1 Million Twitter Followers: Backstory on CNN v. Ashton Kutcher

Actor Ashton Kutcher challenges CNN to a Twitter race. He reached the 1 million follower mark first.

Actor Ashton Kutcher challenges CNN to a Twitter race. He reached the 1 million follower mark first.

Just after midnight mountain time on April 17 actor Ashton Kutcher became the first Twitter user to accumulate more than 1 million followers — winning the race he challenged CNN to by video on Apr. 14.

As Kutcher cross the 1 million follower mark, CCNbrk, which posts current headlines (but not links) from CNN breaking news stories, had just over 998,000 followers.

So what? Is this a publicity stunt and a popularity contest, and mostly trivial? Yes — even though Kutcher did agree to donate $100,000 to the charity Malaria No More when he reach 1 million followers. (However, Ethan Zuckerman pointed out that this charity’s initiative to donate bednet to Africans may be misguided.)

However, there’s an interesting backstory: The CNNbrk account was only recently acquired by CNN.

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Google Earth and News: Make Your Own Street Views (and More)

A render of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado...
The Flatirons of Boulder, CO, as rendered by Google Earth. (Image via Wikipedia)

Recently Frank Taylor blogged about a cool Google Earth trick that could be an intriguing visual online news tool: homemade street views.

The example he cites is from Taiwan, where developer Steven Ho lives. Taylor wrote:

“[Ho] has been waiting for signs Google would bring Street View to Taiwan, but finally couldn’t wait any longer. So, he spent a few days making his own Street View panoramas for National Taiwan University campus. It turns out March is the month when the Indian azalea bloom, so he decided to take his street view photos along the famous Royal Palm boulevard. Steven took the time to not only take 150 panoramas, but also process his KML [Keyhole markup language, which is to Google Earth what HTML is to Web browsers] so it looks and acts just like Google Earth’s Street View imagery. He also added in some 3D buildings for the campus and the palm trees.”

The result is impressive. If you have Google Earth installed (and I recommend upgrading to Google Earth 5.0, which was released in February), then download Ho’s Taiwan street view and open that file in Google Earth. After it zooms in on Taiwan, click on any of the camera icons to start your visual wandering of the campus.

If you don’t have Google Earth, here’s a video screencast of what the experience looks like:

This made me think: What if a news organization offered this kind of immersive experience related to a news story or ongoing topic?…

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Kindle Text-to-Speech: “Robotic NPR”

Photography imported on the site Flickr.com by...
NPR’s next hire? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve made a discovery about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader: It’s a pretty good “news radio.” That is, its text-to-speech function does a surprisingly decent job of reading news content aloud.

I currently subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle, and I’ve gotten in the habit of letting it read me some interesting articles as I go through my morning routine. I like it. The automated text-to-speech reader is a bit flat for fiction, narrative, and essays that require significant emotional or rhetorical inflection — but it’s great for news. I’ve starting considering it my “robotic NPR.”

(Ducking the reflexive outcry from all my friends at NPR…)

Of course, my point isn’t only about the Kindle. It’s about how any text-to-speech service or tool can interact with text-based news and information content — and why creators of text-based news content should start to take that into consideration. Because you never know exactly how people will experience your content…

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SEO: How Much Should Journos Know?

MAGNIFYING GLASS
Search optimization: If people can’t easily find your news, it might as well not exist. (Image by andercismo via Flickr)

In a recent post to the Wordtracker blog, The Bad, Good And Ugly Advice Given To Journalists On SEO (search engine optimization), U.K. journalist Rachelle Money made some excellent points about how journalists can craft stories in ways that will attract more search engine traffic.

I agree with much of what she said. However, I do disagree with her about the role of a journalist in the editorial process.

Money wrote that some SEO advice offered to journalists seems:

…overwhelmingly concerned with headlines and how to write better ones for the web. I hate to throw a couple of spanners in the works, but I have never, not once, had to write a headline for a newspaper. That’s the job of a sub-editor; they write headlines, they write the sub-headings and the picture captions and the stand-firsts. I have never had to write a title tag either; that’s the job of the online editor, and they are likely to write the links too. So in many ways the advice given to journalists isn’t really for us, it’s for the production department or the online team.

…That may have been generally true a decade or more ago.

But not today…

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Pew on Social Media: It’s Bigger than You Think

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

On Jan 14., the Pew Internet and American Life project released a report on Adults and Social Networking Services. It said, “The share of adult Internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has
more than quadrupled in the past four years — from eight percent in 2005 to 35 percent now.”

Over at the Knight Digital Media Center News Leadership 3.0 blog, Michele McLellan observed: “It appears that American adults are moving into social networks more quickly than top 100 news organizations…”

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Ethan Zuckerman: Print Ad Prices Are “Fundamentally Irrational”

Advertising has long been the main source of revenue for mainstream journalism — but have advertisers ever really gotten their money’s worth? On Jan. 16, Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Institute on Internet and Society examined the economics of print vs. online advertising and posed a very basic — but crucial — question that everyone in the news business probably should consider carefully: Is ad-supported journalism viable in a pay-for-performance age?

Here’s his line of reasoning. I think he makes a very going point….
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Tipsheet Approach to News: The Launching Point IS the Point

Typically news is presented in narrative story format (text, audio, or video). Often, that works well enough. But what about when people want to dig into issues on their own? What if they want to learn more about how the news connects to their lives, communities, or interests? Generally, packaged news stories don’t support that leap. It generally requires a fair amount of reading between the lines, initiative, research skills, and time — significant obstacles for most folks.

The growing number of citizen journalists (of various flavors) obviously are willing to do at least some of this work — but they don’t always know how to find what they’re seeking, or have sufficient context to even know what might be worth pursuing beyond the narrative line chosen for a packaged news story. Also, lots of people who have no desire to be citizen journalists still occasionally get interested enough in some news stories to want to check them out further first-hand. They just need encouragement, and some help getting started.

Therefore, it helps to consider that news doesn’t always have to be a finished story. In some cases, or for some people, a launching point might be even more intriguing, useful, and engaging. Here’s one option for doing that…
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Windy Citizen Uses Cool Tools to Cover Blagojevich

As the ripples spread from Chicago’s latest corruption drama, the community news site Windy Citizen is trying some innovative, fun approaches to online coverage and commentary. They did this using free online tools that anyone can use.

Here’s what one of these tools can create:

More about what Windy Citizen is doing on this front…
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Bjørn Melhus: “Deadly Storms” video art nails sensational, content-free news

This weekend at the Denver Art Museum I had the opportunity to enjoy some whimsical video works by the German artist Bjørn Melhus. One installation, Deadly Storms, is a wry riff on the breathless, content-free style of breaking news so common on television.

Deadly Storms, video installation by Bjorn Melhus

Deadly Storms, video installation by Bjorn Melhus. CLICK ON IMAGE to view video clip via Rocky Mountain News


Given that Denver isn’t exactly known as a fine-art Mecca, it’s refreshing that the Denver Art Museum regularly provides an excellent selection of work — especially modern art. Plus, the new Frederic C. Hamilton building (designed by Daniel Libeskind) is trippy and fun.