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Posts Tagged ‘news’

Last spring I attended a conference on social media, and one of the speakers on a panel declared local news to be dead. One of the panelists responded by saying it was a local newspaper (The Record) that uncovered Gov. Chris Christie’s administration being tied to the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge a year ago (commonly referred to as Bridgegate).

The original speaker poo-pooed the story because it was New Jersey, an extension of New York. It doesn’t count.

It seems to have become common practice to dump all over local news. Case in point was an article from earlier this summer that was critical of “hyperlocal” because of its failures though it still has supporters. Part of the story was Jim Brady’s new project in Philadelphia, where he has gone since the closure of Project Thunderdome from Digital First Media. Among the things it picks on are TBD in Washington, which isn’t a fair point since TBD was never hyperlocal nor was it given a chance to succeed.

The article also picks on Patch, which is a fair criticism, but also mentions Backfence. Not familiar with Backfence? It’s because it shutdown in 2007 and it was a project focused on citizen journalism, the buzzword for hyperlocal before hyperlocal. I know about Backfence because it was included in my graduate school thesis in 2006 on citizen journalism. It was an early project, which means there were things to learn here. Just like there are lessons to learn from Patch.

But that fails to highlight how there are many local news websites that are doing just fine. I worked at one in Connecticut, and one of the oldest is in my backyard here in New Jersey. There also are franchises of local news websites in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Look beyond the tri-state area and you’re going to find a lot of local news websites across the country thriving.

Local news is struggling in some ways, no doubt. A recent PEW study outlined the shifting in how many people are covering the statehouse. We still hear about layoffs across the country, including at local news outlets. Some local outlets have trouble shifting from traditional distribution methods (ie printed product), but it isn’t always because they are resistant to change. Often they do not have the resources.

But we should be concerned about local news rather than declaring it dead. It’s an important instrument for you to learn what’s happening in your neighborhood. But it’s also these local news outlets that will stay with a story when the national media is gone.

I’ve seen someone say “what happens when the national media leaves Ferguson?” several times on one of my social media streams. It’s not just friends but also others who work in journalism. What happens is the local media will continue to cover the story, just like the local media always does when the national media leaves.

Hurricane Sandy was a national story and still gets some national press two years later, but it’s the local press that writes the stories about the storms effects constantly. My colleagues are sharing the stories of people who are still struggling two years after the storm. Remember the story about the Sandy Hook gunman that grabbed national headlines? It originated in the Hartford Courant, aka the local press. Bridgegate grabbed national attention, but it’s the New Jersey and New York outlets that are on top of every movement. In 2009, a group of Millburn High School students came under fire for a hazing incident that grabbed national headlines. When the national press was gone, it was the local news outlets (including myself) that followed the story, including what happened the following first day of school.

Plus those stories that evoke dramatic emotion from you? Most often they are covered by a local news outlet first before a national news outlet (or even your local news) picks it up.

The thing about today’s world of media is that you can check in on news anywhere in this country (or the world too) at any time. With a click of your mouse, you can check to see what is happening in the St. Louis area (where Ferguson is located) or what’s happening where you grew up (I don’t do this because my mother tells me more news from home than I could consume online).

But without local news, you wouldn’t be able to check in on those stories or what’s happening in your hometown. We wouldn’t have stories like the Courant’s profile of the Sandy Hook gunman. Those stories take time, local sources and local knowledge. It’s your local press that’s going to deliver on that for you.

I’m not going to tell you to go buy your local newspaper because I don’t buy the local newspaper either. But I do check my local news online. If you want to know what’s happening, check out your local news site.

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There was a time when live tweeting an event was the standard in social media, and it wasn’t that long ago. It was part of the social media skill set. Tweet updates from the thing you’re covering.

But the reality is live tweeting in its standard, play-by-play form is redundant and of no service to your followers.

I had the thought — again — as I watched the NHL Draft with Twitter open in front of me. My hope was to see what people were saying about the draft picks (and trades), including the many snarky jokes many of us fans make. But the reality was my Twitter stream was filled with play-by-play. What happened on TV was perfectly described on my Twitter feed.

The reality of today’s live tweeting is that for major things everyone is tweeting the same thing. That’s not a service to our audiences when their streams are filled with the same thing over and over or it’s something they can plainly see on television. I know very often I hold back on tweeting something because I know others will say the same thing. I want to offer something different and unique.

We need to rethink how to retweet. What should we be offering our followers in today’s Twitter world? What do our followers want from us? What should our guidelines be today? When is it OK to do play-by-play live tweeting (because there are times I think it’s still OK)?

I’d like to hear feedback from people in the comments of via Twitter on what we should be doing to reshape live tweeting. I hope to use those comments in trying to build some guidelines.

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The “debate” that has my social media streams aflutter the last two days is an article that pronounced social media editors dead. Funny because I didn’t read my obit.

There are lots of people who have written about the subject that sum up how I feel about the subject than I ever could say:

You should read all three because each has a unique perspective on the matter, though I more identify with Mandy’s article because my career has been more focused on local coverage. In fact, Mandy’s job description details a lot of what I do in my current role.

But that’s the thing — Every social media role in every organization is different. Expectations are different at every news organization, and, in fact, my role has evolved in just two years at NJ.com for a lot of different reasons.

And this is where my “I hate labels” argument comes into play, like it does when people start yelling about blogger versus journalist.

It’s easy to box people into a certain ideal just because of the label we put on them. Does a social media editor spend their days tweeting snarky jokes and yelling about Facebook privacy setting? No, it’s more complex than that and it’s different at every organization. Just like the role of “community manager” can be different at every organization. The goal of “engagement” varies too.And when you start throwing around labels and pigeon-holing people, that’s when people will start declaring something is dead. But the reality is far from declaring something is dead.Roles evolve and change as the market and technology and the world changes. In two years, my role in social media in this job has changed. My role as a reporter when I graduated from college was drastically different than what it was 10 years later.That doesn’t mean reporting or the role of reporter is dead. It just changed. It evolved.And that’s what the best people do in this industry — they evolve. Because if you don’t evolve, you will perish.

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Before I write the rest of this post I have to say I am a hockey fan and I want the NHL lockout to end. I want to watch top-level hockey sooner rather than later.

But this post is about the power of social media and how it has changed the world, especially in sports and its coverage. The lockout is a prime example to show how things have changed.

I’ve been through three lockouts as a fan — the one that erased half of the 1994-95 season, the one that canceled the 2004-05 season and the current lockout. The 2004 lockout doesn’t seem that long ago, but in the world of journalism and social media it was.

I was still a reporter at a daily newspaper that barely had a website in 2004. Facebook was around, but I didn’t have an account. You still needed a school e-mail address to be part of Facebook then. MySpace was the rage. Never mind Twitter. News could be covered on a 24-7, but it was more for the top national brands and cable news networks.

In other words: We didn’t have the access to news quite that we have today.

So the news of the lockout came slower than it does today. There was no one live tweeting a press conference with the NHL or NHLPA. There weren’t people posting constant observations from outside the negotiating rooms.

I went to a lot of AHL games back then, but that’s how you knew what was happening with the team’s prospects. Fans didn’t have the access quite like they do today to the information and news about those teams. You had to rely on what people who went to games thought, and many times you were relying on people who weren’t watching hockey for a living.

Of course fans came back after the lockout. We didn’t have reason to be angry about things that were said or done because we didn’t have the access to what was being said like we do now. There was no social media campaign by the players or owners to make the other side look evil.

Fast forward to today. Now fans have unbelievable access to news, information and even people because of social media and the way news is published. Video of games and players is everywhere and quickly. We know what is being said by the commissioner and the head of the players union as soon as they’re saying it, even if we’re not next to a TV carrying Canadian sports channels. Someone tweets what’s being said and that’s retweeted and then retweeted again and again. On top of that players are on social media expressing their feelings about the lockout and, in some cases, engaging with fans about the lockout.

It shouldn’t be a shock the level of frustration and anger from anyone who loves the NHL is much higher than it was in 2004-05. Social media connects fans. They have started protests and expressed their anger. People frequently will respond to the NHL’s Twitter and Facebook account about the lockout, saying they need to fix it now. And with the number of fan blogs today, there are plenty of places for fans to express their opinions on the lockout.

The result? A study found the damage to the NHL’s brand because of the lockout is at an alarming level. From the article:

A disastrous map would be the one Level5 created following the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It was the worst the company had seen – until it got around to the NHL this month.

But I wonder if the NHL and the NHLPA is listening or even realizing how the world has changed in the years since the last lockout. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the owners, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and the players are taking a gamble on the fans returning. ”We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans,” Bettman said last summer.

But that gamble is a losing bet. It’s always been a losing bet. It’s worse than spending $50 on Megamillions tickets expecting to win. All they had to do is look at the reaction on social media and compare the climate from 2004-05 and today. But it appears all involved had, and still have, their heads in the sand, not listening to the fans (aka the customers) and even the experts who say the lockout is killing the brand.

I can’t say I won’t be back as a fan. I know I will be even as I’m frustrated and angry with the current situation. One friend professed to me the other day he’d immediately buy tickets. But there are plenty of other people I know, passionate fans, who are angry or are disinterested. It’s going to be a hard sell to get them back and it’s going to be an even harder sell to get back the fans the league has gained in the last couple years.It’s not unreasonable to think the NHL will go from record highs in attendance and revenues to record lows. It could hurt some teams significantly, some of the same teams who are endorsing the lockout.It’s easy to say the lockout ending and saving some of the season would fix some of the damage, but I don’t know how much it would help now. So much damage has been done.The lesson here for everyone — whether you’re in journalism or you’re a brand — is that you cannot ignore the outside world. You have to adapt to changing technologies and news cycles. If you don’t, you are doomed to failure.

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I’m always for a good spoof, and just that has popped up in Montclair, N.J.

If you’re not aware, Montclair is a hotbed for “hyperlocal” (don’t get me started on how I hate that word) news. Baristanet has been there for many, many years (few sites pre-date Baristanet, though I worked at one in Connecticut). Patch also has a site in Montclair. To say there’s lots of competition in the market is to put it mildly.

Enter the montclair thymes. Their website says: “we are bringing the best hyperlocal snooze to you pretties.” Perfect Tumblr form with the all lowercase too.

We’re all having a good laugh about it, including the folks at Baristanet. They want to know who it is. First off, it’s not me! Second off, I want to know who is behind it too because it’s brilliant. They’ve packaged all of the goodness and absurdity that is hyperlocal onto this spoof website. Bravo to them.

But the thymes responded, and I guess we’ll never know who is behind it all. Or will we? Someone’s going to open their mouth sooner or later, right? We are talking about town news here.

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Jeff Jarvis once told me and several colleagues “focus on what you do best and link to the rest.” It’s something he’s often repeated, and I’ve repeated it myself many times since then. And there lies the foundation of how I feel it’s important to be complementary in today’s news world.

I think every good journalist has a competitive gene. We all want to be the ones with the best stories and be a source so no one has to go anywhere else. But the reality is in today’s world is we can’t cover everything. And my view on what is important to cover may be different than what another publication is important to cover.

Back when I was at Patch, I was competing with plenty of other publications. In Millburn, N.J. there were the two weekly newspapers, the Alternative Press online. At the time the New York Times also had an online local project in the community (which was then passed along to Baristanet). We all were covering the same town, and there’s a limit on the number of stories you can do.

But the personalities of the editors and our interests also dictates how we attacked things. I used my skills as a real-time reporter to be the go-to place for police and fire coverage. The ease of the web also gave me the chance to live cover important school board meetings or to have those stories up very quickly. But the other publications had strengths too. The Item covered stories intently that I didn’t have the sources to do so. Plus they have an active letters to the editor page, which I never could have.

And even if they had a story I would normally cover, I would build off of what they were doing. I’d aggregate their story, but I’d use it as a launching off point for my own coverage. How could I be different than what they are already providing?

Everyone wants to be the go-to source for news and information, but we all work in crowded ecosystems. It’s good to play to your strengths and complement what else is out there.

That doesn’t mean you’re not going to compete for stories and also revenue. But the same could be said for revenue. What sorts of opportunities can you create for revenue that others can’t provide? How can you complement the opportunities others already provide?

Maybe I’m an idealist and maybe I was lucky in that I didn’t have a combative relationship with the other publications. We all got along and respected each other. And I think part of it is we grew to realize we could complement each other’s coverage.

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