Jay Rosen

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The View From Nowhere

I left our Argo West Coast Blogger Summit in San Diego today extremely energized, motivated and ready for what’s next. But one of the things that stuck with me in a slightly uncomfortable way was the notion that there is still a fair amount of angst over what constitutes ‘opinion’ vs. ‘analysis’. And should anything but ‘straight reporting’ be considered verboten for you as a capital-J Journalist.

So, I get back to my hotel room and the first tweet I see is one from NYU professor Jay Rosen, who’s railed against what he considers to be the illusion of objectivity a good deal in the past as this concept of a “view from nowhere.” It seems, it’s come up again in a blog post written by Ed Yong titled, Should Science Journalists Take Sides?, in Discover Magazine.

Yong pulls no punches and leaves no doubt where he comes down on the debate,

If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you’re not effectively “taking a side”, then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that’s your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.

It’s about being knowledgeable enough to make a decent stab at uncovering the truth and presenting the outcomes of that quest to one’s readers, even if that outcome lies firmly on one side of a “debate”.

Yong’s post is a good read that obviously doesn’t put the issue to bed. But I do hope it adds just one more data point for you as you find your own style and voice.

The wit & wisdom of Marc Ambinder

I found out this week that the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder is leaving to head up the White House reporting team at National Journal. I haven’t given Ambinder much love on this blog yet, but he employs several techniques I think any blogger could really learn from. More on that later. For now, I wanted to pass along five of his posts on journalism – with a special focus on bias, perspective and analysis – that I thought were particularly valuable: Continue reading

The Twitter Diet: a simple, three-point plan for Twitter dominance

The @Poynter and @NiemanLab Twitter accounts.

Two accounts, both alike in dignity, on fair Twitter where we lay our scene.

Both of these accounts are successful. 15,000+ followers is nothing to sneeze at. But @NiemanLab on the right is definitely more successful. These accounts are tweeting pretty similar types of information – news and useful information for journalists and media types. Yet @NiemanLab seems to be garnering more influence for its efforts. @Poynter has tweeted more than three times as much as @NiemanLab, but it has 10,000 fewer followers, and it’s on 1,000 fewer lists. Why might this be? Continue reading

The Top 5 things I like about The Atlantic’s ‘What I read’

By now, no doubt, you are well versed with Matt’s mantra… wait for it…  package, repackage, repeat!

One of the many ways to get there is the regular series – which can then also provide fodder to be repackaged in a ‘list’ or ‘tips’ post down the road.

I wanted to highlight one example of that that works for me at The Atlantic.

The Atlantic Wire runs a series called, “What I read,” which is exactly as it sounds.  Here is how they describe it:

How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? Do they have some secret? Perhaps. We are asking various friends and colleagues who seem well-informed to describe their media diets.

The latest post is a Q&A with NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen. Not only is it a good example of packaging content (which it can then repackage in any number of ways), but I thought it might be instructive for our bloggers to see how Rosen handles his information stream.

As accomplished journalists maybe you’ve already found a sweet spot in your information management. But it’s something most people struggle with as the streams continue to multiply and get noisier. And as a beat blogger now, you may find your methods need updating. And fortunately, the tools keep getting better.

Rosen points out that his first read in the morning is Twitter. Then it’s off to the industry blogs and aggregators. I couldn’t agree more. If you have a tightly focused Twitter list, you’ll find much more relevant content there, to start your day with, then you will by scanning your local paper or the NYTimes or Wall Street Journal. Since you’ve had to set up a Twitter Times account to feed your blog’s right rail, hopefully you find some utility in it yourself as well.

So, here are the Top 5 things I find alluring about The Atlantic Wire series:

1.) As a blogger, the formula makes it fairly easy to produce
2.) Other people are doing the heavy lifting (you get to play editor instead of tortured writer)
3.) They’ve tapped interesting people who can ostensibly help your friend the reader with their wisdom.
4.) The series can be repeated
5.) The series can be packaged and repackaged.

After you visit Rosen’s, ‘What I Read’,  check out Clay Shirky and Ezra Klein’s daily routine. Then tell us, what do you read?

More thoughts on Twitter

After thinking about it a bit, I realized the quick bit on Twitter in yesterday’s post didn’t do it justice. Saying that it “has the potential to be a key driver of engagement with the site” undersells its value. Twitter’s not just a place to promote ourselves. It’s also a tremendous place to learn from our community and to discover what makes folks tick. In fact, it might be today’s most effective teacher of what works on the Web. Why?

It offers some quick, transparent measures for gauging influence.

Follower counts on Twitter can be driven by any number of variables. Some Twitterers pursue followers through brute force – following every account they come across and counting on some percentage of those accounts to follow them back. Other folks got boosted into the Twitter A-list after the kingmakers at Twitter HQ handpicked them to be featured users. For all these reasons, follower counts alone are a very crude measure of how much people value a particular Twitterer.

The Twitter stats of my co-blogger at Snarkmarket, Robin Sloan. The high followers-to-following ratio suggests that Robin produces a high-signal feed. And he does!

But. Every metric on the Web is a very crude measure of value. Compare a site’s standing on Quantcast with their Technorati rank with their own internal traffic measurements sometime – you’d walk away with three drastically different pictures of their place in the universe. On Twitter at least, every follower is a distinct, persistent account that opted to subscribe to the followee’s feed. When you see that a person has 3,000 followers on Twitter, you know that every one of that person’s tweets is transmitted to 3,000 accounts (some fraction of which represent people who actually read those tweets). In many ways, that tells you a lot more than a numbering of pageviews or unique visitors.

When I’m evaluating an unfamiliar Twitter account, I often take a look at the followers-to-following ratio: how many others are following that account compared to how many others the account is following. That helps me determine whether folks tend to follow this account because it follows them, or whether folks folks far outside the Twitterer’s immediate network also tend to find it valuable.

It’s a great headline-writing coach.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of a particular tweet’s resonance on Twitter is the retweet. In other words, retweeting is the sincerest form of flattery. In written storytelling, I don’t think there’s any feedback quite as visceral as tweeting something and watching it spread, retweeted again and again.

Spend some time on Twitter, and you’ll quickly start to glean the factors that make a tweet particularly retweet-worthy. Similar information couched in different ways will draw very different results. Cleverness and pith certainly help, and if you’re linking to something, the content of the link itself is paramount. But mere wording affects a lot, and I’ve found that some of the same principles that make for good Web headlines hold true in the Twitter context as well.

Keep in mind that linking to content on Twitter isn’t a one-shot deal. If you’ve tweeted an item you think is important and didn’t see the response you expected, there’s no harm in trying again later with a slightly different approach. Jay Rosen does a stellar job of reiterating or rejiggering his tweets to reach slightly different audiences. I mean, don’t go crazy, but don’t feel crippled by the perception that you only get 140 characters to make an impression.

Which brings me to the next point …

True engagement on Twitter is cumulative.

One of the hardest habits for classic news-people to shed in their approach to the Web is their tendency to care more about individual articles than about the stream of their work. I recently spent a semester working with journalism students, and they seemed to come in two varieties – those obsessed with clips and clip counts, and those watching the Feedburner stats on their journalism blogs. Don’t get me wrong – individual posts are important. Although each post doesn’t have to be a lavishly crafted viral gem, each post should provide some value for your community.

But the stream is more important than the fragment. Kudos to you if you produce the definitive, heartwrenching story on the little girl separated from her parents in an immigration raid. Now can you become the definitive clearinghouse for information on how that story is playing out? The two things reinforce each other, of course. Having a series of terrific posts means you’ve got a terrific stream. But it’s always worth keeping in mind, when our aim is engagement, 1,000 new subscribers to our RSS feed are more valuable than 1,000 extra pageviews on a post.

Twitter constantly reinforces that message. As you engage on Twitter, you’ll find yourself watching your retweets spread through the tweetosphere with delight, but the real payoff comes as those retweets turn into followers.

‘Context’ is king?

The ARGO team has been talking a great deal about the importance of context in telling stories. How do we avoid the trap of only telling readers/listeners the very latest story without providing the context to truly understand that story? And how do we make it easy to catch up, to understand complex issues in a relatively short period of time, while still drawing out the depth for which that public radio is known?

As has been noted in many places, that was one of the great triumphs of Planet Money’s The Giant Pool of Money. But we’re also thinking about it in associating related content to the most recent posts in a new and better way. Topics pages can certainly play a role, but we need far more than a link to another destination page that is simply a reverse chron list of stories mentioning that topic.

ARGO’s Matt Thompson has been doing a lot of thinking in this area. He was a featured speaker at South by Southwest, along with NYU’s Jay Rosen, on that subject. Terry Heaton’s PoMo blog quotes Matt and Jay from that panel in his post, “Context” is the new flavor for journalism.