Category: Social Media

Do you use checklists?

As I fly home to Denver today, I’m wondering what tools other developers use when setting up projects.

I have a questionnaire that I sent to clients before quoting a project that helps me get a sense of the type of website we’re going to build.

But I’m thinking of developing a series of checklists for new projects.

  1. Collecting Logins for Clients with Existing Websites
  2. Setting up a new WordPress installation
  3. Plugins
  4. Social Media Scheduling
  5. Analytics and Adwords

Any others you’d like to see?

Social Media for Open Source Communities

This is the final post in a series of nine posts on the All Things Open 2015 conference I attended in Raleigh in mid-October. For more information on the conference, along with videos and slides from the presenters, check out the conference website.

For a community that prides itself on “openness” and “collaboration,” the open source community does not always readily embrace social media as a means to promote their projects and get people involved.

Rikki Endsley, from, gave a quick rundown of best practices for all social media, and some of the key platforms in particular.

For those of us that do this for a living, her tips were not groundbreaking, but it’s always nice to get a quick refresher course on what we should be doing to promote our projects.

Her key takeaways were:

  1. Send out Relevant, Interesting, Accurate Information
  2. Know who your audience is
  3. Craft your text
  4. Use hashtags
  5. Avoid PR Speak
  6. Numbers do well
  7. Ask questions
  8. Images are very important
  9. Retweet, Respond, Reshare, Reply

I think even experience social media professionals can use this refresher course from time to time, and it was an excellent way to talk about how Open Source communities can get out of their small bubble and welcome more people in, which was, after all, the point of the conference.

News Euphemisms

I was reading this excellent piece on the Republican position on Latinos and immigration, and how that affects their electoral strategy when I came across this sentence:

“Every election cycle, more of them will become eligible to vote, while the oldest, whitest and most Republican generations age out of the electorate on the other end. (‘Age out of the electorate’ is a euphemism for ‘die.’)”

It got me thinking about my favorite news, public policy, and academic euphemisms, those little phrases that reporters and academics use when they want to say something (often something crass or disturbing) but need to maintain a modicum of dignity.

One of my (morbid) favorites is “placed himself deliberately on the tracks,” used by WMATA and the Washington Post whenever a person commits suicide by jumping in front of a subway train (almost always on the Red Line, almost always shortly before rush hour). I think the reason I find this one (morbidly) amusing is that while it is a much more verbose way of saying something that is a little unseemly, it doesn’t leave nearly as much to the imagination as NBC News reporter Benjy Sarlin’s gem above.

What are your favorite news euphemisms?

A Bandana-Wearing Rodent and A Staid Network

The company I work for can hardly be seen as “on the cutting edge” of anything. In focus groups, the words boring and slow come up almost as often as interesting and informative. And the work culture behind the scenes matches the product on the screen most of the time.

So when my boss asked me to look into a new social media product called RebelMouse and to investigate how we might use it to enhance our users’ experience at our website.

Basically, it’s a social media aggregation tool. At first look, you hook up your social media feeds (currently, it supports Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Google+ and Tumblr), and it creates a neat, infinitely scrolling display page of your tweets, posts, and photos. You can either send people to the page hosted by RebelMouse, or embed the page in your website using a WordPress plugin or a simple embed code.

At first, I was a little skeptical. While I saw the benefit of using this for organizations that traffic in news, our focus is on events coverage and, because of that, many of our social media posts contain the words “Live Now” or “Watch now,” which become useless once the event ends. But then we looked at Time Magazine’s Person of the Year announcement. Time used RebelMouse to aggregate social media postings about their Person of the Year, and embedded those posts in their site.

We decided to use RebelMouse for Inauguration, focusing on photos and videos. We wanted to give our users a behind-the-scenes look at Inauguration day in our nation’s capitol. We knew from prior events that people on our staff and the public at large would be tweeting photos of themselves on the National Mall, along the parade route, and at the Capitol and White House. We thought that users who couldn’t be in Washington for the event could get a glimpse of what it was like to produce and attend this enormous event.

So we worked with RebelMouse to develop an embedded site and widget that we hosted on our own site, and then we got to work choosing photos to post on the page and making sure we had a variety of viewpoints and media. We linked prominently to the page from the top banner section of our homepage, and we promoted it heavily during our TV coverage of the Inauguration events.

So… was it a success? It’s hard to say. From an editorial standpoint, we thought it performed exactly as we had hoped it would. We got great pictures from our camera crews, producers, and viewers, and the RebelMouse feed was constantly updated through the hard work of our Developer-turned-editorial director of the project and our Vice President, who chipped in for breaks and evening coverage.

By traditional measures, however, we were less impressed. Our page views were mediocre and we did not get a lot of feedback from users or other staff. But we were encouraged by how quickly we were able to implement the tool, and are looking forward to trying some different promotions and link wording in the future. Overall, we’re calling it a success.

Hopefully our users will see it that way too.

(In) Credible

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the way that the essential journalistic concept of “credibility” is evolving in the new media world, mainly about two tangentially related topics.

1. I think people my age and younger care less about credibility as a marker of legitimacy. If your main source of news is Twitter, Facebook, or another online, social-based app, then the credibility you are seeking is from your social contact, not their sources. If I post a story on my Facebook timeline, I am saying that the story is credible, regardless of where the link leads. Journalists need to be wary of this development, because real journalism, and real credibility is hard-won and expensive, but is now being placed on an even plane with any kid who’s got an iPhone and is in the right place at the right time (and is possibly participating in the “news,” raising important ethical questions).

2. In a world of 24 hour, I needed it 5 minutes ago deadlines, the competition to be first, a relic from older styles of news consumption, can cause news organizations to jump the gun on reporting events. Case-in-point, CNN and Fox News raced to be the first on the air with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Obamacare case, and, as everyone knows by now, both reported the ruling incorrectly. They were jumping to be first and ended up being wrong. The obvious cost here is that CNN and Fox News lost a some credibility in future breaking news situation. We can’t know what would have happened had they waited to read the decision fully and come in 2nd or 3rd, but I know that, even as someone who works in this business and knows exactly what happened, I looked skeptically at any news story that contained the words “according to CNN” for the next few weeks.

It’s a bit of a double edged sword for traditional media. They’ve built up reputations based on journalistic integrity and credibility, but they compete against, seemingly, every internet connected person in the world. But the costs of a mistake for the traditional media are much steeper than the costs for that kid with an iPhone reporting for himself and his friends.

When reporters became brands (and other signs of the impending armageddon)

It may seem strange that I am writing a post about the shameless self-promotion that many journalists (especially those of my generation) engage in on a regular basis on the very day that I published my own resume website, but this is a topic where I seem to have a particularly crotchety point of view.

From your “social media presence” to “building your brand,” the buzz words of marketing run rampant through journalism schools and the trade press.  There was a day when this sort of self-interested promotion was exercised by only the most vain of television news personalities, but now, it is seen as the only way to make oneself relevant in the changing journalism world.

I have always been a “let my work speak for itself” kind of person and am generally uncomfortable with the level of marketing that journalists are expected to do in the name of becoming a valuable asset to a news organization.  I thought, for a time, that this kind of personal branding was a reaction to the steep decline in journalism jobs, but now I see it more as a result of the “cult of celebrity” that has taken over popular culture.

In a world where you can be famous for being famous (or rather for doing very little of any value), it is not surprising that journalism schools are focused on creating their own little celebrities whose personalities, rather than talent, will earn them a job.

I still have hope that there is a market for journalists who are doing good work without seeking to create their own 140 character caricature that can be easily marketed by the ad department.  At many of the nations highest pinnacles of journalism – the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC Nightly News – there are old-school news hounds looking to ply their craft in relative anonymity.

A colleague of mine at school had a class assignment for a course called “21st Century Media.”  She was to choose a journalist and ask them about their “brand.”  She chose a favorite of mine, Gene Weingarten, a curmudgeonly columnist (and Pulitzer Prize winner) for the Washington Post Magazine.  His response, and the column that resulted, pretty well sums up how I feel about the movement.

And while I feel a little concerned that my professional philosophy tends to line up closer with the reporters of my father’s generation, I am comforted by the fact that, for now at least, those are the people who still hold the hiring power.

So, check out the website (still a work in progress, but maybe now that real people can look at it, it will light a fire under me to complete the features on my to-do list) and let me know what you think.  As for my “personal brand,” is “Female Gene Weingarten” taken?

#oneman’spound #isanotherman’shashtag

Twitter has released a handbook for journalists.  It’s goal?  To make using Twitter easier for reporters, producers, and other journalists who use the micro-blogging site to inform their work.

Twitter for Newsrooms features sections like “report” and “engage.” When I first saw the site, I was excited to learn that Twitter has finally realized that a large portion of their content is tweeted, or retweeted, by journalists, and that they were seeking to make things easier for those of us who are starting to use the social network for source-building and storytelling.

It seems that the guide has very little to offer the journalist who is already twitter-literate, however. Which is not to say that it can’t be a valuable resource for new journalists, or for journalists who are nostalgic for the days when they used typewriters and, using a land line phone, called their editors and read their copy to a typist back at the bureau.

The thing I like most about the guide is how simple it is, and how easy I think it might be for someone like those grizzled old scribblers to understand. It’s value lies in teaching both the new to Twitter and the new to journalism how best to use the site in an ethical and straightforward way.

How do you use Twitter?

Coming next week: A bit of shameless self-promotion and a rant about the need for self-promotion.

What people really want online

In one of the latest reports from the Project for Excellence in Journalismone of the most interesting things was tucked at the bottom of a page titled The Importance of the Home Page.

Another finding was that the data suggest that news online remains a heavily text-oriented environment. Online video did not rank high on any of the sites as a place that people clicked to– even on the sites whose legacy product is affiliated with television, except

This is something that I’ve always suspected to be true based on my personal preference for web content. Don’t get me wrong, I love that I can watch dozens of movies a month streamed to my computer, and I’ve been known to watch a cute puppy video or two, but the vast majority of my online news viewing is text.

This is because I surf the internet at work (or class), where video would be obtrusive, and because when I’m looking for news, I’m mostly looking to skim an article to get the basic idea. Then, I can decide if it’s worth a closer read. No such option is available on video stories, so I have to already be pretty invested to make the initial decision to watch.

This is also because, the video content I’m looking for is much harder to find, based on Google’s text-based algorithm. Companies, including one I used to work for, are working on ways to make video content search-able, but the technology is not widely available or particularly accurate.

I would guess that the reasons for the PEJ finding are similar to mine, with one addition: the amount of video content available, when compared to text, is still very tiny. It will be interesting to see if video can ever close the gap, or if new, animated, interactive graphics will largely take the place of both.