it would have been much stronger if had the same community building as the DISD Blog. Pharmalot might have been the best beatblog from just a pure content perspectiveve, but it always lagged in the two-way communication department. Silverman spent so much time delivering incredible content by himself that he simply couldn’t do more two-way communication.

Then you take Alexander Russo’s District 299 blog, and it has great two-way communication but could be stronger in terms of original content.

Again, if time weren’t an issue, what would the proper mash-up look like?

  1. Clear beat: GothamSchools
  2. High volume of commentary: SciGuy
  3. Harvesting of comments “Here’s what you said about this…”: Come Heller High Water
  4. Inquiries/questions asked to readers: Security Fix
  5. Daily roundup: The Daily Wrap
  6. Filtering and linking: Today in the Sky
  7. Comments or e-mails from readers run as posts/used for story ideas/improve stories: Central PA NewsVote
  8. Comments hosted in blog entries: Inside Ed
  9. Reader blogs: Seattle PI
  10. Hoisting Comments: Dallas ISD Blog
  11. Live blogging: The Caucus
  12. Frequent blog posts by author, i.e. several per day, updates: Glenn Greenwald
  13. Contact info/Transparency/Accessibility/Brand identity: Security Fix
  14. Good use of Twitter: Alex Roarty of PoliticsPA
  15. Quality writing/grammar/style: Slate.com

The Results

In the end, it’s all a time and money game. There’s not enough of either. And that’s okay — for now.

Beatblogs are still in their infancy, and it’s going to take time to evolve into something powerful and profitable. It’s always important, however, to keep fresh ideas in mind and constantly try to break the mold.

Be creative. Think outside the box. Learn from the best.

Run the best damn beatblog that the Internet’s ever seen. :)

EWA: Social media for better education reporting

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 23:59 - by

Below you’ll find a post I created to go with a beatblogging presentation at the Education Writers Association conference.

For a more in-depth quick start guide on what beatblogging is, how to do it and best practices, check out my post: BCNI Philly: Why beatblog? (and why news should be social)

Best networks for education reporters

  • Facebook — Facebook is a no brainer. It originally started as a social network just for college students, then added high school students and now has expanded to allow everyone to join. You’ll find a much higher concentration of college students in particular on Facebook than you will on MySpace. Even many teachers, professors and administrators are joining Facebook these days. It’s the perfect network to find education-related people to interview and even find stories. Every education reporter should at least have a presence on Facebook.
  • Twitter – Twitter is a great social network for almost any journalist. In particular, it’s a great tool for crowdsourcing, asking questions and monitoring trends. Check out our screencast on how to use Twitter for reporting and our other screencast on how to use search.twitter.com.

Education beatbloggers to follow

  • Tawnell Hobbs/Kent Fischer | DISD Blog — The DISD blog won this year’s EWA award for best multimedia education blog and for good reason. It has been the gold standard for education beatblogs the past 1-2 years. Here are just a few of the lessons you can learn from the DISD blog: Fischer’s readers helped him uncover an A1 story, hoisting comments to build a better community, live blogging to help form a closer connection with readers, providing a public service for readers, etc, etc, etc.
  • Alexander Russo | District 299 Blog — Russo has a different kind of beatblog. He centers his blog around “hosting the conversation.” The District 299 is a place where people in Chicago can go to discuss education and the Chicago school district. Russo does original reporting, linking to others content and conversation starting.
  • Gotham Schools — This non-profit, new media startup is one to watch. They don’t have an institutional memory and aren’t beholden to how things “used to be.” Instead, they can concentrate on transforming education reporting. We’re big fans of their daily link journalism post too.
  • Khristopher Brooks — Brooks use of Facebook is one to emulate. He convinced the University of Nebraska to give him a nebraska.edu e-mail address. This allows him to see most students on the Nebraska Facebook network. Brooks does not grab students profile information without prior permission, however, and he mostly uses Facebook to find students who are studying certain majors or taking certain classes. If Brooks is doing a story where he needs to talk to a student about a controversial class, for instance, he can search the Nebraska Facebook network for students in that class, contact them and get interviews. He essentially uses Facebook as a phone book on steroids. Listen to Brooks discuss how Facebook has made his job much easier.

Best practices

  • Be transparent and accessible — Brooks is extremely accessible for Nebraska students because he has put himself on Facebook. If students want to contact him about an issue at Nebraska that he may not know about, they can easily do so via Facebook. It takes far less work on their part to send him a private message via Facebook than it does to hunt down his e-mail address or phone number. The easier you make it for people to contact you, the more likely it is that they will contact you. Get on multiple social networks (with your real name), put a bio and about page on your blog and make sure you have contact info on your blog.
  • Be social – This could be as simple as being active in the comments section after stories and blog posts. It also means being an active participant on social networks. If you’re on Twitter, just don’t ask people questions, but answer their questions too. Be social and get to know people. Social media is all about being social. The old way of doing journalism was one-way communication, but today it’s all about two-way communication. Be a part of a conversation.
  • Cultivate a community — Being social is the first part of cultivating a community. If you’re lucky enough to be given your own blog, use it to its fullest potential. A blog is a fantastic place to cultivate a community of knowledgeable sources that will send you tips, links and documents. Monica Guzman is the master community cultivator and is someone worth following for ideas on how to build a community.

Monica Guzman on how to be a quality commenter

Thursday, April 16, 2009 15:53 - by

Expert community builder and comment cultivator Monica Guzman recently gave a talk where she implored people to be quality commenters and not trolls.

I would certainly recommend showing this to your Web site users. Maybe it will help spur some better conversations. But Guzman also says that news organizations and journalists have to take ownership of the comments on their site.

Guzman says this means providing the right tools for community moderation, having enough resources to police that community and recognizing that news is a conversation.

But you knew all that good stuff already. Right? The rest of Guzman’s talk is about how our users can make the whole experience better.

Some of the points that Guzman made:

  • Choose your story wisely — Guzman says that no one cares what you have to say on a Britney Spears story or on a liberal/conservative debate. Those comments and debates always turn out poorly.
  • Focus on what’s smart — Comment on something that’s smart in a story or something that you like about it. Pointing out accidental misspellings doesn’t forward the conversation along.
  • Tell us what you think — But of course think first. You know, read the whole story first.
  • Tell us your story — “Quote yourself.” Guzman wants you to tell your story in the comments section. And maybe you’ll become a new source.
  • Tell us what you know — Post links, talk about studies, add to the conversation, etc.
  • Ask a question — Ask a good question, and you might get a great answer.
  • Introduce yourself — Own up to your ideas.

Yes, it’s really that simple (hat tip to Chris O’Brien for finding this video).

Leaderboard for week of 4-6-2009: Sports writers strike back

Monday, April 6, 2009 23:13 - by

Last week we focused on sports writers and said that it wasn’t easy for us to find innovative, beatblogging sports reporters.

Some of you took offense to that and sent in additional nominations. It turns out that you were right; there are lots of innovative, beatblogging sports reporters (just not on the scale of their news colleagues). This week we’re back with three more, really innovative sports beat reporters.

We’re still not pleased with how many sports reporters have blogs that they aren’t using properly. The kinds of blogs with giant comment ghettos. But this week gives us hope.

This week’s Leaderboard is filled with sports reporters who get interaction, and interaction is ultimately the name of the game.

Greg Auman | St. Petersburg Times

  • Auman reminds me a lot of Ed Silverman. His individual posts don’t usually stand out, but when you take his entire body of his work, it’s when you begin to notice how he shines. He covers his beat well and harnesses the Web well. It’s the total package.
  • His beat — University of South Florida sports — lends itself well to blogging. He is an expert on all things related to sports at USF but not focused on an individual sport. His beat and his blog allow him to connect with students and alumni of the school.
  • He posts a lot of quality updates to his blog. Many of his posts serve as conversation starters for the community. And Auman, unlike many sports reporters, is active in the comments after his posts. This, unfortunately, is uncommon.
  • Auman’s tweets, however, do shine on their own. He posts little tidbits of information that may eventually become longer posts. He has created a Twitter feed that offers real value to USF sports fans, and his tweets compliment his blog perfectly.
  • I also like how Auman makes use of live chats with readers. Live chats are a great way for sports reporters in particular to connect with users.
  • Auman is the perfect combination of good sports reporting combined with more casual blog posts and a health dose of interaction.
  • The level of interaction that Auman engages in — from the comments after his blog posts to Twitter to live chats — is a level that all sports reporters should strive to achieve.

Britt Robson | Secrets of the City

  • Robson’s work covering the Minnesota Timberwolves could best be described as a combination between a basketball analyst and a blogger. His writing style lends itself well to blogging, and the way he writes and the content of his writing has helped create a niche that compliments standard sports writing.
  • One of my pet peeves with many sports reporters and columnists who have been given blogs is that they never interact with people in the comments section. And, naturally, the comments after their posts are usually incendiary, banal and don’t contribute to the conversation. In short, they have successfully created a comment ghetto by not taking ownership of the comments that appear after their comments. (I’m looking at you Cleveland.com sports writers).
  • Robson is active in the comments after his posts, and, of course, a comment ghetto has not formed. There is actual debate and discussion that occurs. It furthers the conversation and adds to the value of the blog.
  • It’s refreshing to see the quality of community that Robson has created around a professional sports team. It’s rather uncommon. I don’t know what it is, but it seems like many sports writers who cover professional sports don’t feel the need to build a community around their blog. But is it even a blog if a “blogger” wants nothing to do with the comments after his posts?

Dona Ditota | The Post-Standard

  • Ditota made the Leaderboard for her use of Twitter for sports analysis and live blogging. Rather than liveblog play-by-play for games, Ditota provides stats and analysis. She did a phenomenal job of providing live analysis and updates during the Oklahoma-Syracuse game. Her tweeting during games is the perfect compliment to other live sports coverage.
  • This tweet from Ditota mentions how OU was able to beat a zone defense by shooting well. This little tidbit of info could help sports fans understand what they are seeing.
  • It doesn’t make that much sense to just liveblog play-by-play at a major sporting event. People can get that kind of information from a variety of places — TV, iPhone apps, mobile phone video, etc — but getting succinct analysis is not easy to get. Ditota filled a niche. In fact, her coverage was the perfect compliment to watching the Oklahoma-Syracuse game live. It was also helpful for people following along on the go.

Leaderboard for week of 3-16-2009: Three pillars of new media journalism

Thursday, March 19, 2009 12:18 - by

This week’s Leaderboard is a potpourri of different skills and examples.

That’s just the way I like it. We have strong link journalism, strong live blogging and strong community building. Each of those are important to journalism moving forward.

I apologize for the tardiness of the Leaderboard this week. We’ve been taking on a lot of new endeavors at BeatBlogging.Org and bringing students up to speed on the project.

David Brauer | MinnPost.com

  • Brauer was nominated for this nifty bit of link-journalism. Curation is a big part of the future of journalism. Even if you’re not breaking every story, you can still act as a trusted source and filter for users.
  • There is too much information to read on the Internet. It’s overwhelming at times. That’s what makes link journalism so powerful. Brauer combines great original reporting, with strong curation. His users get the best of his original work, plus the best work from around the Web.
  • MinnPost.com is a non-profit journalism outfit that you should be following. They are experimenting with some interesting revenue models.
  • Braublog is a kickass beatblog by them that covers local media and politics, and it’s a piece of new media journalism worth keeping tabs on.

Dave Levinthal | The Dallas Morning News

  • This week features more CoveritLive goodness from a beatblogger. Levinthal used the live blogging tool to live blog / live chat during a contentious debate about a proposed Dallas Convention Center hotel. The debate featured Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and real estate executive Anne Raymond.
  • This is a particularly strong example of live blogging. Before the debate started, Levinthal answered questions that were e-mailed to him about the proposed project. He also took questions from people on CoveritLive before the debate started.
  • His analysis and links before the debate started helped give users background and answered many of their questions. They were then better able to understand what was happening during the debate.
  • Live blogging is a tool that can benefit just about any beatblogger, and CoveritLive is one of the premier live blogging tools. Live blogging gives journalists, particularly print journalists a new ability to immediately inform users and connect with them during live events. A debate like this is an excellent example of when a live blog makes a lot of sense. This is one of the best examples we have ever seen of live blogging.

Monica Guzman | Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  • This is an honorary nod to Guzman because her role at the new P-I will be changing. The Big Blog has existed as a conversations starter, linking heavily to the P-I’s content and great content from around the Web. Guzman has also pulled out interesting comments on other P-I stories and elevated them to their own posts. But the thing is, the P-I is radically changing. Most of the newsroom is gone, and so Guzman’s role will be changing.
  • The Big Blog was an exemplary example of how a newspaper could use the Web for two-way communication and community building. Guzman engaged in gathering, moderating and analyzing conversations. That was the heart of what she did. Most news organization do not have someone like her on board. They need to fix that.
  • The Big Blog was also a blog that worked well with traditional print content. This is the style of blog that every newspaper should look into. You can find our past coverage of the old Big Blog here.
  • Now that the P-I no longer has print content, it’s clear that The Big Blog will be changing. What the new Big Blog and P-I will be like is still to be determined. Regardless of what the new Big Blog looks like, the old Big Blog was a beatblog worth emulating by other news organizations.

What it takes to be a beatblogger

Thursday, March 5, 2009 17:33 - by

Want to know what it takes to be a beatblogger? Not sure where to start? Who is doing it already? Here is your simple introduction to the new revolutionary practice that is changing the world of digital journalism.

A beatblogger isn’t just a blogger.

Twitter isn’t merely “Facebook Status Updates.” It’s much more. Likewise, beatblogging is more than just a journalist being assigned to blog for a major news publication. A beatblogger, simply put, is a beat reporter who uses their blog as a tool to engage their readers, interact with them, use them as sources, crowdsource their ideas and invite them to contribute to the reporting process.

When a beat reporter uses social networking with the community to create hyper-local and hyper-focused stories – that’s beatblogging. As a result, the beat is better researched because the community that is directly involved with the subject is actively participating in creating news.

Your readers are your new BFF’s. Get to know them. Invite them to dinner.

Okay, so you don’t exactly have to invite them into your home, but you get the idea. Beatblogging requires reporters to start conversations with their readers. But simply replying to a few comments doesn’t cut it. It’s the year 2009. You have to be way more active than that. This means asking questions, replying to comments, seeking out tips, using their story ideas and building stories upon their conversations.

More often than not you’ll be required to continue conversations on older stories even when you are already working on a new project. This can be tiring, time-consuming and hard work. But the trade-off is that much of the researching and source-chasing that journalists used to undergo is eliminated through the first degree contact with the community.

If you haven’t spoken to your audience, if you don’t know who your most loyal reader is, if you haven’t written a story based on a tip from the comments section of your blog and if you haven’t asked the crowd for help — you’re losing. You’re not using 2009 tools to be at the forefront of the digital revolution. And you’re certainly not a beatblogger.

Be everywhere. I’m not kidding.

Journalists in the 21st century can no longer hide behind their bylines. I can’t stress enough how important it is for bloggers to be accessible through all networks and social sites. Where’s your “about” page? Is your e-mail easy to find? Do you have a photo up?  Even some of the most successful beatbloggers today have not been doing a good job of making themselves transparent.

It’s important to bridge the gap between reader and source and build a circle of trust. And the only way this can happen successfully is if both sides agree to be transparent. If bloggers are annoyed by snarky, anonymous commenters, then lead by example. Don’t hide information about yourself either.

Be accessible. That means I should be able to find your name, a photo, e-mail, Facebook page, LinkedIN account, Twitter name and possibly an e-mail. That’s it. It’s not too hard, and it will make your beatblogging experience world’s easier. (P.S. Want to be a top search result when searching for the term ‘beatblogger’? Then make sure to add the keyword multiple times in your various social profiles!).

Learn by example. It’s okay to copy practices. Don’t worry, it’s not plagiarism.

Journalists hate to copy. They don’t like anything that isn’t original or different. They like to be the first to report on a story or have a certain angle. But sometimes it’s okay to copy, especially in the case of beatblogging. What this means is that you should look at what current beatbloggers are doing successfully and emulate their methods to form your own beatblog.

Take a look at Kent Fischer from the Dallas Independent School District Blog, who is building a “blog on steroids.” Fischer’s blog is essentially a micro-site, a niche publication that covers the education system in Dallas, Texas by combining beatblogging with database reporting.

Learn from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Monica Guzman as she innovate with her weekly office hours for readers. Guzman connects with her users on her blog, The Big Blog, on social media sites like Twitter and in person. Guzman is a master conversation starter and uses her networks to get people talking about issues in Seattle and about the PI’s content. The Big Blog is all about cultivating conversations and there is no one better than Guzman at that.

Check out Brian Stelter from the New York Times who is beatblogging at “TV Decoder,” where he covers the day’s on-screen and behind-the-scenes developments, with insights into Nielsen ratings and the machinations of the TV industry. Stelter has found that it’s easier to share stories, ideas, links and be able to ask for advice, contacts, and sources. He is always opening himself up to opinions, more points of view and more sources. Likewise, users send Stelter feedback and actually like to contribute because they feel more connected. He is a real person they can interact with.

Watch Daniel Victor, the twenty-four year old reporter for The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News. Victor is trying his hand at mobile journalism, and he’s convinced that community-building and crowdsourcing are the two biggest keys to journalism’s future. Victor experimented with a Ning network that ultimately didn’t work out, but it hasn’t deterred him from innovating. Victor’s latest venture is a blog where Victor asks his reader’s to be his assignment editor. Readers are, literally, his assignment editors — researching, contributing ideas and suggesting stories.

Lastly… INNOVATE!

The most marked characteristic of beatbloggers is that they all took it upon themselves to pitch new ideas to their editors and take on radical experiments that had never been attempted in the world of journalism. A true beatblogger never stops trying to innovate and create new ways of using the community and social media tools to improve journalism. Don’t be afraid to use your own methods. And when you do, be sure to send us your work our way!

Did this article help? Comments or questions? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments or send a tweet to @MsBeat.

Niche social networks can be a great tool for journalists

Thursday, February 19, 2009 18:11 - by

Every journalist has at least heard of the big-shot social networks like Facebook and MySpace and many journalists have signed up for accounts.

But one of the great strengths of the Internet are all the niches it allows to flourish. These niches can be great for journalists, and sites like Ning make it easy for people to setup niche social networks. Gina Chen, family life editor at The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y., has found great success leveraging niche social networks for her parenting beat. On her personal blog she gives this advice about niche social networks:

If you write about education, and you want to find people really interested in education, for example, a niche social network might help. You won’t reach as large or as broad and audience as Facebook, but a smaller audience that is super interested in your blog topics or stories is better in a way than a larger audience that isn’t.

In particular, there are two niche social networks that Chen has found really useful: Cafe Mom and Twitter Moms. Chen says they help “me connect with moms both in my geographic coverage area and throughout the world who may be interested in the parenting tidbits on my Family Life blog.”

These social networks have allowed her to connect with moms for stories and posts and have allowed her to build her network of sources. Once a journalist joins a Web site, Chen recommends they immediately let people know who she is, and Chen also recommends promoting that she is on a given social network:

You’re expanding your community two ways: widening the circle to include people outside your geographic area and engaging those people who already read you. In time, your regular readers will join the site you’re on. You’ll have access to them in a new way. You’ll be able to chat with them, find out what they think you should be writing about, even ask them to write for your blog or your newspaper. They’ll become your inner-circle of advisers.

Chen has worked hard forming connections with her readers on her Family Life blog, and that can mean off-line work too. When she first began working the family beat, she set up meetings with mothers’ groups in the area, visited local mothers’ homes and met their children.

“Nothing can take the place of that personal connection,” she said. “You’ve got to have it both face-to-face and online. Online readers want to connect to the writer, and if journalists don’t provide that, the reader will go search for it somewhere else.”

At the same time, Chen says blogging can’t be done lazily.

“You have to contribute something to the debate,” Chen said. “It’s not enough to just post a link you like and say, ‘Check this out.’ The reader will check out that link, but can forget you. Unless your blog presents an aggregation of links, or some extra commentary and reporting, readers won’t have a reason to come back.”

Chen created the blog to give more exposure to parenting issues. She and many of her readers felt that many mothers’ concerns weren’t getting enough coverage in the paper.

Last February, for example, Chen investigated a series of day-care center closings in Syracuse and found they were all related to a lack of state subsidies for child care. Along with a feature story, she also ran a blog post, which allowed her to add a ton of useful links for needy families. In addition, she gave her personal take on the story and a video looking at the crisis.

For Chen, blogging is not just a fun side job — it’s a necessity. She estimates 70 percent of her work is on her blog and in social media, (check out her daily online routine) and 30 percent is spent working outside on her beat. She’s by no means alone in blogging at the paper: Chen estimates about 50 percent of the Post staff are active bloggers.

Chen advises sticking to topic-based blogs. A general assignment reporter should avoid a blog on their daily reports, given the variety of topics that’ll come up, he said.

“A general assignment blog can easily lead to disaster,” she said. “Blogs are about targeted niche audiences.”

She recommends such reporters blog on a topic they’re passionate about, even if it has nothing to do with the job.

“You could blog about old movies and bring a readership to your paper that has never come to it before,” she said.

I mentioned my biggest concern about blogging, the fear that the more wired I get, the less time I’ll be reporting out on my beat. Chen took issue with that.

“If I’m a court reporter with wifi access on my laptop, I can be  live blogging and twittering while on site, without ever having to go back to the office,” she said.

Though aware of blogging’s complexities, Chen has little patience for reporters who resist it.

“I would ask them, ‘Have you noticed how our industry is doing lately?’ Newspapers are crumbling. If we don’t change, we will get left behind,” Chen said. “Blogging is now a matter of survival.”

Leaderboard for week 2-16-2009: Access edition

Monday, February 16, 2009 23:59 - by

Good beat reporters have something that most people don’t — access.

Journalists have access to politicians, sports stars, scientists and other experts. What if journalists created more content that harnessed their ability to gain access? Is there even a business model to be created around access?

That last point will be left for others to debate and discover, but this week our first Leaderboard member shows the power of access.

Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle

  • Every month Berger has a chat with experts on a different science topic. Users are free to submit questions and the best ones are put forth to the experts. This month Berger brought in two experts on climate change to answer his users’ questions.
  • Berger uses a popular live blogging technology, CoveritLive for his chats. CoveritLive allows Berger to screen questions as they come in and then broadcast the best ones for his experts to answer.
  • These chats are popular when they happen live, but they also make great content once they are over. Each chat is automatically archived, allowing users to read over the questions and answers at anytime.
  • These chats can also be provide fertile ground for potential blog posts and stories for Berger. His users may pose questions that Berger may not have thought of before. He can then look into those topics more indepth.

Brian Krebs | The Washington Post

  • Krebs is consistently rewarded for building such a strong community around his beat. Again, Security Fix users are helping each other out by providing information on computer security. Krebs made a post about the Conflicker Worm that has been rapidly infecting Windows users, and Security Fix users provided each other with tips on how to keep their machines safe.
  • He has developed a great beat blog that has useful information on a daily basis. But what really makes his blog shine is the kind of users he has gathered around it and the comments they leave. Users can  learn an awful lot from the comments left after posts. They are a treasure trove of knowledge.
  • Krebs shows us why building a community is so important. Many of his blog users are very knowledgeable about computer security and many work in the IT field. Krebs has actively cultivated a community of knowledgeable users, and because he is so active in the comments section, users leave more thoughtful and civilized comments. Krebs has not allowed a comment ghetto to form.
  • The community has made Security Fix into a better blog. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine Security Fix without the community that has formed around it.

Jon Ortiz | The Sacramento Bee

  • This post is an excellent all-around example of beat blogging. Ortiz was alerted to the blogger he mentions in this post by one of his users. Then his users provide excellent information and insight in the comments after his post. Ortiz has a network of California state workers around his blog that can provide great insight.
  • One of his readers told Ortiz to check out a post by a blogger analyzing a report by the California CIO. The blogger raised questions and interesting points about the report. Berger took the best points the blogger made and asked the government of California to respond. He then posted the unedited e-mail to his blog.
  • This post is an excellent example of what happens when a beat reporters builds a network around this beat. Ortiz has a niche blog that focuses on issues surrounding state workers. Because of this, Ortiz has been able to build a much larger network of state worker sources than before he had the blog.
  • Both Ortiz and Krebs also demonstrate the power of having a niche beat blog. A blog about the state of California or about the government in general would probably attract a lot of non-government workers. The State Worker, on the other hand, mostly appeals to state employees — exactly the kinds of people Ortiz wants to add to his growing network of sources.
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.