This week’s Leaderboard features a new media outlet, a traditional media outlet and an independent blogger with a sponsor.
They are all pushing the practice.
Innovation is not the sole province of big organizations with lots of resources. Some of the best, most innovative journalism is being done by people at non-traditional organizations. There are new media news organizations popping up all the time, and if traditional news outlets aren’t careful, these new outlets will eat their lunch.
But rather than fighting each other, we can learn and figure out best practices.
It is worth noting that our Leaderboard winner this week from a traditional media outlet is at a newspaper with less than 100,000 daily circulation. Size and age don’t matter when it comes to innovation.
Alexander Russo | District 299
- Russo’s blog, District 299, covers education much differently than a newspaper beat reporter would. Instead of District 299 being a place where Russo talks at people and reports in a one-way style, District 299 is a place to have conversations. It’s a place to discuss how to make education better in Chicago.
- Russo brings a different concept to beat blogging. He says his blog is “hosted by Alexander Russo.” By that, he means he has created a space to get people talking about education issues in Chicago.
- If the Chicago school district releases a press releases about school closings, Russo would throw the press release up on his blog in its entirety for users to read, rather than summarizing it like a newspaper reporter would. Russo’s goal is not to make the press release his own, but rather to get it up on his blog to get people discussing the contents of it.
- Russo’s blog is a gateway to all things Chicago schools related. The best way to make his platform the destination to be for discussion of issues surrounding Chicago schools is to link heavily to other people’s content.
- Many traditional journalists are so focused on producing content that they don’t take any time to create a quality space for people to discuss issues. Russo, a Spencer Fellow at Columbia University, is interested in more than just covering education — he wants to help create change. He is not a dispassionate spectator like most newspaper journalists aim to be and instead uses his blog to get people talking about ways to improve the under-performing Chicago school district.
Philissa Cramer | GothamSchools
- Rise and Shine is a daily link journalism post that sets the agenda each day for GothamSchools. GothamSchools is a new media operation that wants to be an online community for discussion about New York City Schools. That would be impossible if GothamSchools didn’t link out. Rather, GothamSchools offers a blend of original reporting and curation.
- GothamSchools has a similar mission as Russo. It wants to be more than just a news outlet. It wants to be a place for serious discussion, and it wants to help make education better in New York.
- From the about page, ” … a news source and online community for teachers, parents, policy makers, and journalists interested in learning about what works and what doesn’t in NYC schools. We seek to provide a clearinghouse for school news and commentary, connect teachers and parents with resources, highlight effective practices in policy and pedagogy, and build a participatory knowledge base about education in New York City. By offering a critical eye on education research and reporting, and by creating a forum for conversation, GothamSchools is helping New Yorkers create better schools.”
Ron Sylvester | Wichita Eagle
- Ron Sylvester has been reinventing court coverage with Twitter. Follow along as he tweets live updates from a trial of six accused gang members. Sylvester’s tweets what is happening during the trial with succinct 140-character bites. He also provides insight into the trial itself.
- We have chronicled Sylvester’s efforts before, but he continues to refine his coverage. Sylvester is using social media and his blog to transform how newspapers cover trials. No longer is Sylvester being beaten by broadcast media. Instead, his live updates from the court room beat everyone. And unlike live TV coverage of a trial, which can be overwhelming, Sylvester’s 140-character tidbits make following a trial very easy.
- Sylvester’s Twitter use also proves that Twitter can be a valuable tool for journalists in less-populated, less-tech savvy areas. Many of the people that follow Sylvester’s court room tweets are not on Twitter. They’re not that interested in Twitter itself, but they are really interested in the content that Sylvester produces on it. These people either follow along on Sylvester’s Twitter page or on blog where his tweets are embedded.
Traditionally journalists — especially print — have hid behind bylines and their professional personas.
In the name of objectivity, journalists were told to keep their personal lives separate from their professional work. Journalists just reported the news and that was that (just the finished product, not the journey). That worked fine in a pre-Internet world.
But honestly, how many people on Twitter have a lot of followers acting like that? Virtually none. Same with bloggers.
The Web is an interactive medium, and who wants to interact with a robot? Professor Carrie Brown created a thought provoking video about journalists opening up on social media. In fact, she argues that journalists must open up on social media to harness the platform properly.
“I don’t think social media will really work for journalists, unless we are willing to share a little bit about ourselves and our personalities,” Brown said in the video.
The idea is not to write about issues like politics, who you voted for or other divisive topics, but rather to become more human. Beat blogger Ron Sylvester also has made the same point earlier this year. He has tweeted about how he injured his knee, and it has humanized him to readers.
“People come to social media with a different set of expectations,” Brown said. “They want to see that there is kind of a real person with a personality behind the byline.”
Then there is a the Colonel Tribune approach. The Colonel is not a real person, of course, but it’s a fun and fascinating online persona that Tribune Interactive has created. The Colonel approach might only work once per paper, but it is interesting how people positively respond to a fake persona (instead of the robot approach that other papers have tried).
This is a tricky road to navigate, however. The last thing journalists would want to do is to turn off potential readers. So, where is the line?
How human should journalists become on social networks? Does your news organization have rules about how to act on social media? Are you allowed to open up?
There was a time when I thought Twitter mostly made sense for large and national beats, with readers who were tech savvy.
After all, if your readers aren’t on Twitter, what good is using it? Well, I was wrong.
Wichita, Kansas is not a tech hub. It’s not known for being particularly bleeding edge with technology or Web adoption. It has a median household income of about $40,000, and Kansas is around the national average with regards to the percentage of people over 25 with college degrees.
This doesn’t sound like the greatest test bed for a social networking service, Twitter, that only has a few million users worldwide, who are largely concentrated in wealthy, educated areas in major cities (D.C., New York, San Francisco and the Bay area, London, etc).
Nonetheless, Ron Sylvester, a court reporter for The Wichita Eagle, has found great success with Twitter. The thing is, his readers don’t have to have Twitter accounts to enjoy his tweeting. All that is required for Sylvester to be successful with Twitter is for him to harness the platform well.
Sylvester uses Twitter to cover court trials live. People love being able to read what is going on and why, especially at major trials. Most of those people will never join Twitter, but that doesn’t stop Twitter from being immensely useful for Sylvester.
One of the keys to harnessing Twitter well for information dissemination is realizing that a Twitter feed can be embedded onto virtually any Web site. People can consume Sylvester’s Twitter feed in a variety of ways:
- People can go to Twitter.com/rsylvester and view his feed. Sylvester does not make the mistake of protecting his feed. He allows anyone to view it. Yes, there are people who follow his beat that are on Twitter, but a lot more people are glued to his Twitter feed even though they don’t have Twitter accounts. During court trials, people love his live tweets.
- On his blog, What the Judge Ate for Breakfast, users can find his Twitter feed embedded on every page. As people navigate around his blog they’ll find a continuously updating stream of news that Sylvester is publishing via Twitter.
- People can subscribe to his Twitter RSS feed. Many, many more people use RSS readers than use Twitter. Beat reporters can just make another subscribe to button with a link to their Twitter RSS feed.
- People can view his Twitter feed when he embeds it into blog posts or onto his newspaper’s Web site. Sylvester can make a blog post that says, “Today I’m covering this trial live. Below you’ll find updates throughout the day from the courtroom.” Sylvester can then embed his feed right into that blog post.
Think about this: Let’s say you’re covering a big event, you have several written pieces about the event, have some video and are posting live updates.
All this information could be placed together in a single blog post (or on a page on your Web site, CMS permitting). The post could link to each written piece, with a description. Video content could be embedded onto the page, and the live Twitter feed could be embedded as well. This way people can grab all your content in one convenient place.
Etan Horowitz, a technology columnist and blogger for the Orlando Sentinel, on the other hand has many readers on Twitter. His beat covers a topic that has a lot of overlap with Twitter, and many of his readers aren’t even in the Orlando area. He often asks questions on Twitter about people’s tech habits, which help him write stories and blog posts.
It’s a different use than Sylvester’s. Both are using Twitter in ways that make sense for their beats. Horowitz can use Twitter to help him find sources and information for his reporting, while Sylvester uses Twitter as a major tool for reporting information.
They are starkly different uses, but both work very well. Horowitz, by the way, also embeds his Twitter feed onto his blog. For Horowitz, this can be a great way for readers to know that he is on Twitter.
Always keep in mind that social networking services like Twitter, delicious, Publish2, YouTube, Viddler, etc usually allow their content to be embedded onto other sites. This makes these tools much more powerful and flexible for journalism. Embedding content allows journalists to have conversations on and off site, while also allowing their content to reach broader audiences.
Even if most of your readers will never understand or use Twitter, you can still effectively use Twitter to help report.
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
- 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:
- Beat blogging allows reporters to concentrate on core reporting
- Guest blogging from community members
- Audio interview with Kent Fischer about building a blog on steroids
- Kent Fischer debuts new feature to hoist user comments
- Blog readers lead to A1 story for Dallas Morning News
- Interview with Kent Fischer about his readers helping him uncover a major story
Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle
- 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.
- Dispelling FUD on news Web sites and blogs
- Harnessing the wisdom of users at the Houston Chronicle
- Berger back at his conversation starting ways
- Audio interview with Eric Berger on building an online community
- Using a survey to take the conversation to the next level
Ron Sylvester | Wichita Eagle
- 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.
Monica Guzman | The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- 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.