Sep
2009

Qwiki Media Benchmarking

My final project web idea is a Wikinews site, outlined like Craigslist, tailored to local news and hometown stories. I call it Qwiki Media.

The Competition:

1.) Wikinews: “The Free Source, You Can Write.” It wasn’t until I went to Wikinews I was able to narrow in on my idea. Wikinews is just like Wikipedia, it’s open for others to write and report. This is a direct source of news that reports the facts. It is unclear who writes each story, but sources are detailed at the bottom of each page. Commenting is allowed. When asked to post a comment it is clear the section is for commenting and that your IP address is recorded. The feeling of being watched closely is certainly there when wanting to comment. There is also a water cooler section on Wikinews where people can seek answers on how to use Wikinews.

Not seeing too many comments posted, it is hard to see who is using the site. I get the impression that people who want direct facts on a story and people who tire easily of a lot of web adds like this site. No information is required to read the stories, you can look at stories all over the world or be randomly taken to a story. There is an audio section and a social media section, but no video. This is a site for people who want just the basics of news. This is also a site for someone who either is a reporter or wants to be a reporter. This is wide open for the consumer to be the producer/writer. I would imagine an older age range. Younger users might not like how overly simple this site is. Also the layout is very boring and hard to navigate beyond top stories. They attract their faithful users, by keeping the site simple and free of heavy advertisement. One also has to work hard to find a place to comment. So really the appeal sticks to just reading or reporting the news and no social networking is desired, but is allowed.

The Organization is very simple. The front page is just top stories. Below that other top stories, but not the most up-to date.  The columns have locations you can jump to but only national ones.

The credibility of Wikinews is very important. In the column there is a section to upload a story. The “free use media” section. In this section they ask all the important questions. They ask where is the story from, the sources, where the images are from and do you have the permission to post it. There are a lot of details here that are required, that another user could track down to make sure the first writer is legit.

The design is so boring (which is something that could be done better), it makes me irritated. There is no rhyme or reason to their layout. They match wikepedia very well, but I don’t think it is needed to do that. I would prefer sections of news, not just whatever the latest story written is. Each story is random.

What they do well is credit the stories. They also do a good job giving anyone who wants it a chance to be the writer and “produser.” I also don’t get the impression they care how much the site is used. They obviously want it used or it else it wouldn’t exist, but they don’t go out of their way to attract new people. I had not even known them to be there until I read Bruns article on Wikinews.

2.) Craigslist: “Local classifieds and forums – community moderated, and largely free.”

Why would I be comparing my site to Craigslist? While they are not directly the competition, they are at the heart of what makes my idea different from Wikinews. This is a very simple site. No banners, no ads, because the entire site is an advertisement. The links range from forums, to folks posting stuff to sell or swap. It appeals to people based on how simple a site it is. No fancy designs and the layout is almost idiot proof. It is also a word of mouth site, just like wikinews. Unless you have heard of it before both are hard to come by as neither do any real marketing.

This is a home for people who love to shop, love yard sales, and want bargains. This is for the thrifty shopper, someone who doesn’t want a lot of fuss and wants to find a good deal quick. This is for the more savvy internet user. The age range could be any age as long as they understand how this site works.  They can access the site from anywhere in the world. I went shopping for tea in England and an apartment in Wales.

I love the structure of the site. The organization is what inspires me. While I hate the design and layout, the simplicity is what works. You start by picking the country, then state, then town if need be, followed by what topic you are looking for. There are break down of categories inside the town or state you are looking at. Or just search for the item in the state you are looking for. So England, Wales, Cardiff, Apartments.

Craigslist has had trouble for  years of people on their site being credible. While Craigslist itself works hard to be credible in weeding out the crazy people, they can’t get rid of everyone and needed to block certain topics and to stop certain services. The pubic had feared a “Craigslist Killer” this past summer, which did a lot of damage to the site.

The design is again like wikinews. Very simple layout. Very black and white. No fuss no fancy graphics or animation, just simple and basic text. What are you looking for and where do you want to find it.

Albeit ugly, that is what works for them, it adds to the appeal of the site from a lot of users. They keep it as simple as possible that’s what works well.

They could highlight their categories better. They could also police the site a lot better too, but they say they are working on it.

3.) CNN’s  www.ireport.com

At the very top of CNN’s news site, ireport, the following is stated: “iReport.com is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post. Only stories marked “On CNN” have been vetted for use in CNN news coverage.”

This site is very slick. It has an amazing layout, cool pictures, video and even allows for tagging. This is the site to beat all other user-generated media sites. This is appealing to a younger crowd. Someone with a flipcam, ipod nano, cell phone camera any kind of PDA where they can upload quickly. You have to be a very smart web user to get this site. The interest of this user is to see if their story will end up on CNN’s website or their over the air broadcast. This could also be someone who feels their story needs to be told on a bigger level. Someone who feels they are being ignored by others.

It’s organized very similarly to Wikinews. The most recent story is on top. To the side are current tags, and then current pictures or video. There is a strong encouragement of the ireporters. Some celebrating how much time spent as an ireporter. CNN has done a good job cheering on people to use this site and a very good job marketing the site to make folks aware that it exists.

The credibility comes from CNN. The better the reporter, the more CNN gives them the credit. There is a lot of work being done here to champion good work. Comments are allowed, but the ireporters do a good job policing their own site.

There is also a heavy twitter or facebook type layout or style going on here too. They layout is simple, but much more appealing to they eye over Wikinews. Here you find a strong feeling of community. An assignment desk, a toolkit section, and even a map to see where people are reporting from.

The only thing I see they do wrong is not encourage more local news. It is again too wide spread. There is no easy way for me to see what is going on in my state or city. It’s still too all over the map.

Sep
2009

“Where Do We Draw the Line Between Opinion and News?”

Dogfish60 asked in her blog this week, “Where do we draw the line between opinion and news?” The posting goes on to ask ” how do we know where one begins and the other starts?” This really got me thinking. In some cases, it does seem clear to most of us, but in other cases we need to make the line more clear.

These days the cable news networks have dressed up talking heads like Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Kieth Olberman, and Nancy Grace into looking like news shows, but in reality they display anything but news, these shows are simply entertainment shows that cloud themselves in a vail of news. They appeal to a demographic that can’t distinguish the difference between news and the entertainment of opinion. With 24-hours a day to fill, cable news networks are desperate to hold viewers attention and stay on the air. Simply reporting the news just doesn’t cut it in the cable news world. As it is most 24-hour networks only give you headlines at the top of the hour.

Because of this, we live in an age when the most trusted name in news is Jon Stewart, according to a recent online poll taken by TIME magazine. While I personally love Jon Stewart and never miss The Daily Show, at the end of the day, he is a comedian doing satire. I will be the first to admit his show does highlight more issues than a normal broadcast like NBC news might, but that says more about network news than it does Jon. So the question is, do broadcast journalists need to be more entertaining in order to not lose viewers? Certainly that’s what we seem to expect on the web. As Burns writes that wikinews can’t make it in the world without more flash, or specifically entertainment value, life opinions.

Less and less people watch the news anymore, this is both on a local level and on a network (or national) level. There are many more options today for people to get their news. Certainly the Internet offers a great many options, but the 24-hour news channels are also choking the local news too. In my newsroom we get more calls and emails today questioning our position on a story. We report the news. The moment we start sharing our opinions on the news we lose our credibility. So to me Wikinews not allowing commenting gives them credibility. Comments on web stories can be very vulgar and vicious. A great deal of time is spent in my newsroom policing the obscene comments posted on our site.

Getting back to cable news channels, I would love to see a graphic before shows like Nancy Grace and Glenn beck and all the others that states clearly for the viewer, “The following in an entertainment show, and should not be considered a news broadcast.” Maybe that would make things more clear.

Sep
2009

The Reality of Blogging in the Newsroom

Back in 2006 when “Naked Conversations” was written, blogging was really coming into its own. The term blogging was starting to become a dinner table topic. Today in 2009, it feels like blogging may have leveled off. Millions still blog, but the excitement and the wow factor has started to be less impressive. Blogging is a great tool for expressing one’s own first amendment right, but are all bloggers treated equal? And do blogs still deliver the return they had promised as a marketing tool, specifically if you are a journalists, in broadcasting?

Blogs can be a fantastic marketing tool when used correctly. Blogs can save a company’s images as they did for Microsoft, credited by “Naked Conversations” in 2006. Blogs can spark conversations and open dialogues. They can tell a personalized story, uninterrupted by outside forces. The power of the blog belongs to the writer. The writer can engage or dismiss the comments that follow a blog, but the writer chooses to direct the conversation, or whether there should even be one. A well-crafted blog can be highly entertaining or even be newsworthy, but to borrow from Old TV News Guy, just because you write a blog, that doesn’t make you a journalist. Writing blogs and being a journalist do not automatically go hand in hand.

The original idea behind blogs was simply an online diary, an outlet to express your freedom of speech, which is open for the world to read. Today, there are millions of blogs out in cyberspace; they all get read, just not by a lot of people. Very few blogs have an audience of any real size. Some statistics claim that most blogs are ignored or not updated after a few months of beginning.

Certain blogs do stand out among the crowd. Some are well marketed thus draw in a good number of web hits. Most blogs are read for their entertainment value, kind of like finding someone’s diary and being able to read it without getting into trouble. We love to know what is going on with other people, and blogs serve that desire.

I have a very close friend from college who less than a year ago was writing three different blogs. They were not anything special, just details of his life. He is a very popular person so it was just easier for him to keep folks up to date via his blogs, which makes sense. I just didn’t care enough to read three different blogs. Does this make me a bad friend? Perhaps, but honestly I simply wasn’t that invested into his life to want to read that much about him. I didn’t need to know that much about the details of his life. Who does? The same goes for the million of other blogs out there. While they provide great entertainment value, whom do they really appeal to? What kind of return are they expecting? This is not to say they should stop. I love that so many people are expressing their minds so openly. My friend eventually got burned-out from writing so many different blogs. At one point he tried to move everyone to one simple blog, then soon grew tired of that. The next step was micro-blogging through Facebook and Twitter, which I preferred.
I can know in one simple update what is going on in his life.

In “Naked Conversations” blogging is described as the “come as-you-are conversations.” The authors go on to reference broadcasters as having a “We talk. You Listen” mentality, but isn’t that what blogging is? Yes, the blogger is starting a dialogue, but only because people can comment immediately on a blog, or another blogger could hyper link and respond. The blogger dictates the terms of the conversation, if they want to ignore a comment, they can. The same can be said for a news station taking a viewers phone call with a complaint or criticism.

Also in “Naked Conversations” there are three stages detailed as how companies approach blogging; ridiculed, opposed, acceptance. I would like to add on one more stage, “now what.” A few years ago in my newsroom when the blogosphere caught fire and everyone jumped on board, many of the anchors were asked if they wanted to blog. Our morning show holds the strongest ratings at the station, so they were the obvious first choice. The web hits were staggering, when it started they would get roughly 1,000 hits a day. Our total daily web hits are roughly around 50,000 a day, less on the weekends.

The hosts of my show (which is on at 7pm) started to blog too. Much like the morning show, we told our viewers we were blogging. Our ratings were considerably smaller than the morning show. We were/are in second place at night as compared to the morning show who was/is in first place. Our blogs barley even registered. We did get a few hits, but it was rare when we broke 200. Soon the allure of the blogs wore off and the morning show started to drop in numbers. These days they get roughly 300 to 400 a day. Ours still run somewhere between 100 to 300 web hits per day.

When something big happens on either show the numbers shoot up for a few days, then return when the momentum has subsided. Also, as small side note, the author of the blogs matters a great deal. If the anchors blogged, the numbers were steady. If the producers or someone “off camera” blogged, the numbers dropped. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s rare when we see high numbers of comments on the blogs, if any at all.

When we first started blogging there was a real concern among the anchors and reporters of what they could say freely on a blog. Obviously blogs are a place where one can express oneself freely, but that is a problem when you want people to trust you. It’s ill advised for reporters or anchors to go off sharing their opinions. As a journalist, viewers need to be able to trust you to do your job. You don’t want them sitting at home doubting your neutrality and wondering if you can report on this topic in a balanced way. The viewers’ trust is everything. They need to trust you don’t have an agenda as you read/report them the news. This dilemma still plagues our reporters. Many stick to safe topics or talk about the story behind the story. If they were to “come as they are” and write “free of grammatical errors” (as stated in Naked Conversations), our viewers would pounce on them very quickly. They are quick to correct them on any little item, including grammatical errors. They hold them to a higher level because of their role in the world.

Another issue that came up was whether we should we be blogging everyday. We simply don’t have that much to say. There is only so much behind-the-scenes details, one can blog about, but on the other hand, these blogs have created a great bond with certain viewers. The regular readers of the blogs are all the same group, with occasional fresh readers or readers who stop by, but only check in on the blog. One specific moment changed all of this. My host Rob did an interview with Presidential candidate John McCain, shortly after Sarah Plain was announced to be his running mate. Rob didn’t ask overly tough questions, but he did as the questions you would want him to ask:

We did our interview, aired it, posted on the website and moved on with our lives. Suddenly, the video took off everywhere on the web, and those people came back to our main page and drove our web numbers into the millions. So the blog’s numbers increased as well. We did as much as we could to ride this high, to strengthen our show, but as the momentum faded so did the web numbers and the blog numbers, and we eventually went back to normal.

There is an argument to be made here about the work that goes into pushing our blogs to the rest of the world. In “The Secret Strategies Behind Many Viral Videos,” the author shares many of his tactics to making YouTube videos become so popular. I personally found many of his ideas to be basically spamming, or “sploggers.”

With regards to blogs and posting video, the author’s company pays blogs to post video. He also says “it’s effective and not against any rules.” Certainly in news, it is against the rules and highly unethical. He goes on to say how they saturate forums with their new threads and pushing conversations to their clients needs. Also they log on as multiple users to the forums and continue this saturation. Certainly this is not honest, and who has the time and staff for this, we don’t in news. He goes on to say how they hit up all their MySpace and Facebook friends’ pages with their embedding links, mass email all their friends, and then email those people’s friends. How is this any different from spamming? Just because I know you, doesn’t mean you’re not spamming me, and doesn’t make it right. While it doesn’t take away from freedom of speech, a marketing machine is pulling the strings, affecting the true sense of what people are talking about. I will take our shows small number of web hits over these tactics. Our readers come to us because they want to, not because they are tricked or forced to.

My show’s blogs are very well written and very well thought out. In this industry the bottom line to get readers or viewers is, to tell a good story. Storytelling is what makes a blog shine, but for the blog to be considered journalism, the blogger better be willing to be held up to the same ethical standards journalist are held to. According to “Naked Conversations” the General Motors vice chair, Bob Lutz, said in his first blog “In the age of the internet anyone can be a journalist.” While I agree that it is frustrating when journalists write with an agenda, or go beyond reporting the facts, they are held to certain standards, held accountable to what they report, where as the vice chair of GM, is not. He is free to express his first amendment rights, but that doesn’t make him a journalist.

Over the last year we have asked ourselves what is the point of working so hard on our blog when we see minimal results. While we do have a core group of dedicated followers, they are all the same. The idea of our blog was to bring us new viewers and generate ideas for the show. Sometimes that happens, but not in the numbers we were sold on when we started.

Back in 2005 and 2006 the wave of the future was certainly blog early and often. The sheer volume of bloggers and the effect it was having on the world seem to dictate the need to do it, the peer pressure if you will. Now in 2009, the appeal is not as strong for our industry. It’s still a good tool to have and use, but the readers are not as frequent and consistent. More viewers now want the micro blogging instead. They want to connect in a different way.

Blogging in 2009 can still be a good asset for the newsroom, but the rules are different for broadcast journalists, all bloggers are not treated equal. Overall you can build a connection with a core audience, but unless you are willing to spend considerable amounts of time shopping your blog to the rest of the world-wide-web, don’t expect a big return, but for the devoted audience, it’s worth it.

Sep
2009

This Media Professional

Since this module has been all about media professionals, I thought it would be a good time to expand on what it is I do as a professional in the media world.

Sep
2009

QwikiMedia

While reading this week “Wikinews: The Next Generation of Alternative Online News?” I was inspired to lock in an idea for my final project. In my initial “three idea” proposal I had offered up a website for “consumer media.” Now having been a bit more educated I can narrow in on my objective.

I wish to build a combination of Wikinews and Craigslist.  All news is local. So in my site the consumer or “produsers,” as Dr. Burns calls them, can go to the home page, choose their town, and state, then upload their story.

At first glance Wikinews is too simple and makes it a bit too hard to find anything. If I wants something local, it should be easier and quicker to find. Also there are audio files but no video. What if I want to upload video? We could also embed video from other news-sites too.

Wikinewspage

I cite craigslist because the breakdown is so useful. State then city then category.

Criagslist page Craigslist Maine

My “QwikiMedia” would break it down as State, Town, then category. On Wikinews there is just “news” on mine there should be more categories, and also there should be a video section, and an audio section. There could also be a town resource section too. It’s frustrating to search multiple town websites for information on my town. So if there was a bulletin or update for the city, it could be posted here. Same goes for a police log or police notices for the public. There are a great many updates that could be posted here.

I also still say that if there “produser” is reporting, unless it is from first hand experience, then they will be required to cite their sources. Also I agree with Wikinews, there is no need for commenting on the site. The core of the idea is to tell your story.