Category Archives: Journalism

I’m the Trinity Mirror ‘Student Journalist of the Year’ 2008!

I recently won the Trinity Mirror  ‘Student Journalist of the Year’ award, and went to dinner with a few of the local media folk.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Paul Bradshaw, for supporting me and guiding me through my final year university project, and making it possible for me to be even considered for such an award.

I haven’t been blogging on this site for a while, mainly due to being frustrated at not being able to land myself a job in the media industry. Even though I have won the above award, I’m still trying to make my first steps in the industry and I’m finding it very difficult.

I recently interviewed David Miliband for Yoosk, which was an amazing experience, and I really hope that I am considered to do such work again.

Other than that, you can follow where I am, what I’m doing, and who with on my Twitter page, which I update more frequently.

Hopefully I’ll have more to tell you very soon!

What myself and Juande Ramos have in common

This is the first time I’ve written a blog post straight from my iPhone so please ignore any glaring errors in grammar!

Since the last post there hasn’t been much to report. I’m still ploughing on hoping to make my first steps in the industry but finding it difficult to get a result – hence the title of this post.

I’ve started twittering as much as I used to now, mainly to make sure my contacts don’t forget who I am! Ive downloaded a few clients to the phone so now I can keep on track with what’s going on while I’m away from home – something I couldn’t do before.

I’ve secured myself some work experience tomorrow in Sheffield and I’m hopeful that i’ll get an interview soon.

I’m writing this brief post to get myself back on the blogging wagon, and so my readers, if any, don’t forget me! I’ve managed to keep up my portfolio by writing my football teams match reports and getting them published on the league website.

Hopefully by my next post I shall have made progress and will have more to tell you.

This industry is a tough one to get into.

The trials and tribulations of a (budding) online journalist

Excuse my absence from blogging for a while, there is no excuse other than there simply are not enough hours in the day at the moment for me to process thoughts and whatnot, be it in video, or text form. I did recently record a seesmic video where I ranted and raved, and got all of my frustrations out – only to find out that the video didn’t record properly and the sound was patchy. Not cool.

What’s new?

…I hear you ask. I would like to be able to say that I have walked straight into a job in the industry, but like many graduates, this wasn’t the case for me. A colleague of mine, Todd Nash, graduated with a first class honours from the journalism degree, and is now a Community Moderator at The Guardian. A huge congratulations to him, he definitely deserved it.

As for myself, I have had a few interviews in London, but all of them to no avail. I missed out on one job because of putting a decimal point in the wrong place, such is the fine line between success and failure.

I even turned down an interview due to the fact I couldn’t relocate to another part of the country on a low wage – I’m hoping that isn’t a decision I will regret this time next year.

I’m finding searching for the right job difficult. I tailor my application for several jobs to make it unique to the position I am applying for, and explain why I think I’m suited for the role, yet still, the lack of response is amazing.

In other news:

There is some positive news to relay, however. I recently won the Trinity Mirror ‘Online Journalism Student of the Year’ award. I was very surprised when I found out I had won this award, and I’m sure this came across in the dinner I recently had with Marc Reeves, Joanna Geary, and Paul Bradshaw.

It’s been a while since I’ve done some networking, both on and offline – and it was even more refreshing to hear how the guys got into the industry. Jo said she had had several setbacks before she got the right job, but it was all worth it in the end.

Marc even filmed a short video from his mobile of part of our discussion, no doubt that will turn up online soon.

I’m afraid that’s all for now folks. Guess I have to keep ploughing on, and hopefully there will be a light at the end of the long tunnel that is employment after graduating.

I’m not giving up just yet.

ENO lives on..

This could potentially be my last blog post before the deadline (this Friday) to give Environmental News Online, or ENO, in to university to mark.

As I write this, the website has had OVER 45,000 hits, with over 550 unique hits this week. I did not expect the website to be so popular, and attract so much attention.

I’m really proud of what the ENO team have achieved, and I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank Paul Bradshaw, Rachael Wilson, and the team of ENO Journalists.

Hopefully next year’s crop of Journalism students can use ENO as a benchmark!

Also, while the deadline may soon pass, ENO will still live on. I’ve advertised for more journalists, so if you are interested in writing for us, go to Environmental News Online dotcom, and sign up.

Until next time! From now on I’ll be using my blog more ‘journalistically’ – shall we say, and reviewing certain products and websites that I come across. I’ll still be around on twitter too.

Building an Online Community, Part Two – The Problems

Ok, so you’ve managed to do what I mentioned in an earlier post, and establish a community around your website/blog. It’s not all plain sailing, however. Shara Karasic has gone into much more detail than I have.

Charlene Li has noted that, of all of the users of a particular website, (i.e. the community):

·     A huge 52% are INACTIVE.

·     33% are ‘Spectators’ – They read blogs, and consume UGC.

·     19% are ‘Joiners’ – Meaning that they use social networking sites like Facebook, etc.

·     15% are ‘Collectors’ – They understand RSS, and tag websites.

·     19% are ‘Critics’ – These users comment on blogs, and post ratings and reviews.

·     13% are ‘Creators’ – They publish webpages, maintain blogs, and create UGC

You can see the full, graphic version here.

Whilst it may be (relatively) simple to attract users to interact with a website – it is not as easy to keep them stimulated and make them keep coming back.

Here are a few useful pointers, in keeping your online community happy:

Be online for a reason

Ok, you’ve bought a domain – but for what purpose? You should know exactly why your site exists. Otherwise, you can’t judge the effectiveness of any policy. Even worse, how will the visitors to your website know if they want to sign up, and join the community that you are promoting?

Users attract more users

As the owner/webmaster/digital content manager, it’s YOUR job to attract users. You can do this quite simply by the traditional methods (i.e. SEO, word of mouth, viral marketing, selectively linking, etc) – all of those are simple enough to do. Making sure that your users stay with you, however, is the difficult part.

In a vibrant online community, that ISN’T your job.

As a group of users, the most active users of a website will draw far more users than you ever could. This is because a highly visible, and active user group promotes a greater sense of community, which in turn will attract people who enjoy the company of individuals with similar interests. People like to fit in.

Users can, and will surprise you.

The issues and themes you find important may never really have the same effect with your users. That’s natural, remember ‘if everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other’.

Being proud of ‘your home’ – That sense of ownership

Regular users of your website will develop a sense of community ownership. As a whole, the content that they contribute will probably outweigh what you, as the owner, contributes. This belief can manifest itself in several ways. It can produce a high regard for those ‘at the top’ of the community, with some users expressing an almost moral outrage when facing community changes. These changes may be as minor as adding a new feature to the website or broadening the community’s focus.

Sharing Histories and Cultures

You will know when you have a healthy online community when users comment publicly that ‘this is the best site I’ve ever used,’ ‘I came here because of the content (i.e. the news), but stay around because of the people I’ve met, (through comments and links)’.

This isn’t true of strongly technical communities, like software development mailing lists. They tend not to exhibit this behavior.

People WILL hate you

You will never be able to please some users. Ever. A few will stick around only to see your next mistake, and worse still they tend to be vocal about it. Their pessimism doesn’t make them wrong, however, but it can be grating.

Accept that they are a minority, expect them to make blunt suggestions and honest criticisms occasionally, and try not to be surprised that they don’t leave. (Most people who leave do so quietly.)

People WILL like you

Some users will almost always be happy – no matter what you do. However, they tend not to be as vocal as the pessimists. This is possibly due to the fact that some of these users have just discovered online communities or your specific community, and want to be noticed immediately. They propose grand ideas and volunteer for great schemes. Harness this energy and exuberance into realistic channels.

Always remember..

Most people interact ‘on the fringes’.
Most people read and never write.
Most writers write only occasionally.
Most community members have opinions about the various discussion topics but rarely speak.

Learn to find value in steady growth, and consistent users.

Obstacles can be a mixed blessing

The number of active community members varies drastically with the amount of ‘effort’ – shall we say, necessary for an initial participation. Having to requiring e-mail confirmation before registering a username prevents users from creating blank account after blank account.

The easier it is to join a conversation, the more visitors will become contributors. Communities that allow anonymous participation more often than not, tend to see greater numbers of initial contributions.

Have a usable interface

A strong community can overcome technical limitations. Believe it or not, it is possible to write a Wiki or a weblog in under a hundred lines of code. However, simplicity may appeal to some users. The lack of sophistication (reply notification, searching, revisions, and access controls) may put off some users, and an ugly or awkward user interface may get in the way sometimes, but a community can grow in spite this.

It’s worth making things simpler and more consistent. While social benefits may persuade people to put up with and learn about an awkward posting system, too much complexity halts the rate of new members. Bad news for anyone who wants to attempt to drastically change any user interface, however. (See the notion of ‘ownership’ above).

Mischief

Like any community, your group will have tensions, factions and frictions. These must be handled wisely for the community to survive.

Plan for trouble, though you cannot tell when or where it will happen.

Set simple rules.

Make them explicit.

Apply them consistently.

Start with a list of unacceptable behavior. This will probably include harassing or attacking other users, posting copyrighted or plagiarised material, straying from the topic, and abusing the system with multiple accounts or robots.

Create a list of consequences, which may range from warnings to suspensions to being banned. Communities with a ranking or levels system might use demotions and the loss of privileges. You can ignore, obscure, or delete potentially illegal material.

Choose your response before it’s needed.

Don’t Stop There!

Even if you have graduate degrees in sociology and psychology, the dynamics of human communities will still surprise you. Be very clear about your goals and the rules. Manage your expectations about user participation and groups wisely. Allow a little chaos. Use your common sense and best judgement. If there’s an audience for your conversation, you’ll find a community.

Some information courtesy of the O’Reilly network.

 

What should every company be monitoring?

Just came across a very interesting blog, Started by Cameron Olthuis on his blog, Pronet advertising:

  1. Company name
  2. Company URL
  3. Public facing figures
  4. Product names
  5. Product URLs
  6. The industry “hang outs”
  7. Employee activity/blogs
  8. Conversations
  9. Brand image
  10. Competitors
  11. Images/video like YouTube, Flickr, TVEyes, Google Video and Yahoo Video
  12. Tags and Social search tools like del.icio.us
  13. Social Voting tools like digg.com
  14. Memetrackers like Techmeme.com
  15. “Advanced Listening”
  16. Feedback URL and link threads
  17. “Voice of the Customer” log to track sentiment, instance, and/or voice.
  18. Develop new roles to such “Brand Monitor” or “Blogosphere Watcher”
  19. Self-clipping services like Google or Yahoo alerts for keyword mentions, but also audio and video hits as well…services like PODZINGER for example to ascertain conversational audio levels
  20. Media mentions by news features in search engines such as Google or Yahoo
  21. Relevant media news wires, such as Reuters (Intl.), AP News (U.S.), U.S. Newswire, CCN Matthews (U.K., Canada, Intl.), CNW Group (Canada), Mercopress (South Africa), allAfrica (Africa, general) and HR Net (Eastern Europe).
  22. Utilize RSS and aggregators like Bloglines in order to aggregate, integrate and assimilate all relevant incoming and outgoing moments of truth.
  23. Use wikis like PmWiki to discuss and debate pretty much everything from 1-19 and most importantly attempt to turn all the talk/conversation into walk/action.
  24. Repeat steps 1-20 to look outside of your own circle. Evolve the perspective from yourself, through your direct competitive set to your indirect competitive set and ultimately to your aspirational/non-endemic/non-competitive set. This is where you want to follow the leaders so to speak – Apples, Nikes, Googles or whichever company you admire.
  25. Create a PROACTIVE capability/budget in order to QUICKLY execute against everything you’re monitoring.
    Conversely, have a REACTIVE process in place to comprehensively and compellingly respond, especially when you’re on the bumpy receiving end of the stick.
  26. Search Term Volume
  27. Search Term Rank
  28. Relevant Wikipedia Entries
  29. Third Party Influencers
  30. Key Stakeholders
  31. Press release pickups
  32. Blog pickups using services like Technorati

What are your thoughts on this list? Would you add/take away anything?

Building an Online Community

An interesting Online Journalism class, (as part of BCU’s journalism degree) yesterday.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Booth, aka podnosh – Podcaster, and blogger. We had an interesting discussion about improving Environmental News Online (ENO) as a brand, and improving its community – this is due to the fact that the level of content on the site is steadily declining – something which me and Rachael need to address.

Building an Online Community

The idea of building an online community, and in turn, increasing online presence, centres around a few key points.

  1. Have clear policies, but invite users to build.
    This is a simple point really.  ENO should be making sure that it’s policies are clear – which they are. ENO should also be doing more to invite more users to have more of a say with the website.
  2. Actively recruit new members.
    I think that this is something that ENO could be doing a lot better. As an online community, when a unique user views content on the website, we should encourage comments, and also registration.
  3. Welcome new people.
    Following on from the last point, new users should be made to feel welcome and part of the community instantly. Their online reputation will only increase once they start commenting on other stories, other blogs, and other websites – this will not only help the individual user, but it will also help with SEO, and driving traffic back to the website.
  4. Provide a range of ways to participate.
    This is simple. Users should be able to have endless opportunities to contribute to the website. From filling out a simple ‘contact’ form to get in touch with the webmaster, to commenting on other content, and also being able to upload audio and video.
  5. Highlight the good contributors and reward them.
    Registered users who use the website frequently, and deliver high quality content, as well as commenting on other content should be recognised by other users of the website as a quality source of information, and reliable too.
  6. Anticipate problems.
    This simply means to be aware, and anticipate any problems that may arise so that proper procedures are in place for if/when they do happen. It also means to be aware of subjects or issues that are being discussed on the website that may be a potential minefield, such as high profile stories, or stories around race, or different cultures, etc – the wrong portrayal can lead to problems.
  7. Go where the reader is.
    This involves me knowing what else interestes the users of ENO, and tailoring the website to suit those users needs, and giving them a more personalised experience.
  8. Go offline!
    And finally, spend some time AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER! After all, we are only human – and spending so much time keeping track of what’s going on online isn’t really…healthy, is it?(Thanks to Paul Bradshaw for the resources to write the above points.)

Blogs and their Communities

The team of journalists that write for ENO already have a strong sense of community, with regular traffic coming to their blogs. When asked in the class how they think they could use this to create a more active community around ENO, this is how they responded:

How the journalists who write for ENO might improve the online community around it

So, where does the site go from here? – I’ll blog soon about an update on how the Joomla! SEO is going, as well as improving the ENO online community.

 

SEO for Joomla – The ENO Guide

NB – This is the first time I’m writing a post with the new WordPress WYSIWIG editor, I must say – I’m indifferent towards it.

I have recently been reading up on how to make the ENO site more Search Engine Optimised (SEO) – so that I can try and push the site higher up in a Google search.

The ‘Top Joomla SEO tips’ I found, were:

  1. Using keywords in the Title tag:

    The number one factor in ranking a page on any search engine is the title tag.
    These are the words in the source of a page in <title> and appear in the blue bar of the browser.

    “Choose the title of an article very carefully. Joomla will use the title of the article in the title tag (what appears in the blue bar). It will also be the text used in any insite links (see also 5 and 6).”

  2. The Anchor Text of the Inbound Link

    Anchor text is the text that appears underlined and in blue (unless it’s been styled) for a link from one webpage to another.
  3. Global Link Popularity of the Site (PageRank)

    How many pages are linking to ENO is called link popularity, or in Google, PageRank.

    “The more sites link to you, the better. Joomla is a CMS that helps you add content quickly. Create one quality content page per day. Quality content is the most important factor to getting bound links. For a site that will perform well, you eventually need 200 odd pages of content. This is the important point. QUICK SEO IS DEAD. The only way to perform well in SEO now is to have a rich content site.”

  4. The Age of the Site This one is self explanatory – ENO hasn’t been live for very long, so it would be foolish to expect it to be on the first page of a Google search. Sites that have been live for longer will naturally have more content, which means more links, which means they will be higher up in Google searches.
  5. Link Popularity WITHIN the Site This refers to how many pages link to the main website from inside the domain. The more links there are to a particular article will improve its relevance in Google search results. If an author of one article links to another related article on the same website (pretty much as you would with a blog) – then ENO will appear higher in a Google search.
  6. The ‘Topical Relevance’ of Inbound Links, and the Popularity of the Linking site

    To improve the ranking of ENO, it is imperative that the incoming links to the site (i.e. sites that link to ENO) have a high PageRank in Google. This means the links have to be from a site that is topically related to ENO, and one that has a high rank too.

  7. Using Keywords in the Body Text

    This refers to the keyword density of the phrase that you are optimizing for, in the content of the page.
    A German study into this, identified some interesting results:

    Targeted keywords in the first and last paragraphs. There is a simple trick here, write your quality content, and then use the tool of your choice to find the keyword density. THEN, take the top three words and add them to the meta keywords in the parameters part of the page (in Joomla admin). This is somewhat backwards for some maybe, it optimizes a page for what you actually wrote, rather than trying to write a page optimized for certain words (which I always find difficult).

    Keywords in H2-H6 headline tags seem to have an influence on the rankings while keywords in H1 headline tags seem to be getting less valuable. Modify the output of the core content component through a template override file.

    Using keywords in bold or strong tags – slight effect, same with img alt tags and filenames.

Hopefully, using these methods that I’ve found, and asking the Journalists to do the same, I can drive more traffic to the website. I think that I should be more closely monitoring the traffic to the website so that I can possibly tailor particular pages to suit specific users.

10 Days Later – The Site is LIVE!

My project has come on leaps and bounds since my last blog post.

Review

To recap, my final year university project is to create and maintain a fully working Content Management System, or CMS, so that the second year Online Journalism students are able to upload stories to the site, and have experience of writing for the web.

I took Paul Bradshaw‘s advice – and went live with the site, in a bid to solve the numerous problems I was having with hosting the site locally.

The ‘L’ Plates are off

Today, the site has gone live for the first time – you can see it for yourselves here. It’s called ‘Environmental News Online’, or ENO for short.

It didn’t go without it’s teething problems however..There were a few issues that needed resolving:

  • The contents and categories for inputting news onto the site were a little confusing to understand, and have subsequently been changed by myself and Paul Bradshaw.
  • Users who try to register to the website with an AOL or Tiscali account will have issues when receiving the email with an activation link.
  • The links to the reporters blogs are currently static, and hopefully in the future will become dynamic and self updating.
  • Some of the students will need to know basic HTML in order to attach and post images to their stories – a point touched on by Martin Stabe, who believes that it is wise to teach Journalism students basic HTML:

    “It would be more useful to teach some basic principles including HTML, let the serious geeks (or failing that, the tutor) set up a CMS-driven site in WordPress, MT, Joomla! or another basic CMS, and then make sure everyone else can keep it running — by concentrating on the non-technical journalism skills, like how to present stories online.”

Defeating the doubters

However, I am enjoying learning about and using Joomla! at the moment. When I started this project I didn’t even know what a CMS was.

I chose Joomla! because while I was researching about Content Management Systems, Joomla! popped up in several places.

This nicely leads to the point of the subheading above. Last week, I had the chance to have a quick chat with Pete Ashton – author of “Created in Birmingham” amongst other things.

Pete popped in to the Online Journalism class to talk about finding sources for news amongst other things, and noticed that I was using Joomla! – cue a sigh.

Last year, Pete attemped to use Joomla! for a project – and didn’t enjoy it at all:

“Now, having had to use it on a daily-ish basis for a while I can honest say, hand on heart, that it’s a piece of shit and a hinderance to my work. At least the interface is. It’s the most unintuitive, frustrating thing I’ve had to click my mouse on since I can’t remember when.”

Suffice to say, he wasn’t alone in his way of thinking. At the time of writing my blog, only three of the thirty people who commented on his post, creatively titled ‘Joomla sucks donkey cock’, actually thought Joomla! was worthwhile.

Pete found that searching for Joomla! sucks on Google brings up 219,000 results – that was in May last year. The same search today brings up 138,000 – maybe people are beginning to change their minds about it?

Time to ‘Pimp My Ride’

Steve Hill has found some excellent additions to Joomla! such as easier WYSIWIG editors (which would help some of the less technically sound students), and even add-ons that allow readers to comment on stories. Anyone for a bit of Web 2.0?

I’m currently looking into extensions for Joomla! that make things easier for the students to use and maintain the site, and also for myself too – (may I politely remind everyone that I’m new to this?)

I’m constantly learning more and more about it, and dare I say it – I am enjoying it, just a little.

Hopefully by May, I’ll be able to say that ‘I came, saw, and conquered’, by creating and maintaining a fully working CMS.

For now however, the project is underway, the site is live, and things are most definitely in motion – make sure you keep checking ENO for the latest Environmental News! The site is always changing.

Green light for Environmental News site

It’s been a while since I last blogged, but it’s only because I’ve been researching my final year university project with such depth!

My aim is to create a fully functional Content Management System (CMS) so that the second year online journalism students on my course are able to access it (ideally from anywhere) and add their stories to it as part of their module.

Frustration

Initally, it didnt all go smoothly. I tried the idea of creating and hosting a local server on my laptop, using Apache, MySQL, and PHP, in that order. I encountered several errors, even though I was being ably guided through the process by two books:

I kept encountering errors as Windows Vista (Ultimate) isnt user friendly, and doesn’t like it when you try and go through the back door.

However, during this process, it wasn’t all frustration. I improved my knowledge of PHP and MySQL, and Apache to a certain extent. When I started the project I had no idea of what these programs were, and how and why they are related.

Now I can safely say that these programs, and their languages, are so popular that they make up for 80% of what is on the web today – these stats are according to the PHP site, so don’t quote me!

Back to the drawing board

However, the project has taken another step forward. After being pointed in the right direction earlier by my lecturer, Paul Bradshaw, I now know how this project is going to work.

Later tonight I’m going to buy some webspace and hosting, through GoDaddy!, and start playing around with Joomla! on there. The aim is to get a fully working CMS for the Online Journalism students to play around with, by mid-next week.

Excellent how-to guides

Two guides I will definitely be taking a look at are New.Journalism.Review, and Andy Dickinson‘s. Both attempted to create similar projects to mine, setting up a news website using a CMS, the only difference in the two being their choice: New.Journalism.Review opted for Joomla! and Andy Dickinson opted for WordPress.

My lecturer, Paul Bradshaw, has another website which he has created himself using WordPress – JournalismEnterprise, and from looking at his and Andy Dickinson‘s, it’s quite clear to see that WordPress is extremely user-friendly – but I’m still more tempted by Joomla! as I have come across what seems to be several million websites with additional features, ‘hacks’, and things to do with it. I’m sure there are just as many for WordPress too.

Keep checking back to my blog for updates on how the project is going, no doubt I’ll be venting frustration several times over the coming months!

Aims

Hopefully, by the next blog, I aim to:

  • Purchase a domain/hosting option
  • Install Joomla! or WordPress
  • Play around with the CMS
  • Have a basic ‘shell’ of the site, so that the students can play around with it in the lecture.
  • Have developed a better understanding of CMS’s and how they work.

But for now, the Green light for the Environmental News website is definitely on, and I’m (potentially) on my way to something quite special.