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Technology journalists are facing extinction

Medium

One of the first ever online journalists for the BBC is a close colleague of mine. These days, you’d say he was the most experienced member of the team.

But back in the 90s, when the BBC was still finding itself online, it was decided that his job would be “internet correspondent”.

Internet correspondent! The very notion that one such role could encapsulate all that was going on in this brave new world now seems hideously naive — but I’m told at the time it was met with the odd scoff in the newsroom.

“Can you believe it?” they’d chatter, “they’ve got someone who’s just looking at the internet!”

Fast forward a few more years, to 2005, and another colleague of mine found himself in a similar situation. Tasked with chipping in with the BBC’s live election coverage, his role was to give a run-down on what chatter was taking place online.

It was given a fairly short shrift — it really was all meaningless waffle, back then. The hardened hacks shared the same opinion — who cared about what some idiots on the internet had to say?

Of course, the next general election had no such role (Edit 16/07/14: see update at the foot of this post). This time, diligent political hacks— spearheaded by the likes of Laura Kuenssberg —were all across the internet themselves.

Tweeting, blogging, Facebooking… politics wasn’t just talked about on the internet, it happened there.

Most of my day-to-day work is for the BBC News website, but in the past 12 months I’ve been lucky enough to get my shot at TV and radio.

Yet while my personal capacity to tell technology stories in the past year has diversified, I’ve noticed something: my beat is rapidly disappearing.

We don’t need someone “watching the internet” during elections anymore, that’s clear. But we’re also now approaching a point where the most pressing — and let’s face it, interesting — technology stories shouldn’t be thought of as technology stories at all.

Case in point: the Edward Snowden revelations. A story broken, not by a technology writer, but by a civil rights specialist with a background in law.

Which makes a lot of sense. Snowden is a story about democracy, a political crisis, a threat to our human rights. It’s a debate about civil liberties, what it means to be “safe” from terrorism, and the ethics of whistleblowing.

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Close your comments; Build a community

Medium

Last week I learned that yet another news website would be closing their native commenting platform and switching to Facebook comments.

This isn’t breaking news. Last year, Popular Science decided to closed comments, citing studies that blamed them for the spread of misinformation. TechCrunch has changed platforms several times, to Livefyre, and back to Facebook comments. Indeed, there seems to be nothing notable in me pointing out this latest shuttering, except that this particular community is one that I built myself, as part of an amazing team, spending hours wading through audience development metrics, creating UGC programs and speaking with readers on the phone… and I agree with their decision to remove the comments.

The comments box is a cultural war. Writers are terrified of the criticism the bottom of the page holds, and so, they mentally close out any valid exchanges that might be taking place there. Readers understand that their thoughts are delegated to a small section beneath piles of ads, videos, banners, and slideshows. They feel that no one is listening, and so, they come in angry, flailing wildly, begging to be heard with outrageous statements in caps lock. It’s a Petri dish that grows trolls and frightens away those who actually want to contribute. At worst, an unmoderated comments section can contain threats and personal attacks, invalid criticisms and spam. At best, it’s a thread of off-topic arguments that add nothing to the conversation.

Moderation goes to great lengths to fix these problems. A moderator can ban dangerous trolls, protecting equitable commenters and increasing reply rates and time-on-site between those readers. They can pass along helpful corrections to authors, and respond to technical problems. Community managers encourage a registered base of active, civil users, the best focus group there is, I’d note from my own experience. However, these positions can also be very expensive and difficult to fill, and a tertiary requirement for organizations who need to put every precious resource toward reporting. Moderation is a slippery slope: your needs become greater as your community grows. Soon, you have to invest in overnight moderation, in weekend hours. You work on comment quality and need to keep track of banned users who try to come back with new IP addresses and handles, or you develop a smart program to keep track of users for you. All time consuming and pricey.

Are there any baseline benefits? If you maintain growth, there are many. Mathew Ingram, who often speaks about digital communities on GigaOm, says, “It boils down to giving your readers and your community an easy way to interact with you, both positively and negatively. Sure, they can post their thoughts to Twitter and Facebook and so on, but those are third-party networks and not everyone is going to see those comments.”

Readers who comment natively on your site may bookmark your homepage or author pages, visiting several times a day, and tend to be more eager to contribute when you request photos or stories. But, even though these users can spend longer hours on-site than casual readers, it’s difficult to justify that expense and time, and so, more often than not, we end up with the comments box.

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(Re)defining multimedia journalism

Medium

There’s no consensus among journalists about what the term multimediameans, or even whether to use it anymore.

The multimedia skills listed in a job advertisement might span a range of specialties from web developer to videographer. Some ads specify “proficiency in multimedia” with no further explanation. A 2013 ad seeking a multimedia producer was more precise: “Your core duties will involve a variety of multimedia — audio, video, photos, informational graphics, and motion graphics — to support our core news content.”

“One of the most pressing needs mentioned by journalists in various countries was the acquisition of new multimedia skills,” according to findings from a recent study that surveyed more than 29,000 journalists around the world.

Despite the continuing use of the term multimedia, not every journalist thinks it should be used nowadays. Eric Maierson, a producer at MediaStorm since 2006, hates the word multimedia. There is irony in that, because until recently, MediaStorm called itself a “multimedia production studio.” However, Maierson explained: “I believe ‘multimedia’ is the word we’ve come to use when describing photographers who make documentaries.” (Nowadays MediaStorm calls itself a “film production and interactive design studio” and produces mostly video documentaries. Past projects include Crisis Guide: Iran, a good example of pre–“Snow Fall” multimedia.)

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Which mobile channels should brands support?

Mobile Marketer

Most organizations struggle with deciding which mobile channels to support.

There are costs and trade-offs with each of the channels. Yet it is important to reach all your customers and do it through the medium that they prefer.

The best approach of course is to support all the channels. Read more