Quick Meerkat test shows potential for journalists

I played around this morning with Meerkat, a new live streaming app that’s built to integrate with Twitter. I thought I’d share a few quick observations about how it worked for me in my newsroom.

I have suggestions below. My main takeaway, though, is that the simple Twitter integration makes me likely to use Meerkat (over Ustream, for example) for times when I prioritize interaction with followers.

(I won’t spend time on step by step instructions. Here are useful posts from TechCrunch and Mashable.)

I signed in first this morning with my personal Twitter credentials. I was walking into a large lecture hall to teach a colleague’s class, and I started a stream while they were getting settled.

IMG_4425 I invited the class to click the link on my Twitter feed, and several of them did. (Fuzzy screen grab is on the right. I didn’t think to take one once folks joined.) It became clear quickly, though, that while the users could watch from a browser or from within their Twitter app, and I could see how many were watching, they needed to be in the Meerkat app to comment or interact.

I played around with my colleagues in the Columbia Missourian newsroom after class. We learned some things quickly and decided to live stream our morning news meeting a few minutes later.

Lesson: Browser not the same as in-app

If we want people to interact with us in the app, we need to give them a chance to download it before the stream starts. So before we went live with our branded stream, we did just that.

Lesson: Comments auto-tweet

Once there’s conversation within the app, each comment prompts an automatic tweet. And those tweets don’t include a link to the stream or a hashtag, so when seen on their own, they won’t make sense to followers. In the screen grab below, you can see that when a user asked within the app what the meeting was about, his comment showed up on my screen and also as a tweet to @CoMissourian from his Twitter account.


It does show up as a reply to our tweet announcing the stream, so if the tweet is expanded, the context will appear. But it would be nice if a short link or a hashtag appeared as well. (Maybe have the option for the hosts to designate a hashtag?)

Lesson: Retweets and likes also auto-tweet

Users watching a stream have buttons inviting them to retweet the stream or like it. Below are screen grabs from a stream my colleague, Elizabeth Stephens, set up for testing before the Missourian went live. On the left is the view I saw as a follower. Once I clicked the retweet and like buttons on the bottom, you can see in the right image that those actions were reflected and that the buttons no longer appeared.


In addition, Elizabeth’s initial automated tweet announcing the stream shows me as having liked it and retweeted it.

The integration is what makes this great. Each interaction has a chance to pique the curiosity of each participant’s network, amplifying the reach pretty quickly. But because the auto-tweets lack context, we weren’t initially sure if they were a bug or a feature.

Content ideas

If you want to watch our 12-minute Missourian experiment this morning, it’s at the bottom of this post. We had about 25 people watching for a big chunk of it, and we learned a lot.

As the person holding the phone, I went back and forth between showing the room and reversing the camera to talk directly to the viewers. A couple of times, I awkwardly stepped back a few steps into my office so I could talk to the viewers without disturbing the meeting.

We talked about ideas for Meerkat use by journalists.

We’d use it to stream live events, but it would be better done from an individual journalist’s account than from a brand account, probably. The interactions would be too much from a brand account, but the brand could retweet the individual’s invitations.

It’d be great for bringing viewers to the sidelines at a football game. Or to a behind-the-scenes tour of a facility or place most people don’t get to go. Or, like we did today, to newsroom conversations.

I’m looking forward to playing with it more.


Lou Reed and journalism: How creation changes perception

I kicked off this semester’s Participatory Journalism class with a new reading — a blog post that has become like a mental ear worm for me. I keep chewing on it and getting more from it.

Scott Rosenberg published an insightful story last month called Doing is knowing: “Sweet Jane” and the Web. It’s a wonderful reflection on how a participatory culture and digital innovation have opened up possibilities of creation, not just consumption, to the masses. Plus, Lou Reed is awesome.

From the post:

“But I’ve learned what musicians have always known: Playing a song changes your understanding of it. Playing music changes how you listen to it. Doing changes knowing.”

I’d love to hear thoughts from others about how this might relate to their own lives and work. In my class, we talked about the differences between “Sweet Jane” YouTube tutorials that had thousands of views versus dozens. We talked about the rise of Let’s Play videos on YouTube, and how my 11-year-old son watches them but also wants to record himself playing Minecraft and share that video with others. We talked about the ways we invite readers of our news product to contribute, and what might motivate them to do that.

I suspect I’ll keep this music theme going throughout the semester.

One more excerpt, then go read the thing yourself:

Millions of people today have the chance to feel what it’s like to make media — to create texts or images or recordings or videos to be consumed by other people they may or may not know. Whether they are skilled at doing this is as beside the point as whether or not I can play “Sweet Jane” well. What matters about all this media-making is that they are doing it, and in the doing, they are able to understand so much more about how it works and what it means and how tough it is to do right — to say exactly what you mean, to be fair to people, to be heard and to be understood. If you find this exciting, and I do, it is not because you are getting some fresh tickets to the fame lottery; that’s the same game it’s always been. It’s because we are all getting a chance to tinker with and fathom the entire system that surrounds fame — and that shapes the news and entertainment we consume every day.

The time I got creeped out by location-sharing technology

I’m not usually shy about sharing my personal data. When it comes to where I am, where I’ve been or where I’m going — on the Internet or in person — I’m typically okay with sharing it, as long as I have a say over who in my network gets to see it.

I’m much pickier about which friend requests I accept for tools that display my physical location, for example, than I am for other social networks. But in general, I’m not creeped out by select people knowing where I am. Location tools have come in handy so many times to meet up with people I otherwise would have missed seeing (as in, “Hey, you’re there? I’m right around the corner!).

But something totally odd happened to me last week. For what might be the first time, a location-sharing tool felt sort of intrusive.

Continue reading “The time I got creeped out by location-sharing technology”

Is it “working”? Let’s talk about metrics for mission-driven work

How do we know if the information we’re providing is having an impact? How do we know if our efforts are worth it? If our plan is “working“?

Those questions don’t come up much if your ultimate business success can be easily quantified (dollars, users, sales, reach, etc.). But what if your goals aren’t so easily measured?

In a web analytics training earlier this year, I was the only person in the room who didn’t have a clearcut goal for my website. Everyone else had a page that all other pages were driving users to — a “thank you for purchasing” or “thank you for confirming your subscription” type page. Journalists tend to just want more of all of it — more views, more new users, more return users, more time.

And what about all the offline work we do?

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on measuring the impact of mission-driven information. A lot of that work has been with journalists, but some of it has been targeted more generally to nonprofits. A few months ago, I brainstormed a whole host of possible metrics, and I figured I’d go ahead and share that list here.

Here are a few things to think about before diving in:

  • Think through the story of your work from beginning to end. What do you hope will happen? You have to be clear on your goals before the metrics will make much sense.
  • Look for correlation, not just causation. Metrics are imperfect, and cause and effect aren’t always neat and tidy.
  • Focus on metrics that will help you solve problems or be more efficient. You could measure many more things that will actually be useful, and your time could be consumed in measurement that won’t actually make you better at your job.

I hope this list helps some folks think through what can be measured. I also hope it doesn’t feel overwhelming. A lot of this likely won’t help you measure the work you’re doing, so don’t consider it to be prescriptive. But if you get a few ideas, and someone else gets a few other ideas, I’ll be happy.

I’d love to hear what you find useful, what you disagree with or what you’d add. Leave a comment, tweet at me or email me. Here we go … Continue reading “Is it “working”? Let’s talk about metrics for mission-driven work”

How to get a job in journalism, Spring 2014 edition

Next week is How To Get A Job week in my Participatory Journalism class.

If you’re a journalism student or other interested Columbia-area party, you’re welcome to join us. We’ll be in 101A Lee Hills Hall from 12-1:15 Monday and Wednesday.

I’ll go over the basics of resumes, cover letters, interviews, etc. But those aren’t the most important lessons. Most important is how to tell the story of yourself. What’s your personal narrative as a journalist and potential employee? What do you want people to really know about you? Think about the intangible things that make someone a great coworker, boss or new hire. It likely matters more that you fearlessly dive into new technology than it does that you learned how to edit video. It might matter more that you challenge the people around you to do their best work than it does that you’ve covered a specific beat.

Let your resume do the listing of skills. Make sure you know how to sell yourself. Students in my class will practice selling themselves on video. See some previous students’ contributions in this post about learning to market yourself.

Other blog posts and links about job hunting:

Be a Tigger, not an Eeyore. (Addition: Here’s what it looks like to be an Eeyore.)

Lessons in life and professionalism

A genius resume made in Storify

Links I’ve bookmarked about how to get a job

If you have questions about your job hunt — or resources to share with job hungers — comment below or let me know on email or Twitter.

Ask these questions before jumping onto a social platform

In my Participatory Journalism class last week, we did a whirlwind tour through a bunch of social platforms.

Before we looked through Pinterest, Quora, LinkedIn and other sites, we talked about how we as journalists (or really, anyone who uses social platforms to get a job done) should decide which ones we should invest in. We also talked about how the answer might be different when considering an overall brand strategy versus a specific topic or project.

Here’s my list. What would you add? 

  1. Is your audience there? You know, the people who follow you in general, or will be interested in the project you’re considering sharing there. Are they already there? (If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, here’s my list of questions to start with. And some advice from the brilliant Seth Godin.)
  2. Is your potential audience there? Think about audience growth. Who are the people you don’t currently reach but would love to reach? Are they there?
  3. What do people DO there, and do you fit in? Have you spent time studying the platform? Do you understand what the customs are, what the utility is and how people behave? Do you have content to offer that is genuinely consistent with all that? (Jeff Sonderman wrote about NPR’s advice to respect each platform’s culture.)
  4. Do you know what you want to accomplish, and how will you measure success? What do you hope will happen for you with this new adventure, and are you prepared to build in time for assessment? Each new platform takes time, and it’s better to do some things really well than to spread yourself too thin. What if you discover your audience really isn’t there? Or that what you thought you would do isn’t “working”? (More on why “what works on social media” isn’t a sophisticated enough question is here.) Whether you’re working for clicks, shares, crowdsourcing, community building, story ideas or something else, know how you’ll decide if the return on investment is worth it.

I have yet to work with journalists who I didn’t think could find good use with Facebook. (Here’s one of my favorite examples, from a small town Missouri newspaper.) But I’ve worked with some whose audiences just weren’t on Twitter, and plenty for whom Reddit, Pinterest or  Tumblr probably wouldn’t be very useful.

So when asked “should I be on Pinterest,” my answer is always “it depends.” (Actually, as my students will tell you, that’s my answer to most questions.)

The key is to ask the right questions. What would you add to this list?

A debate about facts and ethics becomes a debate about hugging

It’s curious to me that my story yesterday about a St. Louis TV reporter’s questionable journalism has been distilled by so many into a black-or-white conversation about one question: Should journalists hug sources?

I really want to be talking about how sad it is that a large-market TV reporter covering a nationwide story had a key fact about the case dead wrong.

But first, let’s address the hugging thing.

I’ve hugged sources and will continue to hug sources. The same way it is sometimes most polite to accept a piece of pie in a source’s living room or tell a source you’re sincerely sorry for a struggle she’s having, it has sometimes felt appropriate to me to accept or offer a hug as part of my work as a journalist. There are times when backing off a hug when it’s offered would be awkward or rude.

The trick is to know when the emotion behind the hug would compromise my ability to do my job, or when the perception the hug leaves would compromise my integrity.

I’m actually an advocate for journalists embracing their humanness, and I’m vocal in my suspicion of black-or-white ideas about objectivity. My work in journalism lies in the changing nature of the relationship between journalist and audience/community. Frankly, I’m not a fan of living by a lot of strict rules in general. And a journalism that bans hugging altogether isn’t one I’m interested in.

Which is why I was interested in a Twitter conversation Wednesday night about journalists having been seen hugging Ryan Ferguson and his family. I wanted to see where the conversation went. My interest turned to curiosity and then outrage when the reporter I was talking to made it clear she was completely misinformed about a key fact of the story she was covering.

(If you missed my story, read it here: How a St. Louis TV reporter got both ethics and facts wrong.)

I’m disturbed by Melanie Moon’s cheerleader style of reporting on a controversial news story and her apparent pride in sitting squarely on Ferguson’s side. I’m also disturbed that she thought she could take back her problematic tweets by deleting them.

But I’m even more disturbed by the fact that she didn’t read or didn’t understand what the court ruling actually said. Even when faced with evidence that she was wrong, she didn’t back down.

I’m willing to forgive a hug (or sometimes applaud it). But I can’t forgive irresponsible distribution of facts.

Let’s pay attention to THAT problem, and bemoan the fact that so many people get their news from Moon and others like her rather than people who prioritize accuracy over emotion.

      News coverage of the dustup that focuses on hugging:

      News coverage of the dustup that focuses on facts:

Q: What “works” on social media? A: That’s a bad question

** Where you see asterisks, I’ve elaborated since the original publication.

I’ve had meetings with several students lately who want to work professionally in or do in-depth research on social media, and I was reminded of dozens of chats I’ve had with professional journalists.

The journalists (student or professional) had this in common: They have a firm grasp of tools and enjoy using them, but they haven’t thought through deeply enough some key questions.

Please, let’s build a social strategy around these questions:

1. Why am I doing this?

What’s the purpose behind the post, prompt, invitation or link? To drive visits to your website? To invite connection between journalists and users? To find sources? To promote brand awareness? To get a window into users’ values or opinions? The answer of course differs between brands or newsrooms. And it should most certainly differ between posts. What do you hope to achieve with each post, and are you mixing it up?

Continue reading “Q: What “works” on social media? A: That’s a bad question”

I’m grateful for people in Oklahoma running into tragedy instead of away from it

I lived in Oklahoma for years, and so many people I love are in or near Moore.

I’m first so thankful that my people are safe. My best friend’s kids go to school just a few miles south of Moore. My 9-year-old called my friend’s 8-year-old last night to make sure she was okay and tell her he loves her.

Second, I’m heartbroken for the people whose lives just got torn apart. I can hardly bear to think about the parents and the children.

Third, I’m grateful for the first responders. I think of first responders as the people who run into tragedy rather than away from it, with a goal of helping. And while that of course includes safety and medical personnel, in my world, it also includes journalists.

Journalists in the Oklahoma City area are working around the clock to not only keep those of us far away up to date about what’s going on on the scene, but more importantly to bring that information to their own neighbors in shelters, staying with friends, working as first responders or wondering how they can help. I heard so many government or nonprofit officials say during interviews yesterday that they were getting their information and perspective from news reports, same as everyone else.

It’s easy, and understandable, to question the role journalism plays in a culture where information is everywhere. But imagine during a situation like this if there weren’t people committed to asking the questions we all have and to being our window into the tragedy.

It’s especially poignant for me, since I learned how to be a journalist while covering an Oklahoma tragedy. Every since the OKC bombing, when I was 20, journalism has been a way for me to cope — to have a purpose during times of disaster. Disasters are also what I think of first when I hear people question why journalism is worth investing in.

As a long-distance spectator, I’m grateful for the news footage, the photos, the questions, the facts and the survival stories. I’m grateful for the people who hug their own children, then head back out to talk to parents who have lost theirs. Who verify and share the names of people missing before they sort through the rubble of their own neighborhoods.

To the non-journalists out there: If you find yourself in a conversation about where you get your news, whether you trust journalists, or what role journalism has in your life, think about what you did when you had vital questions yesterday, and what it feels like to want to know something you can’t know on your own.

How to get a job in journalism, Spring 2013 version

It’s How To Get a Job week in Participatory Journalism. I hear from students all the time that they don’t get enough of this while they’re here (or that they just feel like they could always use more), so all are welcome for our two classes this week. We meet Monday and Wednesday from 12-1:15 in Lee Hills Hall, 101A.

Today, we’re going to talk about figuring out what the narrative of your work is, and how to use social media to make that clear. Then we’ll go over some basics of resumes, portfolios, cover letters and references.

On Wednesday, we’ll talk about interviews and go more into personal branding. Then we’ll have a show and tell. The students on the community outreach team at the Missourian are going to make quick video pitches — what they would say if they found themselves in an elevator with someone who was hiring for their dream job. Here are some samples from last semester.

A few other links:

Here are some lessons I previously shared about how to behave professionally in the newsroom, and what pitfalls to avoid.

One I’ll add: Don’t misuse digital communication. Don’t ask a detailed question in a direct message or text message. Those are for quick things — answers I want to type on my phone. Don’t also ask something important, like whether or not I’ll be a reference for you, in a text or DM. Respect the importance of that question by doing it in a more thoughtful way, and using please and thank you.

Here’s where I collect links on how to get a job. See the related links to the left if you want more on a specific topic (resumes, cover letters, etc.).

Here’s what might be my favorite unconventional “resume” ever, because it gets across this guy’s story, not just his list of skills or experience.

 Here’s why you should show a pulse and convey your energy and optimism.

I’ll likely add to this file today and tomorrow. And feel free to add your own links or questions in the comments!