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.
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.
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.
This week two of our Leaderboard members deal heavily in podcasting.
One, Buzz Out Loud, is primarily a podcast that also combines a blog, forum, wiki and other technology to help cover their beat. The other is a beat reporter who has added a weekly podcast, live chats and other new media tools to help cover his beat better.
Our last nominee is a familiar face. He’s one of the best, each and every week.
- Molly Wood, Tom Merritt and Jason Howell have created one of the most popular podcasts, and it didn’t happen for no reason. It has great content, it’s very informative and it’s enjoyable to listen to. A big part of that enjoyability are the daily e-mails and voicemails from listeners that make it into the show. Wood, Merritt and Howell respond to those and often provide clarification or commentary.
- This show wouldn’t be possible without its listeners. Every day people send in tips about new tech, experiences they have had, insider information, etc. The show was originally around five minutes long and was aired every other day. Now the show regularly runs 35-45 minutes each day. Producing that much quality content each day isn’t easy, but the shows listeners help out by sending in tips and information.
- The BOL gang regularly interact with users in other formats. The show has its own forums. and Wood, Merritt and Howell are no strangers to it. Even cooler is the live chat that happens when the show is recorded live each day. Listeners regularly help the BOL gang out. For instance, a news article they are discussing may talk about some complicated technology that they don’t fully understand, but a listener in the chat room might be able to shed light on the subject. Other times listeners help provide clarification. It’s like having live fact checkers and life lines.
- This is an excellent example of journalists and a knowledgeable community working together. Buzz Out Loud has a lot of very intelligent, well read and tech savvy users. Buzz Out Loud wouldn’t be half the show without its fans, but together they have created one of the best podcasts on the Web today.
Eric Page | Quad-City Times
- We’re sad to see Page leaving journalism for a Web career, but we wish him the best of luck. He did a great job of innovating on his Iowa Hawkeyes beat over at the Times’ Hawkmania site.
- His weekly live chats, podcasts and blogging are an inspiration to all beat reporters. Page covered his beat with incredible depth. He was also able to connect with fans through his chats and blogging.
- Sports is a great beat to branch out into new media. People especially love live chats with beat reporters. These live chats attract a lot of people to them (and run up time spent stats), and yet they are poplar in archive form too. Podcasts can make a lot of sense too (especially from an advertising perspective), and blogging obviously makes sense.
- Page is truly a multimedia reporter.
Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle
- We’d like to congratulate Berger on his 50,000th comment. What makes this milestone even more impressive is that Berger approves every comment. This partly explains why the comments are so good on his blog.
- But it doesn’t explain it all. Berger is one of the best at cultivating a community. If you only read his blog posts, you’d be missing out on all the great debate, links and discovery in the comments under each post.
- People ask me all the time why they should spend some of their time responding to comments, when they could be writing more posts or stories. This is an easy answer. Not only will you get much more insightful and less vitriolic comments, but you’ll also help build a community of loyal users. The kind of loyal users that will send you tips and links. The kind of loyal users that will help make your job easier.
- How many beat reporters do you know who would say this, “This blog wouldn’t be what it is without the excellent and devoted participation of those who participate. So if you’ve commented during the last 40 months, thank you. And if you’re just lurking, what are you waiting for?”
- Well, Berger means it when he says that because he has cultivated a strong community where his users are a big part of what makes his blog special.
- As a general rule of thumb, if the comments are terrible on your blog and stories, it’s probably your thought. A little attention goes a long way.
This week’s Leaderboard features beat bloggers who know how to cultivate their online communities and who listen to the wisdom of their users.
Cultivating a community is the first step. The best beat bloggers create a community where knowledgeable people come to share ideas and discuss content. That’s what these beat bloggers have done.
The next level is then listening to what your wise users have to say. The best beat reporters know that in aggregate the wisdom of their readers far outstrips their own knowledge. Beat blogging gives beat reporters avenues to harness that wisdom.
In the case of one beat blogger this week, he asked his readers to be his assignment editor. You know what? His readers came up with some dynamite story ideas.
Ed Silverman | Pharmalot
- Silverman is one of the most prolific beat bloggers I’ve ever seen. He posts a lot of high quality content throughout the day, and his blog reaches far beyond The Star-Ledger’s circulation area.
- One of the most impressive parts of Pharmalot is the comments that are left after posts. Silverman has attracted a community of experts and industry insiders. He has actively cultivated a strong community, and Pharmalot is one of the strongest examples of why news organizations need to allow user comments.
- The beat model seems to encourage better conversations. Pharmalot is a blog dedicated to the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmalot doesn’t attract the same kinds of trolls that show up on general interest stories. Plus, Silverman is very active in the comments. That always leads to better conversations.
Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee
- Ortiz got off to a hot start by launching his blog early to report on the financial budget shortfall in California. The initial budget shortfall was solved, but the financial crisis is hitting California hard again.
- Not only is Ortiz providing great coverage of this situation, but he is also encouraging discussions on his blog.
Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle
- Berger asked his readers to tell him which stories they would like to see him cover. He took the best ideas and put them to a vote. Want to know what your readers think? Ask them.
- Berger’s beat attracts a lot of knowledgeable and educated people. The top story ideas they came up with all would make for strong enterprise stories. Berger is currently committed to doing at least the top two stories (both energy related) that his readers voted on. This has been a great way for Berger to hear what his readers think and also find great story ideas.
- Berger’s readers are always posting links and making suggestions. A blogger like Berger would be foolish to ignore all the knowledge that his readers leave on his blog.
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.
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.