IAMCR Paper published

The paper I presented at the IAMCR conference in Dublin in June has been published in the new journal  Digital Journalism. The abstract and link to the full text are below.

The “ecology of participation”

A study of audience engagement on alternative journalism websites

This paper investigates how audience members are using “alternative journalism” websites. Based on case studies of four “alternative journalism” sites, two based in Australia and two based in the United States, it examines how and why the audience uses these sites. Traditionally research into journalism and, in particular, “alternative journalism” has focused on the civic role of journalism. However, to consider the individual audience member’s engagement with the site, an approach similar to that which has typically been associated with fan studies is more useful. Using this fan theory, the paper focuses on the role of personal satisfaction and emotional engagement, as central factors in participation on alternative journalism websites. Ultimately it argues that a new definition of participation must be considered for these websites, which does not privilege participation that involves active contributions, but is inclusive of audience members who “internalise” their participation.

Full text available from at the journal website.

Audience engagment as an ecology of participation

So I am in sunny Dublin (well not actually today, but it has been for the last few days) attending the annual IAMCR conference. Below you can find my slides for my paper: The ‘ecology of participation': A study of audience engagement on alternative journalism websites.

My toolbox of must have apps

Photo by by OZinOH

Photo by by OZinOH

I love a great app or tool that can make my life more organised. As you can guess I spend a lot time online, whether in front of my computer or my phone or Ipad, so anything that helps me be more productive or is just generally entertaining is a must have. I was over reading @prkrg’s blog (another journalism educator and general online nerd like me) and found her list of digital tools which inspired me to share my own.

These are the tools that I use to streamline my productivity and generally make the most of my iPhone and iPad. Continue reading

Entering the fray: When should a journalist join the discussion in comments following a news story?

1378634_man_with_a_megaphone_2This seems to be a question that I am often asked. For most journalists, the idea of readers critiquing their work in public beneath their story is more than a little confronting. Then the question of when, if ever, they should respond becomes even more difficult. Yes, the comments beneath online news stories can include ridiculous, vulgar and aggressive comments – that aren’t worth your time. But through careful management and engagement of reader discussion by the journalist, a higher quality debate can be encouraged. That’s not to say that you will completely eliminate the ‘crazies’ (my term for those ‘trolls’ or nasty individuals who seem to have found a natural habitat online), but you can minimize them and that should be your goal.

Here are my tips for wading into the comment fray.

Join the discussion when:

  1. A reader asks you a question

This one is important, as nothing is more dismissive than a journalist that writes a story and then doesn’t even bother to respond to a reasonable question. Yes, you probably have another five stories to write that day, but taking the time to acknowledge your reader’s question and respond is a great way to ensure they keep reading your work. And you the saying about a journalist without an audience … so enough said.

2.  Acknowledge a ‘quality’ contribution

We want to minimize the ‘crazies’ and encourage high quality debate right? Well reward those who are making a significant contribution. If a reader gives you some further information on the story or points to other examples that may be relevant, thank them, join a discussion with them. Ben Eltham at New Matilda does this incredibly well. He responds to questions and comments and also reminds commenters of the site’s policy following this story.

3.   Correct misinformation

It is important to correct misinformation and the journalist who wrote the story is best placed to do that. Quite often a simply (and courteous, don’t sink to the level of the ‘crazies’) explanation or correction can stop a discussion denigrating into something completely wrong and off topic. Check out how APN journalist Bill Hoffman does this on this story published on the Sunshine Coast Daily.

Don’t join the discussion to:

  1. Tell the ‘crazies’ what you really think of them

It can be really tempting to tell that ‘crazy’ who has used 200 words to remark on your hair, for example, just what you think about them. But you should never, ever enter the crazy fray. Remember that the majority of your readers recognise a ‘crazy’ just as easily as you do. By responding to them you are only giving them legitimacy. If you absolutely must respond, then do so courteously by correcting factual misinfomation (NOT pointing out that in fact you paid $200 to a very well respected stylist to get your fantastic hairdo) or pointing out the website commenting policy.

2.   Respond to every comment

This really shouldn’t be a problem, because let’s be honest who has time for this anyway. But it is worth remembering that by responding to one ‘quality’ commenter you are actually showing that you acknowledge all the commenters. So carefully selecting which comments to respond to will serve you in the long run.

By keeping in mind these principles when you are dealing with reader comments, you are working towards creating a space where more ‘quality’ commenters might join in. Yes, you won’t completely eliminate the ‘crazies’, but you will take some steps to ensuring a dynamic and vibrant community is built around your website. And at the end of the day that’s the goal for all online news media, hoping to monetise their content.


The three stages of an online news story

imagesWhat is one of the key differences of telling news online to any other journalistic medium? The story never ends.Whether it is the audience discussing the story or just the insatiable need of news websites to continue to publish new content for a fickle click happy reader, stories need to have a life longer than just one perfectly crafted story.

The evolving story is particularly important considering the importance of keeping a news website’s homepage, fresh. Online news sites need repeat visitation to stay viable and to do that they need constant new content. With this in mind, I have come up with ‘Three stages of an Online News Story’ as a way of ensuring you can get the most from a single story idea.

 1. The story before the story

This stage is all about involving the audience in the story before you have actually started the story. It could be as simple as posting on the website or social media a request for questions. For example:’The Lord Mayor is opening a new childcare centre today, what would you like us to ask her?’ Or it could be just letting the audience know about the stories on the news list. Of course you won’t publish that you are working on a juicy exclusive, but so much news content is generated from an event, media release or statement that all competing media will be aware of. Publishing a list of these stories and asking for audience input is a great way of not only generating content, but also creating an audience for a story that has not yet been reported. If a member of the public has submitted a question or idea or even if they are just interested in the stories you have highlighted, they will check back to read that story.

2. The story

This is the stage that most resembles what a journalist did before the internet. This is where you actually collect the information and write or produce (depending on the medium) the story. But the key difference is that you need to file quickly – as soon as you have some information. This means, filing a few pars from the event  and then beefing up the story later. Or filing one side of the conflict, while awaiting response from the other. In this instance you are filing what you have and then notifying the audience that you are chasing a response from the other party in the dispute/ conflict etc. Then when you have this response you can rework the story again, providing fresh content. In this method of story development you are letting the audience behind the curtain. You are not filing a complete story. You are filing the information as you receive it. You are letting the audience see the journalistic process that goes into the story. This not only ensures lots of fresh content to keep updating the website, but also keeps your readers engaged.

It is also important at this stage of the process, that you recognise audience contributions collected in the first stage. Hopefully, you will have received at least one good question or suggestion – outline in your story the question from the reader and the response received. There are a number of purposes for this. Firstly, you are showing that you recognise and value the reader – and let’s face it who doesn’t like to be recognised. It may give you a new and more interesting story idea – remember your audience as a collective will always know more than you. It will also help build a culture that encourages ‘quality’ input from the audience. By highlighting the ‘quality’ or reasonable questions or suggestions (as opposed to the inevitable crazies) it is like saying ‘See if you provide something like this, we’ll recognise you and highlight your contribution’.

3. The story after the story

At this stage you should have a reasonably complete story up on the web. You have outlined all of the key facts and hopefully received comment from all relevant parties. Now is the time to reflect on how the audience reacted to the story. This is the stage where the journalist should join the discussion. No, I am not saying that you need to respond to every comment. You certainly shouldn’t be engaging with the crazies – your job is hard enough. But you do need to ensure that the audience feels valued and recognised. Now is the time to answer any questions that may have been asked. It might also be appropriate to correct any misinformation that may have surfaced in the comment thread. If the story is particularly contentious or relevant to your audience then there may be an opportunity to refresh the story using audience feedback or reaction. Again, this is enabling fresh content.

Of course not every story will enable all three stages.But I think these stages are a good way of helping facilitate journalists into thinking about and creating a new story workflow – one that is better suited to fast-paced environment of online journalism.