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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Following Mumbai Attacks via Social Media

Right now, the Indian city of Mumbai is reeling under coordinated terrorist attacks. In addition to mainstream news coverage from India and around the world, Internet users are sharing news and information — including people in Mumbai, some of whom are at or near the attack scenes.

Here’s a quick roundup of social media to check for updates and reactions. Some of this information is produced by professional news orgs and journalists, most is not. Use your own judgment regarding which to trust…

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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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Working with Journalists: What’s in It for Geeks?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, and there are some comments over there. I’m reposting this here because, frankly, this site poses fewer hurdles to commenters, and I’d like to get some diverse discussion happening.

Earlier this week I wrote about the internal and external obstacles journalism schools face when trying to achieve collaboration with other academic departments (such as computer science). That spurred a pretty interesting discussion in the comments.

This discussion got me thinking: Right now, it’s becoming obvious to many journalists that our field sorely needs lots of top-notch, creative technologists. Developers for whom software is a medium, and an art form. Developers with a deep passion for information, credibility, fairness, usefulness, and free speech.

However, my impression is that, so far, it’s not nearly so obvious to most “geeks” (and I use that term with the utmost affection and respect, as do many geeks themselves) how they might benefit from collaborating with journalists, j-schools, and news organizations.

So if journalists need geeks, but right now they don’t need (or even necessarily want) us as much, the question becomes: What’s in this for the geeks? Why might they want to work with us? Where’s their incentive?… Continue reading

Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

NOTE: This is part 1 of a multipart series. More to come over the next few days. See Part 2.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

If you want to strengthen communities, it helps to ask: What defines a community, really? Is it mostly a matter of “where” (geography)?

Last week I got into an interesting discussion with some folks at the Knight Foundation and elsewhere about whether “local” is the only (or most important) defining characteristic of a community. This was sparked by an event held last week by the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy — an effort to recommend both public and private measures that would help US communities better meet their information needs.

From the time I first heard of this project, I thought it was an excellent idea. It bothers me deeply that many (perhaps most) Americans routinely “tune out” to issues of law, regulation, and government that not only affect them, but also that they can influence — at least to some extent. (I say this fully aware that I often fall into the “democratically tuned out” category on several fronts.)

The problem then becomes, of course, that when citizens don’t participate, their interests are easy to ignore or trample.

Why do so many Americans abdicate their power as citizens in a democracy? It seems to me that many are too quick to “blame the victim,” pointing to widespread apathy, ignorance, or a prevailing sense of helplessness as common democracy cop-outs.

I think there’s a different answer: The way our democracy attempts to engage citizens actively opposes human nature. That is, it just doesn’t mesh well with how human beings function cognitively or emotionally.

Fighting human nature is almost always a losing battle — especially if you want people to participate and cooperate….

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My Tumblr experiment: Exploring options for fast, easy posts

People contribute more when contributing is easy. That’s true for posting to sites or forums as well as donating money.

That said, many sites make it surprisingly hard to post. Not excruciatingly difficult — but just laborious enough to be a barrier to some would-be contributors.

This week I’m experimenting with using different tools to post to Contentious.com. Here’s the first one:

My Tumblr Experiment

I’m doing this because some of my clients use fairly complex content management systems, where each post requires a surprising number of steps.

Most commonly, here’s what site contributors must do…

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Collaboration Takes Many Forms

Just after I was talking to my business partner Adam Glenn about how journalists need to learn more about the culture and skills of collaboration (remember, the news biz is steeped in competitiveness — often to the point of paranoia), my musician friend Mark Brummer sends me this video:

See how much fun collaboration can be? Play with it!

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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Nokia Talks More (Much More) About US Service Problems

Nokia Conversations Blog
Nokia’s Conversation Blog has launched an extended discussion on its myriad US service problems.

I’m happy to report that there has been some progress (small, but real) from Nokia in terms of addressing it US service problems, which I’ve written about extensively.

First, here’s their most concrete step forward so far: Today, Nokia announced that the long-awaited firmware update for the US N95-3 should be available by early June.

Note that this does not mean Nokia has improved its firmware update process — which (as Beth Kanter, Robert Day, and I noted) is PC-only and very cumbersome, confusing, and annoying. And, in my experience, Nokia’s firmware update process is also risky — it’s what bricked my N95 in April.

…But still, a lot of US N95-3 users have been waiting (and waiting) for this firmware update. News that it’s coming soon appears quite welcome in that community, judging by the initial comments to the announcement.

Also, I’m encouraged to see that Nokia’s Conversations Blog yesterday launched a series of posts on its myriad US service problems. So far, there’s been:

I think the fact that Nokia has made this discussion so public, and is respecting and addressing concerns raised by users, is a very positive step. Frankly, this is far more than most major companies are willing to do. Nokia is willing to publicly acknowledge its significant problems, and doesn’t seem to consider this inherently risky or bad for business. Many, many companies and organizations could take a lesson from Nokia on this front.

That said, Nokia’s blog does try (understandably) to put as positive a spin as possible on its US service problems. As far as I can tell, they’re not painting a specifically inaccurate rosy picture — but so far they haven’t directly tackled the hardest issues.

Therefore, it’s still up to current and would-be US users of Nokia N-Series phones to keep pushing for clear answers to our most pressing questions and concerns. This is going to take time, folks.

Here’s what I mean…

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