Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What about the Oilers?

I started this blog a month ago to gripe about being skilled in digital journalism (my broad description of stuff that works online to bring in readers). I work with people who still think government releases information if you just ask nicely, red headlines are advanced layout and no photos and videos is de rigueur.

I’m learning my newspaper is not as far behind as others. Cold comfort. I’m not able to use my skills where I am. Colder comfort. I can do what the big boys are doing. Glimmer of hope.

Competition is healthy. The Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun both update often with relevant local and carefully chosen high-profile stories, lots of videos and photo galleries, contests, up-to-date comments and special reports, blogs and lists of most popular news hits. Herald has optimized its website for mobile media, and it’s launching an online lifestyle challenge tomorrow. Popular subject. Sun has Sunshine girls. Popular subject.

The Herald appears to have an edge with social media. Only 75 Facebook fans, but it regularly updates posts with videos and photos submitted by readers, and it has 2,823 Twitter followers to receive its headlines. The Sun has 79 Facebook fans and no recent posts, and 327 Twitter followers.

They’re clean websites with a lot to offer. I’m a news junkie and gained a lot by hitting their sites.

Competition craps out in the provincial capital. The Edmonton Examiner hasn’t been updated in four days. Not good when you’re charged with the responsibility of reporting in Alberta’s political hub. Its caption-writing contest appears to have been abandoned. It has 554 followers on Twitter which it updates more often, and only 21 Facebook fans — generous considering it has stopped posting.

The Edmonton Journal is the sweeter dish with the same bells and whistles as its Herald sister, including the optimized mobile website. Ding! It promotes its social network accounts of staff and bloggers to follow their work. Coolest Facebook site I’ve seen yet with a travel contest and place for readers to contribute, like the top reasons to love Edmonton. More promotion for writers. It has 713 fans and almost the same number of Twitter followers as the Herald.

And I like it ’cause it’s the only one to follow the Oilers. Ding!

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Size doesn't matter

It’s Texas north of 59, land of wild roses and cowboy boots all caked with oil sands. Actually, Alberta is a stunning province with an enviable economy and inflation to boot, but cripes a lot of its online newspapers do not deliver.

I’m on the lookout for sweetheart online newspaper sites, the underdogs that you don’t expect to aggressively market their digital side and master social media. Videos, podcasts, web streaming, live blogs and hyper-interaction with readers. Something you’d expect at large, urban dailies.

Lacombe Globe is a big tease. Don’t bother advertising that you signed up for Facebook if you’re not going to post anything. I have a DM for Sherwood Park News: Shut ’er down, boys. You haven’t updated Twitter for more than a month. Even I won’t follow you.

Drayton Valley Western Review has had the same accused robber suspended in online limbo for the past week. Someone check on him, see if he’s OK.

The Drumheller Mail had potential, letting readers know what stories it was working on. Maybe involve the public as it gathers information. A closer look showed much of its news is old, so the stories it’s working on might be, too. And there’s little interaction with its 259 Facebook group members.

Here’s the Scoop in Airdrie, Alta., has a site only a blind web designer could love. It has a toque-topped mascot named Alioops, and Twitter and Facebook with 403 and 1,111 followers, both updated regularly. Yet what little news I found online is stale dated.

I think digital news is the great equalizer. Update daily with photos, news, information, sports. Try blogs. Try engaging the readers. Try anything! Alberta newspapers have some of the biggest, brightest banners, but it’s all beauty and no brains if there’s little substance to back them up.

The Hyper Journalist


Monday, September 28, 2009

Weakly weekly news

Combine fires grip Alberta. That would have been my headline.

As I poke my nose into Alberta online news, I thought for sure I was seeing a rural news rivalry. Which media outlet did the best job covering last week’s great combine fires?

Would it be the Lloydminster Meridian Booster or the Fairview Post? A rumble in the farmland jungle. “Fire claims combine” says a saddened Post. Apparently the community is in mourning for its machinery. “Not the downtime needed in harvest” says the Booster. Awkward and sarcastic. I like it.

I found the booster doesn’t do a lot of boosting, and the fairview is a little unfair with the number of times they update their websites.

I’m picking on these two online papers, but this is typical with smaller news sites that mainly update their website on the day they publish. Why not shoot extra photos for the web, alert readers of upcoming issues, let them know what reporters are working on? Engage them? I can’t see readers relying too heavily on these sites for their news.

Weekly newspapers do a good job producing “hyperlocal” truly local news, but they have to start thinking daily, hourly, minutely when it comes to operating their online websites. The Vermilion Standard has a stale five-day-old story about a harvest that didn’t end in flames.

As it happens, Fairview and Lloydminster are on opposite sides of the province and reporting on separate combine fires. Both had a photo and a cutline, no article. It appears Fairview posted a day after the fire, and Booster the same day.

Booster wins by a technical knockout.

The Hyper Journalist


Friday, September 25, 2009

Go west, young man

Eyes wider than my stomach.

I was so hungry to pick and pan online newspaper sites that I started in Ontario because it had the most in Canada. Why couldn’t I pick Nunavut?

As I leave the trillium state, I have a better sense of how far many newspapers have come to improve their digital product and social media presence, and how much farther many of them have to go.

The large urban dailies have the most to lose if they don’t stay competitive. I’m watching how they produce videos and audio, what type of unique “hyperlocal” ideas they go after, their use of blogs, updating their websites and how they interact with the public. They’re the leaders.

The bane of my professional existence is online newspapers that fill their website with wire copy. That cheat worked ages ago and has no place in a progressive electronic product. Some small-market websites cheat by refreshing old stories so they look like they’ve been recently posted.

I was impressed with what some smaller markets are able to achieve with live blogging and active use of social media. The Timmins Daily Press has a section for local bands, but there have only been three takers and it hasn’t been updated in a couple of years. The only one in the north that tried, but a lost opportunity.

I'm spinning the wheel and heading to oil sands country next to check out Alberta online newspapers. Are they rich like their economy? Or inflated like their housing prices?

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grifting for readers

You know you’re cool when you gain Twitter followers without lifting a finger. Either that or people are optimistic you’ll get off your duff and write something.

Twitter limits messages to 140 characters, and I’m amused and slightly pissed off to find online newspapers gaining followers without writing anything. Now that’s talent.

The Sing Tao Daily has 14 followers — some of them real people — and has never submitted a single entry. The Simcoe Reformer in Ontario has 31 followers and no tweets. Some news sites make it look easy.

The Telegram in St. John’s, NL, bribed people with the chance to win an iPod Touch if they signed up to the paper’s Twitter or Facebook accounts. Last I checked they had 567 Twitter followers; 566 of them just wanted the iPod. Just kidding, Telegram. Nice use of swag to bring in readers.

I’m not above sweetening the deal to encourage people to visit our online site or social media accounts. Trouble is in my newsroom we need to find a way to convince people to stay.

The Hyper Journalist


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Get the @ outta here

If there was any doubt that social media is here to stay, I’ve found examples of American businesses getting rid of e-mail in favour of social networking for workers to interact with each other and their customers.

Hardly a trend, but a brave move and maybe a sign of things to come.

It’s the same in journalism. I work in a newsroom that still relies on tired news releases. I have found far more unique stories following Twitter talk, visiting Facebook groups, reading blogs and talking to people. Now if I can only get my editors on board.

In our market, there’s a concern that building the online product shuts out rural markets that may not have high-speed Internet, and excludes people who don’t have home computers.

It’s a valid concern. We want to build a new fan base, not lose the support we have. But it can’t come at the expense of moving forward.

Even though I’m fairly new at social media, I find myself relying on it more to stay in touch and join conversations. E-mail is still a big part of my day, but I’m growing more fond of the idea of leaving @ behind.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lose 20 lbs in one week

It took a long time for newspapers to get in the jam we’re in, and expecting an easy fix is about as promising as tabloid headlines screaming at us to buy their beauty miracles. Want me to look 10 years younger? Promise me I’ll have a job in six months.

There’s mixed messages about what a new business model for newspapers should look like. The Globe and Mail tried generating revenue through web subscriptions, and dumped that by offering its content for free on

I’ve read opinions about paying a nominal fee per article, while others insist the public demands free news and information.

The Grand Bend Strip in southwestern Ontario requires readers to register to view content. Not too far away, the Kincardine Independent offers web exclusives, presumably stories and photos that didn’t make the paper. Hopefully it isn’t just stuff that makes the web before print. There’s nothing exclusive about that.

I’m on board the train of thought that says let’s invest in quality local content. Let’s do a better job publicizing our bloggers whether they’re on staff or not. Let the public know which reporters can be followed on social networking sites. I like the idea of highlighting community bloggers, maybe as a regular feature.

I’ve read that bloggers might be the new moneymakers. A Sun Times columnist in Owen Sound, Ont., started a blog that’s publicized on the newspaper’s online site.

The one consistent message among the noise is that we need to interact more with the public. It isn’t good enough to just let them make a comment or two on our websites.

The Hyper Journalist


Monday, September 21, 2009

Perfect 10

Newspapers are sexy. The Internet told me so.

The reality show Project Runway — some kind of fight to the death to be the last fashion designer standing — had competitors make dresses out of newspapers.

OK, that’s not such a good example.

Social media blog made a list of reasons why businesses are slow to sign up for social networking. Reason No. 10 is they still believe traditional media is bigger. Their ignorance is our bliss!

The newspaper industry turned a blind eye 20 years ago that its business model had to change. People received news and information from sources other than print, and they took valuable advertising dollars with them. Here’s the irony. Corporations that are still buying ads are slow to realize social media is an option for them.

This gives us a window of opportunity to turn online newspapers into social media mavens with strong interaction with our readers; their customers. When business finally jumps on board, we should be an online option for them to get the word out about their products or services.

The blog says other reasons businesses are slow to use social media is fear of the unknown. They don’t know enough about it. They think the information being traded is useless. They don’t want to devote time or resources to it. They believe customers don’t use it.

Newspapers have lost their appeal, but I think there’s a way to get it back with a shiny new digital makeover thanks in part to social networking. Some online newspapers are still a 3 dressed up as a 9 — Trooper — but there’s no reason we can’t become a 10.

The Hyper Journalist


Sunday, September 20, 2009

A terrible truth in the chip dip aisle

Never underestimate the power of chip dip.

I went to the grocery store yesterday, filled my cart with fresh fruit, vegetables and skim milk, and prepared to cancel out the benefits of those nutritious perishables with a bag of chips. Can’t be good all the time.

I overheard two women near the popcorn shelf talking about last-minute plans for a small-business seminar coming to the city. I like to think I’m fairly informed about what’s happening in my backyard, yet I wasn’t aware this was happening.

I had no interest in the seminar. I was drawn to the idea of talking to employers and particularly their workers about the perils of keeping their heads above water during a recession. Maybe I would find someone having a good fiscal year.

I introduced myself to the women and learned they didn’t bother informing my newsroom about the event. We have a reputation for catering to the usual suspects and not giving other groups a chance at coverage. The truth hurts. In the end, I couldn’t make any promises. I’m as frustrated with our news judgment as they are.

I’m muddling my way through digital journalism, teaching myself how to use social media, tell a story through video and write for a web audience. This encounter reminded me that nothing beats turning off the computer and speaking with people in person.

I’ve always had a knack for striking up conversations with strangers, but I’m afraid in our quest for online supremacy we’re forgetting to look away from the screen and see what’s in front of us.

The lesson was refreshing. So was the beer I bought to wash down the chips, dip and humble pie.

The Hyper Journalist


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bloggy with a chance of fame

I did it, but I’m not sure why.

If my goal is to give usernames and passwords to as many online social media sites as possible and increase my chances of becoming a victim of fraud, then I’m awesome.

My latest conquest is joining Technorati, a search engine for all things bloggy to share my online message with the electronic world. I’m ranked 3,197,294th in its blogosphere. Hear me roar!

Making a blog is easy. There are any number of free publishers out there. I used Blogger to create mine, but I put ketchup on my eggs when people aren’t looking, so don’t go by my standards. Tumblr, WordPress and Posterous do the same. TypePad will do it for a fee.

Promoting a blog is a whole other bottle ’o ketchup, and I’m not willing to quit my job to do it. Getting the word out will have to come slowly . . . like bottled ketchup.

My search has rewarded me with other online oddities. Netvibes lets me design my own web page with my choice of widgets. (Maybe weather in one corner, a calendar in the other, a live Twitter feed in the centre, and beneath it my live Facebook page.)

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’d use Diigo or when I’d be compelled to highlight certain words that pop up on a web page.

The Hyper Journalist


Friday, September 18, 2009

Godzilla vs. The Aggregator

“Is it true Jim Balsillie has decided to move the Coyotes back to their hometown as the Winnipeg Jets?”
“No, but thanks for your call.”

It sticks in my craw when people phone our newsroom and use us as glorified Yellow Pages, especially when they’re trying to reach rival media outlets. But I do love it when they call to confirm or dispel rumours.

The point is they’re coming to us first. I do the same. I have my favourites for national news. I like the Globe and Mail and Ottawa Citizen websites. For sports, I like TSN. I like going to one or two websites to get what I want instead of going to dozens of sites for the same information.

We’re news aggregators. We gather information from different sources and distribute it from one site. One-stop shopping. Online newspapers still have a purpose, and we need to embrace our century-plus existence instead of distancing ourselves in the pursuit of online relevance.

There are aggregators out there for a niche audience. Sphinn caters to marketing news. BallHype pitches for sports. Yardbarker posts information from the athletes themselves as well as readers. Slashdot promotes itself as a bunch of nerds willing to take your questions.

I’m more than happy to be the go-to-guy for accurate news and information. In a twisted sort of way, the Internet might keep newspapers in business because we’re needed to cut through the online chaff to find a grain of truth.

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Digg that Squidoo

Trying out different social media sites has me falling on my Posterous.

Feed Me is something I tell others to do. Scuttle is what I’ve done with my plans to become an armchair expert on everything social media.

I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon, and hopped on the Twitter train. I FriendFeed. I’m LinkedIn and Delicious, and I’ve even been known to Digg.

I might sign up to the Technorati blog search engine, partly because it sounds like an ancient secret society with its own thing rings. I’ve stumbled upon StumbleUpon where web surfers can rate online sites. Maybe I’ll build an individualized web page with Squidoo. Doubtful I’ll switch from Blogger to Posterous to publish my little tirades.

I’m blown away by the stockpile of bookmarking sites. Blinklist, Simpy, Faves, LinkAGoGo, Backflip (doesn’t consider itself a bookmarking site, but I think it is), Mister Wong, Scuttle, Netvous, Blogmarks, Google and Yahoo bookmarks. Yikes.

Multiply and Bebo are nipping at the big Facebook dog. Digg uses a thumbs up or down “digg or bury” rank to rate content submitted by readers. Others want a piece of that, namely Kirtsy, Reddit, Newsvine, Propeller (prop it or drop it), Mixx, Tip’d for financial news (tip it or topple it), and Yahoo Buzz (buzz up or down).

I sorely want to be a leader in my field, to have news rivals play catch up to find my sources and piggyback on my unique and “hyperlocal” story ideas. But when it comes to social media, I’m content to wait for someone to tell me what the next big thing will be.

Save room on that bandwagon for me.

The Hypo Journalist


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Don't make eye contact

If this has never happened to you, you’re lying.

We’ve all had those groan assignments. Here are some of mine: Dog shows; first day of school; petty complaints; damaged election signs (you know it’s coming); and fundraisers — I’m going to hell for that last one.

I’m guilty of averting my editor’s gaze when these come along. If going online has taught me anything, it’s just how important some of these “hyperlocal” stories are to our readers. Others, I argue, don’t deserve to see the light of day.

There’s pressure to post information faster than ever, yet I try to balance that by meeting people I’m interviewing. If they’re passionate about their issue or event, it helps me become interested to write about it.

Mobile media is key to post on the go. I might sulk heading to an assignment, but the right mindset gets me through it to produce something with value.

I still don’t make eye contact when these stories come along, but web hits trump ego every time.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Driving you to distraction

It’s a diversion during a morning commute and relief in a boring meeting.

More people are switching to mobile media for their news and entertainment, and that includes up-to-the-minute headlines and updates.

My newsroom is slow to upload information onto our website and distribute it through social media sites. We still file at the end of the day. Stubborn print habits are hard to break, and it’s an efficient way to put off even more readers.

I can divide my newsroom in two groups: Those, like me, who are keen on moving forward but don’t have the technology to do it; and, those who love status quo. (Worst band ever, by the way.)

With hundreds of layoffs in media, it’s a difficult year for journalists to dip into their wallets and invest in mobile Internet devices if their employer doesn’t make one available. On the other hand, I need to keep up with changing trends, and I can’t wait for my workplace to come on board.

As much as I want my union and my employer to see to it that some minimal investments in technology are made, it looks like I’ll have to save my pennies. After all, I don’t think Santa is going to come through with this one.

The Hyper Journalist


Monday, September 14, 2009

Good sports

Co-workers and visitors to our newsroom forever strike up conversations with them. They get the best opportunities for photos and videos. They have some of the best memorabilia. They're not bogged down with meetings and news releases. They grab their gear and go.

It's bad enough sports is the cool department in the newsroom, it's better at producing hyperlocal content and using social media.

But don't tell them I said so.

They probably have the best rapport with the public. They're constantly asked to cover sporting events, issues and personalities. On the news side, we're forever asked to promote, promote, promote, rewriting news releases and being treated like glorified -- and free -- PR agents.

The Sudbury Star, for example, live blogs Ontario Hockey League games, and the Winnipeg Free Press is doing the same with Blue Bomber games. On the news side, some online newspapers have live blogged elections or web streamed debates. Montrealers live blogged the shootings at Dawson College. The London Free Press in Ontario is covering play-by-play on a criminal trial using micro-blogs.

Sports is truly local since scores, information, photos and video of some games might not be found anywhere else, especially in smaller markets. And it generates a lot of comments from armchair coaches.

News can learn a lot from sports; planning our days better and devoting staff to generate interesting local content that will bring a lot of web hits. Let's give a foam finger to promotional news releases and use our news staff to cover truly local events, issues and people who deserve the attention. Time for us to be cool, too.

The Hyper Journalist


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hyperspace meets hyperjournalism

My family used to go five-pin bowling when I was a kid. I would sneak off to a video game room and pay reams of quarters for the privilege of getting nowhere near the high score in Asteroids.

There was something trance-like about the two-note music for a 2-D screen, and the triangle of pain that aimed its lined shots at asteroids that looked like they were drawn with an Etch A Sketch. Buckner & Garcia — who brought us the horrible 80s song Pac Man Fever — wrote a song Hyperspace using Asteroids sound effects. Not exactly a chart topper.

Some online newspapers offer computer games on their websites, and I’m hooked. As I continue looking at online newspapers in Ontario, I see the St. Catharines Standard offers 25 games. There are word games for people who like to stretch their minds, and brainless shoot-em-ups for the rest of us.

The Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal lets readers play online crossword, while other sites, including the Brampton Guardian, are serving up Manhattan clam chowder and other recipes.

It’s inexpensive to license small flash games, and these extra bonuses are a fun way to keep readers on a news site or coming back for more. Purists would roll their eyes at the thought, but I say let’s have some fun on the job.

Hypersodoku anyone?

The Hyper Journalist


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Does whatever a spider can

That is a bad headline. It doesn’t tell you what the blog is about, and apparently being vague and mysterious turns people off. Looking back, it appears each of my blog entries is a lesson about what NOT to do. My work headlines, I’m pleased to say, are much better.

Even web headlines have to be “hyperlocal” with key words to catch local interest and engine spiders — Aha! — used by aggregators like Google and Yahoo to turn up the most relevant results to an online search. I’m a name dropper when it comes to web headlines. I hope that’s working.

It’s a good lesson in search engine optimization. The best article won’t earn that almighty click if it’s linked to a shabby headline. And keep it short. Only 65 characters, for example, show up in a Google search engine result page.

A quick scan of daily online newspapers in larger markets shows headlines are short, sweet and to the point.

Canucks hit the ice for training camp this weekend - Vancouver Sun
New year, new hope for Leafs - Toronto Sun, showing its sense of humour Ba dum pum.

Albertans must like alliteration:
Calgary Sun — Vipers slugger playoff proven; Sergent pumped for pitch at title (Say those three times fast)
Edmonton Sun - Protest boils over Bosco Homes closure; Crash cop dodges another bullet

The threat of an election call brings out the most blunt headlines. Wish politicians were as straightforward:
Government could fall Friday - Toronto Star (‘nuff said)

The return of credit, the return of risk as economy begins to mend - Globe and Mail (That’s actually 66 characters, but leaves no doubt what the article is about.)

Print handcuffed us into trying to summarize an article in just a few words. I for one am grateful to make use of more space online and give readers what they bargained for. But not in my blogs. I’m afraid those headlines will continue to be vague and mysterious.

The Hyper Journalist


Friday, September 11, 2009

Citizen journalists and 9/11

One horrible day showed citizen journalists at their best.

It also brought out their worst.

Passengers on the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 used cellphones to call loved ones and were aware three other aircraft had also been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Flight 93 passengers gained control of the plane. It crashed in a field in Pennsylvania and missed its mark, believed to be either the White House or the Capitol.

On the ground, Jules Naudet happened to be making a documentary on NYC firefighters when he filmed the first plane hitting the World Trade Center North tower. Whether they used cellphones or video cameras, regular people suddenly became citizen journalists, capturing a moment that was shared with the world.

The newsroom where I work showed its best that day, reaching local people with ties to New York or trying to get out of the besieged city, reporting on international flights diverted to Canada, business impact of closing the Canada-U.S. border, and the safety of local infrastructure; water, power and government buildings. “Hyperlocal” angles to an international event.

Regrettably, we weren’t online yet. That cost us a valuable experience with citizen journalists who wanted to share their images and opinions.

This week, some Twitter users have added a red band to their avatar as a gesture to victims. It’s unfortunate citizen journalists are also firing up old conspiracy theories, blaming the U.S. government at the time for plotting the attacks, and striking at the media for not lending credibility to those theories.

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Too cool for school, the trilogy

The sins of the father will be visited upon the son, so they can take one car to the unemployment line.

I’m giving failing grades to The Nexus ( student newspaper for Camosun College in Victoria, B.C., for using its website to encourage readers to pick up the print edition. Thanks Nexus, you just set us back 15 years.

The online product cannot be held back in favour of print. If you’re turning out a generation of journalists who don’t know that, we’re going to get further behind instead of embracing digital journalism.

The Other Press (www.theotherpress) for B.C.’s Douglas College students is among the Canadian University Press student papers, and I’m expelling it for using CUP copy to fill its website instead of gathering local content.

Student newspapers are a different animal. I appreciate their websites and social media accounts in some cases haven’t been updated since the spring. For the few that stripped the content off their sites and left empty templates during the summer, that’s your choice. I would create a template showing the best of the past year’s content and use the site to tout the program.

Let’s end this on a high note.

Best mottos:
“Hearsay and rumour since 1875” — The Argosy ( Mount Allison University student paper in New Brunswick.
“Pushing buttons since 1968” — The Capilano Courier ( student paper for Capilano College in Vancouver.

Class dismissed.

The Hyper Journalist


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Too cool for school, the sequel

Everybody likes a sleeper hit, the kid from nowhere who grasps the Academy Award or hits a homer to capture the pennant.

I’ve been looking at Canadian online student newspapers. The Sheaf ( from the U of Saskatchewan excels at social media. The paper started in 1912. You’ve come a long way baby.

The Sheaf uses Twitter (TheSheaf1912) and Facebook to interact with students and alert them to social opportunities and local events. It’s making itself available on iPhone and iPod through apps found at the iTunes store.

Ryerson Free Press ( is an online paper for Ryerson University students in Toronto. It offers a ticker tape of public comments to its Twitter site (RyeFreePress.)

The Brock Press ( for students at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., uses Facebook, and has accounts with Digg and Newsvine citizen journalism sites to share copy.

Also at the top of the class is The Lance (UWindsorLance) for students at U of Windsor in Ontario ( for keeping its Twitter account fresh during the summer when a lot of student newspapers let them dry up.

Tomorrow, a look at young upstarts who need a timeout.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Too cool for school, Part 1

It’s the start of a new school year, and as I look around the class I can spot promising students, hopeless cases and diamonds in the rough.

You, York University! Spit out your gum when you’re on video!

I’ve been looking at Canadian online student newspapers. I won’t mark too hard. I see many of you haven’t updated your site since the spring, but I understand you’ve been off for the summer.

I see potential with “hyperlocal” truly local news and sports content directed to your niche audience — the students.

Some of you want to wax eloquent about international issues. You should know that’s becoming a no-no for “local media” unless there’s a local angle, and the days of writing several thousand words on anything are pretty much over. But you’re young, and it’s healthy to explore. Just make sure your views and research are informed.

Umm, U of Alberta? If The Gateway wants to showcase one person’s views about the value of the Canadian Senate, you need to point out it’s an opinion piece and not offer it as a news article. You’ll have to stay after class.

I see many of you excel at letting students know about social events, but very few of you are using social networking sites. Carlton U, your piece on using apps to buy textbooks was unique, but how many readers actually saw it?

My next two blogs will highlight the best student newspapers online, and offer extra-credit assignments for those of you who are falling behind.

The Hyper Journalist


Monday, September 7, 2009

Pull up a lawn chair

Labour Day. It’s a national holiday in Canada. You can tell by the lack of fresh content on some mainstream newspaper websites.

Even journalists need a break, but the trick is planning so we’re not suddenly looking at an empty website and wondering how to fill it. The knee jerk reaction is to reach for wire copy. I say there’s a better way.

I started this blog a week ago. I’ve posted daily, even on a Sunday, yet I haven’t been writing every day. How is that possible! (You can’t see sarcasm in print.) I planned ahead. Blogs were written in advance. If something timely comes up, I’ll slip that in. I’m flexible.

Last week, I created a three-part blog that I’ll start posting tomorrow about the best and worst of Canadian online student newspapers.

I’ve read that blogs usually die after six months, so I have a long way to go to beat those odds. I love what I do and I plan ahead, and that seems to be absent in too many Canadian online newspapers.

The Hyper Journalist


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Memories, all alone in the moonlight . . .

The key times for web traffic to online newspapers is morning when people are getting to work, and lunch time when they’re on a break.

The daily paper where I work is one in a sea of media outlets stuck in the past by filling our website with yesterday’s local news and predominantly wire copy.

I always found the deadlines for print media were more friendly than my broadcast brethren, and I admit I loved the luxury. But those days are over, and print has to deliver the news faster than ever before. Our readers demand it. We must deliver.

It’s been my experience that it’s difficult to work in a top-heavy, editor- run newsroom that does not free up staff to be innovative and efficient. Journalists know what stories, photos and videos can be produced and posted quickly and which ones need more time. Let us participate in the decision.

I’ve offered to take photos on my day off if I’m attending a local event that isn’t being assigned, and I’ve been turned down. Is it overtime? A photo only takes a few moments. You can’t spare the equipment? I checked with the other reporters, and our bases are covered. Is it the 45 minutes or so to produce a video? Let me come to work a bit later, let me leave a bit earlier. Is there no interest in publishing the photo in the print product? Who said anything about the print product?

Digital journalism is not just a side show, it’s the main event. It takes planning to make best use of limited resources (the workers) and consistently deliver fresh news and information in time for peak web traffic.

The Internet offers a lot of detours for readers who feel roadblocked by sluggish local media. We’ll have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t clear the road and end the gridlock.

The Hyper Journalist


Saturday, September 5, 2009

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

Some newspapers use social media sites to distribute headlines. Might as well use a Blackberry to just order pizza. Both are a tremendous underuse of technology.

I’m trying to find Canadian print journalists using Twitter, starting with, and it’s no easy task. No surprise, I’m finding a lot of technology reporters.

The website for The Huntsville Forester in Ontario, for example, is asking the public for favourite rumours leading up to the G8 Summit in that town next year. Fun idea and great opportunity for social networking, but that media outlet doesn’t appear to be signed up to any networking sites.

The Hamilton Spectator, a much larger urban newspaper in Ontario, not only uses Twitter and Facebook, it created “Jamilton” as a sort of for bands to submit their bios, music and videos.

What a great idea!

People steal each other’s ideas off the Internet all the time. Maybe newspapers should give it a try.

The Hyper Journalist


Friday, September 4, 2009

If you bill it, they will come

I know you’re out there. I can hear you tweeting.

As I begin to peek at newspapers with online sites, it’s clear the idea of social networking is not catching on. Some offer RSS feeds to deliver online content, but only a few appear to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. And if they do, it’s to distribute headlines.
Better than nothing, but a wasted opportunity.

It seems odd to me that newspapers spend money on cameras to shoot video, but they’re not making use of free social networking sites to interact with readers. And if their journalists have Twitter and Facebook accounts related to the job, their employers are quiet about letting the public know. You kind of have to stumble upon them by accident.

Some of the ones I’ve found have been excellent, telling readers what they’re working on, sharing anecdotes about the job, retweeting interesting links, answering questions and sparking debate.

I know there’s more out there, I just haven’t found them yet.

Some newspapers use their websites to offer a PDF of their print product. That’s not the aim of digital journalism which is to provide timely news and information to the public and engage them in a discussion.

I found one weekly newspaper, part of a national chain, that has gone nearly four weeks without updating its website.
Grab gun.
Aim at foot.

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dem dry bones

Paleontologists must feel a surge of energy when their work rewards them with a discovery of dinosaur bones.

As I began sifting through newspapers with online sites, I got the feeling I was looking at fossils, but I wasn’t excited about the find.

The Canadian Newspaper Association has the most members in Ontario, so that’s where I decided to start.

Some smaller media outlets do a decent job to offer “hyperlocal” truly local news to their online readers. Some post daily, but it’s clear many only post the day their print edition comes out, and that is not the intention of digital journalism. That means they go days or weeks without updating their website, and that makes for a stale product.

Much of the content is from promotional news releases anyway, so why not post those as they come? Why not let readers know where the media has been, what it’s doing?

Holding back the online product to not compete with the print edition is the type of thinking that needs to go the way of the dinosaur.

The Hyper Journalist

-30 -

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

R U on FB? ;)

I did three things before I started this blog on Monday.
I created an e-mail account (, then I went to and created this blog, then I went to Twitter and created a tweet (hyperjournalist).
I didn’t even think twice about it. Create a blog, and then tell people that I’ve created a blog.
I’ve also started a Facebook group.
I wasn’t thinking this way a few years ago. Print journalists didn’t market their work or play such an active role to engage the public.
Social networking is the lifeblood of digital journalism. Talk directly to your audience. Ask questions. Ask for opinions. Accept criticism. Learn to take a compliment.
We’ve always asked for news tips. The difference is now we mean it.
I don’t consider myself a leader in digital journalism and haven’t been doing it nearly as long as others in my field, but it works.
It’s like IKEA furniture. It can be a little frustrating in the beginning, but you eventually figure it out and can end up with something pretty cool.
I feel more tied in with the public. I retweet their events and exchange ideas with them in 140 characters or less. I empathize with their troubles. I celebrate their success.
Some of this — not much — has made it onto my newsroom’s online or print products.
We still demand that people send formal news releases.
“You will jump through our hoops, and you will like it.”
Well, our hoops don’t seem to have a lot of jumpers.
In my experience, people want to work with their local media, but they have options now. If local media tunes out, they’ll turn to something else.
News judgment is still king. Some issues deserve to be scrutinized by a journalist, but many others can be summarized in a few sentences or a photo.
Twitter, blog, phone, e-mail. Who cares how people get in touch with our newsrooms? Digital journalism is the future. People want a reliable and reputable source for impartial local news and information, and that’s something we have over amateur websites and bloggers with a bias.
Our dance card isn’t exactly full these days. Let’s boogie! I, for one, want to be the life of the party.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In a galaxy far, far away . . .

The irony of “hyperlocal” news coverage is how valuable it can be for people who don’t live anywhere near it.
(I learned this the hard way. Humble pie, anyone? There’s plenty to go around in this industry.)
I’m a full-time reporter/photographer/videographer/copy editor/page designer at a daily newspaper — a link in a corporately owned Canada-wide chain. We’re trying to call ourselves “media outlets” to give the impression we’re fresh and exciting compared to our pulp and paper past.
Here’s the rub: We fill our website with articles, photos and videos from other “media outlets” in the chain. What little online local content we offer gets lost in the shuffle. I call that “hypo” journalism.
Recently, we posted a truly local story late in the day, and I rolled my eyes at the subject matter. A reunion? Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein.
While my nose was in the air, I failed to see this was a milestone local event. People who lived far away relied on our website for photos and information. I know this because they posted online comments.
I have to guess their families clicked on us, too, along with local residents, and people who did attend and wanted to see how the media covered it. This piece brought thousands of hits to our website that day.
I’m a big believer in regularly updating media websites with “hyperlocal” truly local news, and I never underestimate the importance of serving an online audience.
But I learned a valuable lesson that day. Local news doesn’t just serve a local audience. People with ties to our city rely on us to keep in touch and stay informed. Their web hits are just as valuable for digital journalism to thrive.

The Hyper Journalist