Did I just see a rumour of journalists go by?

A while back on Twitter I asked if anyone knew a collective noun for journalists other than ‘pack’. I was so taken with the replies that I thought I’d give them another airing here.

In no particular order, and for the most part fitting into the sentence “I just came across a _______ of journalists”, here they are:

rumour (@ricerboy)

quotient (@littlehigh)

press (@MrCompton)

hubbub (@MrCompton)

inquisition (@MrCompton)

germ (@obzcure)

the journalati (@TimDNorris)

gross (@kalena)

newsroom (@vodafonenz)

bar (@vodafonenz)

bludgeon (@vodafonenz)

gallery (@vodafonenz)

galley (@vodafonenz)

jaundice (@chelfyn)

typecast (@wasabicube)

scoop (@roho)


gaggle (@araneanz)

beat up .. as in a beat up of journalists covering a round (@samfarrow)

Feedback via Twitter has so far resulted in three votes for a ‘rumour’ of journalists and one for a ‘scoop’.

In 1940 you got 15 minutes of foreign news a week

I was talking to my Dad one time about what news looked like when he was young.

He said they didn’t have a radio or a television, and the paper wasn’t delivered.

“Only milk and bread were delivered in those days,” he said. The butcher and grocer would deliver if you called in your order. But not newspapers.

The only foreign news he saw was in the news reels shown at the “2 o’clocks” on a Saturday afternoon.

“Half the news you got was at the movies, and that was the first thing you knew about what was going on in London or wherever.

“I didn’t go for that though, I mostly went for the serials and things like that. They used to have some pretty good serials back in those days. (The Lone Ranger was a hit.)

“They had about 15 or 20 minutes of news but then you’d get straight into the good stuff. That was the only news you used to get.”

I couldn’t find any news reels that I could embed here, but NZ On Screen has some and the British Pathe has some.

What interests me is how different our sensibility is now about how much news we need in a day.

Dad grew up with 15 minutes of foreign news a week. Now we have foreign news round the clock. We have all kinds of news round the clock. Is it better?

KiwiFoo ’09 and the power of conversation

This is an old post but I’m leaving it here for the hell of it. Failed links have been updated (where possible) or removed.

I had the good fortune to attend KiwiFoo (aka Baa Camp), a kind of unconference which brings together a cluster of people from various fields who share at least one thing: a burning passion for what they do.

Hard to go wrong with a starting point like that and sure enough it proved a hugely entertaining and engaging weekend and something of a networking nirvana – every single conversation I had over those two days was interesting and useful and I made some great connections.

Sincere thanks go to the organisers Nat Torkington – who brought the idea of FOO (Friends of O’Reilly) to New Zealand – Jenine Abarbanel and Russell Brown for the invite, and for arranging such a stimulating event.

There’s no set agenda for KiwiFoo, instead you signal ahead of time what you’re interested in talking about and settle it down into scheduled one-hour sessions when you get there – then rearrange them until most people are happy with the spread.

For the most part the sessions are led by one or two people who get the ball rolling then open it up for discussion. Brilliantly simple and effective.

There were several highlights, including a very funny Saturday night town-hall debate which left me hankering for more oratory in my life (a certain lack of variation in the use of adjectives notwithstanding).

Another highlight for me was a session on the future of news in NZ which turned out to be lively and left me with the clear impression that people – all kinds of people – really care about keeping quality news alive.

We didn’t solve the problems of the world but started a good conversation and there were a few threads that have stayed with me.

One is that the news media is broken, albeit not completely and in different ways for different people.

Notably, a number of entrepreneurs talked to me about how little coverage there is of their sectors in mainstream news and what coverage there is often comes straight from press releases they’ve written themselves. They want their stories told in context and more coverage of the issues they face.

Advertising is a biggie – it’s not being sold well online and big agencies often don’t work for small publishers. And the need for good journalism to support democracy is paramount regardless of who’s publishing the news (newspapers, TV companies, bloggers, networks of independent journalists).

Probably the biggest takeaway for me was that the Future of News is a really big subject with multiple threads and I feel like we’re still looking for an effective framework and lexicon for discussing it. There was some suggestion that a MediaFoo might be a good idea and it certainly holds appeal for me. There’s a lot to talk about.

A particularly impressive outcome from KiwiFoo was the way a core group of attendees drove the #blackout campaign to halt the addition of the contentious S92A clause to NZ copyright law.

Here are a few posts from other KiwiFoo campers: Mozilla hacker Robert O’Callahan, SixAparter David Recordon, Hard Newsman Russell BrownInterclue’s Seth Wagoner , blogger David Farrar and the Strategist.

Online community management 101

Some notes from a Webstock ’09  workshop about managing and sustaining communities online.

The one-day workshop was led by Heather Champ, then community manager for Flickr, and Derek Powazek.


These are heavily paraphrased notes from workshop leaders and participants and any mistakes or misrepresentations are mine alone.

1. A definition

“Web communities happen when people are given tools to use their voice in a public and immediate way, forming intimate relationships over time.” – Derek Powazek’s definition of communities written for his book, Design for Community: the art of connecting real people in virtual places.

Don’t call what you do a community. Just give people these tools and over time the people who use it will call it a community.

2. Ask yourself these questions:

Who do you think the site is for?
What is it they are going to be able to do? (individuals, collaborative, sharing information?)
Why will they want to do it? What will they get out of it?

If you can’t answer these questions, don’t build the site.

3. The paperwork

Let people see this stuff before they sign up.

Privacy Policy
Twitter privacy policy is well written and human – read it.
People pay close attention to this stuff.

Report and takedown process is important.  Easier you can make it, the better.
Ownership – need clear information on who owns content.

Terms of Service
Read Flickr terms of service as a starting point.

Community Guidelines
Flickr Community Guidelines a list of dos and don’ts (not just don’ts).
Members probably refer to this more than the terms of service.
Doesn’t have to be perfect at the beginning, guidelines grow as the site grows.

Managing abuse
Think about ways people might abuse your site.
Think about what you will not tolerate.
Decide what you will do if it happens. Write it down.
Be prepared, know who’s going to deal with it and how.
Need multiple people in the business who can manage this, so it doesn’t matter if you’re away.

4. Structure

User friendly is important but every community excludes someone.
Think about where to put the barrier to entry (do you want everyone posting or only highly motivated folk?).
Wisdom of Crowds. Value is in the aggregate of thoughts, guesses, estimates. Value is not identifying the smart individuals to listen to but averaging out the voice.
Give people small, simple tasks. If not getting feedback you hope for, ask for something smaller.
Give them to a large, diverse group.
Design for selfishness. Flickr tags are selfish (I want to find image later) but selfishness of tags becomes usfeul to all. What are selfish reasons for someone to participate? If you can’t name one, you have a problem.
Aggregate the answers. Be aware of:

Popular tags – a behemoth, doesn’t move, hard to use.
Hot tags add dimension of time.
Have to continuously change algorithms. If creating leaderboard, say, some people will game it.
Scores create games. First post – game in which you win by being a dork and writing ‘first post’ – adds nothing.
How do you observe without changing the outcome? Don’t show tally during vote, don’t show outcome of poll until vote is cast.
Randomness – instead of a top 10 list, take a top 20 per cent and show nine randomly.

It’s okay to build in an editorial, human step at the end. Even if you can figure out algorithm and game it, you can’t game the editor.

5. Keeping things ticking over

Eventually you will need a community manager.
Manager = shepherd, editor, cheerleader, advocate, judge, executioner.
You only hear from unhappy people. Be prepared to deal with that.
Best place to look for a manager is in your own community.
Learn when to respond, don’t have to respond to everything.
Have to set tone in the beginning then members start to take on roles, become champions, start moderating.
Don’t keep all moderation tools at top level, have tools for members eg flag this photo, ability to block people, report abuse (simple process).

Reward good behaviour
Use blog to turn spotlight on good behaviour, content.
Behaviour speaks louder than pages of rules.
Your ambassadors can help hugely in forums.

Tell people what’s going on, keep it updated.
Own it when you’re wrong: ‘Sometimes we suck’.
Don’t wait. If going to introduce change, explain it, give people time to learn about it, give them an option to pull out, then make the change.

6. Trolls

Identifying Trolls
Repeated disruptions, steering conversation, server logs
They’re not the freakout comment, but the one before it. They goad.
Sometimes people use two identities to fight with themselves – can see it’s the same IP address. Puppet accounts.
Sometimes they do it to back up the first comment.  “You may not create puppet accounts and talk to yourself”.

Stopping Trolls
Silent treatment. Set it so only the troll can see their posts.
Disable puppets.
Timeouts. Slow down server response time – takes ages to log in, they need instant gratification.

7. Final nugget of wisdom

Observe the ‘ask for forgiveness rule’: act first, then tell the boss.

Dean Stringer also wrote an excellent summary of the workshop, as did Courtney Johnston.

This is why Webstock rocks

I’m at Webstock (2009) and I’m sitting across the table from a guy who built the BBC’s iPlayer and customisable homepage, next to the manager of NZ On Screen and listening to US journalist and blogger Annalee Newitz talk about how science fiction gives us vocabulary and a frame of reference for emerging technologies.

Earlier today I heard from Derek Featherstone about how difficult the web is to navigate for people using screen readers and about some of the strengths and shortcomings of TV via Russell Brown.

Yesterday I heard first-hand about the highs and lows of managing online communities from Flickr community manager Heather Champ and Fray founder Derek Powazek, saw art created by programmers via Cameron Adams and learned about feedback loops in science, nature and business from Nat Torkington.

I was impressed down to my shoes by Adrian Holovaty talking about everyblock.com, interested to hear about the Guardian‘s goals for participatory journalism from community experience director Meg Pickard, and genuinely moved by some of the collaborative creativity shepherded into being by Ze Frank.

And that’s less than half of it.  This is an outstanding conference.