Multimedia journalists unite!

One of the things that I’ve noticed about the “online space” is that so many people are so willing to share their expertise.  And that’s the idea behind a relatively new site called Wired Journalists.  Here’s the mission statement:

WiredJournalists.com was created with self-motivated, eager-to-learn reporters, editors, executives, students and faculty in mind. Our goal is to help journalists who have few resources on hand other than their own desire to make a difference and help journalism grow into its new 21st Century role.

As of this afternoon, there were 1,287 members of the site.  Blog posts include such topics as “Using Google docs for reader feedback” and “Audacity track markers” (a post about how to use a Label Track to mark audio files for editing).   Other posts feature queries from journalists trying solve some new media puzzles with the comments providing answers and suggestions.

 I think I’ll join!

Passive voice redeemed

Here’s something I love about the Internet: the way it forces you to reconsider what you think you already know. Take the passive voice, for example. For years, I’ve urged journalists to avoid it in almost every circumstance. Writing in the passive means putting the object before the verb and sometimes leaving the subject out altogether. That can leave the audience wondering who did what, and it’s often a signal that the writer needed to do more reporting.

Now comes the Internet, which requires a different way of thinking about writing.  While most text should be written in the active voice,  Jakob Nielsen says that rule doesn’t always apply.

Recent findings from our eyetracking research emphasized the overwhelming importance of getting the first 2 words right, since that’s often all users see when they scan Web pages. Given this, we have to bend the writing guidelines a bit, especially for elements that users fixate on when they scan — that is, headlines, subheads, summaries, captions, hypertext links, and bulleted lists.

So to get the right key words at the start, you may need to resort to passive voice.  Example: “Deer hunter finds body of missing girl” is active, but puts the key words at the end.  “Missing girl’s body found” is in passive voice but the key words come first.

This isn’t the only exception to the no passives “rule” for journalists.  When writing to video, you may decide to put the object first because that’s what you have pictures of.  Just be sure that when you use a passive in any medium, you do it for a good reason.

Unlearn what you know

Three misconceptions about the audience are leading journalists to produce vapid journalism for the Web, says Robert Niles in the Online Journalism Review. Do you think today’s audience suffers from too-short attention spans, can’t handle details and hates numbers? Wrong, wrong, wrong, says Niles.

Attention spans are not the issue. Competition for time is. People will drop everything to read 800 pages, if it offers a thrilling narrative like Harry Potter. But they won’t waste a moment on garbage…If your content is not grabbing an audience, don’t blame attention spans. Blame your inability to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

As for detail, Niles points out that people crave minutiae on subjects that interest them. A site that “dumbs down” reporting for the uninitiated risks losing loyal readers, he says, so Niles suggests using hyperlinks to provide explanations for people who need them. And numbers? “If you put math (or anything else) in a context that readers can understand, well, they’ll understand it.”

I don’t think that means you should use lots of numbers or acronyms when you write for a general audience–quite the contrary. But don’t be afraid to tackle difficult stories and explain their significance. Make it compelling, and the audience will come.

Video driving clicks

A new “clickmap” tool is making some ask whether video may be a bigger driver of clicks than previously thought. According to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, a researcher at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) has developed a new tool for tracking where Web users actually click on site pages in close to real time.

In a test of the tool, the DR found “…users click the picture 2-3 times more often than the headline. It seems presenting a video still with a YouTube-style play arrow changes viewer habits instantly.”

The post by the DR’s Ernst Poulsen goes on to offer the following:

Of course, this tool can’t indicate whether users read headlines before they decide to click, or if they decide based on the picture alone. However, it’s fairly clear that even if users are relying at least partly on text headlines to decide whether to click, the headline need not be the only entry path to the article.

It may also be that a site like YouTube has changed users habits: training people to click video stills when they want to watch video and headlines when they want to read text.

Hyperlink to keep stories alive

Hyperlinks aren’t just a simple way to add interactivity and context to a Web story. They could also be a way for news organizations to keep users apprised of what’s new on a story without having to update the original. Robert Niles writes in the Online Journalism Review that hyperlinks could be particularly useful in crime and court stories.

If reporters at your publication routinely assigned case numbers to crime or legal beat stories, then readers could click a link from that page and access all the publication’s other stories on that case…Today, many jurisdictions post case files online, too. And that provides a way for readers to learn the resolution of cases that reporters might drop.

Even if the files aren’t online, Niles points out that including the case number or just its title will let users do the research themselves to find out what happened, even if your newsroom doesn’t track the story through to the end.

Local TV Web sites gain

Need more evidence that the Web is a growth area for TV news? A new study says one in four American adults visits a local station site every month, and many of the most frequent users are not heavy TV viewers.

“Television understands the power of the multi-media platform and stations have been putting renewed effort into their websites and it is paying off,” said Media Audit president Bob Jordan.

Across the nation 73% of adults are going online. With 27% going to local TV websites, this means that nearly 40% of internet users are visiting their local TV websites. This is a strong testament to the appeal of the local TV websites.”

The numbers are up from a year ago, when the top station site drew 46.1 percent of adults in the market. This year, the top ranked station drew 49.7 percent. Lower-ranked stations showed even more growth. Last year, the 9th ranked station drew 23.8 percent of adults, compared to 37.1 percent this year.

“There are 6 markets–Raleigh, Tulsa, Denver, Columbia, Little Rock and Madison –where over half the adult online population is going to a local TV website, ” Jordan said. He expects the number of markets on that list to double over the next year.