This week’s podcast is a joint interview with three of the minds and voices behind CNET’s Buzz Out Loud — Tom Merritt, Natali Del Conte and Jason Howell (Monday co-host Molly Wood was unable to make the interview).
Buzz Out Loud may be an audio (and video) podcast, but it utilizes many of the same techniques that beatbloggers use. In fact, Buzz Out Loud is one of the first major instances of a mainstream media outlet utilizing two-way communication and interaction as a major part of their work. If you listen to Buzz Out Loud, you’ll realize that without its listeners, the show is not possible.
“They are essential,” Merritt said about the show’s listeners. “That is what makes the show. It has been that way from the beginning.”
Buzz Out Loud, for those unfamiliar with the show, is a daily tech news podcast that mixes news and commentary together. Listeners of the show send in tips every day for stories they think the co-hosts should discuss. Listeners also send in e-mails and voicemails, the best of which are read or played on the show.
Many journalism organizations have begun podcasting in the past few years, often with mixed or little success. Buzz Out Loud is a show that anyone who wants to start a podcast should listen to. Many journalists, especially newspaper journalists, don’t harness the medium properly when first starting a podcast.
These podcasts are often dull and dispassionate. What may work for a newspaper, may not work for a podcast. A large part of Buzz Out Loud’s success is due to the passion its co-hosts have.
Building a community with user interaction
User interaction is the key, however, to Buzz Out Loud’s success. Listeners feel a part of a community, and it’s co-hosts are easy to get a hold of. The show accepts voicemails, e-mails, has a forum and its co-hosts can be found on a variety of social networks.
“When we started we had no idea what people were going to like,” Merritt said. “We decided to build in as a much user feedback as possible so that we could listen to people.”
User feedback has caused Buzz Out Loud to evolve over time. The show started as a short five-minute, every-other-day podcast and has morphed into a daily audio/video podcast that runs around 40 minutes. This transformation happened because listeners said they wanted more, and the show has always tried to be what its listeners wanted it to be.
That may not sound revolutionary, but most journalists don’t really listen to readers on what kind of content they be should producing. But for a show like Buzz Out Loud that is so much about interaction and building a community, listening to users is essential. As more journalists embark into social media and beatblogging, it will be important for them to listen to their users.
This doesn’t mean Buzz Out Loud is entirely dictated by its users. The show combines user feedback with the co-hosts’ editorial judgment. We’ve seen this from other beatbloggers like Eric Berger, and it has worked well.
“It’s more of an art more than a science, but you want to listen to that audience all the time, take the temperature of that and kind of inform that with your own judgment,” Merritt said. “If you just did it democratically, and said ‘okay people vote on the stories’, the show wouldn’t be as good.”
Users send in tips about tech news each day, and the show’s co-hosts pick which stories to discuss. If the same news item is sent in several times by various listeners, Merritt said that means it is something that listeners want them to discuss. This has proven a good way to gauge the importance of a tech news story.
How Daniel Victor’s ‘Central PA NewsVote’ is raising the bar on beatblogging
The media industry is in trouble. That much is clear. But instead of grieving the death of a long-suffering system, the important question we should be asking is, “What can journalists do about it?” Daniel Victor, 24, is a reporter for The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News, and he thinks he’s got an answer.
“My new assignment editor? You, the community” is the headline of the post written by Victor on PennLive.com’s blog. Left alone, it sounds like a gimmick. Yet, the first sentence dispels any ambiguity in what Victor means by his title: “In the face of some skeptics, I stubbornly believe PennLive readers should be involved in deciding which stories we write.”
Pitch your stories. Vote on them. I’ll write them. I’m all yours.
On March 3, 2009 Central PA NewsVote officially launched. What is it? How does it work? As a “hybrid mobile journalist/general assignment reporter,” Victor will take the best story ideas from the comments section of his blog, create a poll on the site and allow readers to vote on which story he should do next. Then, the chosen story is the one he will write.
The people are his assignment editor.
Already, in the first week Victor received dozens of story ideas which he compiled into a small poll widget. The idea is to report on the hyper-local stories that matter most to the people. The result is that the blog will eventually become the number one, go-to site for members of that community.
“If you check this new blog every day, you will always learn about a new wrinkle in your community,” writes Victor. “That’s a wonderful promise for a news site to make.”
Tackling the Skepticism
It’s a wonderful promise, indeed. But is it even possible? Can a reporter really rely on an often-snarky forum culture that lives on the Internet? What if the readers contribute bad stories? What if they don’t contribute at all? Is there a plan B? All these questions press upon Victor’s new endeavor.
“I am trying to build up a bank of story ideas that people can vote on; that’s the backup plan,” Victor explains. “I can get my own pitches and let people vote so they feel like they’re participating, even if their not producing story ideas.”
Victor has already done a lot of work to get things started off on the right foot by using social media, and building a small army on Facebook and Twitter in order to get people used to sending in pitches.
According to Tech Dirt’s culture blogger, Mike Masnick, a mere voting mechanism sort of misses the point of what the community can add. It should go beyond voting to actually helping out — giving tips, feedback, ideas, facts and opinions, he writes. Masnick suggests letting the community go so far as actually helping to research a story.
“That’s kind of what I’m doing with Twitter,” Victor said in response. “That’s my main way of reaching people. I could see possibly using the blog to say, ‘this story won.’”
This screencast goes over how I use Twitter for reporting.
This is not a beginner video, but many newcomers to Twitter will be able to watch this and quickly understand what is going on. In the future, we will have a beginner video and more advanced videos, but we first wanted to create a video that shows how Twitter can be a useful reporting tool.
This video goes over:
- Why I use Twitter for reporting
- The importance of a good profile
- The value of search.twitter.com
- Desktop clients like TweetDeck
- How to get an RSS feed of a search term
- And more
This is our second screencast video. You can find our first about Publish2 here. Both of these are pilots, and we would greatly appreciate any feedback.
Daniel Victor said social media, and Facebook in particular, were crucial to his ability to gather alumni reaction to the news of a local school being slated to shut down.
Word recently came that the Pennsylvanian government wanted to axe the Scotland School for Veteran’s Children because of budget issues. The school serves at-risk children of veterans, but closing the school would save the state $10.5 million.
Victor’s assignment was to go out in the community and to talk to people about the decision to close the school and also to get in touch with alumni to get their reactions. Normally, this wouldn’t be that easy of a task to do, but thanks to social media, Victor was contacted by dozens of people who wanted to share their stories and reactions.
“It was absolutely critical,” Victor said about using social media to help report this story.
He sent out a tweet and got a few responses on Twitter, but Twitter wasn’t nearly as big of a help as Facebook was. Victor found an alumni group for the school on Facebook and joined the group. He explained what his story was, and he left his cell phone number.
One of the alumni who read his message on Facebook sent out a text message to an alumni network that helped spread the word about Victor was doing. Soon he was contacted by 48 alumni who wanted to be interviewed, and he was able to interview almost two dozen of them.
“They ended up doing the work for me,” he said. “It’s amazing how much of a difference it made for my story. Everybody had a stake in it, and for them to all be in one place, and for me to have access to that, that’s pretty powerful.”
Victor regularly uses social media for crowd sourcing. When news happens, Victor looks to get the news up his paper’s breaking news blog and Twitter ASAP.
“That’s kind of an accepted part of my reporting,” he said about Twitter. “If something is going to be breaking, I’m going to check with my network.”
Because Victor is much more accessible now with social media, he gets a lot more tips. Recently, somebody alerted him to an accident with an EMS responder, where the driver had heart attack. Because of Victor’s online networks, the Patriot-News was able to get that story quicker than they would have otherwise been able to.
“People just kind of know that I’m available to them,” he said.
Recently some bank robbers got loose and were being chased all over the Harrisburg area, Victor said. Roads were being closed, and the story was quickly developing and changing. Victor was able to monitor in real time people’s reaction’s on Twitter.
People were discussing which roads were closed, what the best detours where, analyzing the news and more. The Patriot-News was unable to keep up with Twitter for breaking news, Victor said.
“I kind of equate Twitter to the police scanner, the way that the police scanner kind of gives us this constant monitoring of what is happening in the cop world, he said. “I feel like Twitter is giving us a constant taste of what is happening in community news.”
Some other topics discussed:
- How has your ability to harness social media changed within the last year now that social media is becoming a lot more popular?
- Which beats are best suited for Facebook?
- And more.
Do I really want to find out what someone is eating for lunch? Won’t Twitter just increase the noise in my life? How can anything meaningful be said in 140 characters or less?
These are all questions I’ve heard. My response: avoid Twitter at your own peril. Twitter and other social networks are helping to redefine beat reporting.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying new tools like Twitter. I’m going to try to convince you to give Twitter the old, college try.
Here is what Twitter can help journalists and content creators with:
- Find sources – Twitter is a great place to meet potential sources. The more public and accessible a person is, the more likely a potential source is to volunteer information. Dave Levinthal of The Dallas Morning New said this about beat blogging and social media, “all the sudden you’re a conduit for information and tips.” You do want information and tips, don’t you?
- Discover stories – I’m always discovering people to interview for stories. How? I only follow journalists and people writing about social media and Web tools with the @MsBeat Twitter account. I get a constant stream of information that helps me do my job. I also have a search of “beat blogging” in my Tweetdeck and Summizer programs. This allows me to track every time “beat blogging” is mentioned. In fact, search.twitter.com is an incredible tool for searching on a topic or event. It’s great for getting people’s thoughts in real time.
- Connect with people — Twitter is not just all about finding sources and discovering stories. It’s also about connecting with people. Twitter is home to some very thoughtful conversations. #hashtags are a good warning that something bigger is going on. Twitter can help you think about new topics and get mental juices flowing while you discuss and debate topics in real time.
- Crowd source — Because I’ve connected with people and built a good network on Twitter, I am able to ask questions like, “Does your newsroom offer social media training?” and get meaningful answers. These answers directly lead to content. Oh, and more content.
Don’t just take my word for it. Michelle Nicolosi on Print to Online answers the question, “Why bother with Twitter,” with some convincing arguments:
One payoff, if you respond to people’s tweets and get to know them, is that you get to meet cool people you might not have met before, and you get to be a part of important local and national conversations you never could have otherwise been a part of.
If it wasn’t for Twitter, I can’t imagine how I would have ended up exchanging notes with King County executive Ron Sims. Mark’s been chatting with Mavis Staples’ recording label about what a rip off it is that she didn’t perform at the inaugural.
In ways you can’t imagine until you start to use it, Twitter opens doors, helps you make new connections, and keep track of conversations in new ways. If you haven’t tried it, I encourage you to give it a month. No, it’s not for everyone, and in the end you might decide you don’t like it. But then again, you might be surprised at the unexpected coolness of it.
Twitter’s been great on a professional front too. I’ve met a bunch of people in the journalism and blogging community I never would have met, and keep up with what they’re all thinking and saying to each other. Sure, I could read their blogs, but my Google Reader is maxed out, and who has the time to read lengthy essays? This is the ultimate in MTV-generation short attention span theater — every thought is an elevator pitch, just 140 characters in length. Who doesn’t have time to read two sentences?
True, as you note, you can follow many people on their blogs, but not everyone. Many non-bloggers are on Twitter, so Twitter is the only place you’re going to hear their thoughts.
This week’s Leaderboard is all about participation.
We are featuring three distinct ways beat bloggers are getting their users involved and harnessing the collective intelligence of their communities. In today’s era of limited journalism resources, utilizing a knowledgeable user base just makes sense. Users are a tremendous asset and the best beat bloggers have learned to tap into their collective wisdom.
These beat bloggers have found ways to not only harness the wisdom of the crowd, but they have also succeeded in getting their users to participate. Participation is a big part of the Web, and these three beat bloggers offer distinct ways to get users involved.
Gene Sloan | USA Today
- Sloan made the Leaderboard this week for a cool feature of his, “Reader Tip of the Week.” Each week Sloan asks readers to send in tips on a cruise-related issue. This week he is looking for advice on going on a cruise with teenagers.
- There are some fantastic tips left by readers that help Sloan do his job better. One reader pointed out that certain cruise lines offer teen programs and suggested that people with teens avoid lines that do not offer teen programs.
- This weekly feature servers several purposes: It gets users involved and talking about issues, it taps into the wisdom of Sloan’s community and it serves to help Sloan report better. It’s also a very easy feature to produce.
- The best readers’ tips are put into the print edition of USA Today. A little bit of work can go a long way.
Etan Horowitz | Orlando Sentinel
- Horowitz is employing some networked journalism this week by asking users to report on Circuit City liquidation sales. Standard operating practice during a liquidation usually sees a store raise prices to MSRP before offering discounts. Few retailers attempt to sell items — sale or no — at MSRP.
- This means that a discount of 10 percent off, for instance, during liquidation might actually be more expensive than Circuit City was selling it for before liquidation.
- Prices and availability vary greatly per store during liquidation. One Circuit City may be barely discounting items because of brisk sales, while another may have begun deep discounting.
- Horowitz is asking users to report on the prices of items they see at their local Circuit City. He is also asking that they list which store they went to. Horowitz couldn’t do this all himself, but he is smartly employing the power of his users on his site to piece together this story.
- Horowitz’s users can help other users determine whether or not it is worth shopping at a particular Circuit City.
- Networked journalism is a great way to get users involved and to report on topics that a reporter couldn’t do alone.
Buzz Out Loud | CNET
- “Well actually” are two of the most famous words on this daily podcasts. Listeners write in to correct the hosts or to clarify tricky tech-related information.
- Covering a wide range of tech topics isn’t the easiest, and Buzz Out Loud’s vast, knowledgeable audience provides a lot of fact checkers to ensure accuracy.
- BOL’s Tom Merritt, Natali Del Conte, Molly Wood and Jason Howell know tech well, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some help in covering a broad and nuanced topic. Users send in tips and news stories every day that help BOL report on tech in a more efficient manner.
- Listeners also correct the hosts when they are wrong. It’s not often that one of the hosts is blatantly wrong, but many tech topics are extremely nuanced and can be hard for most people to get 100 percent right. The BOL gang may report on computer encryption, for instance, and the next day a computer security expert may call in to clarify a point or to add additional insight.
- This show is all about user participation because it wouldn’t be possible without a lot of help from listeners.
It’s a new year, and it’s time for a new Leaderboard.
The first Leaderboard of the new year is a mix of the old with the new. We’re sad to see a departing beat blogger, but we’re excited for the new beat bloggers popping up all the time. 2009 should be the year that beat blogging really takes off as a mainstream practice.
Ed Silverman | Pharmalot
- Silverman will be sorely missed. He is moving on from Pharmalot and The Star-Ledger. He was one of the original and best beat bloggers.
- Pharmalot was one of those sites were the individual posts didn’t wow you but the whole package did. Each individual part and post worked together to cover an industry with incrediblw depth. The conversations and link sharing that took place after each post by users was also impressive. Silverman was amazed at how long discussions would last after posts.
- The strong community that formed around Pharmalot became a major selling point for the site. Those people helped Silverman cover the industry and exchanged information with each other.
- Pharmalot and Silverman eventually became synonymous. It’s hard to imagine the site continuing on without him, and if it does, it won’t be the same site. It might be a pharma blog, but it won’t be the Pharmalot that helped bring the practice of beat blogging to the world.
- There are far too many lessons to list here that Silverman gave us, but this podcast is a fantastic place to start. We hope to do a follow-up interview with Silverman. Listen to that podcast and let us know any additional questions you’d like us to ask.
Stephanie De Pasquale | Quadsville
- De Pasquale is an excellent example of synergy. Her best content from her blog goes in the newspaper once a week. That’s a smart way to get more mileage out of existing content.
- She is an entertainment reporter and mostly deals with the under-30 crowd. Social networking has become a key part to covering her beat.
- MySpace in particular has allowed her to cover the local music scene better. She has about 300 friends on MySpace and almost all are local musicians. MySpace is a great social network to join for those looking to tap into the local music and arts scene. De Pasquale says that she wouldn’t have discovered most of these musicians without MySpace. Social networking simply allows her to cover her beat in ways never before possible.
- She uses her blog to find stories and develop sources. She also gives the community a chance to submit questions for the people she interviews. Here is an example of her using user submitted questions to interview a subject.
- She has also organized monthly recording sessions with local bands. Now that’s utilizing the medium well.
Tannette Johnson-Elie | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
- Business columnist Elie uses Twitter to help her report. She asks questions and taps into the collective intelligence of her community. She also asks her Twitter users if there are any questions they would like her to ask when she interviews experts. That’s a great way to get people involved and also help you do your job better.
- She focuses on how small businesses and start-ups are using networking to grow. A big part of modern day networking is utilizing social media. Elie has simply gone where her readers are going — to social networks.
- She engages in social media to help understand a phenomena that is impacting many of the people she covers. The lessons she and other people learn could be very helpful for small businesses and startups.
- Elie is part of an emerging breed of reporters where it just makes sense for them to jump onto social networks. Many of the people she covers use social media, and the only way for her to truly understand social media is for her to utilize in her daily work too.