Tag Archives: crowdsourcing

From the archives: A Writer’s Guide to Twitter

I did a series last year on how to use the microblogging social media platform Twitter as a writing coach, and realized the other day that this 3-part series fit right in with my continuing “A Writer’s Guide” series. (You can visit the posts I did recently on blogging and podcasting for writers.)

Here are links to each post in the Twitter series, with a quick explanation of what you’ll find there.

Part 1: Learn from Twitter poetry
Why (and how) nonfiction writers can learn about how to write with brevity and meaning by studying the Twitter version of haiku poetry, Twiku.

Part 2: The art of the retweet
A discussion of what content gets shared on Twitter via a “retweet” and what that says about how to write compelling stories.

Part 3: Digesting bite-sized research
How journalists are using Twitter to crowdsource ideas, find sources and track trends.

Here are a few new links about Twitter as it relates to writing …

Is J-school relevant? (#wjchat)
Multimedia journalism educator Mindy McAdams, on her Teaching Online Journalism blog, summarizes a recent Twitter chat she moderated. The chat was organized by WebJournalist.org and discussed the relevance of journalism education in today’s media landscape.

How To Live Tweet A Conference
Mark Stelzner, writing on the Inflexion Advisors blog, offers a compact post full of tips on the right way to live-tweet conference proceedings on Twitter.

From Telegraph to Twitter: The Language of the Short Form
Roy Peter Clark gets into microblogging and writes about it on the Poynter Online – Writing Tools blog.

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for May 28, 2010

Photo courtesy of SXC.

7 Easy to Miss and Fix Writing Mistakes
Meryl K. Evans, who writes a blog on web content, reminds readers of mistakes that even good writers make when reading and editing their own copy–and offers fixes for each one.

6 Tips For a Great Freelance Writer’s Vacation
Carol Tice, writing on the Make A Living Writing blog, gives good pointers for taking a real (= no laptop or mobile phone required) vacation without losing clients or your mind.

New Voices Invests in Nine Community News Projects
New Voices, an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, announced its most recent crop of grant winners. These projects mainly cover small cities and towns with hyperlocal journalism coverage. Each grantee will receive up to $25,000 to launch a news initiative and work to sustain it over the next two years.

10 sure cures for blogging burnout | WordCount
Michelle Rafter offers a number of really great suggestions for keeping one’s blogging fresh and consistent. I especially like her “cures” of using theme days and keeping drafts in your blogging software that can be posted when you need a new idea quickly.

The top cliches to avoid like the plague
Sally Jackson reports for The Australian. Journalist Chris Pash has spent nine years scouring newspapers and websites to find the media’s favorite hackneyed phrases, and this article gives the top offending phrases, as well as how Pash mined this data.

Three Annoying Habits of the Laziest Journalists on Twitter
Gawker has assembled a collection of irritating “don’ts” for journalists who are contemplating crowdsourcing their entire article via Twitter. Funny and pointed at the same time!

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Participatory Journalism … what’s it all about?


Photo courtesy SXC.

Four links, three new, one “classic,” related to civic or participatory journalism caught my eye this week. For the uninitiated, participatory journalism refers to the emerging trend of non-professionals taking to the Internet and creating blogs, podcasts, YouTube or Vimeo videos, websites, Twitter feeds, etc., that cover stories that used to be understood as strictly the province of traditional media, such as television and radio stations, newspapers and magazines.

These aren’t intended as a comprehensive introduction to this phenomenon, but rather relevant, and timely (or timeless, in one case) snapshots of where it’s headed.

The People Formerly Known as the Audience

This first post should be required reading for all writers and editors struggling to understand the shifts in the media landscape over the past 10 years. NYU’s Jay Rosen wrote this post in 2006 for his PressThink blog, but he could have written it yesterday. It’s all still so, so true.

He notes that the media platform shifts taking place have many journalists questioning their sanity, but that their former audience members are basically telling them to get over themselves:

“Many media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: ‘If all would speak, who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that?’

“The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem—too many speakers! — is (their) problem.

“Now for anyone in your circle still wondering who (they) are, a formal definition might go like this:

“The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.”

Rosen, speaking for most of the post in the voice of the newly empowered audience, tells professional content creators not to worry or complain, but rather, stay relevant and appreciate how content consumers have evolved into content prosumers (produers + consumers).

He writes,

“Look, media people. We are still perfectly content to listen to our radios while driving … Should we attend the theatre, we are unlikely to storm the stage for purposes of putting on our own production. We feel there is nothing wrong with old style, one-way, top-down media consumption…

“But we’re not on your clock any more. Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, has explained this to his people. ‘The users are deciding what the point of their engagement will be — what application, what device, what time, what place.’

“We graduate from wanting media when we want it, to wanting it without the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun.”

Still writing in the guise of the audience, he ends the main part of the post (there is a terrific “after matter section” and loads of comments, too) with a gentle ultimatum to his fellow professional journalists:

“There’s a new balance of power between you and us.

“The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. You should welcome that, media people. But whether you do or not, we want you to know we’re here.”

If you’re wondering what value there is in user-generated content, or if you’re clinging to the illusion that all these audience members are going to return to their seats and quit making their own media products, you need to read this post.

Mainstream Media Miss the Point of Participatory Journalism

Another group of journalists who might benefit from re-reading Rosen’s post would be the presenters at the Future of Journalism conference, an event held at the University of Cardiff in Wales earlier this month. Alfred Hermida, writing for PBS’s MediaShift blog, feels as if the titles of keynotes and workshops indicate even organizations considered leaders in utilizing user-generated content are still coming at it from the perspective of being the appointed “gate-keepers.”

Hermida writes,

“The advent of participatory journalism, or user-generated content (UGC), has done little to change the way the media works … The research paints a global picture of how journalists are seeking to maintain their position of authority and power, rather than create a more open, transparent and accountable journalistic process that seeks to work with readers …”

The British Broadcasting Corporation, a major player at the conference, illustrated the point being made very well.

“UGC has become institutionalized at the BBC as a form of newsgathering, consolidating the existing relationship between journalists and the audience … This institutional approach towards UGC was reflected in the BBC course on the topic, entitled ‘Have They Got News for Us.’ This session at the conference focused on how to scour comments, pictures and video from the public in order to separate the wheat from the chaff, rather than on how to collaborate with the audience on stories.”

It’s true that crowdsourcing one’s stories is a new skill set, one that many of us haven’t mastered as writers or editors, and that journalism is a long way from empowering citizen journalists to make significant discoveries the way citizen scientists can.

But I agree with the unspoken subtext of this post, which is that a serious, peer-to-peer (or public-to-pro) discussion of the public’s role in shaping, collaborating and even to some degree co-creating the future of journalism has to begin, and soon. Rosen’s essay of 2006 (see above) presages it. And it’s clear that many people are finding value in user-generated content, however much we journalists may disparage its shortcomings.

Nerds, News and Neat Stuff

One way in which journalists are responding to the participatory media landscape is by creating new tools to empower readers to participate intelligently, a niche that fits very nicely with traditional media roles of diving beneath the surface of complex issues and providing context to help others understand an issue’s impact.

Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, recently posted some comments about the winners of this year’s Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. Her piece takes a whirlwind tour through some of the more interesting innovations that are being cooked up inside and outside newsrooms, but the quote that stood out for me the most came from Ellen Miller, whose Sunlight Foundation is making data openly available on a huge array of things, from government contracts and grants, to lobbyists, to congressional bills, and even to the words used most frequently in the Congressional Record.

“Technology is not a slice of the pie of what we do, it’s the pan,” she said.

I think Miller “gets” this change to a participatory media environment and how journalists can enrich the conversation. The participatory nature of Web 2.0 apps and the tools that journalism’s new creative technologists develop aren’t just decorations to be sprinkled on top of the already pre-mixed media pie; they change how the pie is baked. And eaten!

Schaffer’s post is a nice sampler of developments from the outposts of journalistic practice. The focus on innovation is refreshing—while not all of the award winners are equally cutting-edge, these contestants are taking a look at their environment and filling unmet needs, instead of grumbling about how their audience (or former audience!) no longer looks to them for the same things it used to.

Bonus Link!

Civic News Networks: Collaboration v. Competition

Caveat emptor! I haven’t had a chance to watch this 45-minute video, a recording of a panel discussion at the August 2009 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference. But it is moderated by Jan Schaffer of J-Lab (a center of American University’s School of Communication) and with a title like this, you can bet I want to hear what the panelists have to say!

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Write This Way: Writing and Editing Links for April 27, 2009


Photo courtesy of SXC.

Getting Journalism Education Out of the Way

I have to thank Amy Gahran of Contentious for this link: It’s a provocative essay from 2002 on the potential obsolescence of journalism education by Betty Medsger.

Writing in Zoned for Debate, NYU’s faculty’s webforum on current issues in journalism, Medsger, the former head of the Department of Journalism at San Francisco State University and founder of its Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism, found in 1996, as she analyzed surveys taken for a national study of journalism education, that 27 percent of “new journalists,” people who had worked for one to 11 years said they had never studied journalism.

Further research by Medsger revealed that a majority of winners of major journalism awards, including Pulitzer Prizes, Alfred I. DuPont Awards for broadcasters, Nieman Fellowship and Knight Fellowships at Stanford University never studied journalism in school. Many of the winners majored in literature or history, with the rest majoring in a wide sampling of liberal arts and science disciplines.

What to make of these facts? Why have post-Watergate journalism graduates (of which I am one) not made the same sorts of impact as those who never set foot inside a j-school?

Medsger writes:

“The greater achievement of journalists who did not dedicate their academic years to learning how to fill the vessels of journalism, (in contrast to what goes in them), suggests a profound challenge to what journalism educators have assumed was their raison d’etre: training people in how to fill the vessels. The finding suggests that radical changes, or at least intelligent experiments with new approaches, are needed at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The way things are done now seems to get in the way.”

The rest of the essay suggests a more interdisciplinary approach to teaching journalism that seems positively prescient in light of the challenges that print journalists and other media professionals are facing in 2009. I believe Medsger put her finger on a long-term trend in journalism that has caused the industry to lose its way and struggle as its business model eroded out from under it—a focus on the how-to-fill-vessels technique end of things to such an extent that thinking about reader (or audience) needs has become, at best, an afterthought.

KCNN: A guide to crowdsourcing

The Knight Citizen News Network is an information-rich site for community-focused new media start-ups, run by American University’s School of Communication and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It has a number of helpful guides for citizen reporters and traditional journalists on how to use Web 2.0 tools to create high-quality local news sites.

“Crowdsourcing” is a term that’s gained much interest of late—Jeff Howe, author of a book by the same name, defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

In journalism circles, crowdsourcing means letting ordinary people help you with your writing research. It’s a complicated business to balance the power of “open source” reporting with the journalistic tenets to vet information thoroughly and the tendency to rely on statements from public figures as credible. This helpful guide explains the best way to do it without compromising accuracy.

The guide is part of a more comprehensive toolkit for citizen journalists on KCNN, which includes how to generate or uncover story ideas, credible story research, mining data banks for relevant corroborative material and finding and training good reporters. The site is full of useful tips for anyone wanting to do in-the-trenches public interest writing, whatever their level of professional training in journalism.

49 Creative Ways You Can Profit From Content Marketing

Writers, particularly those who have a defined specialty niche, often wonder about how to best showcase their expertise without sounding cheesy. Sonia Simone, senior editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication, has developed a comprehensive list of products that any author with a specialty (whether it’s a beat or something the author is considered a bona fide expert in) can use to create new information products or guide their content planning for their website, blog, webinar schedule, e-newsletter, etc.

Yes, a few of the suggestions are a little off-beat (example: write a column from your pet’s point of view on your specialty topic), but most of them represent solid new ways to connect with present and potential readers/audience members and keep them interested in reading (and buying) what you have to offer.

Bonus Link!

The #1 Untapped Income Source That Freelancers Forget

Skellie, writing on her newly revived (?) Anywired blog, has developed a nice post on how to take your freelance skills (and income) to the next level by offering consulting services to your clients.

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