Monthly Archives: October 2010

Optimising the Search Engine

It is so tempting to add the word BOOBS to my title, just to see if Charlie Brooker’s SEO theory works out.

It was all about planning for the machine and writing for the human in this week’s online journalism lecture. Sounds quite clinical put like that, but the idea is fairly easy to wrap your head around.  Basically, in the miasma that is the scope of online journalism there is no room for witty headlines and punning toplines.  You’ve got to think about what people are searching for, and deliver.  Simple as.  Except when you’ve spent the last two years with every article you’ve ever written headed by a carefully-crafted cracker.  Examples that stick in the mind (is haunt too strong a word?) include ‘The Eagle has Landed’, ‘Busted!’ and ‘You’re nicked!’  Ah, memories.

So what are the important things to remember when trying to carve a presence in the world of online journalism?

  • Bullet points are your friend – they break up the page and are easy to read
  • Say what you mean.  No more ‘miasmas’ and ‘the world of…’s.  Damn.
  • Try and get the main point of your story/post into its opening 25 lines.  No more rambling about ‘When I Was a Local Reporter…’ in manner of nostalgic and slightly seedy old man
  • Categorize and tag for extra search hits.  We all know about tagging thanks to the joys of that morning-after Facebook notification.
  • Hightlight the super-important bits.  But don’t overdo it otherwise it will end up looking like the words are shouting at you.  A BIT LIKE WHEN YOUR PARENTS FIRST LEARNED HOW TO TEXT BUT DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO TAKE OFF CAPITALS.
  • Write links that mean something.  Link to something that will add to your story rather than illustrate some point you’re too lazy to analyse.
  • Keep it short, keep it snappy.  People tend to switch off after the first 200-500 words.  On that note

Using google maps…

… to pinpoint some recent muggings.  Partly because crime, law and order is my reporting area of interest and partly because they happen to fall between the place where my bed is and the place where I buy alcohol and chocolate.

Several muggings have been reported along this route, popular with cyclists, dog walkers and students making the weekly pilgrimage to the huuuuuuuge Tesco Extra on Western Avenue.  Police have connected the incidents through various descriptions and have issued a warning not to walk alone late at night.  As many people know, this isn’t the first worrying report concerning student safety.  What might surprise you, however, is that it isn’t just young women walking alone at night who are at risk.  Five of the six people who were robbed along the Trail were men aged 21 – 58, and one of them was attacked at 4.45pm.  So watch your back!

Are you sitting comfortably…?

…then I shall begin

I love stories.  When I was little I loved hearing them at school, at home, from anyone.  Hell, I still love hearing them.  Part of the reason why I chose to take Classics A-level was because the teacher used to tell the best stories whenever she took assembly.  I love telling stories as well.  It’s why I did Creative Writing at university numero uno.  It’s why I fell in love with journalism and it’s why, when we were assigned the task of a niche blog, my first thought was to use the medium of blogging to explore different ways of telling stories.  This is a work in progress.

So, when Dr Daniel Meadows spoke about Digital Storytelling during our second Online Journalism lecture, I was instantly engaged by the idea.  Some of the videos he showed us definitely backed up the thesis that the method is a very personal way of telling a story, whatever that story might be.  All very well and good, you might think, for a person to put forward their own expression of grief, love or footwear-related bewilderment, but what does it have to do with journalism?  As trainee journalists one of the lessons lurking behind almost every lecture is the mantra not to let personal feelings seep into our work.  So where does this self-confessed intensely personal medium fit?

The answer, I think, lies with a question Dr Meadows asked us last week:  ‘Why is the voice of the media interesting?’  

Because it’s authoritative?  Maybe.  Because it’s the truth?  Not always.  (And here I could use my newfound geek-slickery skills to link to an example but not going to because right there beside the subjectivity lessons has been the siren-shrieks of Defamation! Libellous! Lawyers!

I think the voice of the media is interesting because it is a voice.  Belonging to an individual.  I think the journalist’s personal stamp on a story is part of what can make that story great, no matter what it’s about.  After all, if it wasn’t why would there be a need to train journalists?  

Digital Storytelling tells a story, but it doesn’t have to be just one person’s…  It can tell any story.  It could be used to tell the news in a different way – imagine that.  It could be used to enhance a news story, give it a new perspective.  Enlighten it.  I heard someone say the other day that they don’t bother paying attention to news stories concerning topics with history behind them – the Iraq war, for example – because they don’t know the backlog of issues associated with the story and thus it makes less sense.  So what if Digital Storytelling could be used as a crash-course resource to get people up to date with these topics?  Kind of like those youtube tutorials you see…  It may be hovering on the out-of-date cusp of the mind-wrenching chasm that is Social Media today, but I think there is a huge audience for Digital Storytelling in journalism. 

We were given the task, at the end of the lecture, to make our own Digital Stories, using the tutorial found here.  I’m sure I’m not the only one bursting with my share of crazy, bizarrity and tragedy, so I can’t wait to see what comes of it.  Bring it on!

Social Media: Power to the Pimpled

Whether he was serious or not, Andrew Marr’s scathing description of citizen journalism certainly threw an interesting shade on the subject-of-the-week at Cardiff Journalism School. 

After the fast-paced discussion of the role of Social Media by Claire Wardle of the BBC’s College of Journalism, something which stuck with me was her reference to Jay Rosen’s article about The People Formerly known as the Audience and their changing role from reactors to interactors.  It got me wondering, if readers are to users as magazines are to tablets, what are journalists to? 

When I wored at my local paper, my editor used to quote Mark Twain, saying that the mark of a good news story was one which someone, somewhere did not want published.  As an inexperienced local reporter, I came across many such people of a publication-day morning. 

Once, when I had been in the job a matter of weeks, I wrote a very small article saying there had been rumours that the local Post Office was going to close.  I had been unable to get confirmation from the press office or representatives at the local branch, but my editor said that rumours themselves were justifiable news, so we went with that.  Come Friday morning, I received a visit from the local postmistress who explained in no uncertain terms just how mistaken we had been, and that I was a disgrace to journalism in general and the elderly Post Office users in particular.  I think she would have given me a journalism-ASBO if she could. 

Needless to say, we printed a clarification/apology the following week, I realised that being the local reporter meant taking verbal punches with the glory no matter who was ultimately responsible, and began to walk the extra mile whenever I needed to post a parcel. 

So is it terrifying to face the prospect that the people ‘formerly known as the audience’ will soon be brought that significant step closer to the journalists themselves?  No.  Not really.  Because another point I picked up from Claire’s words, as well as those of the many respected journalists who spoke at Friday’s Tomorrow’s Journalism Conference, was that quality journalism stood to be enhanced by the future, not damaged. 

I agree with this.  I think that there is a level of security facilitated by distance from the consumer which the weekly newspaper journalist/ columnist/ TV and radio reporter has when delivering a story in a controversial way.  Users who can comment directly and immediately on journalism provide a challenge to the journalist to step up their game.  There is no room for error or complacency anymore, the bar has been raised, and that is why it is so exciting to be training right now.  Because in some ways we are training to be multi-tasking journalists of the juggling-small-children-while-riding-a-camel-on-roller-skates calibre.  

Having said that, try not to aggravate the local postal workers.  The buzz is no match for the looming realisation that you’ve run out of stamps.

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