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What connected journalism means – to non-journalists

February 1, 2012

News:rewired[This post is a work in progress.]

Not everyone in the news arena is a journalist – a point proved today at journalism.co.uk’s news:rewired (#newsrw) where we heard about weird and wonderful job titles like ‘information engineer’ and ‘experience designer’, alongside the more traditional ‘head of news’ and ‘reporter’.

But whatever’s on your payslip, running an online newsroom is what a lot of us do for our non-news organisations.

So it makes sense to go back to our roots in journalism for some guidance on how to make connected journalism work for us when it comes to engaging our online audiences.

There’s a storify round-up of the day here – I won’t repeat what journalism.co.uk have already done well. But I would like to pull out the key points the speakers made and see how they might apply, in a series of practical tips, to organisations that don’t have news in their title, but are still providing online content to a community.

1. ON ONLINE CONTENT

Charlie Beckett of POLIS said: “The role of the journalist is to help people filter, connect and understand.”

Anthony De Rosa from Reuters said: “Being the beacon for news is as powerful as being the source.”

I say: Being an expert on something, whether it’s making balloons or analysing helium, is enough to start with. You don’t have to create, create, create content. Helping your target audience navigate the quagmire is enough to justify your presence as a curator (and as a journalist) online. In practice, that means building up your engagement from a solid base of retweeting on Twitter, liking on Facebook, recommending and linking on your site.

Steve Sherman from the BBC explained the Beeb’s concerted efforts to add more relevant links to stories. Every month for example, 80,000 people clickthrough from the BBC pages to the Daily Mail.

I say: Firstly, who we associate with is a powerful tool to show our right to be in the space – so linking to competitors and partners is all good. Secondly, links to background documents and original sources aids transparency and credibility and can help show the join up between different parts of your business.

2. ON ONLINE COMMUNITIES

Kate Day of the Telegraph said: “There are five reasons to engage in communities: to understand the audience; breed loyalty; grow your audience; as a way of enhancing storytelling by drawing in audience and adding to your story; and because it’s another channel to sell”

I say: Online communities gobble up people’s time – so it’s crucial to get these strategic priorities straight before you start diving into any new platform.

Kate Day said: “You make your own luck online.”

I say: There’s no point in picking up the phone if you don’t know who you’re going to call. You need a name, a number, and something to talk about. The same thing applies online. You have to make sure that if you’re planning to talk about chocolate teapots in February, you’re racking up the contacts and joining the crockery confectionery conversations by Christmas – so that by the spring you’re already a trusted member of that community – and people will listen.

3. ON BLOGGING

Laura Oliver of the Guardian said about blogs: “Don’t just light the fire and walk away.”

I say: Your staff are busy, really busy, so getting them to engage with their blogs and return to the comments and conversations can be tricky. Perhaps you can show them how their personal profile is enhanced by them doing that. Encourage them to set the tone for the online conversation. You can suggest they use their blog post as a consultation exercise, a space to try out their ideas. Or maybe just buy them cake 🙂

4. ON USER GENERATED CONTENT

Cathy Ma from IPC Media shared an example of a reader who read a recipe on the ‘Good to Know’ website, uploaded her photos of the cake she made with it, and then invited her friends to comment. And bingo! A year later, this shy cook is an internet hit with a book deal on the way.

I say: Why would your users take time to comment on resources or products without reward? The answer is because exposure and kudos are sought-after benefits of an open web. You need to be open about the benefits of them sharing their thoughts and content with you – for example, make it clear what traffic your site receives and what clickthrough rates they can expect to their own blog.

5. ON TWITTER

Anthony De Rosa said: “The genie is out of the bottle. Being right is better than being quick.”

I say: I think when we’re trying to be quick there can be a tendency to automate too much, depersonalising the experience for our users. Are there ways to personalise the content for different audiences so that you leave the retweeting to others and instead focus on saying something different on Twitter to what you’re saying on Facebook – so you help users of each platform to feel they’ve got a particular insight into the workings of your organisation or project?

I welcome your comments.

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