Tag Archives: social media

The Eagle-Tribune joins the real-names brigade

The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and its affiliated weeklies — The Andover Townsman, The Derry News and The Haverhill Gazette — have adopted a real-names policy for online comments. Editor Al White explains:

We tried hard to make our website’s comments feature a forum for the exchange of opinion and information.

We failed.

Sure, many commenters posted thoughtful remarks and adhered to the highest standards.

But far too many used the feature to spew vitriol, bigotry, obscenity, cheap shots and juvenile taunts, no matter how hard we worked to keep the conversation civil.

The Eagle-Tribune will let people register under their real names using either Facebook or Disqus.

White also raises an interesting issue — that news-site comments may have run their course, as much of the online conversation has shifted to Facebook, Twitter and other social media. “We have almost 8,000 Twitter followers, for example, 5,000 on our text alert service and more than 4,000 on Facebook,” he writes. “Those numbers are growing. I’d guess we have fewer than 100 ‘regulars’ commenting on Disqus, and that number appears to be shrinking.”

It’s a phenomenon I and many others have noticed. Comments on Media Nation posts have dropped off considerably in recent years. But when I link to a Media Nation post on Facebook, the responses roll in.

Some sites, like the New Haven Independent, have done a good job of integrating anonymous comments into the conversation. But a real-names policy can definitely be part of a well-tended comments garden. Good move on The Eagle-Tribune’s part.

Earlier: GateHouse papers ban anonymous comments (June 27).

The Boston Globe’s paywall is raised a little higher

be02f758328311e2b55612313804a1b1_7This article appeared earlier at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The flexible paywall that The Boston Globe introduced for its subscription website about a year and a half ago has slowly gotten a little less flexible. Fewer Globe stories are available on the paper’s free Boston.com site, and restrictions have been placed on social sharing.

The reason, according to Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg, is that the paper’s executives are still trying to figure out how to get paid online journalism right in a world awash in free news.

“The core of our two-brand strategy,” she told me by email, “involves trying to find the optimal balance between a free, ad-supported model and a premium, consumer-supported model.”

The restrictions were brought home to me recently when I learned that the paper had started limiting social media sharing to only two free links a month — a serious limit on someone like me, who regularly shares links on my blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. As a subscriber, I can share as many links as I like, of course. But non-subscribers can only click on two before getting a message that they cannot pass go.

So let’s run down the changes, shall we?

First, those social-media links. Clegg says that when BostonGlobe.com went live in the fall of 2011, social sharing was limited to five links per month. If so, it wasn’t well publicized. I’ve gone back and looked at some of the coverage, including a piece I wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab and the Globe’s own FAQ, and can find no mention of a monthly cap.

In any case, Clegg says that in December 2012, that number was cut to two links a month from search and social media — “per device, and per browser.” In other words, eight a month if you want to juggle among Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer (but who wants to do that?), and more if you move back and forth among other screens. “Email sharing,” she adds, “is unlimited.”

Second, when BostonGlobe.com debuted, the editors selected five stories a day that would also run on the free Boston.com site. Most sports stories ran on Boston.com as well. Last April, the number of free news stories was cut from five to four, and some additional sports content was moved behind the paywall.

“This is part of an effort to continually experiment, test and analyze how our readers engage with us digitally,” Clegg says. “We have been trying to find the right balance between the free-sharing culture of the Internet and paid access to premium Globe content. We believe that we can only arrive at that balance through experimentation.”

How well is it working? The Globe’s digital subscription base has risen, but slowly. Currently, Clegg says, the Globe has about 50,000 paid digital subscribers — but that doesn’t mean 50,000 people paying directly for a digital subscription. It’s a figure that includes digital-only subscribers; Sunday-only print subscribers (I’m one of them), who automatically get seven-day digital access; and seven-day print subscribers who access BostonGlobe.com at least once a week.

That’s how digital subscriptions are counted by the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations), and it’s a pretty expansive definition. As I’ve written before, about half of those counted as Globe digital subscribers get the paper delivered to their doorstep all seven days.

So is the decision by Globe executives to tighten the paywall smart or dumb? It’s hard to say. From the beginning, the idea behind the paid BostonGlobe.com site was to find a way to get regular readers to pay without turning away occasional readers and without hurting the free, advertiser-supported (and just-redesigned) Boston.com site. (Here is how Globe publisher Christopher Mayer explained it to me shortly after plans to build the paywall were announced in the fall of 2010.) Today, Clegg says, Boston.com attracts about 6 million unique visitors a month. Another 1.5 million uniques a month visit BostonGlobe.com, mainly as a result of the site’s free-access features.

I know that since I learned about the two-links-per-month limit, I’ve been looking for the equivalent content in Boston.com’s news blogs or elsewhere. I tend to shy away from BostonHerald.com unless I’m writing specifically about the Herald, since much of its content moves into the paper’s paid archives after two weeks. But there are plenty of other sources of free local news, even if it’s not always of the same quality as the Globe’s.

I’m inclined to cut the Globe some slack as Mayer, editor Brian McGrory and company grope their way into the future. But the new rules have already nudged me away from Globe content, and I’m a paying customer. That can’t be a good thing.

Extreme social sharing and the rising cost of free

Does your Flashlight know what you're doing?

Given that my life is too dull to be of much interest to anyone, I generally go along with the ever-increasing demands from the digital tools that I use to reveal my location or connect with Facebook. I don’t like it, but I don’t care enough to take a stand. (Yes, I’m well aware that that’s the road to hell.)

But three recent experiences have me wondering. I’ll take them in increasing order of ridiculousness.

I’ll start with Spotify, the free music service (premium versions are also available) that requires you to log in using your Facebook account, after which all of your Facebook friends can see what you’re listening to.

I had been using Rdio at the recommendation of Josh Stearns and found it was a little less bewildering than Spotify. Even better, there was no Facebook connection. But after I used up my free-music quota for the month, I switched over to Spotify, and joined the stream. I suppose a 55-year-old shouldn’t worry about whether his musical choices strike others as sufficiently cool, but I do.

Now, I don’t think Spotify’s social-networking policy is particularly outrageous, because it is offering an expensive service for free. So I have no real complaints. But I’m not crazy about having to do my listening in public. And if I get a sudden urge to listen to Barry Manilow (I’m kidding! Really!), I’ll be sure to do it on Rdio.

Considerably farther down the food chain, yesterday I wanted to download a PDF of a legal decision from a site that uses Scribd. With PDFs, you can usually just click and download. But with a Scribd-ified PDF, I had to register, either by creating a new account (ugh) or logging in with Facebook. Hmmm … I did as I was told and got my download.

In paging back through my Facebook status updates, I see no evidence of anything saying “Dan downloaded a document from Scribd!” But still.

Finally — and the mind still reels at this — I recently received a notification that there was an update available for Flashlight, an app that turns your iPhone into, yes, a flashlight. What, I wondered, could be new and improved about Flashlight? A brighter light? A setting that shines a Batman logo on the sides of vacant buildings?

I installed the new app, started it up — and was asked whether I wanted to provide my location information. Seriously. Well, that was easy. No. But is someone sitting in a room somewhere with a giant Google map, checking to see who’s looking for their car keys?

My prediction: Social sharing is here to stay, but not at this level. Businesses are going to discover that there’s no social-media pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. And as I said, though I’m not particularly obsessed with protecting my privacy, I think all of us should be concerned about living increasingly large chunks of our life in public.

Social media and journalism

Tomorrow I’ll be giving a talk to Northeastern alumni at the Burlington campus as part of the NU@Noon series. My topic will be “Social Media: The Connective Tissue Between News Outlets and Their Communities.” I’ve prepared some slides and plan to riff on them a bit before turning it over to questions. If you’d like a sneak preview, here you go.

Do social media have anti-social consequences?

Has the rise of blogging, Twitter and other forms of social media contributed to ideological polarization and the decline of a shared culture? It’s an old debate.

Tonight at 11 p.m., Jon Keller of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and I will talk about it following the release of a new report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism titled “New Media, Old Media.”

From talking about it to just doing it


When I first started teaching a course called Reinventing the News a few years ago, I envisioned it mainly as a seminar. The idea was that we would look at some case studies of where the news business might be headed and blog about it.

I quickly realized that wasn’t good enough. The spark for me was a student who had just come back from her co-op job at the Patriot Ledger of Quincy. She had assumed the most complicated tool she’d have to use would be a notebook. Instead, she was tossed a point-and-shoot digital camera and told to teach herself how to capture and edit video. She liked it so much she ended up changing her career goals from print to video.

It was with some trepidation that I began adding three weeks of Web video to Reinventing a year and a half ago. First, I had to teach myself how to do it. And it required exposing some vulnerabilities. I knew some students would be starting from zero, but I also knew that others were already better at video journalism than I’d ever be. Nevertheless, it proved to be well worth it.

Last week we finished the most complex version of Reinventing I’ve offered, and my students had to pull together a variety of skills for their final project. The assignment was to use free online tools to create a multimedia story. The elements:

  • An 800- to 1,000-word story about a digital media project that had caught their eye, written up as a blog post with relevant links.
  • A slide show of six to 10 still photos, posted to Flickr and embedded in their blog.
  • A two- to five-minute video they shot and edited, posted to YouTube and also embedded in their blog.
  • An explanation of how they used social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to find sources and report their story.

At the end of it all, they were asked to note the location of their story on a Google map and link to their blog post. The result is the map I’ve embedded above. I invite you to explore. These young journalists did a terrific job, and I am very proud of them.

If you click on “View Reinventing the News: Final Projects in a larger map,” directly under the embedded map, you’ll find the list of students on the left-hand side. Click on a name to find his or her spot on the map, each one of which is linked directly to their project. Hmmm … Google could make this a little bit simpler, eh?

I’ll be teaching Reinventing again this fall, and I will continue to refine. My first thought is that I ought to dump the brief wiki exercise I offer and instead delve more deeply into how to handle comments. Any thoughts you have would be welcome.

Talking back to the news with NewsTrust

Who doesn’t like to talk back to the news? That, in its essence, is the idea behind NewsTrust, a site I’ve been involved with almost from its inception in 2005. The basic idea is to rate news stories on journalistic criteria such as sourcing, fairness and depth. You can rate news organizations, and other reviewers get to rate you as well.

Last week Mike LaBonte, a volunteer editor for NewsTrust who lives in Greater Boston, visited my Reinventing the News class to lead a hands-on demonstration. Dividing the class into four groups, we reviewed a story in the Washington Post on a day in the life of an Iowa tea-party protester.

It was a difficult story to rate, and my students were of two minds. On the one hand, the story was woefully incomplete, and the reporter allowed the protester to make all kinds of ridiculous assertions about President Obama and health-care reform. On the other hand, the story had value if viewed not in isolation but, rather, as part of the Post’s ongoing coverage. As a result, student reviews ranged from a high of 3.5 (out of 5) all the way down to a 1.7.

We followed that up with a class assignment: each student was asked to find, post and rate at least three stories, and to write about the experience, as well as the positives and negatives of NewsTrust, on her or his blog. Here is our class wiki, which links to everything.

Unlike previous semesters, we did not participate in a news hunt on any particular topic. Thus you’ll find stories ranging from the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and the pending retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to lighter fare such as why yoga appeals mainly to women.

Students have differing views about the value of NewsTrust as well. One positive aspect, it would seem, is that perusing NewsTrust restores some of the serendipity that existed back when everyone read a print newspaper every day.

Yet Mark DiSalvo observes that Google News and the people he follows on Twitter already put news stories in front of him that he might not otherwise know about, and with less technological hassle. “Google News has better customization tools, and the people I follow on Twitter are already people whose taste I trust,” he writes.

Hannah Martin writes that NewsTrust makes her think about the news in a more critical and discerning way. “What I liked about the reviewing experience was it forced me to really analyze my news on its journalistic value, which, as bad as it sounds, is often something that slips my mind,” she says. “I browse the headlines of nyt.com, read what looks important, and accept it as fact, rarely stopping to count sources or assess context. The process of reviewing though, forced me to think through all the elements of each piece, and consider what, as a journalist, should ultimately be there.”

My own view is that NewsTrust is potentially valuable as a crowdsourced front page — an alternative to letting the New York Times or the Washington Post tell us what the most important news of the day is. The problem is that the software is time-consuming and not particularly intuitive, even though it has been improved over the past year.

And though NewsTrust claimed more than 15,000 registered users by the end of 2009, most of the stories you’ll find seem to have been posted and rated by just a small handful of regulars. This is not surprising. Studies have shown that two much-bigger crowdsourced sites, Wikipedia and Digg, are the handiwork of small numbers of unusually active users.

I hope NewsTrust will continue to grow, because the idea is sound. The challenge is that crowdsourcing only works when there is a crowd.

How Facebook is driving the push for real names

Could Facebook — or at least the Facebook ethos — help turn the tide of negativity when it comes to online newspaper comments?

Richard Pérez-Peña reports in the New York Times that an increasing number of news organizations are requiring commenters to use their real names, or at least providing incentives to do so. They credit Facebook and Twitter, where most people use their real names, in fostering a change in attitude. Pérez-Peña writes:

Several industry executives cited a more fundamental force working in favor of identifying commenters. Through blogging and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, millions of people have grown accustomed to posting their opinions — to say nothing of personal details — with their names attached, for all to see. Adapting the Facebook model, some news sites allow readers to post a picture along with a comment, another step away from anonymity.

Several months ago I led a workshop on social media for the New England Newspaper & Press Association. The most interesting idea to come out of the workshop, I thought, was put forth by a weekly-newspaper editor who said he had been posting links to many of his stories to a Facebook group and encouraging readers to comment there.

The Facebook group, he said, had turned into more of a real online community than the comments at his newspaper’s Web site, where anonymity had transformed even mundane matters into fodder for nasty rhetoric and personal attacks. And it’s not just real names; it’s the entire online persona people create on Facebook, with pictures and personal information, all of which encourage users to act more like human beings when they start typing. I was so excited that I instituted a real-names policy at Media Nation as soon as the conference was over, though I’ve held off from taking the Facebook route.

But what about the notion of sending readers away from your Web site, where you presumably have some advertising you want them to look at? I would argue that if you become a trusted source for your readers, they will reward you by coming back and providing you with more traffic than you would otherwise get.

Besides, as Pérez-Peña notes, advertisers generally don’t want to be associated with the kind of vitriol that characterizes anonymous comment sections.

Facebook is a great technological solution for small organizations that don’t have the wherewithal to offer a registration system of their own. But Howard Owens has managed to put together a registration system accompanied by a real-names policy at the Batavian, the community-news site in western New York that he owns. Owens writes:

Real names may not prevent people from spewing misinformation and defamatory bile, but at least if readers trust that the person making such assertions is using a real name, they can judge it accordingly, or fact check the source themselves.

Owens goes on to note that if the Cleveland Plain Dealer had had a real-names policy, it could have avoided the ethical dilemma in which it finds itself over a judge whose e-mail address was being used to post anonymous comments about cases in which she was involved. (The judge claims, not too convincingly, that the anonymous poster was her daughter.)

The Plain Dealer outed the judge, Shirley Strickland Safford. And last week Saffold sued the paper for $50 million, claiming the paper had violated its own privacy policy.

Of course, that’s something of an inside-out argument — that is, the Plain Dealer wouldn’t have done anything unethical if it didn’t have private information it could handle unethically. The best reason for real names is to foster a civil discussion. Along with strict moderation, real names can help fulfill the promise of a comments section that helps build community and readership.

Reconnecting with your audience

I’ll be leading a discussion on “Blogging, Social Media and Journalism” tomorrow from 10:45 a.m. to noon at the annual convention of the New England Newspaper & Press Association at the Park Plaza. I’ve put together some slides (above), but I’m conceiving this session as an unconference, and I want to turn it over to the editors and reporters who’ll be attending as quickly as possible.

The blabbing continues. From 3:45 to 5 p.m., Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub and I will lead a workshop on “Writing for the Web.”

Finally, on Saturday from 1:45 to 3:15 p.m., I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion on social media that’s part of the ACLU of Massachusetts “Secrecy, Surveillance and Sunlight” conference at UMass Boston. I’ll be joined by Northeastern University Law School professor Hope Lewis, ACLUM online communications coordinator Danielle Riendeau and ACLUM communications director Christopher Ott.

Now, to get back to those slides (and sorry for the funny line breaks; there’s something about SlideShare that I’m obviously missing). There are a number of examples I’ll be talking about that are worth taking a deeper look at. So I thought I’d post some links here.