Articles about "Community-focused journalism"

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Through Facebook, current and former Patch employees stay connected

Hank Kalet shared this shot of Patch merch on Facebook. Photo by Hank Kalet.

Jim Romenesko | Business Insider

Two years ago, Hank Kalet found out he no longer worked for Patch at a New Jersey coffee shop with his supervisor and someone from HR. Today, he learned that hundreds more Patch employees were laid off through a former editor on Facebook.

Not too long ago, Kalet joined the Patch alumni group, a closed page on Facebook. That page currently has 452 members, former Patch editor Anthony Leone told Poynter via phone.

“And I wouldn’t be surprised if that grows by the end of the day,” he said. Read more

George Zimmerman, Shellie Zimmerman

Can stories like the Zimmerman trial point to a better journalism?

The verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and juror B-37’s interview with CNN reveal what may be the greatest challenge to modern newsrooms on socially divisive issues: how best to get different communities to engage with each other.

Since Trayvon Martin’s death became a flashpoint in early 2012, news organizations have excelled at highlighting poignant, diverse voices offering up their analysis and personal experience. Fabulous writers penned passionate arguments. Social media gave rise to creative commentary. We all participated in the debate — the most committed of us by demonstrating, the rest of us by talking with each other face-to-face and sharing and commenting on social media. Now, the revelations about one juror’s point of view are sparking even more conversations about how our individual experiences inform our views.

And yet, we are as divided as ever. By democratizing publishing, the Internet and social media promised that we could all have a platform. But all those platforms seem to have made us even less likely to listen to those with whom we disagree.

Can journalism do anything to bridge this great divide? As the news media evolve, will newsrooms embrace the tasks of bringing people together and helping them talk things out as a way of distinguishing journalism from other sources of information? The challenge will be to do so in a way that invites diversity, even while our newsrooms are more willing to embrace reporting and writing from a particular point of view.

Pew Research Center tells us that only 26 percent of Americans say they prefer their news from a point of view on a regular basis. Yet that doesn’t seem to hold true for issues as polarizing as the Zimmerman trial. Consumption of information about the trial tracked much higher among black people than white people. Interest peaked after the verdict was announced, with 44 percent of a sample of Americans tracking the coverage on Sunday.

At the same time, the conversation about media has become an unfortunate referendum on whether most newsrooms are liberal and capable of fairness or even basic accuracy. While these are fair questions to ask, it’s overly simplistic to suggest that all newsrooms were inadequate in the Zimmerman trial because a few newsrooms made mistakes both big and small.

Critics suggested that every news organization that made room for a black voice talking about the danger young black men face was guilty of liberal bias. Or even that every newsroom that framed the story as one of race was incapable of fairness.

While there are certainly debates to be had about story frames, today’s flood of opinion is here to stay. On most news sites, articles written from a point of view and personal narratives dominate the lists of most-shared stories — and they’re easier and cheaper to produce for 24-hour cable newsrooms and digital and print outlets alike.

By embracing community as a core guiding principle, newsrooms could use coverage of divisive moments such as Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s trial to create a more robust exchange of ideas, a search for common ground, or some other measurable improvement for a community.

The best articulation of this expression of journalism came during a symposium last October at the Paley Center in New York, where Poynter gathered thought leaders to help shape a new set of Guiding Principles for Journalists.

Here’s how Mónica Guzmán, Seattle Times columnist and GeekWire contributor, described her vision of newsroom evolution:

Forever, the product of journalism has been the article, the photo, the essay, the content. The digital ecosystem today is asking us why can’t the product of journalism be the community? Why can’t that be the space where we do our work? If the mission of journalism is to inform the public for the civic good, but citizens are showing us they can inform themselves with the right tools and the right guidance, then the community should be as much a product of what we do, as much an end, as anything else. The differentiator for other industries is they think of the community as a means to an end. But for journal­ism, the community should be an end.

What would that vision look like? It would be different for every community and every newsroom, but certainly there would be more virtual chats, more moderated conversations, and more live events hosted by journalists.

Maybe it would look more like The Orlando Sentinel’s series In the Shadow of Race, which included a live community forum.

“Rather than think almost exclusively about serving [readers] with content, what else can [newsrooms] be doing to help them become more self-empowered information seekers and sharers?” Guzmán asked by email this week.

Guzmán and many others who have embraced this idea believe that it will be particularly effective and helpful for local newsrooms to go beyond just providing information.

“Innovators must now create tools that will help strengthen geographically bounded communities,” Steven Waldman writes in The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century, the book that grew out of last fall’s gathering. Waldman was a founder of Beliefnet, one of the first sites built around the idea that content would help communities interact and grow. In 1999, he notes, getting audiences organized around and involved in content was controversial. Now, it’s a legitimate model for news.

But the next steps in serving communities aren’t as clear or obvious.

“People expect to participate, and media managers must make it easier for readers to interact with each other, the news organization and other institutions in the community,” Waldman writes. “News organizations will become, in effect, community service organizations of a new kind and the process will become truly valuable.”

Just as the rise of opinion has transformed our content, serving communities will transform our newsrooms and ultimately our communities. We see glimpses of this in news start-ups that routinely pull off effective events, such as the Texas Tribune or MinnPost.

But the real experiments with community have yet to begin in earnest. Now is as good a time as any for that experimentation to start. And this issue of race and justice is a topic that cries out for something more than what we have.

The Poynter Institute’s book The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century will be available Aug. 1. This compilation of essays is edited by Poynter’s Kelly McBride and The American Press Institute’s Tom Rosenstiel. The book features a new framework for ethical decision-making among journalists and those who care about democracy. On August 15, McBride will host a News University Webinar about the book. Read more

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4 ways Muni Diaries readers document San Francisco bus riding

Complaining about riding the bus is sport in San Francisco. So when we started Muni Diaries, a website documenting stories that happen on public transit, there was a high chance that our website could devolve into a cesspool of whining and bigoted rants.

But the exact opposite happened: For the last three-and-a-half years, our readers have contributed the majority of the content on our site, and we’ve turned a significant slice of the transit-riding population in San Francisco into our contributor base.

Our readers have helped us break news, be the first to tweet about accidents, and provide other useful information to San Franciscans who depend on public transit.

So how do you get the best from your readers? And how do you cultivate a focused audience that consistently shares ideas and contributes to conversations? Here are some tips we’ve learned along the way.

Listen to what people want to talk about.

The most lively conversation might not be about the newest topic at City Hall. Pay attention to Facebook comments, tweets and comments on stories to get a better sense of what people want to talk about. We’ve found that buzz from readers is one of the best indicators of a trend story.

This is especially true if you write about a topic that touches on your city’s everyday life. For example, when we started seeing tweets and questions in our comments section about the distribution of fare inspectors in San Francisco, we realized that this was a concern for many San Franciscans. In a post about the fairness of fare inspection, commenters weighed in on where they see fare inspectors and why they think fare inspectors target certain lines.

Twitter can be a great way to guide conversation and understand buzz. When the San Francisco Police Department decided to borrow Muni buses to shuttle police officers to the OccupySF encampment, we saw hilarious comments on Twitter. We later turned tweets into one of the most highly-trafficked posts of that month.

Within the conversations on your news site, there are tips about news, public-safety, or cultural trends. Conversations are happening increasingly online, and it pays to listen to what your readers have to say.

Respect your audience

Though we do contact government officials for stories, we always try to be accessible to the community, the greatest source of stories and tips. There are a few ways to reward your audience:

  • Always credit readers for tips, Facebook comments and submissions.
  • Give your readers a shoutout as often as possible. On Muni Diaries, readers who submit stories have their names displayed in the byline, though stories are always vetted and edited.
  • Ask readers how to attribute to them or link to their personal websites or projects.
  • Promote stories submitted by your audience to other publications.

Do the heavy lifting yourself.

Your readers are not your staff. You can get the best content from your readers by taking tips and stories from them and doing the heavy lifting yourself. On Muni Diaries, we don’t expect our readers to do the type of reporting that paid journalists do. We don’t assign stories, provide journalism training or otherwise expect readers to do what journalists get paid to do.

Instead, we provide a forum for readers to talk about their transit-riding experience, and curate the conversation to choose stories and tips that would be interesting to a wider audience. Though most blog posts are submitted by readers, we research and verify the stories, ask more questions about the stories, then write headlines, choose photos and even copy edit.

Be available and responsive to conversations.

Conversations happen if you cultivate them. Participate in conversations in your comments section, Facebook page, and on Twitter. You can even turn notable comments into stories. For example, when we posted about the inaugural party for Muni in the 1980s, a reader commented that he was actually there at the party and sent us videos of the event.

Countless stories have been spawned from our comments section. Transforming great comments into stories makes your readers feel heard and encourages them to continue participating in conversations on your website.

List your email address prominently on your website so that readers can get in touch with you easily via email, Twitter, or Facebook.

By getting a community talking, you can build a website that features content people can relate to. The idea of “citizen journalism” has changed in the age of social media. Rather than turning citizens into unpaid journalists, you can get the best out of your readers by creating a space where conversations lead to ideas and stories. Read more


New Knight study identifies 3 surprising keys to nonprofit news business success

The Knight Foundation has a new study out this morning examining the business models for seven locally-based nonprofit news sites in their drive to achieve sustainability.

Focusing on high-profile ventures such as Texas Tribune and Voice of San Diego, the report, “Getting Local,” concludes that none of the sites are all the way to sustainability yet.  But they are well along and developing best practices that other geographically-based ventures can learn from.

The report identifies three “next-stage” opportunities, each with a flavor of paradox:

  • While the sites were founded in part as a reaction to declines in newspaper and other traditional media coverage, they do better if they set editorial goals beyond simply replacing what is gone. Engaging a specific audience and demonstrating social utility will be key to attracting continued and broader support.
  • While all relied on foundation grants and/or a few big-ticket donors to get started, the best are diversifying income streams to include membership campaigns, events, sponsorships and advertising.
  • Being online-only slashes production and distribution expense and allows the sites to put a majority of their budget into editorial (unlike newspapers which typically devote only 10 to 15 percent to news). But there is a strong case for “balancing resource allocation” by adding technologists, development professionals and engagement specialists — rather than just hiring more reporters and editors.

The report, written by consultant Michele McLellan and Knight’s Mayur Patel, examines Bay Citizen, Crosscut (of Seattle), MinnPost, New Haven Independent, St. Louis Beacon, Texas Tribune and Voice of San Diego.  All are geographically based and have “modest sized professional staffs.”

The study was started by a management consulting firm in 2009. This published version updates financials through 2010 and traffic measures through the first quarter of 2011.

The target market among the sites varies greatly from 24.9 million for Texas Tribune to 220,000 in New Haven. Traffic varies too, but not quite as much — from a high of 450,000-plus uniques a month for the Texas Tribune to a little over 50,000 for the St. Louis Beacon.

Texas Tribune, with an extensive database as well as stories, also scored highest in average monthly time on site at about 4 minutes. Bay Citizen had the highest budget at more than $11 million.

The report highlights a variety of engagement-building initiatives — a “Politifest” community event in San Diego, MinnPost’s annual political roast and a “You Fix the Budget Deficit” interactive that drew 10,000 visitors. The Bay Citizen has a Bicycle Accident Tracker, and the St. Louis Beacon hosts regular discussions of neighborhood development issues and of race and class.

Such activities, Michael Maness, who directs Knight’s journalism and media innovation programs, told me in a phone interview, have a business payoff as well. Some contributors, he said, “are not among particularly active users but believe in what the site does.”

The New Haven Independent provided heavy coverage of education issues and Voice of San Diego took up the cause of Cambodian refugees who were being evicted from a community garden. The report cites both as examples of actionable reporting with high social impact.

Despite the efforts at diversification, the seven sites studied collectively  got 57 percent of their 2010 income from foundations and another 34 percent from donations.

Further, many of the sites rely on a a small circle of foundations and donors. At the St. Louis Beacon, 94 percent of the donations came from seven individuals with an average contribution of $174,000.

Several of the sites are making big progress on funding diversification, the report finds.  Texas Tribune showed 37 percent of its $1.8 million in revenue earned, as opposed to donated, in 2010; For MinnPost, it was 26 percent of $1.3 million.

Some of the 7 nonprofit news sites studied relied on diversified revenue sources; others depended more on foundation support. One factor could be how mature the nonprofits are.

The partnerships the Texas Tribune and Bay Citizen have formed to provide content to The New York Times regional pages produce good exposure but not much income. Each received less than half a percent of its revenue from the arrangement.

Besides building “organizational capacity” by adding non-journalists to the staffing mix, the study commends the sites for many experiments with content partnerships. It also praises the exploration of mobile apps and social media features like the Tribune’s “TweetWire,” which aggregates the Twitter postings of Texas politicians.

Since the report’s financial information ends at 2010, I wondered how the sites are weathering this year’s tough economy. Maness said that in this instance the reliance on large donations, some already in the bank as start-up funding, helps.

Paul Bass, founder of the New Haven Independent, e-mailed me that the site is fine for 2011 and already has financing locked in for 2012.

Similarly, Joel Kramer, editor and CEO of MinnPost, wrote that spending will be up 25 percent this year, advertising and sponsorships are on track to be up more than 30 percent, and that he is more than halfway to goal on a special $1 million capital campaign.

The study also tracked expenses for the 7 nonprofit news sites, showing where they spent their money.

I asked Maness if the robustness of the seven sites studied suggests that other big states like Florida and New York could have their version of Texas Tribune while cities like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh emulate the St. Louis Beacon and MinnPost.

That is beyond the scope of this study, he said, but a cookie-cutter approach probably would not work. The successful sites tend to have strong community roots and adapt to information gaps specific to the areas they cover.

By way of illustration, the study originally included the Chi-Town Daily News, which folded in 2009. The report finds that Chi-Town relied almost exclusively on foundation funding, was mostly staffed by out-of-towners and spent heavily on editorial and an attempt at citizen journalism — while neglecting business development.

This report continues Knight’s heavy involvement in exploring and supporting community information initiatives. Maness’s predecessor, Eric Newton, now special assistant to the president, announced at an international news conference in Vienna last week that the Knight Challenge grants are being renewed. There may be as many as three competitions a year rather than one, Newton said, to speed the pace of innovation.

Also, Knight released yesterday the eighth in a series of reports in collaboration with the Aspen Institute, this one on how communities can measure the vitality of their local information systems.

Five years ago, I thought Knight was being hasty in shifting funding focus so sharply away from experiments housed at newspapers and other traditional media.

Now I am more inclined to think that the for-profit sector needs to fend for itself. Despite a much smaller scale, what Knight and these sites have been building is valuable — and has plenty of room still to grow.

Joel Kramer from MinnPost and Melissa Bailey from the New Haven Independent talked about how nonprofit news sites can work toward sustainability in a live chat, which you can replay here:

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >How nonprofit news startups can work toward sustainability</a> Read more


Community, rural newspapers ‘surprisingly healthy’

Romenesko Misc.
The Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University has just published an analysis of rural newspapers that tracks the growth of that media category, from Boston’s Publick Occurrences in 1690 to the over 10,000 publications in print today. “The community newspaper business is healthier than metro newspapers, because it hasn’t been invaded by Internet competition,” Al Cross, a rural journalism analyst at the University of Kentucky, told the researchers. “Craigslist doesn’t serve these kinds of communities. They have no effective competition for local news. Rural papers own the franchise locally of the most credible information.” Read more

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7 ways to get your audience to participate in mobile mapping projects

News organizations are increasingly involving the community in their reporting and trying to figure out which approaches work well.

One way to get your audience involved is to combine the ease of mobile texting with the visual appeal of a map. Throughout the past few years, I’ve launched several successful mobile mapping crowdsourcing projects for public radio stations and have found that they engaged audiences and helped advance news stories.

Drawing on my experience with these projects, I’ve come up with some tips on how to involve your audience in a successful mobile mapping project in any medium.

Start with a simple question.

Last December, a huge snow storm hit the New York City area. It happened during the holidays when many of the city’s political leaders were away. After two feet accumulated in Central Park, the story quickly became about the cleanup effort — or lack thereof. At first, the mayor said the city was making good progress clearing snow. But listener calls to WNYC, where I was a producer and digital editor at the time, indicated otherwise.

To find out more, we opened up the story to our listeners around the city with a question: Has your block been plowed? All listeners had to do was text the word PLOW to a short number. Using a Google Fusion Table, we plotted all the submissions on a map.

It’s important not to bombard your respondents with questions they didn’t sign up to answer. We made the mistake of asking the same group of people the next week to tell us if their trash had been collected or not (the snow cleanup was affecting that process too). We noticed many people opted out after that question.

In hindsight, we probably should have just asked those texters if they would like to help us report on other issues related to the snow and have them opt in rather than sending them the question directly.

Integrate examples seamlessly with other content.

Once people answered the yes or no question in this case, we responded by asking them to describe how the snow was affecting them. Once we had the audio message, we could play excerpts of people’s stories on the air.

But we didn’t just use that tape to promote the project; we used the tape just like we would any other news soundbite. That way, listeners heard the latest news about the snow storm, the clip from someone affected by it and the prompt to text in your own situation. We ended with a mention of a listener map online that showed blocks that had or had not been plowed.

Be ready for breaking news.

With the snow storm map, we weren’t trying to get our audience to engage for the sake of engagement. There was a specific goal in mind that related to a newsworthy question. But we needed to be ready with the tools way before this. We already subscribed to a text message service (in this case with Mobile Commons) and we were very familiar with the interface.

Fifteen minutes after we made the decision to do it, the texting project was up and running and the question was on the air. The contributions started flooding in.

Showcase some version of the end result as soon as possible.

Even with the initial few dozen responses, it made sense to post the snow map online. That way, it was very clear what people were contributing to. And by playing excerpts of the audio stories on the air, it showed what would happen if you took part.

We applied the same principle at WNYC and PRI’s national show, The Takeaway when we asked people to tell us how high gas prices were forcing changes in their habits (and to tell us the last gas price they paid for). Once we had a few stories from around the country, we made the map prominent online so others could quickly see why they might participate.

Reward people for participating.

When you set out to ask a question of listeners, readers or web users, it’s important to think of why someone would bother to answer. In the spring, WNYC partnered with The New York Times to create a crowdsourced map of bird-watching spots throughout the metro area.

To go along with the Times’ “Bird Week” series, we asked radio listeners and newspaper readers to text in the location of their favorite spots for observing birds. We also asked people to tell us the last bird they’d seen in that spot. While the news value was not as great as the snow map, there was a clear reward for taking part.

Individually, readers and listeners got to share their urban wildlife story with the public. Collectively, they helped create a map that could be used by anyone interested in watching birds in the city.

Make the project fun when possible.

While the bird map was not quite breaking news, it was fun for people to share their wildlife observations from around the city. And while it didn’t necessarily advance a news story, it helped anyone who participated — or even just looked at the map — to think more about his or her surroundings.

Similarly, the snow storm was a serious story that involved some life-threatening situations. By participating, listeners related to the story in a different way, by listening to a report that they — or someone just like them — helped report.

Follow up with participants.

One of the most powerful parts of the snow map was something I think we could only do with a mobile texting project.

When people told us whether or not their block had been plowed, we could text everyone back with a single message. So on the second day of the cleanup effort, when it was becoming clear just how slow the city was removing the snow, we could ask for a status update from the people whose blocks had not been plowed. Some of those people told us the snow trucks had finally reached them, but many were still snowed in.

On the third day, we asked the same question again and discovered the situation was a lot better. Far from getting annoyed at our follow-up message (as we had feared), the people we texted back told us how much they appreciated our interest in their situation. This is something that rarely happens with the people journalists interview  — at least not on the scale made possible with a texting project.

Of course, it also help to write up stories about the project along the way, as we did with the snow map and the gas price project.

Not all audience-driven projects are going to be as successful as you’d like. The key is to make sure they’re driven by a legitimate need for information rather than for the sake of engagement. Read more

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California Watch’s engagement efforts show staffers what hard-to-reach audiences want

California Watch’s stories about earthquake safety problems in schools reached hundreds of thousands of people through a statewide network of radio, TV and newspaper partnerships.

But the ones most affected by nonprofit news agency’s investigation were the ones least likely to read it — children.

That’s where Ashley Alvarado comes in. Her job as California Watch’s public engagement manager is figuring out how to deliver information to the audiences who need it most but are hardest to reach. This means that her techniques have to be as unique as the diverse communities that she’s targeting.

With the earthquake safety story, the solution was putting information in a kid-friendly format — coloring books. And not just in English, but also in Spanish, Vietnamese and both simplified and traditional Chinese, the most spoken languages in California.

California Watch had planned to print 2,000 copies, but the demand quickly exceeded that. By the time the outreach campaign ended in June, California Watch published 36,000 coloring books and distributed them for free. The site, Alvarado said by phone, is still getting requests for books from schools and organizations.

While the coloring book has been a hit with children, it’s also helped California Watch forge relationships with parents and educators. Alvarado began her outreach long before the coloring book was published to get input on the type of content it should include. Conversations with Chinese language schools, where many immigrant families send their children on the weekends, even resulted in a tip for another story.

Alvarado got an email from XiaoLin Chang, the director of two schools in Milpitas, Calif., about a local public school teacher who had pinned a note to a kindergartener’s shirt and embarrassed parents.

Chang, whose Chinese schools include 200 families, said that the contact with California Watch was her first with any U.S. news media. Previously, she had never heard of California Watch. Now, she’s a subscriber to its news emails.

“They made me feel comfortable, and I think they give people good information,” Chang said in a phone interview.

Alvarado said the news organizations cannot afford to write off diverse communities. “You want to reflect the state that you’re covering, and California is diverse,” she says. “And to get at that, we need to be out on the streets and pull people into what we do.”

California Watch has also attended local street fairs and bazaars to help draw ties between its content and the community. To publicize stories about illegal levels of lead in jewelry, for instance, California Watch rented a lead testing machine for $1,400 and offered to test jewelry for people at several places, including a flea market.

Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, which oversees California Watch, said the outreach ultimately improves the journalism.

“It isn’t simply getting information to these communities,” he said. “It’s getting information back to us to make our journalism more relevant and meaningful.”

Rosenthal said California Watch had wanted to hire someone to focus on reaching diverse audiences, but didn’t have the funds to do so until it received a grant from California Endowment — a foundation that was interested in helping marginalized communities gain access to news. Part of the $440,000 grant went toward funding Alvarado’s position.

Even though most news organizations don’t have such resources, there’s plenty they can do to tap into diverse communities.

Here are some lessons culled from California Watch’s efforts:

Bring your office to the community. Technology makes it easy to do everything online, but it also enables reporters to work from anywhere. So why not take your office to the community? California Watch periodically has an “Open Newsroom” day in which reporters work from coffee shops in different parts of the state. Reporters say they’ve connected with people who haven’t heard of California Watch previously, and a few of the contacts became sources.

Design outreach that allows active participation. For the coloring book, Alvarado solicited suggestions from the community about the name of the watchdog mascot (Sunny was the winner). For the stories about lead in jewelry, Alvarado passed out fliers in English and Spanish. The offer to test people’s jewelry, though, got the most attention.

Collaborate with partners to help fund projects. The coloring books campaign cost about $20,000, which included printing, translation and travel expenses for Alvarado as she visited schools around the state. Half of the cost was footed by partners — KQED radio, Patch, Inkworks Press, the Public Insight Network and the Isabel Allende Foundation. Rosenthal said that with diminishing resources, collaboration is the only way to do more.

Get introductions from a trusted resource.
Not knowing a language or being unfamiliar with an area can be daunting. It’s easier when you have someone who can introduce you to a community. That person can be the head of a nonprofit or a longtime resident. When Alvarado was trying to gauge Chinese speakers’ interest in the coloring book, she contacted the director of an association for Chinese schools. The person was a family friend of reporter Joanna Lin. The director in turn leveraged her network to help California Watch.

Alvarado said her work in the coming year will focus on engaging people before a story is written, rather than after. But the same techniques apply.

“I like to joke that California Watch is so old-school that we’re new-school,” she said. “We’ve gotten back to the basics of reaching out in person to readers, existing and potential.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that California Watch published 34,000 coloring books. More than 34,000 were distributed, but 36,000 were published. Read more

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Rockville Central drops website for Facebook, offers eight lessons on Facebook news publishing

A little over 100 days ago, a community news blog in Rockville, Md., took a big leap. Founder and Publisher Brad Rourke and Editor Cindy Cotte Griffiths moved the entire operation of Rockville Central to a Facebook page.

“Facebook is where people, by and large, have decided to go for their first-stop online community activities,” Rourke wrote in the announcement post. “Which begs the question: Why have a separate site, and try to drag people away from Facebook? Why not go where they are?”

Rockville Central uses Facebook’s notes application to post news stories, which resemble blog posts with headlines, body text and comments. The site also uses simple wall posts and status updates to post short items and to share links to other news and photos. The goal is engagement and conversation, not just publication.

Most news organizations would never consider following the Facebook-only path of Rockville Central (though a few small ones have). They can’t sell ads on Facebook, and the lack of control and independence would be a deal-breaker. But even so, they can learn from what Rockville Central is doing.

After more than three months immersed in Facebook-native publishing, Rockville Central’s authors have learned some things about the strengths, weaknesses and best practices of publishing on the world’s largest social network.

Here are eight lessons Rourke shared with me. (Disclosure: Rockville Central was one of the early blogs to join the TBD Community Network in 2010 when I worked for TBD.)

Your work may reach more people. Each post on the Rockville Central Facebook page gets about 2,000 impressions on average, and most get “likes” and comments. The website used to get about 1,000 page views a day from about 700 unique visitors. “Traffic is way up,” Rourke said, “because… instead of a page for people to go to, the content is going out into people’s streams.”

You can reach new people. The Rockville Central Facebook page attracts “new names and different people than were the normal commenters on our standalone site,” he said. That’s important, he said, because the site’s mission is to bring new people into public life. “We don’t need new and easier ways for the people who already go to City Council meetings to argue.”

You can build relationships more quickly. On Facebook, it takes just a second to “like” a reader’s comment or wall post. That sends the user a notification from your page and helps build rapport. “Because it’s so easy to interact back on Facebook, we’re actually finding that we have a pretty good feeling of relationship with the folks in the community,” Rourke said. Many websites, on the other hand, struggle with user registration systems and finding tools to build communities.

You should use personal voices. “We’ve learned that it’s important to work [in] both the institutional voice of Rockville Central but also our personal voices,” Rourke said. He or Griffiths write notes or share news links as “Rockville Central,” but they often comment using their personal profiles. Facebook enables page administrators to toggle their active identity between their page name and their personal profile.

Timing matters. Facebook activity peaks a few times a day: before work (about 7 a.m.), midday (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and around dinner, Rourke said. “What you really want is to share when they’re on, not before they’re on,” he said.

There are a couple Facebook flaws that have hindered Rockville Central’s publishing.

The notes app “is a really poor tool for publication,” Rourke said. “There’s no categorizing function or tagging function, so you can’t really organize notes very well.” Because of this, something as simple as collecting all of this year’s local election coverage has to be done manually by creating a separate page tab and linking to notes as they’re written.

Archiving and search functions are weak.
Facebook is optimized to spread things as they’re posted, but if you are seeking something weeks or days old, you must scroll through page after page. “The thing that it lacks is history,” Rourke said.

Even as a publisher, finding a note written weeks ago can be near-impossible, Rourke said. There’s no good way to search your notes on Facebook. And notes aren’t indexed by search engines, so your content is invisible to Google.

The biggest lesson from existing entirely within Facebook is to see it as more than a traffic referral source.

Facebook is “its own place,” Rourke said. “I think it’s worthwhile to have a Facebook strategy that goes beyond, ‘How can we get these people from Facebook over to where we live?’”

One you look at Facebook as its own community, he said, “you start to ask, ‘What can we provide Facebook people that we don’t provide other people?’”

So while a major news website shouldn’t go Facebook-only, it also shouldn’t see Facebook solely as a means of promoting its site.

That means you should post some notes, external links, status messages or photos that are exclusive to Facebook and not repurposed from your website. Think first about developing a community within Facebook, which is what the platform is best at, rather than trying to pull users away to your site with every post.

How would Rourke handle Facebook strategy if he worked for a mainstream news organization? “I would look at it as a place rather than a source of eyeballs,” he said, with journalists covering the issues, discussions and news in relevant Facebook communities just as they would cover a local town.

“I would have a Facebook bureau.” Read more


How does a community editor engage with citizen journalists, audiences?

In this week’s career chat, we talked with Queena Kim, community editor at The Bay Citizen. Kim is a bridge between the community and the Citizen — a nonprofit news site that focuses on civic and community issues in the San Francisco Bay area.

Kim talked about the transition from working at more traditional news organizations — such as NPR-affiliated 89.3 KPCC radio and The Wall Street Journal — to becoming a community editor at a startup. She also shared advice on how journalists can get in better touch with audiences and work with community contributors.

You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat.

&amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=”” mce_href=”” &amp;amp;amp;gt;Live chat today: How does a community editor reach audiences?&amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;gt; Read more


5 small steps journalists can take to build a bigger, more engaged audience

Traffic on news sites isn’t just about page views and unique visits; it’s about people. To build an audience, you have to engage with your site’s users and develop strategies to help you maintain your current audience and attract new audiences, by giving them reasons to keep coming back.

Over the past year, I’ve taken small steps to drive traffic to and have found that they’ve made a big difference. I’ve listed the steps below, with additional ones from NPR’s Matt Thompson, The Huffington Post’s Mandy Jenkins, Facebook’s Vadim Lavrusik and the Associated Press’ Oskar Garcia.

Let sources know about your story, ask them to share it

After you write a story, send it to the people you interviewed and ask them to post it on Twitter, Facebook and wherever else they’d like to share it.

If you’ve interviewed people with a meaningful Twitter presence who regularly engage with their followers, then the story’s much more likely to get in front of an audience who will care about it.

I was reminded of this a couple of months ago after I wrote a story about how news organizations are using maps as explainers. The story wasn’t getting much traction among our traditional audience of journalists, but that changed after I sent it to my source at Google Maps. He tweeted it from the Google and Google Maps accounts — which have about 3.3 million followers combined. With these two tweets, Google helped us get the story in front of people who may not have otherwise seen it.

Include names of sources in tweets and Facebook updates.

If your sources are on Twitter, include their Twitter handles in tweets about your story. This is another way of encouraging your sources to tweet a link to the story or retweet your tweet about it.

Similarly, when posting stories to Facebook, mention sources’ names in your update. The update will then appear on the person’s Facebook page, increasing the chance that your story will reach their audiences. (You have to be Facebook friends with sources, or “Like” their fan pages, for this to work.)

In addition to including sources in my tweets, I sometimes include people who I haven’t interviewed but who I think would be interested in a story. Recently, when tweeting a link to a chat about how journalists can use Tumblr to expand their brand, I cc’d Tumblr’s Mark Coatney on the tweet. He hadn’t been interviewed for the story, but I wanted him to be part of the discussion. He ended up retweeting my tweet and joining the chat.

If other news sites have reported on the topic you’ve covered, link to their work and let them know you’ve done so in a tweet.

Before writing a story, check and see who else has written about the topic. If you find related stories that were especially well-done, link to them in your story. You can then include those news sites in a tweet about your piece, letting them know that you’ve linked to their work.

When writing a recent story about the “Fracking Song,” I realized that several large news organizations had also written about it. Hoping to spread the word about it, I included The New York Times, Forbes, The Huffington Post and Boing Boing in a tweet with a link to my own story. (Another option would have been to include the names of the writers of the pieces.)

This doesn’t guarantee that the news sites or people you’re including in your tweet will retweet a link to your story, but it increases the likelihood that they will. And it helps get your story in front of people who are already interested in the topic.

Comment on stories that have been written about the topic, and include a link to your story.

If you’ve written a story about a topic that other news sites have already covered, find those stories and comment on them with a link to your piece. This works especially well if the stories you’re commenting on are generating a lot of traffic and discussion. To avoid self-promotion, be deliberate about your approach. Acknowledge the other site’s work and try to advance the discussion that’s already taking place there.

After New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane wrote about the Times’ coverage of a rape in Cleveland, Texas, my editor posted a link there to a related story we had just published. She was the ninth person out of hundreds to comment on the post.

“I’m glad to see you weigh in on this,” she wrote. “Poynter published a story about an hour ago that deconstructs the differences in how the New York Times story handled the young girl’s rape and how the Houston Chronicle handled it.”

Shortly after she posted the link, we saw a significant increase in traffic to the story — and hopefully gained some new readers in the process. We also realized that people who read ombud columns are an important new audience for’s media coverage. So we are now working on additional, systematic ways to stay in front of those readers.

Tweet follow-ups that help advance the discussion about your story.

Just because you’ve tweeted a story once doesn’t mean you can’t tweet it again later in the day, especially if the story has been updated. To avoid repetition, write the second tweet differently and think about how you can reflect the discussion about your story.

Pull an interesting quote from the story and ask people for their response. Or, if there’s a particularly thoughtful discussion taking place in the comments section, point readers to it and ask them to weigh in.

Sites such as analyze the time of day your Twitter followers are most active. You can also check and your URL shortening service to see how your tweets do at different times of the day and figure out when might be a good time to send that second tweet.

Thompson, Jenkins, Lavrusik and Garcia sent me some additional thoughts via email. Here are their tips, which have been edited for brevity.

Be precise, personal in identifying and contacting potential readers

For individual stories, ask yourself, “Who should know about this story?” Don’t incessantly email the same people all your stories; be thoughtful about who you think would genuinely find them interesting. —Matt Thompson

Find out where your topic’s audience is online — maybe it’s a blog, message board, niche site or Facebook Page — and share your story there. It really helps if you’ve been involved in the community before sending your links, as you don’t want to look like some spammer. —Mandy Jenkins

Don’t be spammy or automate. … If you are sending a story to people, only send it to the people that you know will be interested in the story and have some thoughts on it. But more importantly, if you are sharing to a specific platform, think about what kind of language works well on that platform. —Vadim Lavrusik

Personalize the message when sharing it with an individual. Sometimes sending an individual message to one person can be more effective than broadcasting it out to a lot of people into the noise because you’re sending it to a person who cares deeply about the subject and may have a network of people who do just as well. Vadim Lavrusik

Engage with others on your beat

Connect with bloggers and other reporters who cover your same beat. Establish a relationship where it works for you to cross-link sites on related stories. Mandy Jenkins

Build rapport with key tweeps in areas you tweet about, whether it’s sources or others who share a lot with their own sets of active followers. You can do this through mentions, direct messaging, or even offline conversations by phone or in person. That way, when you have something important to say, you can count on them to listen and pass your message and story along. —Oskar Garcia

Be engaged in the conversation around your beat. Is there a Twitter chat or a hashtag around your beat that’s well-used? Join in the fun. Are there other sites discussing related stories that have amassed a good crowd? Make sure they know your name. Matt Thompson

Don’t expect immediate payoff without putting in work up-front. Without solid credibility on social networks, you can tweet or post until your fingers hurt and still not get anyone to click your links or pass them along. Spend some time building your following and making it so that when you post something, someone somewhere will be watching. —Oskar Garcia

Use social media optimization to build an audience

Make sure your work is easily shared. Does your website have easily-found buttons for sharing your story via social media and email? If not, fix that first. —Mandy Jenkins

Target the distribution. … So, for example, if you’re promoting a story about a specific region and you want to share it with your Facebook community on your Page, you can customize the distribution so that the update only shows up to people in a specific region or who speak a specific language. —Vadim Lavrusik

Remember SEO tips on social media. Think about how readers might search Twitter for information on this topic and write your tweet accordingly. Use the keywords from your story in your tweets and be sure to include any hashtags already being used on other tweets on the topic. Don’t promote your story with a blind tweet like, “Just finished this story for @publicationame” or “Here’s today’s story.” Mandy Jenkins

If a topic related to your story is trending, be sure to include the proper, popular hashtag as part of your tweet. If you don’t like the tag that’s gained traction, don’t try to fight it. Go along with it, unless it’s wrong for some reason, to make sure folks will see your tweets as they follow along. This will get your story to people who aren’t following you, but are seeking information about that topic. Oskar Garcia

Make your headlines as compelling as you can. Why is your story worth reading? What does it reveal or illuminate? Does the headline successfully impart these promises? Even out of context? Yesterday, Nate Silver tweeted the headline, “The Simple Case for Taking Herman Cain Seriously.” That was an arresting hook, and sure enough, I clicked. —Matt Thompson

Measure what you value

Finally, to measure the success of all these steps, look at audience metrics through the services you use (we rely on Google Analytics and Chartbeat) for information about your traffic and how your audience finds you.
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