Archive | March, 2011

Notes on Writers Block

30 Mar

Most would agree that one of the keys to success with social media is creating content consistently. This was actually the basis of my first post to this blog. Ofcourse at some point almost everyone will come across a tiny bit of writers block. If your lucky it will move on in a day or two but sometimes you have to be proactive and assist writer’s block out the door. Thankfully there are more than a few ways to get the creative (or at least productive juices flowing again) here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Handy Dandy Notebook – sure it may be low tech compared to alternatives, like the smart phone, but there is something wonderful about carrying around an actual paper and pencil all day. Most of the time just having the small reminder that my goal is to come up with ideas will be enough to fill up a page with various blog topics or a series of tweets.
  2. Reviews – if your out of ideas yourself then piggy back off of someone else’s creativity. Review a series of similar items… for an extra boost you can even post a title like “Top 5 ___!”
  3. Play Games – it may seem a little odd but interactivity and engagement can be a very viable substitute for actual content. There are a multitude of games that can be played between you and those that are following you on twitter and the same goes for you blog, facebook or other social media outlet. If you can’t come up with meaningful content at least you can have fun.
  4. Switch Mediums – sometimes its good to mix things up, this is true both as the writer as well as the reader. If you normally post long and detailed blogs consider posting a collection of photos instead. You may find that your readers appreciated the change of pace as well.
  5. Ask For Help – every once in a while writer’s block is just bad enough that its best to just ask for some help. See if you can cash in on some guest posts from friends who had always offered or ask a coach for some prompts.
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Susan Mernit on Social Media

25 Mar

Recently I had the chance to talk with Susan Mernit about the role of social media in journalism. Susan is a long time blogger and reporter who started the site OaklandLocal. In her words OaklandLocal is:

[A news site] centered on issues including environmental justice, food distribution,transportation, development & housing, and gender & identity, OaklandLocal aggregates information and news  from local non-profits and community organizations working on these topics within a range of Oakland neighborhoods. We are committed to diverse voices, reader engagement, deep issue coverage and local commentary.

Any reader that spends time on OaklandLocal will get a good taste of the diversity in stories that make up Oakland. The site does a great job of covering news from various neighborhoods and across a number of topics. When asked about the role that social media has had in finding stories, Susan explained that social networking like twitter and facebook have made it much easier to locate the stories that don’t get covered in the mainstream and national media. This approach to story finding means that OaklandLocal  provides a truly fresh and new perspective to the news, rather than just repeating the same stories as other news sources.

Another aspect discussed in detail with Susan was the separation of the personal and public aspects of social media. An avid user of twitter, facebook and scribe, Susan shared that she only uses a single account for both professional and personal interactions on each service. Susan mentioned that there are downsides to this approach and that frequently she has to be overly aware of her wording when reading an interesting article or posting about it because its easy for a simple post to appear as an endorsement from her and subsequently an endorsement from the site – when in actuality it was just an interesting article. The extra hassle isn’t a deterrent however; Susan, continues to post as herself and be honest about her opinions on a frequent basis via social media.

When asked about how much of an asset social media is to the reporting process, especially for a web based news site, I was surprised by her answer. Susan explained that she had been writing online since the early days of blogging and in the beginning there wasn’t the convenience of social media to find stories or develop community around them. She explained that in those early days her goals were still the same, find often over-looked stories and share them with the community, but she did so by talking to people and networking in real life. I followed up on this idea by asking if the types of input she received had changed since moving to more social media and online networking. Susan’s impression was that while there are more people available at any given point with social media, the total number of opinions and viewpoints seemed to be pretty similar as to when all of her information gathering happened outside the internet.

Honesty was really the backbone of the message Susan had to share. The principles and idea that journalists are people first and as people they can’t help but have opinions. She shared that in her own writing she doesn’t strive to be without any personal stance on an issue but rather to just present all possible sides to every story – allowing news to be more about openness, transparency and dialog rather than simply marketing itself as unbiased. This approach is what makes OaklandLocal a unique asset to the hyperlocal news community. The ability to come to seek out stories, share them with the community and then allow for open discussion to commence from there.

Business interview

25 Mar
We recently met up with Lise Delong of Cognitive Connections and talked about the role that journalism, marketing and the internet have played in the success of her small business. Lise has owned and operated small businesses for over 20 years in both Indiana and California.
BreannaDrew: What was your first use of promotional materials for your business?
LiseDeLong: CREATING A BROCHURE AND TAKING THEM AROUND TO OTHER BUISNESSES / DAYCARES/ AND DIRECT HOMES

BD: Do you think it was easier to promote a business then or now?
LD: MORE DIFFICULT THEN, I DIDNT KNOW AS MUCH AS I DO NOW AS A SEASONED BUISNESS OWNER, AND A DIFFERENT MARKET, IN A DIFFCULT AREA TO SUPPORT A PRIVATE SCHOOL.
BD: Has the internet been a benefit or detriment in promotion?
LD: ABSOULTELY A BENEFIT…

BD: What has your use of news been in your business growth? Press releases, interviews, articles, etc… has it been mostly positive and helpful or had mixed results?
LD:I FORTUNATELY NEVER HAD BAD PRESS IN A LOUD MARKET WITH THE SCHOOL, A FEW DISGRUNTLED PARENTS MIGHT TALK TO OTHER PARENTS BUT NEVER IN A FORMAL FORMAT.  THE FORMAL FORMATS WERE ALWAYS POSITIVE AND GOOD TO ME.
BD: Do you actively seek out a relationship with the press as a means of promoting your business?
LD: I DID THEN. IN THIS NEW BUSINESS I HAVE NOT.  MY MAIN REFERRAL SOURCES NOW TEND TO BE MEDICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL REFERRALS NOW
BD: How has facebook impacted the way you do business? Do you use facebook for personal and business use? How do you separate the two if you do?
LD: IN THE CURRENT BUSINESS I USE FACEBOOK.  I HAVE DELIBERATLY NOT SEPARATED PERSONAL AND BUSINESS BECAUSE IT MAKES ME LOOK MORE HUMAN TO PEOPLE (MIGHT BE GOOD MIGHT NOT BE) WE’LL SEE…

Compare Your Answers

24 Mar

As time moves on and the basis for our society and economy continue to make the shift away from the industrial revolution towards information technologies the need for questions and answers is inevitably going to increase. Thankfully there is one thing the internet does really well… contain answers. Furthermore there are a number of sites dedicated to helping people ask and answer questions.

The following is a comparison of 5 top answer site. The same question was searched for and then asked from each site – both the process and results were compared.

My Question: How should a journalist evaluate a possible story and sources?

Yahoo Answers

http://answers.yahoo.com/

Yahoo answers has been a major player in the answers field for many years now. The idea is simple you ask questions and you answer questions, this getting a little more complicated by the use of a points system that rewards you for answering questions and having the “best” answer to a question and reduces points when you ask new questions.

The Pros:

  • Asking questions is easy
  • Searching is easy
  • Recommends categories

The Cons:

  • Recommends similar questions but only after you’ve posted – which is less helpful.
  • You have to have a yahoo account to post questions.

My question?

Wasn’t there originally but I did get a response and it was very well thought out and useful.

Quora

http://www.quora.com/

A relatively new kid on the answer block, quora takes the concept of questions and answers and mixes them together in a social media platform. The site is simple to use and easy to get started.

The Pros:

  • Allows you to “follow” topics/people of interest
  • Searching for a question and adding a question is the same action – makes things easy.

The Cons:

  • Requires you have a Quora account
  • User Interface could be slightly more intuitive

My Question:

Similar questions had been asked which had very nice answers. My question is is being followed by others but no answers still.

LinkedIn Answers

http://www.linkedin.com/answers

My previous experiences with LinkedIn Answers have been largely positive and I think there is a great deal to be said for having a captive audience of users that are actually in the field related to your question.

The Pros:

  • Greater probability of answers from professionals in the field
  • Incentives to answer questions and do so well

The Cons:

  • The Search function is not as open (doesn’t find only keywords or make suggestions)
  • Categories are less intuitive and not suggested (couldnt’ find a news or journalism category)

My Question?

Wasn’t available when searching. Now, what surprised me a bit was the only answer I received for my question was really snippy and kind of demeaning. Previous experience with LinkedIn Answers would suggest this isn’t the case normally but it was enough to make me consider other outlets for my next question.

Ask.Com

http://www.ask.com/

Ask has been around for a while and is a hybrid between answer site and search engine. This dynamic combinations makes finding information very easy – if not a little overwhelming at times.

The Pros:

  • Finds answers from across the web – not just the immediate community
  • Interfaces with linkedin for login makes it easy to join
  • Asking the community is very easy, no categories to worry about and the question is transfered from your search to the question form.

The Cons:

  • Having answers to your queries come from across the web can be a little bit of information overload and is really no more useful that a good google search.

My Question?

The exact question wasn’t in the search results but lots and lots and lots of pages with helpful information were. After asking my question… its just sat there unanswered.

Wiki Answers

http://wiki.answers.com/

Occaisionally when researching a topic wiki.answers.com will show up in the search results – unfortunately the questions were rarely answered and most often irrelevant to the search if they were. Having now used Wiki Answers to ask a question I’m fairly certain that the entire site exists solely increase search rankings and gain advertising dollars.

The Pros:

  • A search provided multiple questions that were very close to mine.
  • Easy to ask question, prefilled form, suggests categories.
  • No login necessary forasking but is for getting responses sent to you.

The Cons:

  • Answers to similar questions really really sucked (bad grammer, incomplete answers, etc..).

My Question?

Has yet to be answered and all related questions were answered but had one sentence answers that were little more than the question phrased as a statement.

Boasting Vs. Branding

18 Mar

The idea and importance of the self-brand is such an accepted thing today that almost every online persona is ready to promote the personal self at any opportunity. The idea of self-promotion has always been a  thorn in my side. Whether its the way I was raised or just an element of my personality, in any given situation there are a million other things I’d prefer to talk about than myself and how great I am. This week I decided to overcome this hatred of self branding and finally define for myself the line between branding and bragging. This task called for some external assistance a little more powerful than a simple google search; in steps LinkedIn Answers to the rescue.

What suggestions are there have for overcoming the dislike of writing about oneself? Whether it be cover letters, resumes or bios, it always feels arrogant to write about my accomplishments, skills and assets.

I posted the above question fully expecting to get the same canned answers that I’ve read a million times before, be data driven, record your voice saying it and then transcribe that. These are great suggestions… for someone who doesn’t have any trouble talking about themselves – but in my case the two kinda go hand-in-hand. I was thrilled that with in a couple of days I had received 15 very thoughtful answers about the topic from others on LinkedIn who were just trying to help for the sake of altruism. while some of the answers did conform to the standard advice you would find anywhere – others provided a totally new and very interesting perspective on the task.

Some hi-lights:

The important thing to remember is that you are helping someone who is in desparate need of your skills and accomplishments. – Sharon Bailly

Get more, not less personal. And tell success stories about how you’ve helped your clients – Sally Strackbein

What could I say about you that would really p___ you off? Your designs are utterly unoriginal! You can’t make deadlines! You can’t spell! You can’t take criticism! – William Bell

As a developer, maybe you could think about it more like writing a specification as you would for a computer program. – Taylor Winship

When writing a cover letter or a bio, I find it best to simply sit down and tell a story…your story. People tend to get caught up on how to brag about who they are, describe their accomplished, and highlight their unique skills. – Jon Fernandez

Some of the above items may seem simple enough once you read them but none of theme have every been on my radar when writing up a bio. Some are slightly contradictory to one another, such as being less personal vs being more personal, but I like both for different occasions. Last year I did an experiment with sending out overly arrogant cover letters, the idea was in response to the number of incredibly overconfident but under-qualified I had recently encounted in working relationships. The results of this were infact surprising. There could be very large holes in the skills defined by my resume but with enough boasting in the cover letter I would still get considerably more return calls than when using my usual writing style in cover letters. Small tests like this have given me insight into a couple of key things; people actually do read cover letter, and people care more about your personality then your background and list of skills.

And so with many new ideas I go forth to do many a bio revision. Tip: check back soon for a proper author bio on this blog too.

Can You Even Call It Journalism?

18 Mar

Recent years have seen an onslaught of what is termed ambush journalism. Called so for the style in which “journalists” will surprise their subjects with out of context questions and ask for responses to false facts. The most sever of these ambushes involving  complex plots of deception that seem more like movie storylines than journalistic research. Since the result of ambush techniques frequently involves extensive editing prior to release to the public many believe that these stories are not journalism at all but rather a from of fiction based on true stories. While the true intention of these works may always be in question there are two schools of thought on the true purpose of ambush journalism.

…on the legality end, tho, aren’t set-ups referred to as entrapment? – Ron Bergeron

Is it for self-promotion?

The most obvious gain from ambush journalism is notoriety. Regardless of the quality of the story it will get noticed and so will the person who created it. While the names of ambush journalists quickly make headlines themselves and these journalists oftentimes become the center of the story this fame is not always a positive long-term career move. James O’keefe gained huge amounts of personal publicity for his actions towards ACORN but after it was revealed that his reporting was actually fabricated his reputation as a legitimate journalist was lost.

Is it for political gain?

More often than not, the practitioners of ambush journalism are looking for sensationalism – they want people (including public officials or officials of private corporations) to make stupid or borderline illegal mistakes – Ehsan Ahrari

Because most of the ambush stories have been around political figures and organizations and have shown each in poor (if even falsely so) lights many people see this as strictly a political tool. Some talk show journalists, namely Bill O’Riely, have publicly declared ambush journalism to be their chosen style of reporting and are open about their political goals with it.

While the reason behind these deceptive techniques may remain a partial mystery the effects of them are very real and in many cases extremely harmful to those that are the recipients of the ambush. Organizations have gone under, individuals have lost jobs and personal lives have been shattered because of sensationalized headlines, which in some cases have been found to be entirely untrue. All of this leaves us with big questions as to if ambush journalism can be considered journalism at all? Even more so, if its not journalism is it simply libel, and why are these ambushers seemingly immune to the laws that others would be prosecuted with?

For More Than Just Tech

17 Mar

Based on the high use within the tech industry many have come to see LinkedIn as a social network of professionals and business people but mostly as a place for business people to find and network with technical job seekers. The article LinkedIn for Journalists shows that this just isn’t so.

Its easy to envision how LinkedIn can be used by recruiters and even by prospective employers but not so much for journalists. Recruiters see LinkedIn as a great tool because they can find anyone, in almost any industry and select for specific experiences and skills, without ever having to make a phone call or ask for a resume. Employers see it as an asset because it takes care of the problem of asking for references and vetting the histories and connections of possible employees. As it turns out these LinkedIn functions are the same that are used by journalists.

LinkedIn for journalists come down to two main topics, transparency and research.

Transparency:

With the rise of the internet as a source of data, one of the biggest issues in journalism is ensuring that you’re information is real. While LinkedIn is still venerable to falsification of information the incentive to provide factual information for business reasons is high. The connection to other professionals (not necessarily friends) is also measure towards ensuring info can be backed up and verified by largely reliable third parties.

Research:

What could be better for researching issues and how they relate to people than a large, searchable database of people related to industries and how the work that they did (all filled with keywords)? For a journalist trying to track down leads for a story this LinkedIn is an invaluable resource. Facebook may have a patent on social searching but LinkedIn is the original social search engine for business professionals.

Its true that nothing can replace the hard work of gathering information and looking at it in new ways until all the pieces fit together but LinkedIn does a pretty nice job of making all of that easier. Now if it had a tool to mind-map all of the data you want to save… that would be great.