The most important element of online storytelling

hookIf you haven’t got me interested with your your first sentence, I’m out.

I’m fickle, ruthless and impatient with online content. And I’m not alone.

Journalists have always known the importance of snappy headlines and crafting a lead that makes a reader want to know more.

That’s why most stories written are in an ‘inverted pyramid’ style, with the most pressing information at the top and less information (traditionally it could be cut from a printed page) at the bottom.

With digital distractions (yes, I’m looking at you social media) all over the web, it’s important to remember that your reader is only one click from moving on. Continue reading

5 fundamental things you must understand about Twitter

twitter-policies

Such a lovely, silly name for such an important social media tool.

In my last post, I wrote the five fundamental things you must know about Facebook. In it, I called Twitter a ‘sexy flirt.’ Some of my Twitter followers took offence to that, and pointed out how often I’m on the social media tool.

It’s true – I tweet a lot. Last night I live blogged/tweeted a fascinating debate on Canada’s Press Gallery, asking ‘Does it matter?’ It was great to get immediate feedback from twitter followers on the statements made by panelists in real time.

So, to give my close companion – sexy flirt that Twitter is – its due, I’m going to offer five fundamentals you must know about Twitter.

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5 fundamental things you must understand about Facebook

facebookI’m not denying that Twitter is sexy. Something about those 140 characters is so alluring. Perhaps it’s the challenge of displaying wit and intellect in a soundbite.

I love Twitter, don’t get me wrong.

But I also find it interesting that during conversations I’ve had with people (journalists, politicos, public relations/communications professionals) about social media, they think Twitter first. There’s no doubt that there are some key influencers on Twitter.

The New York Times’ David Carr recently said at a Boston University recent conference on narrative:

‘Being big on Twitter is like being big in Japan. You can’t use it as a metric of your actual reach.’

Twitter may be a sexy flirt, but Facebook is a player.

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We need to keep experimenting in journalism

This photo from the high school science class I really wish I'd taken.
This photo from the high school science class I really wish I’d taken.

Any good scientist will tell you that not all experiments succeed, but it’s important to keep at it.

It’s sad to hear that Digital First Media in the U.S. is closing its Thunderdome shop and selling some of its papers. There were a lot of quality journalists working on the team to centralize news for all DFM news properties.

Steve Buttry, one Thunderdome’s many talented journalists, has written this completely honest post on the demise of the project. In it he writes:

I knew the risks in 2011 when I went to work for a company owned by hedge funds. And I knew the risks in 2012 when I turned down an attractive offer from a family-owned newspaper company to stay with the company owned by hedge funds.

All this makes the j-school students I teach, the journalists of the future, nervous.

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Learn new things, flex that journalism muscle

Fantastic image from Jeffrey Dvorkin's blog Now the details
Fantastic image from Jeffrey Dvorkin’s blog
Now the details

Journalism is an art that requires practice. I tell students it is a muscle, and like athletes they are training.

Yes, this means endless writing, but it also means feeding the curiosity that comes so naturally to all journalists. You wake up with questions, ask more questions throughout the day and even when you drag your sorry self to bed… still, more questions.

Learning more about where you live, and the people who make up your city is a way to start answering these questions.

At the same time, journalists are always curious about new tools to find and tell sotries.

The training in journalism never ends – reporters who have been in the business more than a decade will remember ‘training days/courses’ (I was once sent on a fabulous week-long course in D.C. called ‘Managing the 24/7 newsroom’ at the American Press Institute).

These days, however, skills are self-taught, or learned through support networks with colleagues who have figured out something new and are willing to pass along the knowledge.

When I ask journalists (and communications professionals) what they’d like to learn next, they often tell me they’d like to become more comfortable with ‘Big data.’ To them I say, roll up your sleeves and get started. It’s time to work some muscle. You have to just do it. (Getting comfortable with spreadsheets is a start.)

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Why humans are better than computers at social media analytics

No, not this Data. BIG data.
No, not this Data. BIG data.

When it comes to understanding what is being said about you/your company/your product via social media – and whether it’s positive or negative – humans have the edge.

Or, at least it’s possible for those who can understand context, inflection and emphasis. Shocker.

See that? Sarcasm. It’s the bane of online communication. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve written an email or blasted out a sarcastic tweet that was misunderstood.

That’s why Jim Sterne thinks understanding social media analytics is so much more than measuring RT’s, hits, mentions with data tools.

Computers crunch numbers, analysis is real work that must be done by people, Sterne said during his talk at a recent Third Tuesday Ottawa event.

When examining social media data, the greatest understanding isn’t during a “Eureka!” moment, Sterne said.

Rather, more can be gained from asking “That’s funny… I wonder why that happened?”

Just as in journalism, asking the right question will help you understand the story more fully.

Quite a few times during Sterne’s talk, I found many parallels between social media analytics and things we practice naturally in journalism.

Sterne spoke of intuition, and this need for understanding as important as intelligence and knowledge when looking at data.

Creativity is essential – when examining social media metrics, we need to look from a different perspective, Sterne said. And then he delivered this gem, which all journalists can probably identify with:

The goal to presenting social media analytics is story telling, Sterne said.

“Don’t just crank out numbers in reports,” he said. Help people understand your audience, who the typical person is who you are appealing to.

“And sure, if someone comes at you looking for statistics, give them all the charts and graphs they want,” he added.

One point I took issue with was Sterne’s response to a question about real-time analytics. They’re not accurate enough, he said. You need to have a broader perspective of what’s out there – and real-time is drilled down too far.

“The problem is you look at the last data point, and not the whole picture,” Sterne said.

I disagree. When it comes to social media, you need to be on top of what is out there, whether you are dealing with crisis communications or customer service. I think you need to look at the forest and  the trees.

How to cultivate journalistaphobia

panic

Really, we’re friendly – and just calling with a few questions….

Any journalist who has tried to contact a federal government researcher/scientist/source  can tell you how frustrating an exercise it can be. There are delays, referrals to communications and then days can pass before a response.

Today, the government of Canada’s Department of Canadian Heritage sent this pamphlet out to its public servants – it’s unclear if others will follow.

Really, it makes media calls seem as fearful an experience as contracting Ebola.

Now this is a cool story form experiment

The BBC conducted an interesting experiment in story form yesterday:  A quick video report it labelled the #Instafax on its Instagram account.

This is smart in many ways, but mostly because it’s using the social network to share the report, and that it offers a quick news bite for those with short attention spans. (Of course, the Beeb directs followers to its main news site for those wanting more than a snack – sadly Instagram doesn’t allow users to hotlink.)

If you think about it, most Instagram users would be on their phone, and don’t have time to sit through a 2:00 report.

#Clever BBC, very smart.

Great multimedia journalism of 2013

snowfallWe’ve come a long way since Snowfall, baby.

The New York Times’ massive multimedia project went live in December, 2012 and set the tone for an amazing 12 months of online journalism.

Yes, I know, we’re about a week into 2014, but it’s worth looking at some of the great multimedia journalism from 2013.

Looking at some of these amazing examples of online journalism, it’s exciting to think about the continued evolution of online storytelling.

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Check out this professor’s response to a student who asks ‘Did I miss anything?’

Photo by techinasia.
Photo by techinasia.com

A fantastic professor at Carleton University passed along this response by Tom Wayman, a poet and professor  who teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at the University of Calgary.

Though Wayman’s poetic response to this question was first published in 1994, I’m sure many teachers would still find it interesting.

DID I MISS ANYTHING?
By Tom Wayman

Nothing.

When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

        
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