How news orgs are using RebelMouse for blizzard, Fashion Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernie Smith uses Digitslam to document the news in numbers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Susanna Speier

    Susanna Speier’s writing credits include Nature, The Denver Post, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Scientific American. Her plays have been produced at HERE Arts Center, The Cocteau, The World Financial Center, The Tenri and Galapagos Arts Space.


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