Why Use Twitter? Notes for My Journalism Expo Twitter Training

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

On Friday, May 1, I’ll be helping to give the free social media training being offered by the Public Media Collaborative for Bay Area people who work for mission-driven organizations — community organizations, church groups, social service agencies, charities, etc. It’s part of Journalism Innovations II: New Work & Ideas for Making the News, an event organized by Arts and Media. Social media training will be offered in English and Spanish.

  • WHEN: May 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. PT
  • WHERE: McLaren Hall, University of San Francisco (Directions)

I’ll be handling Twitter training, from 1-2:15 pm.

So: What do people who do community- or mission-focused work really need to know about Twitter? First, it helps to know why it works. After that, learning how to use it makes much more sense…

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Basic journalism skills: Today’s real world

Today I got an e-mail from a journalism undergraduate with a few basic-sounding questions that I could answer quickly. But when I looked at my answers, I realize they have some more profound implications then she was probably expecting:

1. What is the most important skill you use in your posts on the Web?

Having a good sense of what’s likely to be interesting to the people I’ve connected with (or who I’d like to connect with), and why.

2. In your opinion, what is the most effective way to tell a story online (pictures, text, sound, video, etc.)?

You should know how to use all these tools and know the people/communities you want to connect with, and what their media preferences are (both for media content type, and the tools they tend to use most). Then tell your story in a form that will work best for them.

Stories don’t exist for their own sake, and you are not your audience. It only works if you really connect with people, and that means taking them into account from the start.

3. What is the hardest part about being an online professional?

Anyone these days who’s doing any kind of media work is inherently an online professional in some way, directly or indirectly. People who deny that or try to avoid it make their own careers impossible.

4. What core skills do you think every journalism major should have?

Many, but the most basic one is: How to define and connect with communities. This is the basis of all media activity, including journalism — but too often it’s taken for granted and not studied and understood in its own right.

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What’s “Media?” Time to Update Default Assumptions

Yesterday it occurred to me — as I heard about yet another “multimedia workshop” for journalists — how dated and useless the term “multimedia” has become. It’s now normal for media content types to be mixed. It’s also normal for anyone working in media to be expected to create and integrate various types of content (text, audio, photos, video, mapping/locative) as well as delivery channels (print, Web, radio, TV, podcast, social media, e-mail, SMS, embeddable, mobile applications, widgets, e-readers, etc.).

Ditto for the terms “new media” and even “online media”, which imply that channels other than print and broadcast are somehow separate or niche.

The best take on why it’s important to update and integrate assumptions about the nature of media (and how that affects news) is shown in this hilarious skit from Landline.TV:

Here’s where media is at today: In the current integrated media ecosystem, every print and broadcast organization has an Internet and mobile presence — and most of these now go beyond bare “shovelware”. Also, more and more of these organizations are distributing their content online first, making print and broadcast secondary channels (if not secondary markets). In contrast, most media outlets and public discussion venues that began life on the Internet do not have a print or broadcast presence. These vastly outnumber print and broadcast media outlets.

Consequently, when you consider the number and diversity of media outlets, print and broadcast media have become the exception — not the rule…

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Typepad: Often the best choice for serious but non-geeky bloggers

TypePad
If you want to start a serious blog and you’re not a geek, you’d probably want to use Typepad rather than WordPress. (Image via Wikipedia)

Right now, a lot of my colleagues (especially journalists) want to start building an independent online brand for the first time. Thus, they want to launch their first serious blog or site.

My universal advice in this case is: Don’t start from scratch (i.e., build a static site in Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or GoDaddy’s Website Tonight or SmartSpace). Instead, build your project with a popular professional-level blogging platform, even if you don’t want to blog at first.

Good blogging tools allow you to create static pages (which can comprise your whole site, if you like) and implement nearly any design strategy — while also playing nice with search engines, making your content easily linkable, and leaving your options open for more interactive approaches without having to totally rebuild the site.

Also, get a good domain for your site and use it. Over time, this provides far more search visibility and brand recognition (which benefit your career) — as well as options for easily switching platforms without losing those benefits — than a site bearing, say, a blogspot.com or WordPress.com domain.

Another reason to avoid free blogging platforms like Blogger for serious sites is that these tools are very limited. Once you get into blogging, you’ll quickly outgrow these tools — and moving a site is always a hassle.

After this, my colleagues typically want to know which tools to use to build their blog or site.

Personally, I’m a big fan of WordPress, the free open-source content management system. (It only started as a blogging tool; it’s grown.) I’ve used it for Contentious.com for many years. It’s flexible and offers just about any design theme or plug-in option I could possibly want — which encourages me to learn and experiment.

But let’s face it: I’m rather geeky. I actually enjoy spending time playing with new online tools and seeing what I can make them do. That’s not true of everyone — especially many journalists.

So to someone who’s not inherently techno-geeky and who wants start a serious blog or site for the first time (and who may want to start multiple blogs or sites), I actually recommend a different tool: Typepad, the inexpensive hosted blogging service from SixApart.

Here’s why… Continue reading

Twitter via text messaging, on the cheap

homeless guy on his phone
Image by Malingering via Flickr

UPDATE: Right after I posted this article, David Herrold told me (very nicely) that you can indeed turn device updates on for individual Twitter friends via the Twitter interface or by texting “on username” to 40404 from the phone number you’ve connected to your Twitter account. So you don’t need to convert RSS to SMS to get text updates from specific Twitter users. Still, the strategy I outline below is helpful for following Twitter search queries and hashtags via text messaging.

Technically, Twitter is designed with that frustrating 140-character limit so it can work even over the barest of bare-bones cell phones via text messaging. But even so, twittering by text messaging is cumbersome and a little financially risky.

A colleague e-mailed me with a Twitter question. She wants to use her mobile phone to send and receive tweets via SMS text messaging, but doesn’t have a data plan for her phone. (Hey, there’s a recession on, you might have heard.)

Yes, you can indeed read and post to Twitter solely via text messaging if you choose. I do think it’s a good idea to get set up to post to Twitter via text. You never know when you might need it.

The tricky part lies in receiving tweets via text messaging, while controlling costs…

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What do journalism students really need today? Poynter event Monday

On Monday, Mar. 23, 1 pm EDT, the Poynter Institute will host a live online chat: What Do College Journalism Students Need to Learn? It was spurred by a recent (and excellent) post by my Tidbits colleague Maurreen Skowran, Reimagining J-School Programs in Midst of Changing News Industry, which attracted some intriguing comments.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to participate in the chat since I’ll be heading to the airport at that time. However, I have had a great deal to say about this topic earlier on Contentious. Here are my posts from last year:

  • April 9, 2008: Journalism remains a smart career, despite shrinking newsrooms. This theme in my posts began in response to Elana Centor, who asked me: “Is journalism still a smart career path?” My answer began: “Personally, I think that developing journalism skills and experience is valuable for many career paths — but I think that betting that you’ll spend your career working for mainstream news orgs is a losing proposition in most cases. I think most j-schools are setting bright students up to fail, and that bugs me. A lot….”
  • April 10, 2008: New J-Skills: What to Measure? This followup post is a reply to Mindy McAdams’ thoughtful response to my earlier post. She challenged me to translate my original quick list of what j-schools should be teaching into a something more testable and measurable that could be translated into a curriculum.
  • April 16, 2008: Overhauling J-School Completely. This begins: “I’ve heard from some journalism educators that the kind of preparation I’ve proposed is far beyond what most existing j-schools could offer. I understand that. Really, I think what may be needed is to completely re-envision and rebuild j-school with today’s realities and tomorrow’s likelihoods in mind…” (This post also includes links to many other posts sparked by my previous posts on this topic.)

Again, I wish I could sit in on the Poynter chat. But hopefully this material might help inform the discussion. I look forward to reading the live blog and chat transcript after I land.

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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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Hashtags on Twitter: How do you follow them?

TweetDeck
Column-based Twitter applications like Tweetdeck can make following hashtags easy. (Image by Tojosan)

As I’ve mentioned before, hashtags are a powerful tool that allows Twitter users to track what many people (especially people whom you aren’t already following) are reporting or thinking about a particular topic or event.

Here’s the catch: Hashtags aren’t an officially supported Twitter service. They’re merely a convention that Twitter users have adopted on their own, within the 140-character text-only constraints of tweeting. So you can’t really “follow” hashtags through the main Twitter site.

Many third-party Twitter tools and services “play nice” with hashtags — but you must first know what these tools are and how to use them in order to get maximum value from hashtags.

This can lead to a bit of basic confusion, especially among people who are new to Twitter. Specifically, how exactly do you follow a hashtag?…
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Failure as Taboo: My She’s Geeky Tweets Part 2

Back in January I attended — and live-tweeted — the She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, CA. Very slowly, I’ve been mulling over what I tweeted from there. Especially from Susan Mernit’s Jan. 31 session on that taboo of taboos, especially for women in business and tech: discussing and dealing with failure.

(For more context on failure, see this consummate resource.)

NOTE: This is part of a series based on my live tweets from At last weekend’s She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, CA.

Series index

Perhaps more than any other She’s Geeky session, this one resonated with me. Right now, I’m in the process of ending my marriage, relocating from a community I’ve loved and called home for nearly 14 years, entering midlife, and dealing with much emotional backlog that has accumulated while I’ve kept busy busy busy for so many years.

That’s a lot of stuff to handle, on top of work and ordinary life. Frankly, it’s been hard for me to admit to myself — let alone anyone else — that because of all these issues I am not currently operating at the 1000% (not a typo) level I typically expect of myself, and often deliver.

So first, here are my tweets from this session, followed by some results of my mulling on this. Note that I deliberately did NOT identify speakers, except for prompting questions by Susan Mernit. Discussing failure leaves people vulnerable, and the attendees of this session agreed to make it a safe space. Everything appearing in quotes below is from an attendee…

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My She’s Geeky Tweets, Part 1: Agile Methodologies

For me the session on Agile Methodologies led my Desi McAdam of Hashrocket was one of the highlights of January’s She’s Geeky unconference. It was one of those occasions when I felt several disparate pieces of context clicking into place and starting to make sense.

NOTE: This is part of a series based on my live tweets from At last weekend’s She’s Geeky unconference in Mountain View, CA.

Series index

My immediate need for understanding more about Agile development is that I’m helping to organize the new Reynolds Journalism Inst. News Collaboratory. The point of this effort, as Jason Kristufek recently wrote, is to be a “do tank,” not a think tank, for experimenting with new options for the news business.

That’s why we’re trying to engage in this community people with diverse types of “do” experience — technologists, librarians, entrepreneurs, financiers, advertising and marketing pros, etc. And, yes, journalists too. The point is to actually get people working together to try stuff and share the results, not just to talk about stuff.

The question then becomes: How do you get people to decide on which problems to solve or experiments to try, parse those out into doable chunks, move their efforts forward, and assess results? Rather than try to do this all on the fly, I thought it might be useful to borrow some ideas and practices from Agile development.

For context, here’s the Agile Manifesto, as well as an excerptWikipedia’s current article on Agile:

“Agile methodologies generally promote a project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices that allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals.”

So with that context, here are my live tweets from this discussion (cleaned up a bit). Unless otherwise attributed, all points made here came from Desi McAdam…

  • Now in the Agile methodologies session, which I hope will help with RJI collaboratory.
  • There’s a difference between Agile development & utter chaos. But Agile can devolve into chaos.
  • Agile is a very rigid process. If you don’t stick to the process, things fall apart quickly.
  • Agile is an iterative process: earlier work gets outdated quickly. Cycles are smaller, iterative, to adapt to change as change happens.
  • Pair programming is more popular with females — more interactive, cooperative. Keeps you on track, out of rat holes.
  • In Agile, you have to be disciplined: Organizations and your pair partner must be disciplined. Very accountable.
  • Pair programming is a wonderful way to do knowledge transfer.
  • Pair programming improves code quality. If you’re coding and someone’s watching, you’re less likely to do something hacky.
  • Pair programming is more productive. People don’t generally like to interrupt working pairs. (Interesting!)
  • Agile also is about sustainable work pace: Don’t burn people out, get the most benefit from coders.
  • Some companies require some up-front planning, like wireframes or mockups, before throwing Agile development team on it. Do you have a good base?
  • Agile used in Spot.us development process. David Cohn came to us with wireframes. We started storycarding. Right off bat, we had to prioritize and think about what desired feature could go.
  • Storycard = definition of a chunk of work. Say what the business value is first. Get client to tell you, helps set priorities
  • Glitches with Agile: Lack of quality assurance (QA): Developers should be writing test code. Pivotal tracker (popular Agile project management tool) doesn’t address QA.
  • Rally, other tools do account for QA — but they’re bloated and slow and tedious to use. Simpler configurable tools needed.
  • Standup meetings: key part of Agile process. Can work in any organization. Very short meeting: everyone stands up, gives recent and current tasks, identifies obstacles.
  • Agile is hard to do in a distributed environment (workers not in same location). iChat, screen sharing helps. Good manager/developer communication is crucial.
  • Good Agile stories follow INVEST principles (from Extreme Programming, a related discipline): Independent (self-contained), Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable (you can guess how involved/big it might be), Small, Testable.
  • ME: I’m liking the story analogy of the Agile process. I think media people will be able to relate to that.
  • Negotiable = not defining the story in such rigid detail that it can’t be changed.
  • Desi recommends Liz Keogh as a great resource on thinking about Agile.
  • ME: The Agile session is incredibly valuable! Desi rocks!!! I needed exactly this info right now!
  • I’ll be sharing more thoughts on Agile later — but for now here are a couple of takeaways that struck me:

    Storycarding reminds me of journalistic news judgment. The process of breaking a project down into tasks that meet invest criteria reminds me how journalists and editors decide which news and information warrant development into a story. Both involve assessing a situation and needs, and matching it with criteria. Both appear to be more like art than than science or rote procedure.

    Applying Agile techniques to other fields (such as news and journalism) is itself an experiment that should be handled in clear storycard-like chunks. It may not work, and it certainly would be a culture shift. I think, for cultural reasons this is a strong reason to involve geeks, entrepreneurs, and others in this process — and to team them together with journalists to promote knowledge transfer.

    …More thoughts later. But for now, what do you think? Please comment below.

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