Category Archives: Digital journalism

This is a collection of articles that relate to my experience of learning about digital journalism.

4 thoughts: social media editorship and interactive journalism at Islington Now

A fortnight ago I wrote of my upcoming week-long social media editorship of Islington Now, which was followed by a week of working as an interactive journalist at the City University-run news organisation.

As my work there is now finished, it is time to reflect on a hectic yet educational fortnight.

1) Flow is more exciting than stock

My grandest plan as social media editor was to produce a series of articles called Going out in Islington”, the reasons behind which I outlined in my last post. This worked well, helping to engage our potential readership and to produce some community-driven content that ranked as some of the most popular content on the website.

But, despite the heavy promotion of and interest in the Going out in Islington series of articles, its popularity was as nothing compared with that of a BuzzFeed-style article on an Islington Now reporter’s experience of an erotic dancing event, which is the runaway article leader in terms of page views.

So it seems that content really does remain king, and the prurience of an Internet-based audience should not be underestimated.

2) Weekend readership is under-exploited

It is no surprise that readers have more spare time to consume news at the weekend, but this is usually when journalists themselves are not producing new content for them to consume.

This was the case with us, too. Comparing the analytics for my week as social media editor with those of the previous year, it can be seen that we failed to exploit the possibilities of the weekend to make a strong start, overtaking last year’s visits only at the end of the week. (Note: click the image to see a larger version.)

Islington Now analytics

3) interactive articles are interesting

Good news for those on my course is that, of the top five most visited articles over the past fortnight, four involved interactive / multimedia elements. This includes the twerking article, which used multiple GIFs, and my own data-based comparison of the Wenger and Ferguson eras of football management.

4) Check the limits of free technology

With the proliferation of free Internet tools, it is easy to slip into the attitude of using them without checking their limits.

One of my ideas for an article in the Going out in Islington series – an article on the best ways to get home from a night out – was to provide an interactive map outlining all the bus routes that go through Islington at night and their stops. I eagerly started plotting the six routes on Google Custom Maps but, after an afternoon’s work, I was confronted by the following message:

Google Custom Maps upgrade prompt

Disappointingly, I had to abandon the project, but I learnt a valuable lesson in the process. Click here to see my sadly incomplete map.

So, there are my 4 thoughts, an idea inspired by Joe Hall at Valley Talk Blog. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know in the box at the bottom of the page.

Below is a list of articles in the Going out in Islington series:

Below is a list of other articles I wrote for Islington Now:

Social media editorship at Islington Now

Over the course of this week, I’ll be social media editor at Islington Now, the news organization periodically run by students at City University.

In addition to the normal functions of a social media editor, which include publicising stories after they’ve been posted and sourcing material for stories from social media, I’ve come up with a project for the week: a series of articles called “Going out in Islington”.

Stock Content

The main thinking behind this was to create a good base of stock content for the site.

Stock content is that which is useful for weeks and even years after the usual news cycle. It is one of the multitude of innovations that writing for the web involves, in comparison to writing for print, when a newspaper would usually be thrown away a day or two after publication. An example of stock content is an explanatory article, such as the Interhacktives article on how to perform a reverse image search.

It creates a consistent stream of traffic to a site, in contrast to the sporadic peaks and troughs of traffic that accompany its opposite: flow content.

Community engagement

Another important part of the rationale was the desire to engage the Islington Now community.

Once the first article has been posted, people will be better able to comprehend the concept of the series, meaning they’ll be more likely to respond to attempts by us to use social media to crowd-source content. For instance, one of the articles we’ll be doing will be along the lines of “most hipster bars in Islington” and, by both publicising articles and requesting help for future articles, we’re hoping that we can inspire some strong engagement.

Follow-up content

I’ll also be attempting to follow up on content, where possible. For instance, to supplement the article on the best ways to get home, I’m planning to post a link to a map showing all of the night bus routes in and out of Islington. As far as I’m aware, such an Islington-specific map doesn’t currently exist anywhere on the Internet.

Look out for the posts on Twitter and Facebook throughout this week.

Who cares about Interhacktives?

I will soon be helping to run #Interhacktives, a website for students on City University’s Interactive Journalism MA to share their experiences as they learn about digital journalism.

Journalism, like any industry, should consider the people it serves: its readers. Otherwise, in the digital age, the readers will go elsewhere.

So: who will use the Interhacktives site?

Profile of an Interhacktives user

Well, you might think it is most likely to be someone interested in the field of digital journalism.

The problem is: this might limit our audience somewhat. After all, how many people are interested in digital journalism? And what proportion of those would be we able to attract?

Therefore, we need to aim more broadly. As UsvsTh3m has shown, simple, topical news games can go viral – but these require technical skills currently beyond us.

But two things we can do are infographics and data visualisations.

Infographics can make information come alive

Infographics can make information come alive

Data visualisations help to put numbers in context

Data visualisations help to put numbers in context

Not only will producing these allow us to develop our digital skills, but they are also popular beyond the narrow realm of digital journalism. People are interested in pictures. And pictures that give them information more succinctly than any prose could?

Bingo.

This is how we can meet the key journalistic aim of adding value for our readers.

HOW TO REACH PEOPLE

With fifteen or so of us running Interhacktives, it might seem easy for us to reach a large audience – we just each tweet every article, and our followers all click through.

If only.

Twitter has notoriously low click-through rates. Although it has its uses, it should not be the only way to promote material.

Other possible methods include:

  • Posting on Facebook – which has relatively high click-through rates, but remains a generally non-public space;
  • Linking on our own blogs;
  • Connecting with journalists with large followings who can then promote our work to their followers;
  • Connecting with the relevant community for a certain article; and
  • SEO (search engine optimisation).

Although promotion is very important, though, content is king. And that is our main challenge.

IFTTT – supercharged productivity

For my first blog post about something I’ve learned on my Master’s, I shall expound the benefits of IFTTT – a web tool I’ve found both useful and elegant.

What is IFTTT?

IFTTT screenshot

IFTTT stands for ‘If this, then that.’ The aim is to save the user time by managing output across the user’s various different internet accounts.

For example, I could wish for all of my blog posts to have a link posted immediately on my Facebook timeline, or, in IFTTT-speak: ‘If blog post, then Facebook post.’

Recipes

This is what is known as a recipe: any action that causes a corresponding action on another website, program or application. Another example is getting tomorrow’s weather forecast texted to you; the possibilities are so extensive that it’s almost impossible to list them all. Helpfully, IFTTT has a list of its most popular recipes.

IFTTT recipes

What is particularly exciting, though, is that anyone can create a recipe. This doesn’t require knowledge of coding – everything is made very simple by the IFTTT system. The only requisite is that the channel exists.

Channels

A channel is any website, program or application that works with IFTTT. For most people, this will include everything that has anything to do with productivity: Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Last.fm, calendars, text messages, email – the list goes on. There are currently 72 different channels.

IFTTT channels

All the user must do is grant IFTTT permission, and Bob’s your uncle – the channel is connected.

Triggers

Channels work through triggers. A trigger is the part of the recipe that controls the interaction between the channels.

To use the earlier example, a user might want his Facebook profile to publish links to his blog posts. This publishing involves the simplest of triggers. A slightly more advanced trigger would be to have only posts with certain tags posted. In IFTTT-speak: ‘If blog post with ‘social media’ tag, then Facebook post.’

IFTTT trigger

A further example of a useful trigger is to be notified of the weather only if there’s a storm coming. This would save the user from having to trawl through the weather every day to check for himself.

Ok – but What’s the point?

Productivity. IFTTT can save you an awful lot of time. Even if you consider yourself an infrequent internet user (if those still exist), IFTTT could help you. Who doesn’t want to know if a storm is coming, for instance?

Don’t just take my word for it. The site is ultra user-friendly, and even has a mobile app. The possibilities are vast, and growing every day.

As IFTTT says, put the internet to work for you.

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Have I missed anything? Is there a better tool out there? Have you had a bad experience with IFTTT? Let me know by posting a comment below.