NPR embraces local, data-driven journalism

For my latest Harvard’s Nieman Lab article, I profile StateImpact, NPR’s attempt to take the resources of a national news organization and apply them at a local level, utilizing data-driven tools:

Billed as “station-based journalism covering the effect of government actions within every state,” StateImpact essentially takes the extensive resources of a national news organization and applies them to the local level. For its initial iteration, NPR member stations from around the country sent in applications, and from those eight were chosen to receive grants. The grants, in part, funded the hiring of two reporters for each state: one for broadcast and another for the web. NPR also hired a team of project managers, designers, and programmers to work at its D.C. headquarters; this team collaborates directly with each of the participating states to create platforms and other tools to mine deeper into a given topic. Because every state differs in its most important issues, each participating team focuses on a particular topic. The Pennsylvania StateImpact reporters, as you may have guessed, focus on energy, with a concentration on the impact of drilling. Three of the states (Florida, Indiana, and Ohio) cover education while the remaining ones (Idaho, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Texas) report on issues ranging from the local economy to state budgets.

A wedding photographer generated $100k in business through Facebook

In my latest article for Harvard’s Nieman Lab, I interview Craig Finlay, a hobbyist photographer who stumbled into a lucrative wedding photography business through Facebook:

The way Finlay described “this Facebook thing,” it seemed like it had occurred mostly on a whim. He and Mysi had been editing photos from Rebecca’s shoot and decided to throw some of them up onto the Facebook page they had created for their company, Soda Fountain Photography. They tagged the bride and the groom in these initial photos and went back to editing the rest of the batch. But a curious thing happened: When the photos hit the bride and groom’s Facebook walls, friends who had attended the wedding started going in and tagging themselves, thereby publishing the photos to their friends’ walls. In essence, every person who was at the wedding was promoting Soda Fountain Photography’s content — each picture with the company’s watermark at the bottom — to their social graph.

“Almost immediately, our clients were being generated on Facebook,” Finlay recalled. “Because there were the people in the wedding who were getting tagged, and I guess the fortunate thing about wedding photography is that the friends of your clients are the demographic you’re always trying to hit. They’re 20-somethings, and they’re either getting engaged or are engaged. So when you take photos and throw them up on Facebook, you tag the bride and the groom, and, yeah, a lot of people looking at the album are family members, but a lot of them are their friends too, and the people who are engaged really interact with your photography in a much deeper way than they could with just a pretty ad in a magazine. They’re clicking through dozens of photos that you immediately throw up on Facebook from the wedding and they don’t think they’re looking at an advertisement — they just think they’re looking at their friends’ wedding photos. But every photo has a watermark on it, so every time you look at it it’s like it’s being imprinted.”

How netroots bloggers are influencing Occupy Wall Street

For my latest article at PBS’ MediaShift, I interviewed activists from Firedoglake and Daily Kos to explore the various ways netroots bloggers are influencing Occupy Wall Street:

But though the decentralized structure of OWS has helped its public perception, its sluggish decision-making has made it ill-prepared for one major obstacle: winter. As the protests stretch on into December, many of the northern locations will be plunged into below-freezing temperatures. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already predicted OWS will peter out with winter, and unless the protesters adequately prepare for the next few months, the cold will likely pose a significant challenge. Yet because of an inefficient mass-voting system, it’s difficult for any particular encampment to make the kind of executive decisions needed to purchase the expensive supplies that would shield protesters from the chill.

Jane Hamsher initially addressed this problem by purchasing supplies out of her own pocket. Hamsher, founder of the popular progressive blog Firedoglake, had been attending Occupy DC protests when she realized that the protesters didn’t seem to have a contingency plan in place.

Huffington Post gives the practice of liveblogging a facelift

For my latest Harvard’s Nieman Lab article, I interviewed Nico Pitney, the executive editor of the Huffington Post Media Group, about HuffPo’s liveblogging tool and whether it’s a new evolution in the art of liveblogging:

I asked Nico Pitney, the executive editor of the Huffington Post Media Group, whether HuffPo’s liveblogging tool is an attempt to marry both kinds of journalism. “We basically imagined three types of readers,” Pitney said. “One who just wanted the key facts from the story, a solid overview that’s basically a traditional news story. This person is not interested in the minute details and the liveblog coverage. Then there’s another type of user who already knows the overview and does want the key facts and liveblog coverage. And finally there’s a third kind of user — and we count this as a large percentage of our users — who wanted the overview, but then once they saw the liveblog, it got them in deeper, and it made them more engaged in the story.”

Using Kickstarter to raise an $11,000 book advance

My most recent article for PBS’ MediaShift details how a midlist science fiction author bypassed traditional publishing completely and raised $11,000 on Kickstarter. Despite the rosy outcome of his experiment, you might be surprised at his outlook on self publishing:

In August of this year, Pratt uploaded his project onto Kickstarter with video and text explaining his goal. Like before, he offered a series of prizes: For $5 you could get your name in the acknowledgments; for $10, a bookmark; for $50, “a signed limited-edition chapbook featuring a new Marla Mason story”; for $75, “a signed trade paperback” of the novel; all the way up to $2,000, which would result in Pratt writing a “Marla Mason short story just for you, featuring any supporting character of your choice, to be produced in a signed chapbook limited edition of a single copy.”

By this point, Pratt had already serialized two Marla Mason books and had received a fair amount of fan mail for the first four books. Altogether, he had collected several hundred email addresses from fans in the series, and so when he announced the Kickstarter project he sent out a note promoting it to this group. Kickstarter also pushed the project to its front page and tweeted it out to its followers, resulting in donations from people who weren’t even fans of the series. In only 13 hours, he’d met his fundraising goal of $6,000, and by the time the project closed, it was up to over $11,000.

Measuring news consumer interest around Occupy Wall Street

My most recent article in Harvard’s Nieman Lab explores why Occupy Wall Street is perfect for web journalism. I interviewed editors from the New York Observer, The Atlantic, and Reason to determine how hungry news consumers are for OWS content.

Bob Cohn, the online editor for The Atlantic, told me that 10 percent of the publication’s top 100 posts for the month of October concern Occupy Wall Street — by far the largest concentration of any one topic. “The full range of the digital vocabulary — videos, slide shows, text articles — is doing pretty well,” he said. “I think it’s a complete reflection of reader interest.”

Growing coverage from media outlets, Cohn said, also signals the evolution of Occupy Wall Street from a single protest to a genuine movement. He believes that many journalists were surprised when it gained legs — three to four weeks ago nobody would have been able to predict that the coverage would have blossomed into what it is today. And part of the reason news outlets are seeing so much traction on it is because it’s a movement that lends itself well to the Internet. “I think this kind of fast-moving story from city to city really is tailor-made for web coverage,” he explained. “On the other hand I’m certain that for many print publications there’s tremendous opportunity for long-form print coverage. But in the early days it’s so dynamic; it’s a great opportunity for web journalism.”

How PBS used social media to promote Ken Burns’ Prohibition

I’ve written a new article for Harvard’s Nieman Lab on how PBS used GetGlue and other social platforms to promote Ken Burns’ Prohibition:

Two weeks ago I was sitting on a long bus ride between New York City and DC when I noticed several people I follow on Twitter checking into the PBS documentary Prohibition on GetGlue. GetGlue is a social networking site that allows users to “check in” to media they’re consuming in real time. The site provides a platform for viewers to discuss the shows they’re watching, giving them points and stickers as rewards. Users are often encouraged to share their check-ins and viewing habits by posting to their social streams on both Facebook and Twitter. According to a blog post the company published last month, GetGlue saw 11.7 million check-ins from its users during August alone. And it “now has over 1.5M users and has a database of over 200M ratings, reviews, and check-ins.”

Prohibition, the much-anticipated Ken Burns documentary about the 13-year ban on the sale and manufacturing of alcohol, has garnered over 28,000 check-ins and more than 4,600 “Likes” to date. On the night of my bus ride, it ranked among the top ten shows, with more check-ins than The Simpsons. Kevin Dando, PBS’ director of digital marketing and communications, told me in a phone interview that those numbers are a reflection of PBS’ heavy involvement with GetGlue and other social media platforms. “There are several different stickers that people can get with Prohibition,” Dando said. “You get one for checking in and watching a preview, you get ones for each of the three episodes, and then there’s one for people who have watched all three nights.”

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