Archive for April, 2009

New tricks: Letting the Twitter stream flow

Guest entry by Christian McDonald, technical solutions manager for the Austin American-Statesman

Twitter’s search engine kicks. There was a collective cheer in the Twittersphere when Summize was brought into the Twitter family. It’s the fabric for hashtags and any other trend unfolding in our lives. Capturing such phenomena on a news web site can be a powerful way to show how news unfolds.

At the Austin American-Statesman, we’ve had a couple of occasions to use the jQuery plugin Juitter to pull Twitter search results onto our sites, most recently for our Swine Flu news aggregation site. It is an easy and quick way for a developer to display the power of a Twitter search in real time.

While Juitter isn’t especially hard to get going, it does require a developer’s access to the site you are running on. You have to be able to upload javascript files, and call them into the published html pages where you are displaying the results.

Juitter developer Rodrigo Fante has decent enough instructions on how to use Juitter on his site, but I did make some modifications for one project to show a Tweet’s @username and icon together, and to remove the superfulous “Read it on Twitter” link. You can see an example here, and download the system.js and jquery.juitter.js files that power have the changes.

(And big thanks to @stephromanski for pointing us to Juitter for a SXSW project, and to @andynguyen for implementing on our site.)

Christian McDonald shares news developer insights on

10 comments April 30th, 2009

Building a niche swine flu site with mainstream power

As it became clear over the weekend that the swine flu was becoming a major national and international story, Statesman VP for Internet Tim Lott went hunting for domain names. The Statesman has been wanting to try to build a nimble niche aggregation site for a while as an experiment, and the swine flu seemed like a good topic for a test.

On Monday, Lott instructed one of our developers to build a niche site using an CMS outside of the main newspaper’s site. By lunchtime Tuesday, our swine flu information site was live.

It’s a full aggregation site, with a national and international focus. Everything links off the site except for the “About” page and a page for a Google mashup.

Aggregation is hand-picked by an editor (me), who is scouring the Web for interesting flu-related stories from trusted sources. Our hook is that you can trust what I’m choosing to be reliable.

We also added several resource links and a Twitter stream from Juitter.

We built this in a separate CMS for a few reasons:

1. We wanted to build this quickly. Obviously, if we waited too long, we’d miss the opportunity.

2. The CMS we used for the niche site (WordPress) is nimble and flexible. Our newspaper’s site is not as flexible.

3. We wanted it to be divorced from our site as much as possible. It’s from the Statesman, but we don’t want it to be the Statesman.

This is an experiment, but it’s fun, challenging and, hopefully, useful for readers.

What do you think?

29 comments April 29th, 2009

Video of the Week: How do you build community with Chicago news?

Here’s a video I did with Geoff Dougherty of Chi-Town Daily News for KnightPulse. Enjoy:

How do you build community with Chicago news? from Knight Pulse on Vimeo.

Add comment April 29th, 2009

OMNT Links of the Week #12

Things have been so hectic for us at OMNT, we haven’t even had time to read much lately, let alone write about it. Not that we’re apologizing. (We are. Please forgive us.)

With that said, here’s the latest installment of the Old Media, New Tricks Links of the Week:

If you’re a baseball geek, you’ll like this one. Our buddy Kevin Sablan over at Almighty Link posted about a stat that may show one’s Twitter relevance: Retweets per thousand followers. Interesting timing, because Retweetist just introduced that measurement for users checking their Retweet stats.

Amy Smarty at Search Engine Journal posted this great guide to Twitter hashtags. Get to know them.

Keeping on the Twitter bandwagon, Joe Rogel at Guidespot wrote this tidbit about how to make your Tweets popular.

Whether you run a blog for a mainstream media organization, if you’re a successful blogger or if you’re just thinking about starting a blog, Mike Phillips from Website Magazine created a great guide on how to make some money from your blog efforts.

Gina Chen from Save the Media jots her thoughts on journalism as portrayed in the new film, “State of Play.”

And for a touch of self-promotion, Stuart Foster from Mashable wrote this profile of Colonel Tribune featuring yours truly.

3 comments April 24th, 2009

Wisdom of the crowds: Create the ideal newspaper comment board rules

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the need for journalists and bloggers to be active participants on their own comment boards.

If you were going to create the ideal set of rules for a newspaper comment board, something that your readers — hopefully — would abide by, what would you include? We’re talking about story-level comments, blog comments and forum remarks.


How would you enforce the rules?
Where would you post them?

16 comments April 23rd, 2009

Journalists’ place in a new world

I’ve heard it before, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, too: Social media is replacing the need for traditional journalists. People are getting their news from eyewitnesses in real time. The old journalism model is outdated.

Sounds depressing, if you’re a professional journalist. Good news: It’s not necessarily true. Journalists, even in the social media world, do have a role, and it’s an important one. I wrote a piece for Media Bullseye about the need for verifying journalists, and I broke down a recent incident here in Austin that illustrated that point. I also spoke on a panel at the University of Texas’ International Symposium on Online Journalism on Friday and made the same argument to a room full of international journalists.

Here is an except from the Media Bullseye piece:

People still will turn to the mainstream media to explain what is really happening, whether we’re talking about breaking police news or government fraud. But it’s up to journalists to be in a position where they can be heard – and can listen. If we weren’t deeply involved on Twitter before this incident, we would have been completely irrelevant to these people in this case. Instead, we had an important role to play.

Read the entire column here.

The journalism symposium, which is in its 10th year, features top journalists from around the globe. The theme this year, understandably, seemed to be “How Do We Survive?”

My panel, which was lead by Robert Rivard, the editor of the San Antonio Express News, included:

Paul Brannan, Emerging Platforms Editor, BBC News, (United Kingdom)

Rachel Nixon, News Director, (Canada)

Robert Quigley, Internet Editor and Social Media Coordinator, and

Dwight Silverman, Interactive Journalism Editor, Houston Chronicle

I only talked about Twitter during my 15 minutes of fame on the panel. I was invited because of our paper’s Twitter efforts. Traditional journalists have finally completely taken to Twitter. Every panelist mentioned his or her efforts in some way. I ended my time by telling the story about the man on top of the bar that I highlighted in the Media Bullseye piece.

Here’s an official blog post from the event.

The highlight of our panel to me, though, was when the BBC’s Brannan gave an eloquent speech about how it’s an exciting, innovative time in journalism, despite the back economic news. I wish I wrote down how he said it, but there’s no doubt he struck a chord with that audience. I’ll try to get him to do an Old Media Q&A for this blog.

5 comments April 20th, 2009

New Tricks: Gain more Twitter followers for your news organization

You’ve been rolling on Twitter for a little while — maybe thanks to our recent posts, even — but now you’re starting to get into it a bit more.

You may be doing all of the right things on Twitter: talking to other people, re-Tweeting folks, posting links to interesting Web sites and being helpful in general, but you may want to boost your visibility. (If anything, it may earn you a bit of breathing room with your bosses, who wonder why the hell you’re spending your time on Twitter.)

To do that, you’ll need to find some more people to follow. You’ll want to start by checking out these sites:

1. BackTweets: I recently wrote about BackTweets. It’s a site that helps you track people who post a link to your story on Twitter. Follow folks who link to you, your competition and, if you’re a local news organization, TV and radio stations, along with local blogs. If someone links to a story from your site, thank them.

2. LocalTweeps: LocalTweeps is relatively new, but it helps you find all sorts of local folks. Think of it as the “Twitter White Pages.”

3. Advanced Twitter Search: Since the main metric for local news organizations should be local unique visits, an advanced search is a great way to find folks in your neck of the woods. Need people within 10 miles of 60614? No problem. Simple.

That sounds like a lot, so here are the people you definitely want to follow:

- People who mention your news organization by name. This is self-explanatory, and you’ll be able to help troubleshoot for folks who, for example, are having problems with their subscription.
- People who re-Tweet you. This is a no-brainer. When the Chicago Tribune announced its redesign, the story got carried all around the Twittersphere:


To be honest, @ColonelTribune already followed most of the people who were mentioning the Tribune, but it never hurts to double-check.

- People who mention local issues and breaking news. In Chicago, for instance, it would behoove Colonel Tribune or @SunTimes to follow people who mention “Roland Burris” or “Rod Blagojevich.” If someone mentions a local issue, give them a follow. If they don’t follow back, you can always unfollow them.

- People who mention local landmarks. Highways, airports and restaurants are things that people love to Tweet about. And if they’re Tweeting from one of these places, chances are they’re bored. Give them a follow. You have nothing to lose.

- Twitter super-users, of course. For a general list of power users, try Twitterholic and Twitter Grader. (Twitter Grader also has a great local search feature; here’s the ranking for Chicago.)

- People who mention your competition. For instance, if I were to run a Twitter page for the New York Daily News, I would follow people who mention:

- The New York Times
- The New York Post
- Newsday
- Local magazines, like New York and The New Yorker
- Gothamist and a couple of other blogs
- Broadcast television and radio Twitter feeds

But there are a few things to consider before you start following lots of folks:

1. Is your profile completely filled out? If you don’t have a photo and profile description
2. Do you have a fairly solid following? If I get a random follow from a news organization that has 20 followers, guess what – I’m not following them back.
3. Do you look like a spammer? If you’re following 1,000 people but only have 100 followers, you look like a spammer. It looks like you’re on Twitter just to gain followers. And if you are, I’m not following you. A good ration is about 3:2, meaning for every three people who follow you, you should follow two back.

Here are some other things you can do to get more followers:

- Tweet content that’s relevant to your audience. This is probably the single most important thing you can do, and it’s testable. You can track the number of clicks on your URLs if you use a service like (There are others out there, but I like this one.)

- Respond to all questions, suggestions and comments. Self-explanatory.

- Evangelize Twitter. Do you know folks who aren’t already on Twitter? Tell them about it and get them to follow you.

- Re-Tweet popular Twitter users. If something Robert Scoble says is relevant to your audience, it couldn’t hurt to re-Tweet it. If anything, it may get that person to notice you.

- Pick a good time to Tweet. On Problogger, Darren Rowse suggests you Tweet during peak hours. That’s OK, but if your followers are following many other people, they may not see your messages. Use the analytics tools at your disposal to see when you get the most clicks and Twitter search to see when you get the most responses.

- Promote your efforts. It couldn’t hurt to have a contest every once in a while. People like swag. You probably have an extra t-shirt or mug around the office somewhere. Figure out a contest and make it happen.

Two final notes: Don’t necessarily choose not to follow someone based on the number of followers/Tweets they have. If you find someone’s profile, and they just joined Twitter, you have a great opportunity to bring them into your digital fold. And if you have something important to say, you may become that person’s best friend…on Twitter at least.

Also, this post may be about how to gain Twitter followers, but Twitter — and social media — is not about numbers. (To your bosses, it may be, but you’ve got to manage their expectations.) You’re much better off having 50 followers, all of whom are highly engaged, than several hundred thousand users, 90 percent of whom you ignore. Being successful in the social media space depend on how useful and personal you are.


If I didn’t convince you, try reading these other posts:

Dosh Dosh – ‘How to Get More Twitter Followers: Some Methods That Work’
Mack Collier, Search Engine Guide – ‘How Do You Get More Followers On Twitter?’


Also, I would like to thank Aaron Brazell, Whet Moser, Mark Hopkins and Rahsheen Porter for inspiring me to tweak this post’s intro a bit. This post is designed for people who already use Twitter the right way, but I did not make that clear at first. Thanks, guys.

48 comments April 15th, 2009

New Tricks: Rules of engagement: How journalists can – and should – respond to comments

Traveling to different newsrooms is a big part of my job, and no two newsrooms are completely alike.

I’m an evangelist not just for social media tools, but getting newsrooms and news organizations to interact with readers at a very basic level. Some folks — many of whom are full-time bloggers — are naturally good at it, but when it comes to reporters, many don’t even want to engage readers on the “Comments” section of their stories.

This post will help guide you through this very act. There are a few things to remember, however:

1. Responding to comments is part of your job. Period.

2. Do not judge your readership based on a few bad apples. If you’re a reporter, don’t give up on your digital audience after a couple of crap comments. They’re probably anonymous, anyway.

3. There is no such thing as a one-comment story. If there’s one comment, there are two: the first comment and your response. Once you reach five comments or so, you don’t need to respond to everyone, but it’s good to continue to be a part of the conversation.

Here’s when you absolutely must respond to a reader:

- When a reader has a question about your story. Sometimes, through no fault of anyone’s, there are details that are edited out or just not addressed at all. If a reporter can provide an extra bit of information, it’s incumbent upon them to do it. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with leaving a reader happy.

- If someone bashes you. Sometimes comment boards can spiral out of control, especially when a reader bashes you, but if you respond to an angry reader, it cuts them off at the knees and may ultimately win them over. If the commenter responds, and you have their e-mail address, answer them privately.

- When you feel you have to keep your conversation and comment strings on point. If your comment board allows for threaded comments, this may be a non-issue; however, sometimes the conversation just takes an unexpected turn. Don’t be afraid to jump in and keep folks on track.

Sometimes the conversation can just spiral out of control. Here’s when I think it’s OK to ban a commenter:

- When someone makes a racist, sexist or homophobic comment.

- When one of your readers bashes another. Keep folks polite, and they’ll keep coming back.

It may be good to sit down with your site producers and editors to create a clear set of rules — Terms of Service, if you will — for your site. This way, if you ban someone, they’ll know exactly why. Just don’t go ban-happy.

Steward the conversation, and acknowledge your good readers/commenters. If you do, you have a real chance of building community around your blog or beat.

When do you think it’s OK — and not OK — to respond to comments? What’s your rule of thumb?

24 comments April 6th, 2009


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