Susanna Speier

Susanna Speier’s writing credits include Nature, The Denver Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Scientific American. Her plays have been produced at HERE Arts Center, The Cocteau, The World Financial Center, The Tenri and Galapagos Arts Space. She has a Masters in Playwriting from Brooklyn College, C.U.N.Y. and a Bachelors in Liberal Arts from Hampshire College. Susanna also curates Pinterest boards on a freelance basis and uses Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter to manage social media campaigns on a freelance basis.


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Digital portfolios for journalists: What are your options?

Until recently, many journalists built their own sites to highlight and promote their work.

Now platforms like Pressfolios, Muck Rack, Clippings.me and Contently offer turnkey solutions. But do they offer a substantial enough advantage to justify the time required to compile, archive, digitize, organize, optimize, connect, upload and then maintain an anthology of brand-consistent clips, feature stories and — in some cases — multimedia work on yet another social platform?

Recruiters and HR departments simply “don’t always have the bandwidth” to research a candidate on the Internet, said Lars Schmidt, NPR’s senior director for talent acquisition. Schmidt said he prefers journalist portfolios that are clearly categorized. He also advises journalists to organize their portfolios according to the job they’re seeking.

For instance, “if the position requires audio,” Schmidt said, “have all your audio clips together and laid out in a way that makes it easy for whoever is trying to find it to find it quickly.”

For this piece, I compared online digital portfolio platforms from Clippings.me, Contently, Muckrack and Pressfolios. I inventoried the features that would help journalists categorize, customizable and brand their interface.

I then presented my inventory to all four of the portfolio platform developers in the form of a checklist and asked them to confirm the features that were and were not available on their software. The checklists were then finalized and verified. Features currently in development or scheduled to be released soon were excluded. Here are the results (you can click each chart to view it bigger):

Pressfolios

Pressfolios co-founder Marc Samson, who was featured in a live Poynter chat about online portfolios in May 2012, said the newly launched Pressfolios has “a fully redesigned user interface, new portfolio customization options and story management tools” that highlight the system’s new PDF-uploading feature.

Pressfolios automatically clips a full PDF version of any story you add to it, regardless of whether or not it was submitted as a URL link or a PDF doc, Samson said. In essence, Pressfolios provides users with an automatic and secure cloud-based file backup system.

Samson said the backup system protects users without compromising their privacy because the “PDF clippings are only available to the user who added the story and are never displayed on the user’s public-facing Pressfolio.”

Muck Rack

Gregory Galant is CEO of Sawhorse Media, which owns Muck Rack. He said Muck Rack functions as a who’s who for the industry. He therefore resisted defining its journalist portfolios as a job search tool. “Lots of people use it who don’t need a job,” he said.

When asked whether or not he know of any instances in which a Muck Rack portfolio user had successfully secured either a job or an assignment as a direct result of their Muck Rack portfolio, Galant responded with the following analogy, “If you go to a cocktail party, you might meet someone who will become a career opportunity, but that’s not the entire point of the party … the goal isn’t to be as transactional.”

A journalism job board is an additional Muck Rack feature. As it is also newly launched, it hasn’t been heavily populated yet.

Clippings.me

Clippings.me founder Nicholas Holmes “toyed with the idea” of adding an internal networking feature to the platform, he said, “and came to the conclusion that most journalists just wouldn’t have the time or see any practical value in being able to do that.”

To him, the value is in “hooking your portfolio up to the platforms that are established rather than trying to create something new”; users can embed RSS feeds from their portfolios on their LinkedIn pages, he said, and they can create accounts using social networking logins.

Clippings.me has a feature that uses tags and automatically compiles a directory of journalists that public relations professionals can access through a sister site, MediaGraph. As with Muck Rack, users can opt to not be pitched or can specify the kinds of stories they want to receive.

Multimedia journalists “can easily embed YouTube, Vimeo, AudioBoo, SoundCloud or Storify clips and it embeds them in portfolios (just like a Facebook timeline),” Holmes said. The service offers customizable tabs so journalists can decide whether they want to categorize by topic, media or publication.

Contently

Contently cofounder Shane Snow says journalists vetted into Contently’s premium network can also opt to be approached by editors from newsrooms as well as by editors from corporate publication departments, but he says opting out is just as easy. Editors from traditional and commercial publishing departments are willing to pay for access to a database of vetted journalists. Contently also provides a suite of tools journalists can use to handle everything from editorial calendars and getting paid to kill fees.

Contently profiles feature a prominent link to a resume, as well as a “ticker” of publication logos that show where users have had their work featured. Snow says he designed Contently to provide “all the things they have to be good at to be a journalist today.” Those things include “getting credit. Finding clients and billing clients.”

“Industry-agnostic” platforms

Paul Franz, a multimedia producer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he’s sticking with WordPress because he considers it the best way to showcase his robust spectrum of multimedia projects. “For what I do,” he said, “it was important to show design and coding skills along with just the content I product.” Although Franz’s WordPress customizations are “not hardcore coding per se,” he said they show he knows how to build a site.

Franz credits his WordPress theme modifications with getting him freelance jobs and showing clients he knows what he’s talking about. Whether or not a position requires coding, industry-agnostic platforms like WordPress provide myriad design customization options as well as the opportunity to curate a blog that will supplement and enhance an online clip and publication portfolio.

NPR’s Schmidt said journalists should use knowem.com to research and monitor the availability of their first and last name, or preferred “handle” for social media accounts. If your first and last name is already taken, then claim a relevant alternative, as Schmidt did with his own domain after realizing larsschmidt.com had been taken.

Schmidt’s final recommendation, interestingly, is an old-fashioned one. He urges journalists to “include a resume and have it up on your portfolio.” Yes, a resume. An easy-to-find resume, Schmidt said, is still the best way to say, “here’s what I can bring to your organization.”

Correction: This story originally omitted a section about Contently. Read more

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How news orgs are using RebelMouse for blizzard, Fashion Week

Hunkering down for an anticipated blizzard is taking on new meaning for newsrooms experimenting with RebelMouse. The snow may be calling the shots. That isn’t stopping social media editors — many of whom also happen to be new to RebelMouse — from learning as they go.

There’s a RebelMouse page for Vine videos about the storm, for example. And Digital First is using RebelMouse to embed updating coverage with the hashtag #dfsnow.

NPR Social Media Product Manager and first time RebelMouse user Kate Myers aggregates tweets from a curated list of member stations and “reporters in the path of the storm.” Myers knows that vetting reporters according to geographic location and NPR affiliation does not guarantee the content will be topical but she is “going through and taking off unrelated things” retrospectively.

NPR is curating forecast information, video and photos, including community photos, on RebelMouse.

When Jeff Sonderman reviewed the RebelMouse platform for Poynter last June, he focused on its potential as an aggregation tool, likening it to Storify and Pinterest. Sonderman encouraged experimentation and highlighted the then-nascent platform’s ability to “populate a Web page.” Fast forward to now.

If you haven’t seen  The Wall Street Journal’s RebelMouse page for New York Fashion Week (NYFW) or their previous Davos coverage, you are missing out on some of the most rigorous and vital social beat reporting experiments in digital journalism.

The NYFW coverage, according to Liz Heron, Wall Street Journal’s Director of Social Media & Engagement, is “to cover a specific event, rather than as a ‘front page’ for an ongoing topic.” The RebelMouse strategy employed for both Davos and NYFW, according to WSJ social media producer Elana Zak, “uses Twitter lists and hashtags to collect the best tweets.”

“Since we have so many different reporters and editors covering Fashion Week,” explains Zak, “we worked with RebelMouse so that we could insert our Fashion Week Twitter list into the backend and then filter by hashtag.”

Filtering by hashtag automatically translates to a “reporter or editor’s tweets only showing up when they are tweeting specifically about #NYFW,” Zak says. The Journal used the same process for Davos.

This year, the Journal used RebelMouse, among other things, to cover Fashion Week. Last year, the Journal experimented with Pinterest and Instagram during Fashion Week.

Aware of the unique abilities offered by deadline-driven social and multiplatform beat reporters, RebelMouse tutorial pages source popular digital newsroom experiments (e.g. reactions to Time’s Person of the Year selection) in explainer posts, like one on how to customize embed codes.

RebelMouse also recently added CNNMoney social product lead Niketa Patel as Director of Content. Patel sees her new role as an opportunity to “empower journalists and editors to think creatively when it comes to using RebelMouse to showcase stories and user generated content.”

Social media managers and digital editors who choose to automate the integration of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Vine and Pinterest and bring over pre-existing communities from other platforms may find the general FAQ board helpful. It speaks to all levels of users. Questions range from site logo integration to aggregating Posterous and Weebly. More industry specific assistance is available in the FAQ for publishers section.

Ernie Smith, who uses RebelMouse to curate Digitslam, prefers the platform to Storify because he feels Storify is “too much work for the payoff.”

Smith, like Sonderman, draws parallels between Storify and Pinterest. Despite the characteristic traits RebelMouse shares with its closest cousins/competitors, however, Smith feels the platform “offers something lacking from the other curation platform [because] it works well automatically, but can be manually tailored.”

It is worth noting that Smith’s RebelMouse board — exclusively dedicated to reporting the numbers — is the product of the minimalist social platform aesthetic Smith has been pioneering since 2009 when he founded Short Form Blog.

Ernie Smith uses Digitslam to document the news in numbers.

Also worth noting is that Smith, who describes his Web development skills as “basic,” customized the CSS code to get the page to be consistent with the house style he created for himself “through years of work.”

Users expecting this level of elegance from the current trove of RebelMouse provided templates may end up disappointed. Yes, RebelMouse offers some design customization options. Coding neophytes such as yours truly, however, found the feature clunky and prohibitively limiting.

Not unsympathetic to the anguish of the coding dilettante, Smith concedes that “the design is OK,” but the site’s design capabilities are “not at the level of its competition.”

Another weakness — discovered while compiling research for this article — is the challenge of referencing and integrating boards that are being continually updated.

This is not a limitation if dynamic boards are preferable. If you want a static archive however, a screenshot, PDF or JPG uploaded to a platform like Pinterest is the more reliable way to ensure consistency.

“One of the big strengths of using RebelMouse is that it is built to always stay fresh,” says Zak. “The tweets and Instagrams are coming in at a real-time speed and the page updates automatically, so it is always topical. As long as you have people tweeting about the topic, your page won’t be dull.”

Zak also points out that “RebelMouse is pretty good at avoiding duplicated tweets and Instagrams. But if you want to add an article or a YouTube video [that hasn't been tweeted], that requires adding it manually.”

As the snow continues to fall, Myers continues to experiment. As Vermont Public Radio is in the path of the storm and in the middle of a pledge drive, Myers had to manually delete a #PearWatch post  to keep the page topical. The platform’s unique ability “tell an ongoing story as it is unfolding” however, is worth it, she says. Read more

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Pinterest analysis: PBS, USA Today engage with readers most effectively

Several websites, including this one, have published articles recently about how journalists are using Pinterest. But none of these offers data-based analyses that measure whether newsrooms are using Pinterest to engage effectively with readers.

As a way of measuring engagement, follower counts are a basic metric. But knowing how critical the tweet to retweet ratio is for measuring engagement on Twitter, I sought to apply this principle to Pinterest. I wanted to compare average repin to pin ratios for a variety of local and national news organizations.

So, I submitted a request to three newly launched Pinterest monitoring services. I asked each to provide a board-by-board follower comparison and repin ratios for 13 big city dailies, broadcast news and financial publications. My editor and I selected news organizations that were active on Pinterest and represented diversity in audience size, geography, niche and ownership.

Pinerly was the only monitoring company of the three that provided exactly what I requested quickly and enthusiastically. Using the data they provided, we analyzed Pinterest boards for:

Follower counts

The Wall Street Journal emerged as the only newsroom in our group of 13 to exceed 5,000 followers on any single board, and eight of The Wall Street Journal’s boards surpassed 10,000 followers.

Most followed content

Travel boards curated by the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and USA Today topped the list of most followed topics among this group, tied with food boards by the Denver Post, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register. Repinly’s report on Pinterest activity generally put travel and food interest much lower. The difference is notable because it may reflect the news organizations’ awareness that these subjects are of particular interest to their readers; simultaneously, loyal readers may know and trust the news organizations’ coverage of those topics (for example, USA Today and travel). The alignment reinforces the brand identity and introduces new audiences to it.

The Washington Post‘s most popular board was its five-pin Presidential Campaign board. Chicago History was at the top of the Chicago Tribune’s most followed list at the time of this analysis. The Guardian’s five-pin Andy Warhol tribute board excceeded their International Front Pages and Photography boards by over 500 follows.

Repins to pins ratio

The digital newsroom with the highest overall repin to pin ratio was PBS. On average, a single pin on PBS was repinned six times. Following in a cluster were USA Today with an average of 4.4 repins, Newsweek/The Daily Beast with an average of 4.3 repins, and the Wall Street Journal with an average of 4.2 repins per pin. The remaining news organizations had average ratios between 1.1 and 2.2 repins per pin.

The average ratios ranged from .6 to 6.2 repins per pin.

Supernovas, PBS’ most popular board, includes actual cosmic supernova photos and also a pin of author Maurice Sendak.

Using the word “Supernovas gave us the flexibility to place pins for people like Maurice Sendak and literal supernovas together,” said Kevin Dando, PBS Director of Digital Marketing and Communications. As PBS had produced shows on both topics, the images were already on file. For Dando, combining “Supernovas” actual and metaphoric wasn’t much of a stretch. “It’s the kind of thing people associate with PBS,” Dando said by phone, “Newsy, eclectic and smart.”

I asked Dando to explain the connection between the Supernovas board and their high repin to pin ratio. “It’s not a billboard for PBS content,” Dando said. “Our Pinterest account is for both PBS content and content that PBS finds interesting. If there’s particular content related to our programming we’ll pin it.” But interesting content unrelated to programming gets pinned as well.

This chart — and similar ones for the other news organizations we studied — shows two metrics: one a raw measure of popularity (followers) and the other a measure of engagement (repin to pin ratio). As you can see from the “Natural World” board numbers above for example, a less popular board can still have high user engagement.

Dando believes substantial referrals from Pinterest are not yet a realistic goal. “We are focused on engagement,” he said.

“We know the clickthroughs will come and the way to get them is through engagement.”

“Every time someone wants to use it from the main ‘NewsHour’ accounts, I make sure that they have a clear idea, and don’t want to use it just because it is the shiny new toy,” explained Teresa Gorman, former Social Media Editor at “PBS NewsHour.” Gorman collaborated with education team members and local PBS member station reporters on a series and Pinterest board profiling American Graduates. Although Pinterest, “hasn’t been a huge traffic driver in any way, shape, or form, that’s OK … because it has been successful in other ways.

Wondering how this might differ in a revenue generating newsroom, I asked Daniel Schneider, an online news producer at The Denver Post, who concurred. “It’s not a driver of clicks at all,” he told me. The problem with Pinterest, Schneider explained, is that “it’s only fun if you just hang around on the site — not clicking away.”

The infographic below details findings from this analysis.

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