Are data journalism and online engagement coming of age?

It’s more complicated than a one-word answer, of course, but data and online community work (developing communities and engaging users) seem to be moving from niche ‘extras’ to core essentials in much of journalism.

The word ‘data’ has been creeping into advertisements for reporters. “Experience of data journalism” in a vacancy on Health Service Journal and Nursing Times, for example. A reporting role at Times Higher Education asked for “skills to handle large data sets to identify trends and spot stories, and the ability to use the data to create news graphics”.

Data journalism and social media are not only for specialists

My point is that these are not specialist “data journalist” roles: breaking news stories lies at the core of both jobs. My colleague Paul Bradshaw offers two reasons why every journalist should know about web-scraping, a key part of data journalism.

Similarly, using social media in reporting — to find stories and sources, for example — is now an accepted part of the skill-set for most journalists, I hope. At least for those now entering journalism.

It’s no surprise that The Huffington Post UK, online-only of course, expects that applicants “will already be utilising and fully understand the power of social media to promote content” for a blogs assistant editor role. But — as with data — social media and engaging users online seem increasingly to be an explicit element.

Channel 4 News advertised for a political correspondent who would “use social media to maximise the impact of your stories and engage with our audience”, for example. A junior writer on The Sun’s Fabulous Magazine online will be “helping to manage our strong community of Facebook and Twitter followers”. A reporter on Farmers Weekly will be “using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and forums, to engage with readers”.

Again, these are not specialist social media or community roles – but jobs that require skills and experience in these areas.

Specialist jobs growing alongside ‘integrated’ roles

Fortunately for those coming into journalism, specialised roles appear to be thriving alongside those in which online community, social media (and/or data journalism) are ‘integrated’ into reporting or other roles. Engaging communities and building networks lie at the heart of a new Thomson Reuters project — with *nine* new jobs — for example. Metro has been recruiting for a social media executive as well as a head of insight and social.

This picture of specialised plus ‘integrated’ roles is reinforced by two other sources. First, discussions at the news:rewired event last month, where data journalism and online communities were key themes. Many people were there to learn how to do things better, and/or to benchmark their (or their publication’s) own activities.

Jobs in interactive journalism and online

Second, it’s an impression consistent with the jobs gained by students from the first year of our MA Interactive Journalism (at City University London). One is working as a data journalist at The Guardian, for example – while two others there are in content coordinator roles in which community and social media are part of a broader brief that includes writing, editing and commissioning. Others again have gone on to more specialised web analytics and social media work – as well as more ‘traditional’ journalism jobs, reporting on a regional paper and sub-editing for a national newspaper.

PS: Anyone unconvinced by the importance of mastering online/digital skills should look at some current job advertisements. A business reporter at The Telegraph will be managing the flow and placement of web content. An assistant features editor at The Sun will be “keen to adapt to digital platforms”. “An interest in digital publishing/social media would be an advantage” for a senior editor at The Economist group. And so on. [NB The job ads on Gorkana will to be taken down at some point.]

It is also worth noting that data, multimedia and technology topped the list of skills in a survey about journalism training, undertaken by the Poynter Institute.

PPS: I have resisted expanding this post to take in another key area, mobile platforms (also a focus at news:rewired), where news organisations are expanding their activities. Nor have I mentioned the demand beyond journalism for people with a good grasp of data, social media engagement and online/digital skills more generally…

Linking gets more specific at the New York Times: link to an individual paragraph or sentence

Users can now link to and highlight individual sentences and paragraphs in stories on the New York Times site, notes TNW Media:

“While it could be a tad complicated for an average reader, it’s a great tool for writers and bloggers who frequently link to NYTimes stories.
[…]
To simplify things, if you hit your shift key twice on a Times story, small icons appear next to every paragraph. Click on one of them and it’ll place the paragraph linked URL up in the address bar of your browser.

Using the Times’ new hyperlinking system might mean a little more work for the linker, but I like how it adds a new layer of specificity and clarify to a linked post. And it is definitely cool to see that the hyperlink is still evolving.”

Read more here [link]

Expensive, long-form journalism can be a hit online

Simplistic preductions about journalism and the internet are futile, and there’s evidence that good quality (more expensive), long-form writing attracts more hits online, says John Naughton in The Observer:

‘”Ah, yes,” say the sceptics, “but where’s the business model to support such expensive writing?” And here’s an interesting development. The online magazine Slate decided to allocate resources to encourage some journalists to produce long, long pieces – for example Tim Noah’s analysis of why there hasn’t been another 9/11-type attack. These pieces have attracted astonishing levels of reader attention, with page views in the 3-4 million range. And the editor of the New York Times magazine has made the same discovery. “Contrary to conventional wisdom,” he says, “it’s our longest pieces that attract the most online traffic.”‘

Article: Good journalism will thrive, whatever the format | Technology | The Observer

Read more here [link]

Easy solutions to web production’s most common problems

A great problem-solving round-up by Mark Luckie of 10,000 Words:

“In my role as multimedia producer for California Watch and in other newsrooms where I’ve worked, I am frequently approached by reporters to help them with web-related issues. Often it’s how to post content on the web, how to edit something, or how to do something I’ve never heard of (which I later google).

Here are some of the most common question I’m asked — and if you are a web producer, you are too — and the answers to those questions.”

Read more here [link]

Three fallacies of newspaper thinking (and how paywalls cracked…)

Three fallacies of newspapers’ assumptions about online content, highlighted by a discussion of paywalls etc, summarised by William Owen of Made by Many:

1) the internet is free because of a mix of habit and a spurious moral right, and that if you can change habits and challenge morality we’ll go back to paying for content.

2) a newspaper’s competition is other newspapers.

3) nothing else changes, content is still just the end product of the publishing process.

Read more here [link]

How news organisations are using Google Wave to engage their audience

The Chicago Tribune’s RedEye has a live public Wave on news every weekday morning. Hilary Fosdal writes:
“With each Daily Wave, RedEye connects with their readers and builds a sense of community. The RedEye is also demonstrating that is sees itself as more than a newspaper and more than a blog by embracing innovative technology that encourages a continuous and dynamic discussion about the news.

Robert Quigley, social media editor of the Austin American-Statesman has also held public waves with his readers.

“The challenge right now is keeping public waves on topic. If they get more than 50 blips discussion grinds to a halt […] for Google Wave to work during a news event, there needs to be the ability to moderate and/or easily spin something into another wave and link to it in the first wave to keep it on topic.” ”

Read more here [link]

SEO basics can help, but great content — and telling people — is what really counts

Great post on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) by Derek Powazek (who ought to know): "If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned. […] The problem with SEO is that the good advice is obvious, the rest doesn’t work, and it’s poisoning the web.

[…] the One True Way to get a lot of traffic on the web. It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to give it to you here, for free: Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

That’s it. Make something you believe in. Make it beautiful, confident, and real. Sweat every detail. If it’s not getting traffic, maybe it wasn’t good enough. Try again.

Then tell people about it. Start with your friends. Send them a personal note – not an automated blast from a spam cannon. Post it to your Twitter feed, email list, personal blog.

[…] It’ll take time. A lot of time. But it works. And it’s the only thing that does."

Read more here [link]

When the lack of comments damages your news brand

Paul Bradshaw unpacks an example from the BBC news website, concluding:

"What the discussion around the BBC Education news piece highlights is the risk to a news brand in not publishing comments (as is the case – for now – on most BBC News reports. Indeed, I would add that not having bylines to all reports or contact emails makes the organisation look even more opaque.)
Of course having comments on the story would have allowed this discussion to take place in public, from the start, and provide readers of the article with some critical context, turning a single-source ‘He Said’ article into a ‘He Said-She Said’ piece at the very least. That’s a technical issue that is being addressed, but in the meantime the BBC brand suffers."

Read more here [link]

Cervical cancer vaccine, online news, Google and SEO

SEO expert Malcolm Coles kicked off an interesting experiment yesterday, to shift the emphasis in Google’s search results away from “negative and inaccurate information” (eg some news stories) linking a girl’s death to the cervical cancer vaccine and towards NHS pages about the vaccine.

More by Malcolm here about the tendency of some news stories to suggest (or make) a connection between the death and the vaccine.

He has been encouraging bloggers and others to publish web links, with relevant linked text, to influence Google’s search results, such as cervical cancer jab, cervical cancer vaccine, and cervical cancer vaccine Q&A.

So far, the NHS seems to have bought ‘sponsored links’ against some search key words, but I don’t see any of the NHS sites in the first page of Google’s search results for “cervical cancer jab”, which continues to be dominated by news stories.

Finding a niche: do papers need to focus better on what they do well?

Jim Brady, web consultant to Guardian America: “You take most newspapers in the U.S., there are a couple things they’re really, really good at, better at probably than anybody else. And then there are a long list of things they’re just no better at—especially if you look at soft sections […]

I don’t think that producing a paper that’s great at 30 percent of the subjects it covers and OK at the other 70 percent really has much of a future on the Web, because it’s just too hard to compete. We’re in this social media world now where if I’m on Twitter or I’m on Facebook and someone sends me an article, three pieces of information come with that: what friend of mine sent me the article, what the headline says, and who produced the article. And I would argue that who produced the article is by far the least important of the three.”

Read more here [link]