Monday, 28 June 2010

#Newsrw: BBC considers introducing Daily Mail-style comment system

The BBC is thinking about overhauling its comment system to allow users to comment beneath news stories.

Speaking at the News Rewired conference last Friday, the BBC's Editor of Interactivity, Matthew Eltringham, specifically mentioned the functionality offered by the Daily Mail website.

Which is interesting because much (in this case, rather dark) fun has been poked at the results of the Mail's occasionally erratic moderation procedure on news stories and the comments themselves.

Eltringham said the BBC was also considering highlighting the best comments by a process of editorial picks. But he said there are questions about how these would be chosen and by whom.

The move would be a departure for the BBC which currently siphons off audience comments on the news: on other webpages such as the Have Your Say section of the website; on correspondent or programme blogs; or within specific 'Points of View' web stories.

While the ability to comment 'below the line' would enable debate to gather around individual news stories, Eltringham was aware that it would undoubtedly raise other editorial questions.

He was discussing comments in the context of the future direction of the BBC's Have Your Say webpages. Earlier in 2010, Have Your Say was moved to a blog format and he described the pages as being in a "transitional phase".

Rather like the Mail's commenters, Have Your Say contributors have also caused much ironic amusement/exasperation (delete as appropriate).

Eltringham said the BBC was also beginning to work a little bit harder to engage with the audience on non-BBC platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

He said the Corporation was only moderating comments on these sites with a "light touch" because web-users would expect more robust opinion to be available away from the domain.

Friday, 25 June 2010

#Newsrw: Engaging with "Readers+": hard work but valuable for local news websites

Local newspaper websites should be talking to a group of people that Samantha Shepherd defines as "Readers+". Shepherd, the digital projects co-ordinator at the Bournemouth Daily Echo, describes "Readers+" as active website readers who engage, respond, argue, point out mistakes, comment and complain to their local news website.

Shepherd, who was speaking at News Rewired, compared them with "lurkers" - those who read but don't participate any further and "shouters" - those who just complain loudly about anything and everything (but especially the local council.)

The Echo uses a variety of social media tools to talk directly to the "Readers+" group in particular as these people are loyal to the brand, involved and concerned about news content, pedantic, and are often willing to contribute to the news process.

Shepherd described Facebook as a great "untapped resource" of news for local media organisations and noted that 70,000 Facebook profiles are attached to Bournemouth in some way. The paper also features photos taken by people in Bournemouth and posted on Flickr.

For Shepherd, it is important to adapt to online communities and not impose rules upon them from the outside. She said honesty, civility, actively responding to your readers and an ability to deal with criticism in public are the keystones of engagement.

Although social media therefore takes a significant amount of time and the rewards are not always "tangible", Shepherd's bottom line was that there is value in talking to "Readers+" people to improve the Echo's journalism and to foster other business opportunities.
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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Latest research on blogs

Axel Bruns has been blogging about some of the latest research on blogging at the ICA conference in Singapore.

1. The Effects of Reading Political Blogs

"The next paper in this ICA 2010 session is by Aaron Veenstra, whose interest is in the cognitive processing of blog-based information...Blog readers also do seem to have a particular understanding of how the media work (this is somewhat different from political sophistication - more a kind of media sophistication); what also needs to be examined are the effects of starting to read blogs as compared to increasing use."

2. Political Participation by Active and Passive Blog Users

"...there was a positive relationship between an active use of blogs and political participation on- and offline; there was no such correlation for passive use. (Younger people were especially active online; wealthier users offline.) Active use was also related to greater engagement with weak ties, disagreeing views, and better reasoning strategies." (Research by Sandra Hsu).

3. Personal Bloggers' Perceptions of their Audiences

"Audience relationships as expressed by the bloggers could be categorised as self-directed (writing is a goal in itself), narrowcast (speaking to known friends), dialogic (speaking with known friends), and telelogic (speaking to or with anyone reading). Self-directed bloggers in particular seemed somewhat disinterested in responses, and even felt annoyed that they would now have to respond to their readers."

I found this research by David Brake most interesting. He surveyed and interviewed 150 UK-based personal bloggers and his findings provide a useful counterweight to anybody that over-emphasises the 'interactive' nature of blogging.

The bloggers he spoke to were much less concerned with how effective their communication with their audience had been and often assumed that nobody would be reading their posts.

It appears that these bloggers use a blog as a diary whereby the blogger has some consciousness that others might be reading their posts but that this fact is incidental to the personal gain obtained from the process of writing a blog.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Teatime reading on the BBC, blogging and the media

BBC and linking
  • The BBC will use "editorial justification as our guiding principle" when deciding what webpages to link to regardless of whether they are behind a paywall. Steve Herrmann says the BBC will flag up whether a link requires a subscription in order to access it.
BBC and compliance
  • Culture of compliance is damaging to the BBC according to Jonathan Dimbleby: "It risks creating a climate of caution. People are in danger of not thinking for themselves."
Did bloggers bring down the German President?
  • AFP reports that the comments which led to Horst Koehler's resignation had received little press coverage before they were seized upon by bloggers even though they were given in a radio interview. There is a great quote from one of the bloggers in this article, Stefan Graunke, who played down bloggers' role as challengers to the traditional media:
'Blogs are increasing in importance, "not because they want to to challenge established media, but because classic journalism is less and less capable of achieving its mission alone," Graunke said. "It's just that with more eyes, we see better."'
Wikio Blog rankings for 2010 (via Online Journalism Blog)
  • Interesting to note that a number of the big movers and new entrants are 'craft challenge' blogs like Cute Card Thursday. I don't think I've heard about these before. When did they appear on the scene? I suppose they are a variation on the Post Secret community art project type of blog.
We live during "the greatest change in the history of media" (apparently).
  • Exciting, isn't it?

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

On the traditional media 'stealing' stories from blogs

In this post, Danny Sullivan explains how he broke a story on his blog. He says it was a 'tasty story' about a woman suing Google for providing her with poor directions.

He then traces how his story was picked up and usually not attributed by various media outlets. Unsurprisingly a number of media organisations simply 'stole' the story.

Sullivan was demonstrating that while bloggers use material from traditional media sources, the opposite is also true. He wants better attribution from bloggers and traditional media alike; "a lot less finger-pointing and much more acknowledgment that the origin of news is a messy business".

I can't think of anyone who could possibly be against "less finger-pointing", but there is considerable intrigue around the origin of news stories both for cultural and economic reasons.

Much research has attempted to look at the extent to which blogs break original news.

Only the other week the Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study suggesting that original reporting on blogs is more or less non-existent. In this case, Amy Gahran pointed out that the methodology of the study was flawed as it looked at a specific section of the blogosphere that talked about mainstream media news organisations.

Sullivan's story highlights another methodological problem. Much research in this field so far focuses on content analysis. For those of you not up with academic terminology (and believe me you won't be alone) studies based on content analysis will look for and count references, mentions, quotations or citations of blogs in traditional media output.

Sullivan's story shows us that blogs get written out of traditional media stories. This is no different, in fact, to the way in which media organisations follow up stories written by their traditional competitors and often do not credit them either. So it is nothing particularly new.

But unfortunately it renders a content analysis rather problematic. If blogs and indeed other sources of other news are written out of media reports how can we accurately measure their influence? It seems to me that relying solely on content analyses to assess the impact of blogs on the traditional news media is highly unreliable.

Of course, it is interesting to hear stories like Sullivan's and I have a few of my own from my research. The use of White Phosphorus by the US Army in Iraq in 2004, for example, was broken a year later by a blog. But that piece of information did not make it into the BBC's initial reporting.

These stories do provide a healthy caveat to studies based on content analysis, but they do not give us all the answers either. In particular, it is difficult to know how common or otherwise they are.

Sullivan says "the origin of news is a messy business". Untangling the mess won't be easy.
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