Press releases: If you use them, say so and LINK BACK!

Transparency is becoming at least as important as — or perhaps more important than — objectivity in news today. This means: If it’s possible to link to your source or provide source materials, people expect you to do so. Failing to offer source links is starting to look about as shifty or lazy as failing to name your source.

Yesterday I wrote about how the New York Times missed an obvious opportunity for transparency by failing to link to (or publish) source documents released during a court case.

But also, a recent flap in Columbia Journalism Review has got me thinking about transparency. This flap concerns the role of press releases in science journalism. Freelance journalist Christine Russell kicked it off with her Nov. 14 CJR article, Science Reporting by Press Release. There, she wrote:

“A dirty little secret of journalism has always been the degree to which some reporters rely on press releases and public relations offices as sources for stories. But recent newsroom cutbacks and increased pressure to churn out online news have given publicity operations even greater prominence in science coverage.

“‘What is distressing to me is that the number of science reporters and the variety of reporting is going down. What does come out is more and more the direct product of PR shops,’ said Charles Petit, a veteran science reporter and media critic, in an interview. Petit has been running MIT’s online Knight Science Journalism Tracker since 2006. …In some cases the line between news story and press release has become so blurred that reporters are using direct quotes from press releases in their stories without acknowledging the source.

“This week, Petit criticized a Salt Lake Tribune article for doing just that. In an article about skepticism surrounding the discovery of alleged dinosaur tracks in Arizona, the reporter had lifted one scientist’s quote verbatim from a University of Utah press release as if it had come from an interview. ‘This quote is not ID’d as, but is, provided by the press release,’ Petit wrote in his critique. ‘If a reporter doesn’t hear it with his or her own ears, or is merely confirming what somebody else reported first, a better practice is to say so.’” (Note: I added the direct links to the article and release here.)

In other words, Petit is arguing for transparency. He recommends using extra words as the vehicle for transparency (i.e., adding something like “according to a university press release”). That is indeed a useful tactic. But we have more tools than words — we have links…
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How to start a Twitter hashtag

More and more people are covering live events and breaking news via Twitter — and usually there are several Twitter users covering the same event. Hashtags are a handy tool for pulling together such disparate coverage.

A hashtag is just a short character string preceded by a hash sign (#). This effectively tags your tweets — allowing people to easily find and aggregate tweets related to the event being covered.

If you’re live-tweeting, you’ll want to know and use an appropriate hashtag. Earlier I explained why it’s important to propose and promote an event hashtag well before the event starts. But where do event hashtags come from?…

Doyle Albee, maven of the miniskirt theory of writing, asked me:

“I’ve used hashtags a bunch, but never started one. If, by some chance, there are two events (or whatever) using the same hashtag, does everyone searching just see both until one changes, or is there some sort of registration or vetting process?”

Here’s my take on this…

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Live-tweeting an event? Set your hashtag UP FRONT!

I do a lot of live event coverage via Twitter, and I also follow a lot of events (especially conferences) via Twitter. One thing I’ve learned: It helps your Twitter audience immensely if, before the event (or at the start) the people tweeting it develop a consensus on the hashtag for the event.

That’s what Horn Group VP Susan Etlinger did earlier, for the PR/Blogger panel her company is hosting tonight. She’s one of several Twitter users who helped launch this hashtag simply by adopting and promoting it:

Susan Etlinger helps launch a hashtag by using it.

Susan Etlinger helps launch a hashtag by using it.

And here’s the fruit that this kind of coordination can bear: Check out the #PRblog hashtag

…So: what’s a hashtag, and why is this so important?…

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Straight to the point: the Miniskirt theory of writing

If you want to make a point in writing, make sure you nail the “so what” in your first 62 words. Readers won’t give you much time, especially online. It’s much easier and more effective to work with that reality than whine about it.

(See? That was just 44 words.)

Why am I telling you this? At this weekend’s Thin Air Summit, a great new media event in Denver, I gave a session on writing called Blogging: Every Word Counts. (Video should be online soon.)

Apparently, keynoter Jeremiah Owyang was intrigued by one point I made, which he tweeted:

@agahran suggests that you have to make your point on online content within the first 62 words. Are you that disciplined?”

Thanks, Jeremiah. Yes, it’s true, I did say that. I know it sounds draconian, but here’s my rationale…

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Beat journalists: Best online tools?

Today, Milwaukee Sentinel art & architecture critic Mary Louise Schumacher put out this video call on Seesmic asking beat reporters to recommend their favorite online tools:

Beat Bloggers: Lend us your tips!

Please respond to her post!

Here’s my response, where just off the top of my head I recommend geotagging & geodata (especially for environmental reporters), Twitter, Delicious, Flickr, and social media in general:

Re: Beat Bloggers: Lend us your tips!I recommend geotagging, twitter, soc. media in gen., delicious, Flickr. And that’s just what I could think of quickly! Here’s my post on Twitter basics for journos: http://snurl.com/57ufw.

And here’s David Cohn’s

Re: Beat Bloggers: Lend us your tips!

Blogging: Every word counts

On Sunday morning, from 10:45-noon MT, I’ll be speaking in Denver at the Thin Air Summit. (Twitter hashtag: #TAS08) It’s a new conference on new media that I hope will become an annual affair. A lot of intriguing new media people and companies live and work along Colorado’s Front Range. We’ve really needed our own event. (Hate to break it to ya, Bay Area, but you’re not the only new media hub in the country.)

The title of my talk is listed on the schedule as “Blogging: Making every word count” — which I’ve just decided to re-edit because I dislike unnecessary gerunds, especially twice in the same title :-)

Grammar aside, that title is deliberately nebulous. Here’s why… Continue reading

Knight News Challenge: 10 Tips for Submitting Your Grant Application

UPDATE 10/31: It’s come to my attention that some applicants have already been rejected from the Knight News Challenge — which may seem odd, because the Nov. 1 midnight application deadline has not yet passed.  The Knight News Challenge just clarified, “Applications that were submitted instead of saved for later editing have been reviewed and either declined or accepted.”

So I’ve amended this post to reflect that information. My earlier advice to submit even if you still wanted to tweak your application was wrong, and I’m sorry for any confusion I caused.

——————–

This year I’ve been mentoring several people who are applying for Knight News Challenge grants. The deadline for applications is midnight on Saturday, Nov. 1 — so this is your last chance to toss your hat in the ring for this year’s round of funding.

I’ve noticed a few idiosyncrasies of the submission process that may confuse some applicants, so here are 10 tips to help you get your application in order…
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Twitter for Newshounds: My New Strategy

Today I set up a new Twitter account just for following the news. It helps.

I’m both a media/news geek and an avid Twitter user. Also, several news organizations post their current headlines and breaking news updates to Twitter. These facts have dovetailed nicely for me — I follow several news orgs on Twitter.

But this morning, I had to make a change. The news orgs were drowning out the people on Twitter. And I want — and need — to hear both.

Most news orgs that post to Twitter do so with a minimum of effort. They use Twitterfeed: a free service that automatically converts items from your RSS feed into Twitter updates (“tweets”) to your account. News orgs generally update their sites — and hence their feeds — very often. Therefore, it’s common for several tweets from a news org to hit Twitter all at once. The problem is that in a scrolling display like Twitter’s (and most third-party applications for accessing Twitter), this can have the effect of visually crowding out posts from individuals. This only gets worse if you follow more than one or two news orgs via Twitter.

I have several Twitter accounts, which I use for different purposes, so I mainly access Twitter using Twhirl — a popular Twitter application that supports multiple accounts. So I just set up a new Twitter account (newsamy) specifically for managing my news subscriptions. I then “unfollowed” all news orgs at my main Twitter account, and started following them (plus several new ones) at newsamy instead.

Now, when I want to keep an eye on Twitter, I keep a window for each account open in Twhirl. This makes it much easier for me to see what more people and more news orgs are saying. I can close either or both windows when I want less background noise. So far, I really like it.

My plan is to not post any tweets at all from my newsamy account — it’s strictly a listening post for me. So there’s no point in anyone following me on that account, nothing will be happening there. But here’s the list of news orgs I currently follow there. (UPDATE: LOL, I already changed my mind about that. Had to complain to USA Today about a particularly useless tweet of theirs.)

Does your news org post to Twitter? If so, you might want to leave a comment telling Red66, so they can add you to their list. If you want me to follow you, send me an “@ reply” on Twitter to my main account (@agahran) and I may check you out for awhile. (Don’t send a reply to @newsamy, I don’t receive replies there.)

UPDATE: Matt Sebastian mentioned that another Twitter application, Tweetdeck, can help accomplish similar goals by allowing you to create groups within your list of Twitter friends (people you follow). That’s another great solution. However, at this time it doesn’t appear that Tweetdeck supports multiple Twitter accounts. Personally, I need to use multiple accounts (especially since I have amylive for live event coverage via Twitter) — so Twhirl is a better option for me at this point.

NOTE: I originally posted this to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.

Growing a Quality Twitter Posse: My Do’s & Don’ts

My Twitter posse is always there for me. Today they offered fast, good ideas for E-Media Tidbits.

Like a lot of people, I’m an avid user of Twitter. But I don’t do so aimlessly. Twitter is worth my time because every day it offers me clear rewards:

  • Posse power. The 700+ Twitter followers I’ve accumulated have proved to be a collectively generous helpful group that offers, by-and-large, on-target and useful information whenever I ask for help, feedback, or insight.
  • Radar & serendipity. The 150+ people I currently follow on Twitter generally provide, at any time of day or night, a steady stream of interesing, useful, timely, or entertaining content.
  • Relationship-building. This may sound strange for a text-only, short-post medium, but I’ve found Twitter to be a more natural, human tool for keeping up with friends and colleagues on a daily basis. It also relieves the sense of isolation from working at home alone every day.
  • Convenience and lack of pressure. I leave Twitter on when I have time or can offer divided attention, and turn it off when I need to focus. I feel no need to “catch up” on posts that happen when I’m not online. (Replies or direct messages to me do get saved so I can see them later, however.)

Of all those rewards, “posse power” is by far the most important and valuable. I’ve come to the conclusion that Twitter has become so very useful to me because I’ve actively cultivated a high-quality posse.

Here’s how I did it…
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