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Help us consider an important question: What is good online news?

The NEW News studies give us an opportunity to consider the ingredients that make up the news we want and need. What news, information and journalism helps people better participate in civic discourse and become better citizens and decision-makers? And how do the tools of the Web serve to change the way news is researched, reported and shared?

This is one of the key conversations we’ll have with our advisory board, but we wanted to start out with a series of questions.

How much news does a site need to provide to serve as a news source? In this area, we are indebted to Michele McLellan’s research. Her team determined a minimum amount of news content to be considered as part of her group of hyperlocal news sites. For her project, the site had to publish a minimum number of times (3) a week. We will want to consider if we want to follow the same standard, set a higher bar, or perhaps a lower one.

What is the news we need? In the 2009 report, we analyzed areas of pressing civic concern, such as housing and corruption, to see how coverage fared in the face of disruption in the local news ecosystem. Since 2009, the local news ecosystem just keeps evolving, and while we will not examine the volume of coverage of specific issues this time around, our sense is that there always can be more journalism that holds people in power accountable for their actions and tells the stories, positive and negative, about diverse communities in the City of Chicago. (We are pleased that the Local Reporting Initiative has helped more than 30 journalists tell stories that we’re certain might not otherwise have been told.) So, in looking at the quality of journalism we see on sites, we likely will favor sites that focus on pressing neighborhood and social issues in a balanced, rather than sensational, way. What are your thoughts on the news we need?

What qualifies as news, and is it different from journalism? Websites that post the police blotter, upcoming announcements of civic meetings and the like are sharing information, we believe. Some would consider such information as news. But is it journalism without the context or analysis that helps us understand key questions: is crime rising or falling? Is this flooding problem an annual occurrence or something exacerbated by recent weather and climate conditions? What makes this upcoming block party special?

What makes good reporting? A J-Lab study of Philadelphia sites coined a term we like tremendously. In looking at sites, the J-Lab team determined that some had “journalistic DNA in that they report news, not just comment on it.” We like this phrase, and we plan to expand on it. Community Media Workshop has a storied history of helping journalists and local organizations connect with a goal of fair and balanced reporting: reporting that represents not just two sides but all sides of an issue. At the same time, sometimes good reporting means not just talking to disparate voices but digging into the data in a way no one else has before. How will we represent good data-based reporting?

What makes an aggregator of news a good one? Increasingly, website users value sites that curate available information into a meaningful experience. Whether it’s a consistent editorial eye (such as The Daily Beast) or the wisdom of crowds (such as Reddit), we value a go-to starting point. Aggregation is alive and well in Chicago. What are the signs that it is effective, or that it isn’t?

What is the role of opinion in an online news ecosystem? We plan to start with the premise that we are evaluating sites that publish some minimum amount of news pertaining to the City of Chicago. Where does aggregating the news stop and providing some type of opinion on the news begin?

How are online news sites taking advantage of the online medium to better report the news? The online medium ensures that stories can be endlessly updated, that visitors and readers can contribute their observations, and that people can work together to sort through information. What are the practices that allow transparent and effective reader participation in newsgathering?

In a related question, what is the role of the reader/website user in the news ecosystem? We will probably come back to this notion in a blog post later on, but technology gives online news sites something richer and more vibrant (but possibly noxious) in the way of community engagement.

What makes up good online news is a huge question. We may not be able to answer it in a blog post, or even in a report. But we hope to spark a good discussion, as well as give some transparency around the values we’ll rank highly when we look at Chicago local news sites.

What are the elements of online journalism we need as citizens? If you have thoughts on these or other questions, please post to the comments.

Measuring reach online

One of the metrics the Workshop looks at when studying local news sites is their reach. How many people read the news they create? We believe reach is important because we believe that news sites serve a critical public purpose, and that readership may, albeit imperfectly, reflect the value a site holds in the eyes of its communities.

Having said that, though, while we believe understanding the reach of sites is important, it’s an imperfect item to measure at best.

In the first NEW News report, we relied on self-reported data as one criteria in our rankings algorithm. The good thing about relying upon self-reported data is that it allowed us to have data on every operator in the study, including smaller sites whose traffic was not captured by Alexa or Google. The bad thing is that it was self-reported, which generated a lot of questions about whether we were all measuring the same metrics in the same way or, in some cases, whether the data was accurate.

In the subsequent NEW News study, we have instead relied upon measures that are available to everyone, which leads to a different set of challenges.

  • Public estimates of site traffic, from Quantcast, Alexa or Compete.com, often drastically undercount traffic to smaller sites. Because they are based on a small subset of overall website traffic, they tend to have accurate numbers for larger sites and less accurate numbers for smaller sites. In addition, some sites code their sites for better Quantcast data, while others do not allow their Quantcast data to be displayed to the public.
  • Public proxies of site traffic, such as the number of RSS subscribers in Google Reader, or the number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers, represent the actions of a subset of visitors. They may be more likely to be regular readers. But it’s still not everyone, and we don’t have a consistent way to say that a site with, perhaps, 1,000 Facebook likes actually has 10,000 monthly unique visitors.

At this point, we intend to pull analytics or traffic ranks from Quantcast, Alexa and Compete.com, as well as the number of RSS subscribers in Google Reader, Facebook likes, and followers of an organization or editor’s Twitter account, and use those numbers to create a scoring system for reach. (For consideration, the Facebook and Twitter accounts must be readily available from the organization’s home page.) For sites such as Compete.com that present data over time, we will likely create an average of the prior six months of traffic.

What do you think of our ranking options? What would you add or delete, and what would you be concerned about? Please share your comments in the comment field below.

Online sites we should include in our research? Comment here.

Interested in commenting on overall project? Comment here.

Be considered for NEW News 2012

Want to be included in NEW News, or want a news site within the City of Chicago to be considered? Then please add your site’s URL to the comments. And please: tell your friends and colleagues. While we’ll have criteria for our reviews, we want to start with as wide a net as possible. We’d love your help!

Read more about the project here.

An essential resource for every Chicago nonprofit and grassroots group… download it here

When I was a communications staff for a regional nonprofit organization here in Chicago over 10 years ago, I spent plenty of time calling and faxing city news desks and assignment desks very early in the day of an event or press conference to ensure that we were included in their agenda. Through this on-going communication and development of relationships with assignment desk editors I found out what times they were meeting, what information they needed and exactly who would be possibly covering our story or event. This practice got us coverage, helped expand our relationships with the media and pushed our mission forward to the public. Read the rest of this entry »

7 Tips to Building and Maintaining Your Media List

Pitching your story begins with a good media list. Taking the time and care to put together a media list that puts you in touch with the right reporter is a smart investment of resources that increases your chances of success.

Use these tips to create a media list that will help you place your story. Read the rest of this entry »

“A Ton” Learned at the Social Media For Nonprofits Conference

#sm4np was a huge success! Thanks to Darien and Ritu for helping bring the conference to Chicago. Those who were there new that a whole lot was learned from experts in the field and connections were made through networking with other colleagues in attendance. For those who were not there and followed the conversation stream on Twitter, you might have realized how exciting and educational it was for all.

Powerpoint presentations by speakers at the event are now available online at Slideshare. You can also check out more photos and comments from the event on the Social Media for Nonprofits Facebook page.
The Community Media Workshop was a proud sponsor of the event. To read more about Social Media For Nonprofits, visit the website at http://socialmedia4nonprofits.org/.

Sun-Times lays off some of its most prolific writers

Photo by swanksalot on Flickr.com

Guest post by Slats G. Galloway

The recent layoffs of five Sun-Times reporters — media and marketing columnist Lewis Lazare, book editor Cheryl Jackson, preps sportswriter Steve Tucker, sportswriter John Jackson and features reporter Misha Davenport — are just the latest paring of the Sun-Times’ editorial staff. Previous layoffs and buyouts have claimed other talented writers, including Susan Hogan/Albach, Celeste Busk, Doug Elfman, Jim Ritter, Lloyd Sachs, Michelle Stevens, Michael Gillis and Howard Wolinsky.

The losses of Lazare, C. Jackson, J. Jackson, Davenport and Tucker are big ones. Lazare and Cheryl Jackson, for instance, each wrote nearly 250 bylined articles for the Sun-Times from mid-March 2010 until mid-March 2011, and Tucker added another 174. John Jackson had 337!–the fourth most bylines of any Sun-Times writer we looked at. Lazare, Cheryl Jackson and John Jackson, in fact, were among the paper’s 12 most prolific writers during that timeframe.

In addition, the five who were laid off represented over 7.5% of all Sun-Times staffers with regular bylines in the paper. And given the writers’ high article counts over the past year, they probably represented some percentage greater than that in terms of actual output. Obviously, the paper’s entire editorial department also includes plenty of staffers who do things other than write, like photographers, editors and graphic designers. Still, we find it to be a sobering figure for those drawn to the written word.

Of course, as the Sun-Times (and all newspapers) work to adapt their business models, there is (and probably will be) a greater reliance on freelance work, including from former staffers like Steve Huntley and Esther J. Cepeda. Even so, the layoffs point to the diminishing amount of staff-generated content at the Sun-Times.

Staff changes at the Sun-Times and other outlets have been noted in our online media guide. Learn more about the new tool at www.chicagomediaguide.org.

Taking Social Media to the Next Level-Star Wars, Corneille

Diane Rarick, College of Lake County Takes Social Media to Next Level from Community Media Workshop on Vimeo.

Diane Rarick doesn’t much care about GeekyGuy43 — who followed her when she tweeted about Star Wars, then dropped her a month later. She’s more excited about the recent doubling of Facebook followers to the account she manages for the College of Lake County–many of them part of a key demographic her, 18- to 24-year-olds.

Nerds may not be a target audience for Diane, but they are key to Adam Thurman, who led the workshop she and other nonprofit communicators took earlier today. Court Theater, a branch of the University of Chicago, considers one of their core online audiences to be (and he means this obviously in the best sense possible) nerds.

These ideas about audience are what Taking Social Media to the Next Level — the title of Adam’s session — was all about. In addition to turning in stellar results via online engagement at Court, he has his own firm (and blog) Mission Paradox. The key theme of the session:  how to use social media as a tool to lead to:

  • more transactions, not just clicks and
  • more engagement, not just friends on Facebook

Read the rest of this entry »

Everything is coming up maps

Win a free phone, an AT&T voice and unlimited data plan for 3 months and 40 ours of free mapping training from this new group’s map challenge–but you have to submit by Aug. 31! Read the rest of this entry »

What kind of news do we want?

One reason there has not been much posted here over the past 10 weeks or so is that we’ve been busy pulling together a report on the state of local online news in Chicago, The NEW News: Journalism We Want and Need for The Chicago Community Trust. It’s not about how to pay for local news, but why we pay for it–and about who’s doing what online in Chicago.

It’s the first time anyone we know of has tried to assemble a report quite like it, that combines a directory of who’s doing what, some thoughts about where local print and online news is actually at in terms of coverage, and some thoughts on the kind of news we want. Some key thoughts:

  • There’s less local news in the newspaper, these days, but no guarantee that online news publications will do any better.
  • Online news publications will need to adopt some of the characteristics of local news—include news vetted by editors, copy editors, etc., select stories that both entertain and inform their audiences, and perhaps most importantly that they create a forum for one conversation, a universal feature that is hard to arrive at on the Internet, which drives us toward so many unique, small, even idiosyncratic news sources.
  • Assembling such a report in such a short period of time (we surveyed producers of more than 80 online news publications, looked for trends in local news coverage in the Tribune and Sun-Times over 20 years—mostly, it’s declined, and conducted focus groups with nonprofit community leaders) was a job of work.

Our main goal was to add a different note to the conversation about how to save news… for audiences that are able to hear it. It will be too bad if the folks we respect and admire in metropolitan newsrooms are unable to take it in or get much benefit from the research.

One columnist’s take
Shame on me for not living up to my own spokesperson training rules: I spent two hours explaining all this to Phil Rosenthal, Tribune media columnist, explaining what we did and did not find about local online news in Chicago, to wind up reading a column this morning in which he says he thinks the whole project was waste of time. Now why am I surprised?

Obviously you can read his column here, and draw your own conclusions, but he seems to have wound up feeling that everything is fine in the news business so why don’t we just keep things the way they are. Hello? Shouldn’t have to explain to the media columnist, why the status quo is unworkable (our study does not focus on the news business’ money problems but they are obviously a sign that things need to change).

Find out for yourself… download your own copy here.

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