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Lessons from HuffingtonPost.com

The HuffingtonPost.com’s meteoric rise in traffic in the past year has caused a lot of people to take notice. What is it about this blog-based site that has made it so successful?

The site, built on Movable Type blogging software, is a mix of news, blogs and commentary on everything from politics and media to business and the environment.

According to Nielsen Online, the site had 4.7 million unique visitors in May, a 255 percent increase from a year earlier, when it had 1.3 million uniques, according to Nielsen Online.

And the site has big plans: it is working on launching local editions, starting with Chicago.

In an e-mail Q&A, co-founder Arianna Huffington talks about the site’s biggest mistake, lessons media organizations could learn from The Huffington Post, and the future of news.

Jon Dube: Why did you start The Huffington Post?

Arianna Huffington: I’ve always enjoyed bringing together people from many different parts of my life and facilitating interesting conversations. These conversations have taken place around dinner tables, or at book parties, or on hikes with disparate groups of friends. With The Huffington Post, the idea was to take those conversations — about politics and books and art and music and food and sex — and bring them into cyberspace, creating a one-stop site for news and opinion, with an attitude, in real-time.

How does The Huffington Post cover the news differently from mainstream media organizations?

Huffington: A lot of the discontent with traditional journalism is because too many reporters have forgotten that the highest calling of journalists is to ferret out the truth, consequences be damned. Unfortunately, this is a concept that has fallen out of favor with too many journalists, who are obsessed with a false view of “balance” and “objectivity” and have become addicted not to the tireless pursuit of truth, but to the tireless promotion of the misguided notion that every story has two sides. And that the truth is supposed to be found somewhere in the middle. But not every story has two sides and the truth is often found on one side or the other. The earth is not flat. Evolution is a fact. Global warming is a fact. And there are definitely not two sides to the proposition that Iraq is our generation’s greatest foreign policy disaster. It is. Period.

HuffPost eschews the misleading “on the one hand, but on the other” approach to news because not every story has an “other hand.” Also, HuffPost doesn’t pretend not to have opinions, but it does make them transparent.

What’s been the Huffington Post’s biggest mistake and what would you have done differently?

Huffington: From the beginning, I would have established a policy of pre-moderating all comments on the site. We started with pre-moderation only on blog posts, since we felt it was important to provide a civil environment for our bloggers (i.e., one where critical comments would of course be allowed but no ad hominem attacks or name calling). Our comments on the news site were originally post-moderated (i.e., objectionable comments were removed only after our moderators were alerted). We eventually decided that it was worth the substantial effort and expense to have human pre-moderation on both blogs and news. At the same time, we pray daily for a new technical innovation that will be able to automatically remove objectionable comments. But no regrets, because even our failures were valuable lessons. For me, failure is not the opposite of success – it’s one of the foundations of success.

What has the The Huffington Post taught you about what the future of journalism may look like?

Huffington: I believe in a hybrid journalistic future where traditional newspapers adopt the best elements of online journalism, and new media sites continue to do more and more of the kinds of investigative reporting usually associated only with traditional media outlets.

What are three lessons traditional media organizations could learn from the The Huffington Post?

Huffington: The value of immediacy, transparency, and the willingness to have a strong point of view.

What tips do you have for people or organizations who would like to start a similar site?

Huffington: Go for it – and don’t listen to your critics. Find your own voice and point-of-view, trust in them, and stick to your guns.

What Web site do you visit as your guilty pleasure?

23/6.com [a humor site Huffington also publishes]. I don’t actually feel guilty about it – but it does give me lots of pleasure. Read more


Thursday, Apr. 24, 2008

Statewide Coverage: Finding and Filling Some Gaps

The Zonie Report is an online, independent media site that covers statewide issues in an unusual way.

At a time when news organizations are struggling for innovative ways to cover state news (see the recent story sharing partnership in Ohio), it could be a model for independent sites in other states.

The site, which is updated weekly, uses text, audio, video and slideshows to cover how Arizona is changing, tackling subjects as diverse as air pollution and battles over Native American lands.

The multimedia stories are a team effort. For example, a story we’re publishing next week is a profile of the Grand Canyon superintendent. A reporter and I spent a day at the canyon with the park superintendent just days after a biologist died there of the plague. OSHA crews and park officials from D.C. were coming to town. Tourists were all over the place. It was great video; I shot it, my freelance videographer edited the piece and packaged it for the Web, and my freelance writer (an ASU grad who was one of my best students) wrote the piece. In other cases, I write the piece and take my videographer on assignment. I also have a freelance photographer that works for me pretty exclusively.

The back of the house is all me. For presentation, I designed the site myself. The Flash used for the story slideshow on the homepage is created by me. I create the Soundslide presentations. I also edit and update all the content that comes in, including photos and links.

I juggle all of this while working full-time as associate editor at PHOENIX magazine and teaching at the Cronkite School. And yes, I drink lots of coffee.

Are you earning money on this site and what’s your business strategy?

Klawonn: So far, revenue is very slow but starting to flow in. For the most part, my magazine job — plus cash I squirreled away for a master’s degree — continues to subsidize the site.

But that’s changing. I’m creating a match-making function on the homepage for readers to find Arizona-centric nonprofits to support. The marketing for this listing is just beginning, and the nonprofits are all over it. There are thousands of them here. I’m charging them to be listed. Interest has been slow, but it’s picking up. I hope this is a valuable service, affordable, and steady cash for our coverage.

I’m trying to build some niche traffic … to sell cut-rate advertising to independent, Arizona-centric businesses like B&Bs, dude ranches, coffee roasters, brewers, artisan shops, that kind of thing.

My goal is to combine that revenue with the money from the annual nonprofit database, hire a few of my best students and do this full-time.

What are some of your other goals?

Klawonn: In the end, I’m hoping this thing is a model for other states where:

  • Statewide coverage has been scaled back (which is pretty much everywhere)

  • Innovative j-schools want to explore multimedia (which is happening more and more), and

  • Independent print pubs want to get in on the game, but can’t afford to open their own multimedia shop in-house.

How else are you distributing your content aside from your site?

Klawonn: I have created an iTunes podcast for some of our MP3s where users can download some of the interviews from stories and one-on-one “debriefings” I have by phone with my correspondents — sort of a takeoff on what NPR does.

In what ways are you connecting with the community you’re covering?

Klawonn: I’ve started doing my Editor’s Blog on camera and out in the community. Each month, I’m going around to various independent, locally-owned businesses in Arizona (mostly Phoenix for now) and doing a vlog from their store that I screen personally. They host it in exchange for a quick plug. Most of them end up linking to me, which helps with SEO and gets the word out in a grassroots way. So far, I’ve got interest from a top-tier physical therapy clinic, coffee roasting house, hobby shops and a few others. (The hobby shop owner has 2,500 Web subscribers she wants to refer to The Zonie Report.)

What advice do you have for people interested in starting something similar in their states?

Klawonn:  First, chat up your colleagues. Is this a good idea? If they created this, how would they do it? If they were a reader, would they surf this? Join some online journalism groups to network, track the latest trends or ask for tips on storytelling techniques.

Second, know the competition. Find the largest papers, and then find where they do not have bureaus. Are there regional or rural newspapers in the area? Find out what all of these are offering on their Web sites. Do they have video? Audio? Multimedia packages? Or is it just AP’s national video service for AP subscribers? Find the multimedia and geographic holes.

And finally, spend some time surfing the stories on these Web sites — from the major dailies on down. Pay close attention to the topics covered and, more importantly, the number and tone of comments posted on those stories. Use this as an unofficial readership survey of what people want to know more about. Then focus on those topics exclusively. Make those your landing pages. Make it your goal to own those topics and build your brand around them. Then offer RSS feeds to rural/regional newspapers in areas of high-bandwidth that may be starved for unique online content. This builds traffic.

What lessons have you learned from this project that would be useful to other online journalists?

Klawonn:  First, be judicious with the multimedia elements you use to tell each story. Ask yourself if it’s totally necessary to have a reporter-narrated photo slideshow, an interactive map/graphic, streaming video AND a whole bunch of Flash. Don’t get starry-eyed over the possibilities, because it can ruin your budget and bog down the user. Think of quality over quantity.

Second, give the page design space to breathe. Everyone knows they can go to the major metro daily and see a zillion links. Use more thumbnails and quick, punchy text to lure readers deeper into the site’s landing pages. When they get to those pages, try using large photos to link to stories instead of/in combination with scannable headlines. Show them you are offering a different, deeper user experience.

Use an e-newsletter service to update your core base of subscribers. Make it more personable and conversational than the e-mail blasts from the metro papers. Bank your best stories and send them out every week or two instead of daily. Why? People are inundated with e-newsletters already, and you are offering stories that take longer to absorb. Give them at least a week to really surf the latest stuff.

And finally, it took me two years to get here, so be patient with the results. You’re exploring the new media frontier. Don’t give up. The covered wagons will follow in time. Read more


Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2008

Pulitzers and the Web

Online journalism is increasingly playing a role in the Pulitzer Prizes.

The Pulitzers first allowed Web elements to be submitted starting in 1999, when they opened up the Public Service category.

In 2005, a journalist at a weekly newspaper won a Pulitzer for a story he broke on the web (more details here).

In 2006, the Pulitzer Board modified the rules to allow online components to be included as part of submissions in all 14 journalism categories.

I asked Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, a few questions about how the Web factored into this year’s decisions. Here are his answers, followed by links to the online components included with winning entries.

Jon Dube: To what degree did online work factor into the decisions of the judges this year?

Sig Gissler: I cannot get into deliberations, which are confidential.

However, 15-20% of the entries had significant online elements — nearly half of Public Service, about a fourth of Breaking News, Investigative and Explanatory, about 15% of Local Reporting, about a third of Feature Photography.

Online was present to some degree in winning entries — such as Public Service, Breaking News, National, Feature (that little video) and Feature Photography. In Explanatory, it was supplemental.

Now that the Pulitzers have accepted online elements as part of entries for several years, what are your observations on the state of online journalism and how it’s evolving?

Gissler: It’s growing.

Entrants are getting better at integrating single, unified elements into Pulitzer entries, instead of dropping in a kind of digital glob (we say entire Web sites should not be submitted as part of the core entry).

We will continue to refine our procedures and monitor the whole field.

What lessons have you learned about online journalism from observing the online work included in the Pulitzer entries over the past few years?

Gissler: We’re on the right track. Our competition is for the blended newspaper, part online, part in print.

This reflects where the industry is and where it is continuing to head.

Online components of winning Pulitzer entries:

Public Service: The Washington Post for the work of Dana Priest, Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille in exposing mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital, evoking a national outcry and producing reforms by federal officials.

Breaking News: The Washington Post Staff for its exceptional, multi-faceted coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, telling the developing story in print and online.

National: Jo Becker and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post for their lucid exploration of Vice President Dick Cheney and his powerful yet sometimes disguised influence on national policy.

Feature: Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post for his chronicling of a world-class violinist who, as an experiment, played beautiful music in a subway station filled with unheeding commuters.

Feature Photography: Preston Gannaway of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor for her intimate chronicle of a family coping with a parent’s terminal illness.

Explanatory: Amy Harmon of The New York Times for her striking examination of the dilemmas and ethical issues that accompany DNA testing, using human stories to sharpen her reports.


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Jonathan Dube is the President of the Online News Association, the Director of Digital Media for CBC News, a columnist for Poynter.org and the publisher of CyberJournalist.net. He can be reached at editor(at)cyberjournalist.net. Read more


Sunday, Mar. 16, 2008

Creating a ‘Primary Place’ for Citizens Online

New Hampshire Public Radio has spearheaded one of the more ambitious and innovative uses of the Web during the election so far.

The station created a citizen media Web site, Primary Place Online (PPO), as a companion to a year-long radio series that followed the residents of a New Hampshire town throughout the 2008 presidential primary.

One voter told NHPR, “I didn’t use it just to vent my own view; in fact, I used it to help make my decision in the election.”

As part of this project, residents of Exeter, N.H., (population about 15,000) were invited to describe their thoughts on the candidates and the campaigns. By the end of the project, there were 187 registered users; of those, 72 posted at least once and the total number of posts and comments was 275.

The citizen media site helped NHPR’s on-air coverage of the primary, highlighting trends such as McCain rebuilding support and Obama failing to connect with working class voters.

This project is an excellent example of how citizen media can both supplement and contribute to traditional media coverage.

I interviewed Jon Greenberg, executive editor of New Hampshire Public Radio, to find out more about the project, which ended in January after the New Hampshire primary. Here’s an edited transcript of our e-mail exchange:

Dube: Why did you decide to do this project?

Greenberg: PPO had its roots in our radio series called Primary Place, so the best answer has to begin there. The idea behind the radio series was simply that it was our way of making a unique contribution within all the other primary coverage that would be going on. The reporting goal was to see how the various candidates, and we had about 17 of them, resonated with real people.

In Primary Place, we picked one town — Exeter, N.H., — and followed how the primary made its way through the people of that town. We thought this would offer a refreshing alternative to the horse race coverage that relies on the polls and the actions of the campaigns. It also made sense for us to focus on one town because we have a tiny newsroom and there’s no way we can compete with the big shops that swarm the state once every four years.

So from the start, this was an intensive, voter-centered project. I started visiting the town of Exeter in January 2007, and my basic goal was to produce a story every two weeks or so. I did not assume that Exeter was a bellwether town — as goes Exeter, so goes New Hampshire. Rather, I chose it because it has a healthy number of Republicans, Independents and Democrats, a track record of active political participation and a greater income diversity than most other towns; there are very wealthy households, a large number of very poor households and, of course, many households in between.

Dube: What were your goals for this project?

Greenberg: The goals for PPO were threefold. First, to show the rest of the country what actually happens in the New Hampshire primary and share the benefits of that process. It isn’t simply a day of voting; it is the months of contact with the campaigns and the buzz and the conversations that lead up to that day. Second, to give me insight into what was taking place when I wasn’t in Exeter (and I was there two to four days a week). Third, to give Exeter residents a fuller sense of what it means to participate in the democratic process. By writing for themselves and by reading what their neighbors had written, they could become more conscious of the primary and how it played itself out within their frame of reference.

Dube: In what ways do you feel you achieved those goals?

Greenberg: I would say that we achieved all three goals, but with greatly varying degrees of success. The unambiguous winner for me was the second goal — the insights I gained about what was taking place on the ground. A woman in a mobile home park wrote in mid-summer about her disappointment with the message of the Obama campaign. This presaged the trouble Obama would have with working class voters. After McCain tumbled in April, the posts from the summer house parties with him showed that he was reconnecting with Republicans and Independents. There were other instances in which I picked up key information, but perhaps the most surprising came the day after the primary when one woman described in detail why she voted for Clinton when her original intent was to vote for Richardson. It was the polls. About 12 hours before she voted, she changed her mind because the polls showed a blow-out for Obama. She did not want a woman to go down in flames.

The third goal of changing Exeter voters’ sense of the process was also fulfilled by the caveat that PPO probably applied to only about 150 souls. But for the people this really touched, it took them to a different place. A Huckabee supporter wrote, “Over the past few months what I came to respect was real people with real feelings.” An Independent voter explained that, “I didn’t use it just to vent my own view; in fact, I used it to help make my decision in the election.” A Democratic voter said, “It gave me a way to share what was going on here with my friends and family who live all over the country. Many of them were more engaged and interested because they knew someone living in New Hampshire.”

This last point leads to the first, and least successfully achieved, goal. I put whatever effort I could into reaching out to other public radio stations. The idea was that they would connect their listeners with PPO. In the end, only one station actually did that — WCBU-FM in Peoria, Ill. KPBS was enormously helpful with the graphics for the site, but for a variety of reasons we never fully synched up. While we had respectable usage of the site — roughly 35,000 visitors in the course of the project — I would have hoped for a broader reach. We did link the site with Slate.com’s “Map the Candidates” mash-up and The Economist’s “Democracy in America” blog. Those connections, plus general Web searching and personal networks, helped bring this to people around the country. The level of that, though, ought to have been much higher.

Dube: In what ways did this project help local citizens better understand the election and provide voters information they might not otherwise have gotten?

Greenberg: I heard from a number of people that the questions I asked them to keep in mind in preparation for seeing a candidate helped them regardless of whether they posted after going to the event. They became more careful observers of the candidates and of their own reactions to the candidates. If they actually took the time to write afterward, the impact was even greater. Nothing forces you to clarify your own thoughts more than having to write them down. As journalists, we know this all too well. For these voters, it was a bit of a novelty, at least as this effect relates to politics.

Beyond the cognitive impact, those who wrote had the sense that they were taking part in something much larger than themselves. A woman thanked me for giving her a role to play in the primary.  Another person said, “Thanks for making the primary real to me.”

I was also impressed with the number of people who told me that PPO led them to have more conversations around the dinner table and among their friends than they ever had before. Sometimes those conversations included people who live outside the state, a benefit that I had always hoped would play a part in this project.

Finally, there is no doubt that PPO gave the people involved a different sense of their own community. They enjoyed reading what others had written. They saw nuances that they hadn’t seen before. They found it harder to put those who disagreed with them in tidy little boxes. They saw politics as the expression of real people, rather than the articulation of crafted media messages. In short, for these people, it humanized politics.

Dube: How did you tap the information submitted online to enhance your on-air coverage?

Greenberg: I could count on the site to help me in the way a background interview helps any reporter. You might not use a particular piece of information in your story, but what you learn improves your sense of the overall context, and this makes your story more accurate.

There were also particular instances when what I read led directly to a story. For example, several weeks before polls showed Clinton’s huge lead evaporating, I read a comment from a woman who said she travels widely in the town and felt a major disconnect between what the polls were saying and what voters were telling her. This was the lynch pin for a story on people and polls — whether we trust them, how they affect us and how we use them.

Dube: How did you guide the contributors to ensure you got the type of material you were looking for?

Greenberg: Clear guidance up front and frequent feedback were essential to this project. In the first place I gave them a very specific task — go see the candidates and tell us what struck you. As it turned out, this was a little too specific. Later I broadened it to include any encounter with a campaign, whether that was a canvasser, an ad or a conversation with a neighbor.

I backed up this guidance with three questions, which I edited and re-edited to point residents in the right direction. The questions were:

1. What did you learn about him or her as a person and as a candidate that you didn’t know as clearly before? (It might be a policy point, but typically, policy stuff can be learned in the papers or from a Web site; you might get a view into values, character, priorities, etc.)

2. What was it precisely that she or he said or did that gave you that insight? (It could be certain words, an approach to answering a question, her or his manner of speaking, or something else.)

3. Why did you notice that particular quality of the candidate? This has to do with YOU — your priorities and your values.

I sent weekly e-mails to registered users. I always included the candidates’ scheduled appearances in the state, and many users appreciated this more than anything else. Often I pointed up a post that exemplified the kind of writing that I thought was effective. Once in a while I played the role of coach, talking directly about why it might be hard to write and how to get past that. In a few cases I would do some minor editing of a post — moving the lead paragraph higher up in the post — but I always did that with full permission from the writer.

Dube: You also engaged students through the Vlog Squad. What was that and how did it work?

Greenberg: This was a small group of students at the local vocational high school who shot video of the candidates when they came through Exeter. When a PPO blogger wrote about a candidate, I would ask the Vlog Squad member to post a segment to YouTube that would show the moment the blogger was describing. I then embedded the video into the post. The result was better than I expected. The fusion of the first person text, and the image of the full scene on video, were quite effective and wholly authentic.

I should also note that these students would probably never have gone to see a single candidate had it not been for this project. So a little citizenship training happened there as well.

Dube: What lessons did you learn from this project?

Greenberg: I think three elements must be in place for this kind of intensive effort to pay off.

1. Newsrooms must give citizens a precise task that has an obvious rationale, i.e. generates content that the citizens instantly understand would be useful in terms of traditional news coverage.

2. Newsrooms must give citizens strong guidance and frequent editorial support.

3. Both the newsroom and the citizens need to understand that a new kind of writing is called for, one that bridges the gap between pure observation and pure opinion. Achieving this new style will require time.

I’d throw in one more observation. People and organizations are extremely skittish about participating in anything that can be called politics. They remind me of Linus who said, “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.” In this case, everyone loves democracy. What they hate is the process.

With the public, you will encounter great fears of saying the wrong thing, of writing something that turns out to be inaccurate. They think they need to be experts — no matter how many times you tell them that no one can question another’s personal experience of an event. With organizations, you sense that they welcome this sort of project the way they’d welcome a visit from Typhoid Mary. They batten down the hatches against any possible charge that they have gotten involved in “politics.” I would have liked some larger employers in Exeter, such as Philips Exeter Academy, to help let employees know that they were welcome to participate online. I found only resistance.

Dube: Why do you think news organizations should do projects like this?

Greenberg: Assuming that the people in the newsroom are satisfied that they have addressed the three key requirements, the main reason to do this is that it helps the news organization do a better job in its traditional line of business. The citizen Web site is a reporting tool. It might be more than that, but that is its primary value to the news organization.

There are other good reasons. This can be thought of as an investment in human capital; you are training a group of people to provide useful content. It makes more sense to do this sort of thing if you plan to use those people for other projects down the line. NHPR did a quick interactive project on town meetings right after the primary, and Exeter made the greatest use of the citizen commenting function.

I think this speaks to a much larger goal that requires the work of many news organizations, preferably within the same market. I believe that both newsrooms and citizens can begin to define a form of writing that allows citizens to be people with values and preferences, but at the same time be capable of describing what they see. It isn’t objective journalism and it isn’t an opinion piece; it’s a hybrid that puts the citizen in the role of diarist. When we write for a diary we have no intention of persuading others, and we don’t question our interpretation of events.

The more citizens can do this, the more we will all benefit from citizen media. This is the form of writing that lies ahead for citizen media, and it will take the investment of many news organizations to develop and spread it across many media markets. I equate this work to public schools. We don’t invest in schools with the idea that a particular student will someday be our employee. We invest because we hope we will benefit from the investment made by others just as they will benefit from the investment we made. I think the same notion of shared benefit ought to inspire our investments in this kind of project today.

Lastly, I believe that a project like PPO is good for democracy. It offers citizens a pathway to be who they are, contribute to the public understanding and get a better understanding of others in their communities. It’s hard to argue against doing that.

Dube: What tips do you have for other organizations that might want to try something similar?

Greenberg: I would approach this like a political campaign. I did. I did my grassroots organizing and spent many hours in low-key, rambling conversations that built trust. I took my project to the town’s Board of Selectmen and won their endorsement, which led to a proclamation. I used that proclamation to gain entry to the local chamber of commerce and the schools. I forged a partnership with the local paper. We paid for promotional cards that area businesses put on their counters.

In short, my goal was to convert this into a community project and hit residents in the town multiple times with the same message coming from different directions. I did not succeed to the extent I would have liked because PPO was a one-man show, but I have no doubt that these techniques will work if everything else that makes this sort of project worth doing is also in place.


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Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008

Behind CNN’s New Citizen Media Site

Note: After seven wonderful
years of Web Tips columns, we’re going to broaden our focus from Web-based reporting tools to the variety of ways journalists are
using the Web.  We hope you’ll stick with us for Web Tips 2.0.

news organizations are looking for ways to tap their audiences for
photos, videos and eyewitness reports. But many still struggle with how
to embrace user-generated content while still ensuring accuracy and

After a year-and-a-half of experience soliciting
material from its audiences, CNN is embarking on a new approach worth

Earlier this month, CNN launched a new site
dedicated to user-generated content that is unmoderated — basically, a
news version of YouTube. The site, currently in “beta” or test mode,
can be viewed at iReport.com.

August 2006, CNN has been featuring audience submitted photos and video
on CNN and CNN.com under the “iReport” brand — but only material
carefully vetted by its journalists. The network has received nearly
100,000 news-related photos and videos from viewers, but only published
or aired about 10 per cent.

Now, all of those submissions, and everything submitted going forward, can be viewed at iReport.com.

fact, the site explicitly states, “CNN makes no guarantees about the
content or the coverage on iReport.com” — quite a bold statement from
a reputable news organization, not to mention one that brands itself as
the “Most Trusted Name in News.”

On the new site, the editors explain the notion:

if we turned this site over to you? What if we allowed people to post
raw video and tell stories you’d never see on CNN? What if it had
politically-incorrect speech? What if it didn’t matter if the stories
were balanced? What if, instead of us confirming every nuance, we
trusted you to determine what was and what wasn’t accurate?

What if we created a site where the community — not CNN — became the “Most Trusted Name in News?”

And so, we developed iReport.com. Don’t kid yourselves. This content is
not pre-vetted or pre-read by CNN. This is your platform. In some
journalisitic circles, this is considered disruptive, even
controversial! But we know the news universe is changing. We know that
even here, at CNN, we can’t be everywhere, all the time following all
the stories you care about. So, we give you iReport.com. You will
program it, you will police it; you will decide what’s important,
what’s interesting, what’s news.

CNN will be doing limited post-moderation: Users can “flag” items they feel violate the
community guidelines and iReport.com moderators will
review them and decide whether to put those items behind a warning wall or take them down

CNN also is providing some basic journalism tips as part of the iReport site.

Susan Grant, executive vice president of CNN News Services, answered some questions about the new site via e-mail:

I could bend the ear of other news organizations venturing into this
arena, I would tell them what we tell ourselves every day at CNN:
Strive to be open and transparent — with your audience and your
                     — Susan Grant

Why did CNN.com decide to launch iReport.com as a separate site from CNN.com?

is important to draw a clear distinction between the trusted news and
information brand of CNN.com and an unvetted, user-generated community
site like iReport.com. It’s much easier for the consumer to distinguish
the difference in the content if the sites themselves are separate.

Do you expect the launch of iReport.com to change the way you use user-generated content on CNN and CNN.com?

at all. CNN will continue to use iReports on-air and on CNN.com if and
only if they have been vetted. The launch of iReport.com is the natural
progression for CNN’s iReport initiative. It makes all user-generated
material submitted to CNN available for the public to see. Previously,
only a select number of iReports were available for viewing after being
vetted by CNN’s editorial staff.

This user-generated content
site, at its core, will be driven by the users; therefore, all of the
content the iReport.com community creates will be available online at iReport.com. Users may still visit www.cnn.com/iReport
to view vetted submissions that have appeared on CNN air and CNN.com;
and iReport.com also will label those contributions with an “on CNN”
tag to indicate that the submission appeared on a CNN network or

How does moderation work for CNN and CNN.com? What is the process and how many people are involved?

an iReport is used on-air or on CNN.com, the content undergoes the same
extensive vetting process as all of CNN’s reporting does. Our own
journalists, who are well trained at verifying the authenticity of news
reports and events, follow steps to verify the events captured in
iReports that are used on CNN and on CNN.com. There is no set number of
people involved in the process, as each CNN reporter, producer and show
has the ability to select an iReport submission appropriate to use in
their reporting.

will iReport differ from what some of your compeitiors are doing, i.e.
Fox News Channel’s uReport, MSNBC’s FirstPerson, ABC News’ i-Caught?

wasn’t developed to compete with broadcast and cable news outlets;
rather it is the natural progression of our iReport initiative that has
been in operation since August 2006.

Individual iReport.com
contributors may gain additional recognition for their content by
having that material, once vetted and approved for use, appear on a CNN
television network or CNN.com, just as iReporters do today.

is focused on what people consider news, and we expect the site to be a
destination for Internet users to inform and engage, rather than simply
be entertained. Further, the concept of “community” on many news sites
is more about reactions to news reported by the mainstream media.
iReport.com not only invites users to submit their own news stories,
but also fosters dialogue — empowering the community to drive the
news, not just follow it.

Since first launching iReports on CNN and CNN.com, what lessons have you learned?

the constantly evolving media landscape, consumers increasingly expect
to take a more active role in the discussion of events — local and
global. While CNN has many networks and platforms dedicated to
traditional reporting, we also wanted to offer our audiences the
opportunity to participate in their own way — in the submission and
discussion of events.

CNN decided to expand its user-generated
content initiatives not only because of the incredible success of our
existing iReport program, but also the high level of user-participation
on CNN.com via our “Sound Off” feature, blog commenting and the
incredibly active online discussions during presidential debates. CNN
is in a unique position to provide the public with the tools and
resources to share, view, discuss and form communities about news that
is important to them.

advice do you have for other organizations, such as newspapers and
smaller broadcasters, who want to start soliciting and publishing
user-generated content?

I’m not sure
how much advice we have for others — we’re still learning so much
ourselves! But if I could bend the ear of other news organizations
venturing into this arena, I would tell them what we tell ourselves
every day at CNN: Strive to be open and transparent — with your
audience and your employees.

Web Tips question for you:
How is your news organization using and managing user-generated content? What tips can you share?


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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Find out What People Are Saying Online

Wondering what new parents really think about co-sleeping and Ferberizing? Or what Harry Potter fans are saying about the possible spoilers circulating around the Internet? Whatever your subject, find out what folks are saying online using Omgili, a relatively new site that searches online discussions very effectively.

Omgili’s engine scans millions of online discussions on more than 100,000 message boards and forums.

On each search page, you also get an online buzz graph showing you how many discussion posts were made each day for the past month. Click on any day, and you get a list of all of those discussions.

In addition to the general search, check out Omgili Buzz, which gives a daily overview of the most popular discussion topics in areas such as videos, movies, news, games, DVDs and books.

The site also has a feature called Omgili Graphs, which enables you to easily create chatter graphs comparing the amount of buzz about the topics of your choice, which you can then embed on your website or blog.

YOUR TURN: What Sites Do You Recommend?
Please send them to poynter@jondube.com, and I may run your suggestions.


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Thursday, Apr. 26, 2007


I recently sent around a YouTube video I had created about one of my journalism heroes, Reggie Stuart, corporate recruiter for McClatchy. You can see the piece and video about Stuart at this link – or just watch the video below.

Bill Mitchell
, editor of Poynter Online, had a suggestion:

What would you think of doing next week’s Web Tip pegged to this item — a how-to that explains what you used to capture the video, how you uploaded it, how you embedded the YouTube code in your blog page, etc.

Read all 300+ Web Tips since Sept. 2001.

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It’s the kind of basic skill more and more in our audience(s) are looking for, and I think it would have equal relevance to editors (charged with getting people to do this kind of work) and to reporters (who need to learn the hands-on)…

I have learned to obey Bill’s gentle suggestions, so here goes.

What might look like a complicated product is relatively straightforward, once you know the steps. That piece was executed using a combination of tools and free software that are easily available. Newsrooms around the country use these or proprietary versions of them.

THE VIDEO PART — SHOOTING IT: The first task is collecting the video. The usual way is to use a video camera, then plug it into a computer for editing. Instead, I used my Apple MacBook ($1,299 for the black version, $1,099 for white), which comes with a built-in camera and microphone. I set it up in front of Stuart as he spoke, adjusting for the right height. A more sophisticated setup would have included a separate mic, but I just used the built-in version.

THE VIDEO PART — EDITING IT: The free iMovie HD program that comes with the MacBook allows you to capture the video and then edit it with minimal training. I basically spliced a couple of separate bites together, and using the transition and titling tools, was able to make the short video.

THE YOUTUBE PART: Sure, YouTube has millions of viewers, but all those viewers need content to, well, view. So the service makes it really easy to upload videos. Once you have your content ready, putting it up is similar to attaching a file within e-mail. Following the instructions here, I gave it a title, a description, tags and a category and then was able to upload the video. Depending on the time of day, there’s a delay of 10-30 minutes before the video shows up online. But once it’s up, you can e-mail the link to your friends or even embed it onto another site or blog, as we have done here for this WebTip. (Every YouTube video has a section where the embed code is available for you to take and put elsewhere).

This ability to embed the video on other sites is a key reason for the success of certain online videos. Embedding means more sites will be willing to post the video, because it allows visitors to see the video without leaving the site they are on. And since it’s still played off YouTube’s servers, there are no bandwidth costs for individual sites.

ALTERNATIVES: You can use a video camera or a cheap webcam (many are less than $30) to shoot the video and free software such as Microsoft Moviemaker (free on Windows XP) or the new-ish online video editing site, Jumpcut.com to do simple editing.


[This is, of course, just a start. Share your ideas - see YOUR TURN section below.]

Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter.org’s Interactvity Editor, points out some useful suggestions that have been recenly made on the Online News e-mail discussion lists that she hosts. (You can see all the lists and sign up here.)

Here are the highlights:
- Robin Miller, Editor-in-chief of Open Source Technology Group, made the observation that there are now more than 150 ad-supported video-hosting services.

- Clyde Bentley, associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, mentioned the system used there that is very much like YouTube, but is a closed system.

- Kevin Anderson, editor, who blogs for Guardian Unlimited, shared that Motionbox allows users to upload and tag video clips as well as make simple edits through the service provided by the site.

- Brightcove is an option I know of that many organizations have looked into as an alternative to YouTube.

Here’s some more info about Brightcove:
Launch a Channel: http://corp.brightcove.com/content_owners/
Brightcove Support & Tutorials: http://studio.brightcove.com/
Brightcove Blog: http://blog.brightcove.com/
Syndication Overview:

YOUR TURN: Share your tips for newcomers to online video creation by posting in the comments section or by e-mailing poynter@sree.net

Sree’s Links
See details of SAJA Convention & Job Fair in NYC, July 12-15, 2007

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Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2007

Tracking Web Buzz

The increasing popularity of sites that let users submit, save and vote for Web pages they find online means that journalists have great new tools at their fingertips for finding story ideas.

Sites like Digg.com, del.icio.us and YouTube.com should be regular stops for all journalists. But there are now dozens of these sites, so tracking all of them can be time-consuming (unless you use RSS — see this tip on RSS for Journalists).

A great site to help you track all of these easily is popurls.com.

The site lists the top stories and Web pages that have been highlighted by users on a range of social bookmarking and citizen media sites, including:

It also includes top headlines from a number of other sites, including:

YOUR TURN: What Sites Do You Recommend?
Please send them to poynter@jondube.com, and I may run your suggestions.


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Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2007

Tracking Media Changes

Featured Links:

2006 Edition of Save This Tip: Sree & Jon

Read all 300+ Web Tips since Sept. 2001.

Web Tips by e-mail:

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Keeping up with all the media changes around us isn’t easy. For years, I’ve kept a set of old-fashioned files, filled with clippings and Web printouts. I also kept some files on my computer that I would send around when reporters would call to ask about new-media developments.
Recently, I have taken another approach. I now have an easily accessible Web page where I have been adding articles for my students and me to read. I have been told it’s useful by folks who have seen it, so I am sharing it with you.
Go to SreeTips.com/landscape.html and you will find a link to a continuously updated list of stories about various aspects of the news business. Topics include the future of newspapers, online video, new journalism ventures and much more. I have also created a list of Web sites I read regularly, along with a collection of stats. This is very much a work in progress, so I would love feedback and your own link suggestions.
You will notice I use Google Docs to maintain the list. My next column will be a detailed look that service. If you have thoughts about it, let me know.
YOUR TURN: Send sites you like to me at poynter@sree.net (include your name, affiliation and city), and I just might run one in a future column.

Sree’s Links
See details of SAJA Convention & Job Fair at Columbia & CUNY, July 12-15, 2007

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Monday, Feb. 12, 2007

Free Online Courses from the BBC

The BBC has one of the deepest training departments of any journalism organization in the world. Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of the BBC and British taxpayers, many of the BBC’s training courses are available free online for anyone to use.

The courses you’ll find here were originally designed for BBC. As a result, some of the modules contain specific references to BBC procedures, methods and services.

Nevertheless, they’re still useful, especially in a rapidly converging world. The radio courses, for example, are useful for anyone interesting in learning audio storytelling skills for podcasting.

The courses you’ll find on the site include:

You can expect more online material from the BBC in the future. BBC News recently launched a new internal training site — The College of Journalism Web site, or CoJo online — with more than 500 pages and 40 videos of training. Right now it’s only available to BBC employees, but the BBC hopes to launch a public version by the end of the year.

(Another fantastic resource for online training, for those not already aware, is News University, a project of The Poynter Institute funded by the Knight Foundation, which you can find at newsu.org)

YOUR TURN: What Sites Do You Recommend?
Please send them to poynter@jondube.com, and I may run your suggestions.


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