Posts Tagged ‘DISD’

Leaderboard for week of 6-1-2006: Collaborative podcast edition

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 15:59 - by

This week’s leaderboard focuses on collaboration between news organizations to create new products.

Podcasting is becoming a more popular medium, and more news organizations are partaking in it. Podcasts are often recorded live with a live user chat along side them. Podcasts make both good live interactive events for journalists and users, while also making good mobile content later on.

Collaboration is helping to make podcasts and journalism better. Sometimes one news organization or reporter is not enough to properly cover a story or produce a feature. That’s where collaboration comes in.

We are looking at a few podcasts that would not have been possible if news organizations weren’t willing to collaborate.

Politics As Usual | The Morning Call

  • While this politics podcast is officially hosted by The Morning Call, it is actually a collaboration between three journalists from three different news organizations, from three different mediums. The Morning Call’s John Micek brings the print prospective, while Politics PA’s Alex Roarty brings the Web perspective and Scott Detrow of Public Radio Capital News brings the broadcast perspective.
  • What makes this podcast special? It features three different political reporters from three different news organizations getting together to discuss local Pennsylvanian politics. This is the kind of mash up of news organizations and mediums that we didn’t see a few  years ago. Thankfully this kind of collaboration is becoming more common.
  • This is a lively, fun and informative podcast that helps make local politics more accessible to the average Pa. resident. The three discuss recent political news and what they have been hearing behind the scenes, while also giving their expert opinions on a variety of topics.
  • None of these organizations could do a podcast like this themselves. They simply don’t have enough knowledgeable employees on hand to have a politics round table. By collaborating with other news organizations, they have been able to create a new product that helps serve users.
  • I asked Roarty if he or his bosses were concerned about working with the “competition” and he said the old ways of thinking of other news organizations as competitors no longer apply. “I think the idea is, on the Web, there’s room enough for all of us,” he said.

Previewing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals | Cleveland.com

  • Cleveland.com had a podcast with a beat writers covering the Cavs and Magic for game five of the Eastern Conference Finals. In order to make this happen, Cleveland.com got beat reporters Brian Windhorst from The Plain Dealer and Brian Schmitz from the Orlando Sentinel on the phone together.
  • Cleveland.com’s host asked their opinions on the series up to that point, their opinions on certain calls and situations in the series and their thoughts on the series moving forward. Schmitz and Windhorst are two the most knowledgeable people around about these two teams. Cleveland.com does weekly chats with Windhorst, and he frequently puts his knowledge of the Cavs on display and helps answer reader questions, but adding in an expert on the Orlando Magic took this podcast to a higher level.
  • Not only is this kind of collaboration rare, but getting together around an event like a playoff series is even rarer. But it just makes sense. By working together, they were able to create a better product.
  • Combine this concept with Cleveland.com’s chat room that allows fans to ask questions, and I think you have an absolute winner. Cleveland.com normally has a live chat room during its podcasts where users can ask questions. Since this wasn’t a regularly scheduled podcast there was no chat room.

Why did DISD’s ratings go sky high? | Tawnell Hobbs

  • Hobbs is asking her readers to help her get to the bottom of a story. She is wondering why the DISD is projecting a record number of exemplary and recognized schools. Her readers are helping to get to the bottom of this story. Did students really improve that much or is something else at work here?
  • Users are chiming in, helping to clarify the situation. Some are posting links to district documents as well.
  • The DISD Blog has a lot of district insider’s reading it. They have been a big help to the bloggers covering the beat because they are often able to clarify district policies and provide documents.
  • Not only are a lot of facts, figures and information being posted on this blog post, but there is also a healthy discussion about the standardized tests in question. Are they any good? Is what the state considers “acceptable” really acceptable? This is the kind of thoughtful debate that is possible with a good beatblog and a blogger who is willing to take ownership of the comments on her blog.

Leaderboard for week of 4-13-2009: Kent Fischer memorial edition

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 12:10 - by

It’s not the best time to work for a newspaper: lay-offs, buy-outs, pay cuts and more

Against this backdrop, one of our favorite beatbloggers, Ed Silverman, left newspapers last year. His former employer, The Star-Ledger, may not survive the year. Another one of our favorite beatbloggers, Kent Fischer, announced that he’ll be leaving journalism too.

Fischer had survived several rounds of lay-offs, buy-outs and pay cuts at The Dallas Morning News but wondered how much more his employer could keep making big cuts, while still delivering a quality product. Fischer’s partner in crime on the DISD Blog, Tawnell Hobbs, will carry on the torch by herself. She’ll be expected to run the blog and be a major contributor to print.

Kent Fischer | The Dallas Morning News

  • Fischer was one of the first beatbloggers to begin hoisting comments. He realized early on that it was important to acknowledge readers when they contributed something worthwhile to the conversation. Each week Fischer has been picking a comment of the week.
  • Fischer also began accepting guest posts from community members last year. His blog is read by many insiders, and the majority of the comments left on his blog are from insiders. He wanted to tap into that network and give some of his top contributors the chance to have a bigger voice. Also, Fischer scheduled his guest posts around summer vacation, a time when education coverage is usually light. The summer is the perfect time to start discussions about bigger issues in education.
  • Fischer was one of the first journalists I studied that really got that user comments add value to a news Web site. He understood that not only are comments something that attracts users, but they can also be a great place for thoughtful debate. And they can even be a place for beat reporters to discover stories.
  • The comments left on the DISD Blog were usually quite good. Fischer took care to make sure a comment ghetto did not form. A strong comments community requires a journalist who is willing to cultivate a community. It takes a journalist who is not afraid to regularly enter the fray, and Fischer genuinely respected the opinions of his users.
  • Fischer wasn’t afraid to try anything. He said that he regularly tried new ideas and features and saw what caught on. If something didn’t catch on, he would move on to something new. It was that ethos of experimentation that really allowed Fischer to shine.
  • We’ll have more on Fischer, the lessons he learned from beatblogging and why he left journalism in a podcast later today.

Brian Krebs | The Washington Post

  • Krebs was nominated this week for using his blog to provide context to a series of print stories. He explains why the stories are worth reading, what’s new about them (the topic of cyber terrorism is not new) and he provides background and context. Krebs also provides some nitty gritty details that may be too minute for the print edition. And, as always, his blog is the perfect place to provide links to resources.
  • Krebs also did some quick checks on the Internet and found some compromised U.S. utilities. These companies have computers that were recently infected with bots and backdoors. His blog post does an excellent job of explaining what the threats are and how they could be harmful to U.S. citizens.
  • Again, it’s the comments where this post really begins to shine. Krebs has built up a knowledgeable user community. In the comments you’ll find users asking questions about how easy it is to become infected, what precautions should be taken, etc, and you’ll find other users providing detailed answers.
  • Krebs did not write the print stories he linked to, but he did provide excellent context around them. His blog post was a strong compliment to the print content his paper product.

Brian Christopherson | Lincoln Journal Star

  • Life in the Red, a joint, staff blog at the Journal Star is one of the better sports blogs we’ve seen. The beat is all things Nebraska Cornhusker related, and a team of five bloggers shares the responsibility.
  • One of the things we really like about this blog is the interaction. Sports fans are often a very passionate bunch and sometimes quite knowledgeable. They would love the chance to get to interact with sports writers they follow. On this seemingly simple post, Christopherson and users are discussing safeties for the Nebrasks football team. It all started with a simple post about redshirt freshman P.J. Smith and a quote from head coach Bo Pelini saying Smith could push for playing time with senior Larry Asante.
  • This is the kind of little nugget of information that probably wouldn’t make a good print story. Even if it were a print story (or part of a “news an notes” kind of feature) it wouldn’t be nearly the same as doing it online. Each nugget of information gets its own blog post (good for SEO and segregating conversations to individual topics). Breaking these nuggets into individual posts increases visits and comments.
  • Also, the Life in Red blog provides the perfect opportunity for beat reporters and fans to discuss minute topics like this. All of the sudden this seemingly small nugget of information becomes a launching pad for debate among writers and users.

DISD blog wins national education reporting award

Friday, March 6, 2009 12:29 - by

Two of our favorite beatbloggers, Kent Fischer and Tawnell Hobbs of the DISD Blog, were recognized by the Education Writers Association for the best multimedia education blog.

The Education Writers Association (EWA), the national professional association of education reporters and writers, today announced the winners of the 2008 National Awards for Education Reporting, the prestigious national competition for education writing. The annual contest honors the best education reporting in the print and broadcast media and is the only independent contest of its kind in the United States. Contest entries were limited to stories published or broadcast for the first time during the 2008 calendar year.

Fischer and Hobbs will find out for a few months why the judges picked them as the top multimedia education blog, but Fischer said their application focused heavily on community aspects of their blogs and the conversations they created. Fischer and Hobbs also made it clear that this was a hard news blog that regularly broke news.

“This award tells me that we’re not wrong — all of us journalists who know that blogging extends our reach into the community,” Hobbs said. “The EWA award validates that the Dallas ISD blog is a ‘multimedia’ reporting tool that can be used to help tell a story.”

The DISD blog has been a success for the Morning News when measured by a variety of metrics: content created, pageviews, user conversations and content that originates on the blog and makes it into print. Editors want to try to bottle some of the lessons and best practices from the DISD blog and share them with the rest of the newsroom.

“There is definitely here at the Morning News a growing effort to take what Tawnell and I have learned from our year of beatblogging and to spread the word, the gospel so to speak, to other reporters on other beats who are interested in dipping their toes into beatblogging,” Fischer said.

Fischer will be conducting brown bag lunches where reporters and editors can come and learn about beatblogging. He’ll be explaining what beatblogging is, examples of what he and Hobbs have done and how he approaches the art of beatblogging.

There will also be beatblogging sessions aimed at editors. Fischer said editors’ roles are changing, and because of that editors have to change their expectations for the kind of work that will produced and how much of it will be produced.

“Beatblogs aren’t successful if editors don’t change the ways they manage reporters,” Fischer said. “A beatblog is practically a full-time job in itself. You can’t have the same level of expectations on your reporters to produce for print and then sort of throw a beatblog on top of that and expect it to be a success.”

Fischer said people at his paper are beginning to realize that pageviews aren’t enough when measuring success or failure. It’s now becoming about creating niches and communities online that are highly focused. They believe these highly focused audiences will appeal much more to advertisers.

“I think what they’ve come to realize is that to be successful online, it’s not about total pageviews, it’s about creating a community in a sort of a dedicated core of community members who are going to be highly engaged and conversant with each other on niche topics,” Fischer said.

Fischer and Hobbs are still working out how to best work on two distinct products with unique audiences at once. Both work on the blog and create content for print. They still have to do a lot of duplicating content between the mediums.

“I find the print product to be frankly annoying,” Fischer said. “I don’t think about print anymore. I come in everyday, and I blog. Blog posts that blow up on me, become really popular and get lots of comments, those become candidates for print stories. If I blog all day and I don’t have anything that blows up like that than I consider myself not to have anything cooking for print the next day.”

Kent and I also discussed many other topics for this week’s podcast. Those topics include:

  • What newsroom technology hurdles do you run into? What can’t you do because of the limited Web technology you are allowed to use?
  • Who will be attending the beatblogging training sessions?
  • What do you hope reporters and editors get out of the beatblogging training sessions?
  • How has your beatblogging changed in the past year?
  • How are the beatblog and print audiences different? How does that impact content creation?

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

Leaderboard for week of 2-2-09: Curation edition

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 17:58 - by

This week’s Leaderboard is all about curation.

Yes, the Internet makes information more accessible and has destroyed much of the gatekeeping role that journalists have played in the past, but it also has overloaded people with information. There is just so much information on the Internet that it can be hard to make sense of it all. That’s where journalists can come in.

On the Web, journalists can provide value by acting as curators. Journalists can sift through the mountains of information on a given topic, find the best parts, highlight keywords, link to important documents and help people make sense of it all. Beat reporters in particular have deep knowledge of topics and can harness that knowledge to be strong curators.

The link is a powerful thing. It is the basis of good curation on the Web. This week’s Leaderboard is comprised of journalists who act as curators for people.

They help their users make sense of it all.

Dave Levinthal | The Dallas Morning News

  • This is another great beat blog from The Dallas Morning News. Levinthal was inspired by Tawnell Hobbs and Kent Fischer’s popular beat blog. Levinthal has used beat blogging to improve his beat reporting and to connect better with users.
  • This is an interesting bit of link journalism. Instead of linking to other news stories, Levinthal mostly links to government documents about the Dallas City Hall. It’s a great way to provide curation of government documents. Journalists can sift through documents, finding and linking to important ones. Journalists can also help make sense of individual documents.
  • Many documents, including government documents, are publicly available. Journalists, however, can provide value for users by curating and making sense of all those documents and information.

Kent Fischer | The Dallas Morning News

  • Fischer originally blogged about a new Texas senate bill that would require school districts to make public the name of candidates during superintendent searches. He then posted about an exchange that he believes shows why the superintendent search process could use some openness.
  • Fischer then highlighted keywords and phrases in the exchange that would be of interest to his users. The phrases he highlighted demonstrated a lack of openness that the Senate bill is meant to address. This is another act of curation. Fischer is able to read longer documents and explain them to users in much easier and digestible terms.
  • Fischer and Hobbs have done a great job of getting people talking on their blog. These users often offer incredible insight into the district (many work for it), and they often provide links that can help Fischer and Hobbs report and help other users understand issues surrounding the school district better.

Daniel Bassill | Tutor Mentor Connection

  • This post clearly demonstrates the power of linking, and it showcases how asinine it is when journalists don’t link out. If a journalist mentions an article, blog post, photo, video, etc that is on the Internet, it is paramount that he or she links or embeds said content.
  • This post takes linking a bit further. It’s not just about linking to content that is mentioned within the blog post, but it’s also about fashioning a blog post around linking.
  • In this blog post, Bassil links to articles, Web sites, books and other relevant information on the topic of school reform in Chicago. The value of this post is not only in the original content that Bassil produced but also the quality content that he links to and suggests that others read.
  • Bassil knows the issue of school reform well, and he can act as a curator for the topic by sending people to the best content available on the topic.

Leaderboard for week of 1-19-09: Users adding value

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 18:50 - by

This week’s Leaderboard is about users adding value to journalists’ content.

Good beat bloggers build strong communities around their beats. These communities not only can help journalists report news and stay up-to-date on industry news, but they can also add value with strong comments after posts. Slashdot in particular has made an art form out of having comments after posts be more valuable than the original posts themselves (not coincidentally, Slashdot has one of the best commenting systems around).

Just about all of the beat bloggers we follow have built strong communities. These communities help journalists report, but there are some beat bloggers who have built such strong communities that their users and their comments and links are just as imporant as the original content itself.

Kent Fischer | The Dallas Morning News

  • We’ll say it again, Comment of the Week is a feature that every beat blogger should copy.
  • So many journalists are worried about allowing comments on posts and other content. Want to know a great way to get great comments from users? Acknowledge when users leave great comments. That’s exactly what Fischer does, and his blog has some really good comments. It also has a strong community around it.
  • Fischer regularly interacts with users on his blog, and this is a key to building a strong community around a blog. By interacting with users, Fischer also has fomented a stronger and more civil community around his blog.
  • Many news organizations have done a wonderful job of creating comment ghettos, filled with inappropriate, acidic, banal and often off-topic comments. These comment ghettos represent everything that many journalists hate about user comments.
  • Fischer and other beat bloggers have prevented comment ghettos from forming by being active in their communities. Acknowledging when users leave comments that really add to the conversation is another great way to prevent comment ghettos from forming.

Matt Neznanski | Corvallis Gazette Times

  • Live blogging is a great way to utilize the Web in ways that print never could. Services like CoveritLive make it easy for journalists to cover live events in real time. Twitter is also another popular way to provide real-time coverage of events.
  • Live blogging is much more than just providing instaneous updates. It’s also about allowing people to have a voice. CoveritLive, Twitter and other services allow users to submit questions and make comments. A journalist can take this real-time questions and ask city council members, for instance, their thoughts.
  • A live blog also has value after an event is over. CoveritLive makes it easy to create an archive of a live blog for users to read.
  • Neznanski shows the power and immediacy of live blogging when he recently covered a City Blog meeting on homelessness. CoveritLive is quickly becoming a big-time tool for beat bloggers.

Brian Krebs | The Washington Post

  • We’re continually amazed by the quality of the community around Krebs’ Security Fix blog. Good beat blogging is a way to build a strong community. Security Fix reminds us of Slashdot but with better original content.
  • Krebs routinely makes posts that his users add additional insight and links in the comments section. Krebs himself is also very active in the comments section, answering questions and helping users out. There is an incredible sense of community on his blog where people are there for each other.
  • This past week Krebs reported on fake online shopping sites that were trying to spoof legitimate sites. The debate and discussion after the post is arguably better than the original post itself. Users are sharing more fake sites to avoid, ways to tell if a site is fake or has a good reputation and tools people can use to make e-commerce safer.
  • This is what happens when you build a strong community of knowledgeable users. It’s hard to imagine Security Fix without user comments. Many journalists fear user comments, but Krebs and Security Fix show how comments can add a lot of value to journalism.

Leaderboard for week of 12-22-08: The best of the best

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 13:45 - by

We thought we’d end this year with some of this year’s pace setters in the world of beat blogging.

These are some of best beat bloggers out there, and these people are constantly trying new ways to innovate. We do try to present a diversity of beat reporters on this blog, but on any given week, any one of these beat bloggers could be on the Leaderboard. Every week they are pushing the practice.

If you’re a journalist and you want to learn how to harness social media and other Web tools better, I strongly recommend you follow these beat bloggers every week.

DISD blog | The Dallas Morning News

  • This award goes to both Kent Fischer and Tawnell Hobbs. They have produced one of the best beat blogs around.
  • Who said that people don’t want to read about topics like education? The DISD blog is on track for more than 1,500,000 page views in its first year. That easily surpassed expectations. Just think of the page views that this blog could get if Fischer is able to build that blog on steroids that he is planning.
  • Keep in mind that both Fischer and Hobbs also write for the print edition. This is a pretty impressive start for these two reporters, especially since their beat isn’t the easiest to get page views with.
  • Perhaps the greatest success of the DISD blog is how active the community is around it. It has really spurred conversation and given people almost a public town hall where they can discuss the Dallas school district. 
  • You know how you surpass expectations? You provide in-depth coverage, including live blogging big events. You also provide a fantastic place for people to express themselves. And finally, you provide a community where people want to help you out.
  • When you do that, your community can help you uncover big stories. They can also act as a truth squad by fact checking what public figures say.
  • People will be more likely to be active in your community if you acknowledge when they write something smart. That’s why Fischer started hoisting comments.

Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle

  • The SciGuy is one of the most innovative beat reporters around. Some of the things he does aren’t exactly social media or Web related per se, but they rock nonetheless. He is the master at building a community.
  • No, technically conducting random drawings for science books does not count as beat blogging, but it is one hell of a way to build a community and build user loyalty. 
  • Berger is sent many science books over the course of a year for review purposes. He thought it would be a good idea to conduct a random drawing for the five best books he received this year.
  • Want to enter the drawing? All you have to do is leave a comment on his post about the book. So, not only is Berger finding a good way to recycle these books, but he also managed to get people talking about science topics. Check out all the wonderful comments left on that post.
  • Plus, these posts might be a way to get people who have never commented before to start commenting. Why not do something like this?
  • Berger does other innovative things, like asking his readers to be his assignment editor.
  • Berger also understands that his users know more than he does.

Monica Guzman | Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  • Want to know how to get a conversation started? Just follow what Guzman does. Her job is centered around getting people talking. 
  • One of Guzman’s core jobs is to analyze posts to cultivate conservations. She reads what her colleagues write and tries to find interesting jumping off points for discussion. 
  • For Guzman, cultivating conversations is a great way to build a community. Ultimately, building a community is at the core of beat blogging. 
  • We often call beat blogging a sort of Rolodex 2.0. It greatly expands the number of available sources that a beat reporter has access to. But the only way to meaningfully expand that network of sources is to cultivate a community. 
  • Guzman is also one of the most active beat bloggers on Twitter

Jon Ortiz | The Sacramento Bee

  • Ortiz has only been beat blogging for about six months, but he has easily been one of the most innovative and adventurous around. Perhaps because he is new to blogging he is more willing to take risks and try new things. 
  • Whatever the reason, The State Worker blog is a most follow. He has developed several distinct features that help break up the flow of his blog. 
  • His “Blog back” feature is something every beat blogger should copy. 
  • Ortiz has launched another new feature recently. This one he calls “From the notebook.” This feature is extra tidbits of information that don’t make it into columns or stories that Ortiz writes. 
  • This is another one of those features that Ortiz created that doesn’t take a lot of time, but it provides his users with something of value.
  • Ortiz launched his blog early so he could cover the budget crisis in California as it broke. It turned out to be a momentous decision for Ortiz. Timing can have a big impact on the success of a blog.

DISD blog doubles traffic expectations in first year

Monday, December 22, 2008 18:34 - by

Months ago Kent Fischer told me that he expected the DISD blog that he and Tawnell Hobbs run to get between 500,000 and 750,000 page views in its first year.

That estimate has turned out to be wildly wrong. The DISD blog already has about 1,500,000 page views for the year, and traffic has been increasing steadily in the second half of this year. Those are pretty impressive first-year numbers for a blog dedicated to the Dallas Independent School District. Both Fischer and Hobbs also write print stories as well. 

The blog has picked up considerable steam ever since a financial crisis broke out in the school district, and Fischer and Hobbs provided incredible, in-depth coverage of the crisis. Timing can have a large impact on blog traffic. Getting ahead of big stories is a great way to build traffic and use loyalty.

The DISD blog is a great example of harnessing the Web to provide better coverage.

Leaderboard for week of 12-7-08: Public service edition

Tuesday, December 9, 2008 12:48 - by

Beat blogging is all about expanding ones networks using social media, blogging and other Web tools.

An expanded network allows for more tips and more chances for crowd sourcing. But people are much more likely to help journalists with their reporting if journalists provide a tangible service to them. Many of our beat bloggers have given users an unprecedented level of coverage and also helped provide their users with a service.

For instance, Kent Fischer and Tawnell Hobbs alerted Dallas school teachers to career fares and job openings after many of them were laid off due to an unexpected budget crisis. They’ve built good will with many of their readers.

Our lead nominee this week provides quality journalism and a service to his readers.

Brian Krebs | The Washington Post

  • Krebs helps his readers out, and you know what, they help him out. Journalists who want to use social media and Web tools in a very one-way, me-focused manner will find limited success. 
  • Krebs was nominated for his post encouraging users to update Java on their computers because cyber criminals have a history of targeting Java vulnerabilities. This post reminds readers of the importance of updating Java on their PCs. Krebs also links to a tool that will let users know if they have the latest version of Java.
  • In addition, Krebs links to a free tool from Secunia that helps Windows users stay up-to-date on all their software. While reporting on Java vulnerabilities and patches is his beat, Krebs doesn’t have to go out of his way to make sure people are as secure as possible on their PCs.
  • The usefullness of Krebs’ blog, however, just begins with his blog posts. One user asked for examples of when cyber criminals attacked Java, and Krebs provided three examples. Other users were having trouble with Adobe Flash and Secunia. Krebs offered solutions to those problems as well. 
  • If you want users to help you do your job better (by expanding your network of useful sources) than it makes sense to help users out. Krebs follows this principle. 

Tawnell Hobbs | The Dallas Morning News

  • Hobbs puts a tough question up to her readers. “Should Dallas teachers who missed out on receiving federal grant money because their principals failed to follow rules receive the cash from DISD?”
  • This question becomes tough to answer because the Dallas Independent School District has been facing financial crisis for months. Yet, many teachers missed out on federal funds ranging from $1,000-10,000 per teacher just because some principals failed to follow federal rules properly. Some of the teachers who qualified recently lost their jobs because of a reduction in force due to the budget crisis. DISD trustees are split on what to do.
  • What better way to judge opinion than to ask your readers? Hobbs can use the comments she gets from readers (most of which are a part of DISD or former, laid-off colleagues) as a launching pad to a follow up story on opinion. Her blog is also a great place for public debate.
  • In addition, the blog has been a great tool for Hobbs and her partner, Kent Fischer, to get tips from DISD employees. 

Jon Ortiz | The Sacramento Bee

  • Ortiz wins this award again for his fantastic Blog Back feature. It’s a feature that every beat blogger should seriously consider adopting ASAP.
  • Let’s look at the benefits of this feature. It doesn’t take a lot of time to produce, it’s a popular feature with users that elicits comments and it generates a sizable traffic boost to old content that is linked to. Plus, it recognizes strong reader comments and encourages more. Many journalists complain that allowing user comments is a mistake because most of them are banal or hateful or whatever. But when a beat reporter acknowledges strong comments, it encourages every commentator to rise his game. 
  • Also, journalists who read and respond to users tend to get much better comments on their blogs in the first place. It’s all about taking responsibility for your community. Either you’re a community builder or a destroyer. These three Leaderboard recipients are community builders.

Leaderboard for week of 10-27-08: Community building

Monday, October 27, 2008 15:25 - by

This weeks Leaderboard is all about community building.

Some beat bloggers have built strong communities within the comments sections of their blogs. Others have become a part of a community by providing a level of coverage not seen before. Good beat bloggers are all about two-way communication and community building.

Here is this week’s Leaderboard:

Ed Silverman | Pharmalot

  • Silverman isn’t always the easiest to see innovation from in a single blog post, but when one takes his blog in its entirety, it’s easy to see the strong Web property that Silverman has built.
  • If there was one (daily) blog post that really shows innovation on Silverman’s part, it’s his daily Pharmalot… Pharmalittle link post. Silverman was one of the first mainstream media types to get into link journalism.
  • Every day Silverman links to some of the biggest stories about his beat — the pharmaceutical industry — from other news outlets. I know this sounds heretical, but it works well for Silverman. He has built Pharmalot into the source for daily pharma news. Silverman is a posting machine, often writing about 10 posts a day. He then links to some of the best content from his competitors. It’s the combination of original content and links that allows Silverman to own his beat.
  • Silverman has created a strong network on his blog, where users ask questions, interact with each other and help provide Silverman with tips and resources about pharma. The comments can be just as informative as Silverman’s posts, and they often contain links to valuable resources.

Tawnell Hobbs | The Dallas Morning News

  • Hobbs works on the same beat and blog as Kent Fischer (Leaderboard member from last week). Together they are reinventing local education coverage on the Web.
  • Hobbs and Fischer have provided not only solid journalism during the financial crisis in the Dallas school district, but they have also provided a public service. Hobbs has been posting about job fairs and other opportunities for displaced workers. These posts don’t require a lot of work, but they have meant a lot to readers.
  • One of the benefits to forming a network around your beat is having people help you report your beat. Astute readers noticed that the DISD Web site had a listing of job openings, despite a massive layoff a week before. Hobbs took the information that her readers alerted her to and asked the district to clarify. It turns out the district didn’t expect so many employees to voluntarily retire and resign.
  • This is a story that might not have come to light without the help of readers.

Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle

  • Yes, Berger made the Leaderboard last week, but we have good reason to stick him on the Leaderboard again.
  • Check out the second comment on this post on his blog. Berger regularly responds to user comments. In fact, Berger is one of the best I’ve ever seen at interacting with users.
  • Many beat bloggers tried using Ning to build a social network around their beats. Many of those failed because it was yet another destination for users and yet another Web site to sign up for.
  • It turns out  that a blog itself can be a good social networking tool. Berger’s blog is part of the Houston Chronicle Web site. It’s a main part of his reporting, and it has been a great way for Berger to build a social network. He has done this by interacting with his users in the comments section.
  • Look at how insightful many of the comments that Berger’s users leave. A big reason is that Berger is actively cultivating a community. He hasn’t left a comment ghetto, where people can say whatever they want unchecked. A lot of scientific debate happens in the comments section of his blog.

Leaderboard No. 1: week of 10-20-08

Monday, October 20, 2008 11:54 - by

Welcome to the inaugural Leaderboard. Each week we highlight the most innovative beat reporters. The leaderboard changes weekly, and we’ll have new nominees up on our homepage starting today. Continue sending in your nominees.

Kent Fischer | The Dallas Morning News

Why?

  • Kent Fischer and Tawnell Hobbs (both work on the DISD blog) have taken their beat blog to another level ever since a budget crisis broke out on Sep. 10. 
  • The DISD blog’s traffic has spiked through the roof since this crisis broke out, largely due to the incredible coverage that Fischer and Hobbs have done. 
  • Fischer was put on the leaderboard this week in particular because of his coverage of recent layoffs. Before layoffs occurred, he got a hold of a list that had all of the cuts at each school. He redacted the names from the list, but it was still a powerful tool for people to see which schools would be hardest hit by the layoffs. 
  • What really took Fischer’s coverage over the top was not only his ability to report hard numbers before anyone else, but also his ability to provide people with a voice. His open letter to those laid off or affected by the layoffs received a lot of powerful and heartbreaking responses. On October 16th alone, the DISD blog received 343 comments, and that was with the blog software being down for about three hours.

Beat blogging lessons from Fischer:

Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle

Why?

  • Berger has long been one of the most innovative beat reporters. He is a master of user engagement. 
  • Recently he asked his readers to be his assignment editor and to tell him if there were any stories they would like him to cover. Berger got a lot of responses, and he took the best ideas and put them to a vote on his blog.
  • Berger’s latest efforts haven’t required a lot of time on his part but have resulted in a lot of user interaction and engagement. His readers are actively debating which topic makes the most sense for Berger to tackle and why. People are even giving Berger tips for how to cover each story. For instance, “Also, since solar arrays are typically installed atop buildings, spread across vacant fields or built as parking lot shade structures, it might be useful to explore the maintenance requirements/costs that will be incurred to actually collect energy for many years beyond that needed to replay the initial investment.” Yes, Berger’s readers add a lot to his blog, and that’s because Berger actively encourages participation. 
Beat blogging lessons from Berger:

Ron Sylvester | Wichita Eagle

Why?

  • Sylvester is being put on the inaugural Leaderboard because of his use of Twitter. Not only is Sylvester one of the most innovative beat reporters with Twitter, but he also embeds his Twitter feed on his blog and on pages on the Eagle’s Web site. Not many of Sylvester’s readers are on Twitter, but a lot of people view his feed because of how visible he makes it. 
  • This one of the biggest lessons Sylvester has taught me. You don’t need the youngest, most tech-savviest audience to effectively harness a social media tool like Twitter. You just need to know how to put it in front of people’s eyeballs. 
  • Sylvester has used Twitter to revolutionize how he covers court trials. Readers can get continuous updates from trials in succinct 140-character bites. But Twitter also functions as a notebook that allows him to quickly write summary blog posts and stories. Not only has Twitter allowed Sylvester — a print reporter — to cover trials in real time, but it also allows him to write his print stories quicker too because he has found that Twitter makes a better notebook. 
Beat blogging lessons from Sylvester:

Monica Guzman | The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Why?

  • Guzman’s job is to foment user engagement, and unlike the other people on this list, she is an online only reporter. 
  • One of the things that stands out about Guzman’s work is her ability to draw people into other content, even print content. This past week Guzman highlighted a thoughtful letter to the editor from a small-business owner in response to a PI editorial that suggested the government may need to help create jobs. She used this exchange to get users interacting with each other by asking, “Seattle small business owners: Considering the fragile economy, should government stay out of the way?”
  • It’s a pretty simply concept: Guzman highlights thoughtful comments from users and asks people for their thoughts on those comments. She actively looks for ways to get people talking. 
Beat blogging lessons from Guzman
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.