This post sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
RSS is an incredibly useful way for journalists to keep track of beats by watching what is being published online, whether on news sites, blogs, Twitter, saved Google search terms, etc.
I spoke to three journalists about how they use RSS for research and reporting. They also each gave one really good tip for diving into RSS.
For those unfamiliar with RSS, Wikipedia has this to say about RSS:
RSS (most commonly expanded as “Really Simple Syndication” but sometimes “Rich Site Summary”) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format. Web feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place. RSS feeds can be read using software called an “RSS reader”, “feed reader”, or “aggregator”, which can be web-based, desktop-based, or mobile-device-based.
Eric Berger has been a reporter at the Houston Chronicle for 10 years and has been covering science for the last eight years. He has been blogging about science since 2005, creating a community to discuss science at SciGuy.
“When I first started blogging I found science blogs and used RSS as a means to keep track of the flow of information,” Berger said. “It’s too difficult and time-consuming to visit 100 blogs a day.”
Berger uses Bloglines, a popular RSS feed reader, to follow around 80 Web sites and blogs. He estimates seeing 300 new items a day.
“Back in the dark ages (five -six years ago), if I was working on a story I might be solely focused on that and not seeing what else what happening in science,” Berger said. “Now it’s impossible to escape that.”
He follows scientists of various disciplines, so he can keep track of various scientific communities. He also collects news releases via RSS, which sometimes turn into blog entries.
“If that strikes a chord in the community, then you can spin it into a story for the newspaper,” he said.
“Just experiment with it [RSS] and put new feeds in and don’t be afraid to add or delete feeds. Your feed reader shouldn’t be static, your list of feeds should fluctuate with what you’re working on.”
David Brauer covers media and occasionally politics for MinnPost.com.
Using RSS became a critical part of Brauer’s job in March of 2008, when he started writing a aggregated morning briefing for MinnPost.com.
“You have to make sure to pay attention to local news sources,” Brauer said. “The only way to do it is with RSS. RSS makes it very efficient to know what’s going on in the area I cover.”
Brauer no longer does the morning briefing, but RSS has remained vital in more general work. He is subscribed to 138 feeds in Google Reader, primarily local media feeds such as public radio, tv stations, alt weeklies and of course, the local newspapers.
“It’s one of the tools I use most as a reporter. RSS and Twitter,” he said. “RSS is good for checking things I already know to check; Twitter is good for finding things I wouldn’t have known to follow.”
His feeds are organized with 24 tags, categorizing feeds into sections such as sports, tech, big, little and suburban, public radio, local aggregators, local blogs, local papers, college journalists, national and politics.
“I see over 1,000 new items a day, but experienced users know you can just mark all items as read and move on,” Brauer said. “Be somewhat aware of balance so you don’t spend all day in RSS.”
Brauer suggests that journalists look into the sync features offered by many RSS readers, and to make sure that your RSS reader of choice is available for multiple platforms. (Google Reader has Web and mobile versions that sync.)
Sean Blanda is an editor at Vital Business Media and a co-founder of Technically Philly.
Blanda started using RSS around 2005, with Bloglines.
“It was coolest thing in the world that I didn’t have to put up with email and could still get content sent to me,” he said. “When I figured out you could get feeds of Google Alerts (and now Twitter mentions) it really spiraled out of control.”
Most of his ideas for stories at Vital come from media news feeds he gathers. He also runs Technically Philly part time and uses RSS to gather information quickly and get a large cross-section of sources.
“Our readership is very active on social media and blogging, so I have alerts for people’s names, companies, locations in Philadelphia, etc.”
Blanda uses Google Reader instead of Bloglines now, attracted by the social tools Google has been adding recently. Users can follow friends, share stories and comment on content together.
“I can see what my friends think is important too,” he said. “Most of my college newsroom was using Google Reader and it became a better way to stay in touch and shoot story ideas back and forth.”
He keeps 377 subscriptions organized by purpose, so for Vital he has folders by industry and for Technically Philly he sorts by beat and general news.
“I check all of the feeds related to my job everyday, every story,” Blanda said. “The other stuff, I get to it when I can, if not, no big deal. And sometimes I declare bankruptcy and mark all as read.”
Blanda can’t estimate how many news items he gets in a day: “It [Google Reader] always says 1000+ (unread items). I’d say I check around 500-600 a day.”
“My one tip would either be to get other people on your beat to share on Google Reader or to not forget Yahoo Pipes as a way to filter info…something I haven’t taken enough advantage of. With enough work you could always be sure to get relevant information.”
Do you use RSS to research and report? How do you organize your feeds and fight information overload? What creative uses do you put RSS to? Can you offer other tips?
This week’s Leaderboard features three beatbloggers who use Twitter in innovative ways.
Many journalists complain that more and more is being thrown at them, and that they simply don’t have enough time for everything: stories, posts, tweets, videos, etc. There are ways to integrate social media into journalism, however, that don’t take much time or even make journalists more efficient.
Twitter can simply be a great way to take notes and make them public, for instance.
Michelle De La Rosa | San Antonio Express-News
- De La Rosa is another strong education beatblogger (a trend is forming with education reporters here).
- De La Rosa’s tweeting is particularly strong, and she uses Twitter to live blog school board meetings. Using Twitter to live blog provides several advantages for reporters. First, reporters can post live updates for people who may not want to or be able to attend the meeting itself. But perhaps more importantly, live blogging a school board meeting doesn’t really take any extra time. De La Rosa would have to attend any important meetings anyway and take notes. Twitter can be a fantastic way to take notes, while producing a live product at the same time.
- In fact, many beatbloggers find Twitter to be a great way to take notes. Because each tweet is going live, beatbloggers are forced to make sure their notes are coherent and concise. There were many times when my notes were a big mess (especially the hand written ones). Twitter forces reporters to take good, concise and coherent notes.
- Many beatbloggers directly copy and paste many of their tweets into blog posts and news stories. Using Twitter to live blog events is one form of new media journalism that isn’t a huge time sink. It can help make reporters more efficient.
- De La Rosa also contributes to a group education beatblog.
Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle
- Berger is one of the best at live chats, and we recognize him this week for his chat on the space shuttle Atlantis coming home. Berger and fellow science geeks got together to chat while Atlantis reentered orbit and made its way to Edwards Air Force base.
- Berger has done a lot of live chats before, but this time he integrated NASA’s official Twitter feed into his chat. Throughout the CoveritLive chat, tweets from NASA updating Atlanta’s progress or providing interesting tidbits would pop up. Messages like “The deorbit burn is complete, and Atalntis&the crew have begun their descent to California!” and “This will be the 53rd shuttle landing at Edwards. The first was STS-1 on April 14, 1981.”
- CoveritLive now allows Twitter feeds, searches and hashtags to be inserted into live chats. This takes CoveritLive to a whole new level, and makes live chats a lot more interesting and valuable during events like this.
- CoveritLive recognizes that Twitter integration could get out of control. After all, a lot of people were talking about Atlantis while it was coming home. Just adding every tweet with the #Atlantis hashtag would have been a nightmare. CoveritLive allows chat authors to moderate Twitter content. You can go in and simply select the Twitter content that you want displayed during your live chat.
- CoveritLive also allows unmoderated content to automatically appear during a live chat. The NASA Twitter feed, for instance, is trustworthy and not updated that often. There is no reason it needs to be moderated.
Andrew C. Revkin | The New York Times
- Revkin gets this nod again for his great use of linking. His posts are often thorough on their own, but Revkin links to a lot of good outside information. His posts are a jumping off point for delving deeper into a topic. Revkin asked, “Should Major Emitters Focus on the Sun?“
- What really makes this post shine, however, is Revkin’s YouTube slideshow on using solar energy. His slideshow shows several charts and graphs that illustrate how little the U.S. government spends on solar energy research compared to other energy technologies.
- His post, however, wasn’t just a random question, but rather ties in with this week’s U.S.-led meetings on climate change, known as the Forum on Energy and Climate. Revkin’s knowledgeable users engaged in a spirited back and forth about the merits of different energy technologies in the comments section. Revkin himself entered the fray to respond to one commenter comment on nuclear power (an expert on the subject at that) with, “Interesting thought. It’s important to note, in looking at the graphs showing rich-country investment in energy research, that nuclear (fusion and fission) have long gotten a much larger piece of the R&D pie than solar, so just wondering here if the solar component needs more respect (not that nuclear needs less).”
- A post like this makes sense considering Revkin’s users. His users are more knowledgeable than him on many topics. Rather than try to teach them about solar energy, he gathers facts and figures and gets his knowledgeable users to debate a topic. Once he gets these knowledgeable people talking, a lot of great information comes out. The comments after Revkin’s posts often look like debates between experts. Revkin can also use the comments section as a place to find new story ideas.
- Back to the linking aspect of this post. Revkin links to relevant Dot Earth posts from the past, WhiteHouse.Gov documents, Chinese news sources, an AFP story, a YouTube video, a Twitter search, GreenPeace.org and more. His blog post is a wrapper that makes all of these disparate pieces of information feel like one.
- Revkin’s use of Twitter searches in his blog post is also of note. If people are already talking about a topic, why not link to those thoughts on Twitter?
- Let’s not forget that this blog post was ultimately created to get people talking. The post title is itself a question. Revkin found some data, created a slideshow, linked to relevant content and put it all together into a coherent post that gets his knowledgeable readers talking about why so little money is spent on solar solar research.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: timing matters.
When an event happens, a good beat reporter should cover it ASAP. This also might mean retooling plans and launching a new feature sooner than expected. It could mean scheduling an impromptu live chat to discuss a major news event or crisis.
Great timing requires flexibility. The best beatbloggers have it.
Timing, however, goes beyond just flexibility. Two of the beatbloggers below have timely and modern beats that really speak to the times. Would these beats have been possible 20 years ago, before the Web? No.
And even 10 years ago these beats might not have been very popular, but they are today. Beats need to change with the times, and with the Web and cheap and easy-to-deploy technology like blogs, journalists and news orgs can launch new beats in minutes.
Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle
- Has there been a bigger story lately than swine flu? Berger is a very flexible reporter, and he scheduled an impromptu live chat to discuss swine flu and answer reader questions.
- Berger answered readers questions on a variety of topics. He provided insightful answers, often linking to official government documents and other Chronicle content on the subject.
- Berger did an excellent job of A) answering reader questions B) calming people down with his measured advice (unlike many others in the media) and C) doing all of this in a timely manner. A good beatblogger knows when to push other work aside and schedule an impromptu chat about a major story like this. Swine flu may not become the pandemic that some predicted, but Berger’s timely advice was much appreciated by readers.
- Berger’s ability to be flexible and cover big stories in a variety of formats as they come in is a major reason why he helped the Chronicle be a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Berger is always up to covering major events with new, innovative techniques. Flexibility is key.
Jebediah Reed | The Infrastructurist
- This is an overall excellence in beatblogging nod. It’s a mixture of good content with good link journalism on a very timely beat. The Infrastructurist is a beatblog about American’s infrastructure and transportation and how politics intersects each.
- In this blog post, Reed asks a thought provoking question, “Why Doesn’t The Stimulus Include Money For Painting Roofs And Roads White?” Painting black surfaces like rooftops and parking lots white could save at least $1 trillion dollars in CO2 emissions worldwide. A white rooftop, for instance, reflects light back into space, leaving the building below cooler. A white road means that less heat is absorbed into the Earth than with a black road.
- This post links to good sources and provides hard facts, but it’s really intended to be a jumping off point. The post is ultimately about how something simple like whitening roads and roofs could greatly reduce CO2 emissions for a fraction of the cost of most climate change initiatives. His post also ends with a few concerns about this idea, which help propel the conversation.
- Many people who read The Infrastructurist are very knowledgeable about infrastructure projects, government and science (several of the commentors on this post are engineers). Users are talking about the different albedo’s of different kinds of asphalt and concrete (how much light would be reflected off of surfaces, instead of absorbed). Other users are talking about what politicians in their areas are proposing and how those ideas could help cut CO2 emissions.
- Reed is active in the comments, mixing it up with users, spurring additional comments from users. The Infrastructurist is a blog that largely focuses on proposals and future projects, which makes it a prime candidate for community building and two-way communication. Reed has done a good job of building a community around a topic that wouldn’t seem that sexy to traditional news organizations, but makes perfect sense in 2009.
Andrew C. Revkin | The New York Times
- Dot Earth blogger Revkin also gets this recognition for overall excellence in beatblogging. Dot Earth is a beatblog that “examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits.” It’s a blog centered around sustainability that touches on related science topics.
- Like the Infrastructurist, Dot Earth is another very timely and modern beat. 50 years ago this beatblog would have had no chance at serious success, but with concerns about climate change and a rapidly growing population, Dot Earth is a beatblog that makes perfect sense in 2009.
- The blog also ties in really well with other NY Times content, which is important. In the right rail users will find links to relevant energy, climate, biology and society stories from nytimes.com. Users will also find embedded science videos from nytimes.com and audio slideshows from Revkin in the right rail.
- The Times already has a lot of good environment-related content, but Dot Earth does a nice job of tying all of this related content together with its own unique sub-community. Plus, Dot Earth mixes in original content and lots of linking to take the whole package to another level.
- Dot Earth demonstrates why community matters. It’s a sub-community within nytimes.com and a community that appeals to a niche audience. The comments left after posts on Dot Earth are quite strong (it doesn’t hurt that the Times, unlike many publications, actually moderates comments and cares about their quality). Many people commenting on Dot Earth stories are academics, PhDs, energy workers and other knowledgeable people about sustainability, climate change and science topics.
Below you’ll find a post I created to go with a beatblogging presentation at BCNI Philly.
It’s a quick start guide on what beatblogging is, how to do it and best practices.
What is beatblogging?
Beatblogging is the practice of using social media, blogs and other Web tools for beat reporting.
To be a beatblogger, a journalist must engage in two-way communication. This mean interacting with people on Twitter, in the comments after blog posts and stories, through Facebook and other social networks, by conducting live chats and liveblogs, etc.
It’s important to point out that just because a journalist has a beat and a blog doesn’t make them a beatblogger. That just makes them a beat reporter with a blog. Two-way communication and user interaction are the cornerstones to beatblogging. Conversely, a beat reporter does not need a blog to be a beatblogger.
Two-way communication and interaction can happen on social networks and or during a liveblog, for instance. The key to beatblogging is not, nor will it ever be, about having a blog, but rather it is all about user interaction. We like to call beatblogging Rolodex 2.0, because it’s a way to expand the number of sources a beat reporter has.
In an earlier post Jay Rosen defined a beatblog as:
A beatblog in the expansive sense is any blog that sticks to a well-defined beat or coverage area, whether it is the work of a single person or a team, whether it is authored by a pro or an amateur journalist. A beatblog can be part of a large site, or it could stand on its own. Normally, the beat is explicit and obvious from the home page of the blog, but it is possible for a beat blog to have an “implicit” or unusual beat that isn’t immediately apparent to a casual user.
Content-wise, a beatblog presents a regular flow of reporting and commentary in a focused area the beat covers; it provides links and online resources in that area, and it tracks the subject over time. Beats can be topical (like dot.earth, which is about natural resources and the environment) or narrowly geographic (West Seattle blog) or both (Atlantic Yards Report) or activity-related (Family Life, which is about “raising a family.”)
- More sources — Beatblogging allows journalists to find more sources. This means better and easier reporting. Good beatblogging can allow a journalist to cover a beat easier and more in-depth. Many of these new sources will contact beatbloggers with info, documents and links. In today’s era of limited resources and cutbacks, beatblogging is a powerful way to get more out of less.
- Crowdsourcing — Beatblogging can be an excellent way to crowdsource stories and have readers help report. These days, reporters could use all the help they can get, and why not harness the wisdom of our users? Some beatbloggers even ask their readers to be their assignment editors.
- Conversation — Social media is really about having a conversation. Beatblogging can be a great way to get people talking, and this can become a big part of your product. Alexander Russo’s District 299 blog is all about “hosting” the conversation. His blog is designed to be a place for people to discuss Chicago education news and policy, and people come to the blog largely for the conversation. Yes, he has good editorial content too, but the conversations are a big part of what makes his blog special.
- Users add value — People add value to beatblogs. They help reporters report, they leave links and comments after posts, they share their own experiences — they become a reason to come to the site.
- More traffic — Good beatbloggers will generate more traffic for their content, because their content will have more around it. A blog that has a strong community built around it with lots of thoughtful comments will get much more traffic because people will be checking back several times a day to see the new comments. People will come to a blog just for the conversation, because comments add value.
Here are what some beatbloggers had to say about beatblogging via Twitter:
chronsciguy – It’s fun. It’s immediate. It makes me a much, much better reporter.
mneznanski Why I beatblog? Because it’s more fun than just writing for a newspaper. Because I know what people are reading. Because I do better, more informed journalism with it than without it.
saraneufeld It’s great source-building and an opportunity to tell stories I can’t in the newspaper. Plus, it’s fun.
Top notch beatbloggers
- Eric Berger — You can’t get much better than a Pulitzer Prize finalist, which Berger was this year because of his stellar beatblogging efforts related to his coverage of Hurricane Ike. This coverage from Berger included live, daily chats about the oncoming storm, continuous updates and coverage on Berger’s SciGuy blog and reports on Chron.com.
- Kent Fischer — Fischer (now out of journalism) was one of the best at using his beatblog to help him report and discover new stories. His beatblog helped him uncover an A1 (and later national in the WSJ) story. His readers routinely fed him stories, documents, etc. Beatblogging simply allowed him to be a better reporter. Listen to why Fischer thought beatblogging was such a useful tool for him as a reporter.
- Monica Guzman — Guzman is the master conversation starter and community cultivator. If you’re looking for ways to build a community around your beat, you can’t find much better than Guzman. Unlike the other beatbloggers listed here, Guzman’s main job is to start conversations with readers.
- Brian Krebs — Krebs is an excellent example of what can happen once a community is cultivated. Many of his readers are quite knowledgeable about computer security and really add to the conversation. In fact, blog posts often pick up once the comments start rolling in. Krebs’s users have added a tremendous amount of value to his blog. Krebs discusses the power of a strong user community in this Q&A.
- Cultivating a community — The best way to cultivate a community is to be A) active in your community by responding to comments and B) taking an active role in comment moderation. It takes work to cultivate a community, but it provides rewards. Berger discusses how to build a community in this podcast.
- Hoisting comments — Once a community is cultivated, a beatblogger will want to start acknowledging when people leave strong comments. Many beatbloggrs have begun hoisting comments with weekly “comment of the week” features. It’s a good way to pat readers on the back. Better yet, check out Jon Ortiz’s “blog back” concept. It’s similar to hoisting comments but more in-depth.
- Crowdsourcing — A good beatblog has a large network of sources around it. Many of these sources are experts in in certain fields and topics. Why not ask them for help? The Buzz Out Loud crew discussed how their users know more than they do in this podcast. BOL’s listeners are a big part of the show because they are so knowledgeable, they help report and they provide in-depth knowledge that the hosts often don’t have.
- Be accessible — Make it easy for people to contact you on your blog, Twitter, etc. Good beatbloggers are transparent. People want to interact, so it make it easy for them. Guzman even has weekly in-person office hours and meetups.
- Learn by example — Don’t be afraid to borrow someone else’s good idea. Each week we profile innovative beatbloggers and best practices. If you see something you like, start doing it yourself.
Great examples and lessons
- Blog readers lead to A1 story for Dallas Morning News
- Dispelling FUD on news Web sites and blogs
- Timing can impact traffic to a blog
- Tony Pierce, a “blogger gone pro” at the LA Times | Part 2
- Wired.com harnesses readers to produce better content
- Mortgage blogger Tanta, who saw (and wrote) it all, passed away but legend grows
This article isn’t meant to be groundbreaking. In fact, its simplicity may annoy you. And yet, so many beatbloggers could benefit from the following words of advice.
Please, please, please be transparent.
A successful beatblog requires a way through which readers can contact the author. It sounds dumb to be even mentioning this to a group of professional journalists who “know this already,” but I can’t tell you how frustrating it has been to try to contact some beat bloggers.
A beatblog has to be sure to keep an open dialogue with readers. It’s the nature of the beast. Today, the blogs that interact most with their audience are the ones that become both economically viable, and help the author/s of the blog stay engaged and interested.
There are a lot of examples of blogs that follow the dialogue norms, but a problem arises time and time again. While commenting may be straight forward for the average user, sometimes private messages are important for all sorts of reasons. Many blogs do not have a straight forward way for people to email or message them privately.
Take for example Glenn Greenwald. An avid blogger and journalist for Salon.com, Glenn is world renowned for writing some of the most in-depth political articles out of there. When Glenn writes a post, if you blink, the post might be updated two or three or four times after the comments that readers leave, whether it be a typo or some news Glenn may have overlooked. But his Web site doesn’t make it straightforward on how to contact Glenn privately. Where’s his e-mail? In small text half way down the page.
Take a look at SciGuy, Eric Berger. He runs a fantastic science blog over at the Houston Chronicle. But scroll through the Web site or Google his name and I can assure it won’t be easy to find his e-mail. Same goes for Gene Sloan, Cruise beatblogger at USA Today.
Even Monica Guzman over at the Seattle PI doesn’t make it entirely straight-forward for readers to follow The Big Blog, with contact info buried between articles and cluttered content.
On the other hand, Brian Krebs, author of Security Fix at The Washington Post clearly posts his contact information at the top of his blog. Likewise, St. Petersburg Times’ Bay Buzz does a good job of stating what the blog is about and how to get in contact with Times editor, Heather Urquides.
I could go on and on.
You get the idea: There has to be a move to promote a private dialogue as much as a public one. And if you have a Twitter account that you use for work, make it prominent on your beatblog. It’s another easy way for people to interact with journalism.
If you’re a beatblogger and you’re not publicly allowing your readers — your audience — to get a hold of you, you’re missing out. Big time.
Beatbloggers, it’s time you start focusing as much on transparency as you do on content.
The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week, and we thought it was appropriate to look at the lessons learned from winners and finalists.
More than any other year, this year’s Pulitzer Prizes featured journalists who were making strong use of the Internet. One of our top beatbloggers almost won an award. Unfortunately, Elliot Spitzer couldn’t keep his pants on.
Each of these winners and finalists below showcase how the Internet can help revolutionize journalism. What they were able to using databases, blogs, video, live chats, etc helped cover a major story or event better than what was possible even a few years ago. These examples demonstrate the Internet is in fact great for journalism.
Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle
- The Houston Chronicle was a finalist for the breaking news award. The Chronicle was recognized for its outstanding Hurricane Ike coverage.
- It’s coverage featured live, daily chats with science writer Eric Berger about the oncoming storm, continuous updates and coverage on Berger’s SciGuy blog, around the clock updates on Chron.com, information after the storm struck (including a database of which areas of Houston had power restored), a map of Ike’s damage, video reports, a dedicated “Ike’s Answers” blog and much more. It’s hard to imagine a more complete package of information and reports from a news organizations.
- This is what the Pulitzer committee had to say about the Chronicle’s hurricane coverage, “For taking full advantage of online technology and its newsroom expertise to become a lifeline to the city when Hurricane Ike struck, providing vital minute-by-minute updates on the storm, its flood surge and its aftermath.”
- Berger said to me in an e-mail, “during the hurricane my blog had about 3.5 million page views and the daily live chats I did drew up to 14,000 viewers each time. One of my bosses remarked that it’s not every day a science writer could fill a basketball arena. Additionally, the comments from readers during and after the storm were tremendously positive and heartwarming. I also got great feedback from the director of the National Hurricane Center and storm forecasters who got what I was trying to do in terms of translating their work into meaningful real-time information for people on the ground. So while the Pulitzer recognition for what we did is nice, I’d already received this amazing feedback from critics who matter most to me, the readers and forecasters.”
PolitiFact | The St. Petersburg Times
- We’d like to congratulate one of the shinning beacons of Web journalism, PolitiFact on winning a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
- Technically, PolitiFact isn’t beatblogging. Regardless, it rocks. Politifact offers a lot of strong examples for journalists and journalism organizations on how databases can improve journalism. PolitiFact is a shinning example of how getting away from the inverted pyramid and column inches can improve journalism. Plus, PolitiFact is only possible on the Web.
- PolitiFact has forever changed how politics — especially presidential elections — will be covered. The whole site is based around the simple concept of examining the claims of politicians, pundits and lobbyists. Instead of stringing a bunch of these examinations into one, long post or story, PolitiFact breaks them up into individually searchable vignettes. The Django backbone of PolitiFact both makes the site easy to build and update, while also making it really easy to use. Bravo.
- The prize committee recognized PolitiFact for its, “fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign that used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters. (Moved by the Board to the National Reporting category.)”
- “Neil Brown, executive editor of the St. Petersburg Times, which launched PolitiFact in August 2007, said the award was ‘proof that the Web is not a death sentence for newspapers. In fact, PolitiFact marries the power of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism with an extraordinarily powerful way to present it.'”
- The good news for all of is that this summer they plan to expand their coverage of pundits and talk show hosts. They will also be expanding their state and local fact-checking.
- The Post-Dispatch was a breaking news finalist because of its coverage — online and in print — of a deadly city hall shooting.
- The prize committee made the Post-Dispatch a finalist, “for its creative and aggressive coverage, both online and in print, of a city hall shooting that left six people dead, displaying an exemplary blend of speed and rigor in its reporting.”
- Like the Chronicle, the Post-Dispatch covered this story from a variety of angles and in a variety of mediums from videos to numerous stories to slideshows, audio interviews, a condolences blog, an interactive graphic and more.
- Edward J. Delaney of The Nieman Lab reports that, “In the Post-Dispatch newsroom, the paper had only recently shifted to what managing editor Pam Maples called an “online first” approach. The paper had only recently integrated its online and print staffs so that “we didn’t have one of those online units sitting over in the corner.”
- A news organization like the Post-Dispatch is uniquely positioned in the community to provide this kind of breadth and depth of coverage. Other outlets and blogs could have provided some of those coverage, but it takes an organization like the Post-Dispatch to create the complete package. This is called owning a story
This week’s Leaderboard is all about two-way communication by interacting with users.
The best beat bloggers have established networks around their beats with knowledgeable sources and users. Many of these users add significant value to the beat blogs they comment on. They link to additional resources and Web site, cite studies, forward the debate along and fact check a beat blogger’s work.
Beat bloggers may not always agree with these users, but they can’t imagine their blogs without them either. Beat blogs that are surrounded by an active and knowledgeable community offer so much more for people. These blogs feature great content from beat bloggers and from users.
Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle
- Look at how Berger interacts with his users in the comments after his posts. They go back and forth, help each other out, publish links and more. Berger published the results of a new study that says that being overweight is as bad for a person as smoking. Berger’s users had much to point out and questioned whether the study is that definitive (Berger hinted that he was skeptical too).
- Berger’s users brought up several strong points: This study only looked at young males. Many suggested that it would be difficult to apply these findings to women, and they provided sources and links backing up their thoughts. Also, Berger’s users pointed out that there is a difference between becoming overweight/obese later in life than being overweight/obese from a young age.
- All of this back forth made for a lively discussion and the real value of this post become apparent after his users had a chance to weigh in. All Berger did was provide a succinct summary of the study and his users ran with it.
- Berger’s post was interesting, but the comments really take this to a new level. Plus, Berger’s users helped correct some mistakes in his original post.
Brian Krebs | The Washington Post
- Yet again, Krebs is providing a public service to his users. This post didn’t take long to write, but it will certainly help keep his users safer. For a beat like computer security, it’s important to give users real value. Krebs does that every week by helping his users navigate the rough waters of computer security.
- In this post, Krebs is explaining what to do if users receive unsolicited IM messages on GMAIL from “ViddyHo.” This is a phishing scam aimed at gaining access to GMAIL users’ credentials.
- Krebs also explains why this phishing attack can be particular bad for people; GMAIL accounts often use the same logins as valuable Google Adsense and Google Checkout accounts. Access to either of those could leave a person financial vulnerable.
- What makes this post truly Leaderboard worthy is how his users fill in additional information about the phishing attack and the ways that it can harm users.
Jon Ortiz | The Sacramento Bee
- This is just an all-around great example of beat blogging. State workers have been greatly affected during the financial crisis, and the financial crisis’s affect on state workers been a big part of Ortiz’s blog — The State Worker — the past few months. In California and other states, one of the major ways politicians have proposed covering huge budget shortfalls is by furloughing state workers, cutting their pay and benefits and even laying them off.
- Ortiz found issues affecting state workers in other states and linked to stories and blog posts highlighting how the financial crisis is affecting those state workers. He also wanted his users to check out the comments that state workers were leaving, because they mirrored the comments that Ortiz had been getting for months on his blog.
- This post is, at its heart, link journalism. It’s just very focused link journalism. The idea of finding a specific topic that is more niche than the beat itself and finding interesting links is an idea that more beat bloggers should explore. This bit of link of journalism got Ortiz’s users talking.
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.
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.
Our users know more than we do.
In aggregate, the knowledge of our users far outstrips our own. This is a valuable asset for beat reporters. An asset, until the advent of the Web, that was hardly tapped into.
This week’s Leaderboard is all about beat bloggers who are willing to admit that their users know more than they do. They’re willing to ask their readers for help.
Gene Sloan | USA Today
- Sloan was nominated for his post, “Who has a question for Holland America CEO Stein Kruse?”
- Sloan is giving his readers the opportunity to chat with industry CEOs in his “Chat with the Chief” feature. This is a great little feature that builds user loyalty, generates traffic and gets your users to ask a lot of interesting questions for you. Plus, this doesn’t take a ton of time to produce.
- The feature is pretty simple. Sloan finds industry people that his users would be interested in interacting with and invites them to come to his blog and answer questions from his users. His user post comments at the end of Sloan’s post, and the person that Sloan selects answers users’ questions in the comments section.
- This feature is open for three days and generates a lot of questions. It is also an interesting feature for people to read if they don’t have a question to ask. Plus, Sloan’s readers are knowledgeable people and ask interesting questions.
Jon Ortiz | The Sacramento Bee
- This is the kind of short, little post that works perfect on the Web, but would make no sense in print.
- First, the post is linking to a colleagues story and generating more traffic for that content. His colleague wrote a story about how a California state legislator shifted campaign cash to a legal defense fund. Ortiz used that story as a springboard to his post asking for user opinions.
- Ortiz, however, primarily made this post to solicit user opinion and to get people talking. Starting conversations can be a good way to build a community. Also, Ortiz could use the comments he gets as the seeds for a new post.
Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle
- Berger is asking, “What would you ask … France’s chief climate negotiator?” Berger has the opportunity to interview France’s Brice Lalonde, and he wants his users to help him out.
- This is an excellent way for Berger to get his readers involved. Plus, Berger’s readers are very knowledgeable and many of them are scientists. They can provide him with some great questions to ask. Win-win.
- This is a great way for Berger to use the collective intelligence of his readers to think of great questions. At Beat Blogging, we use Twitter all the time to harness the wisdom of our users.