Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.

Top tips for Digital Journalists

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Mark Luckie is a man with a mission : in his words, “to help usher in a new era of journalism.” He’s the new National Innovations Editor for the Washington Post. He’s the author of the Digital Journalists Handbook. He made his name blogging at 10,000 words. And luckily for fellows at the Nieman Foundation, he was happy today to dish out his top tips, tools and websites.

Luckie is not a conventional media man. He REALLY wanted to make music videos. He likes to paint. He thinks visually, as he puts it, “not like a journalist.” 

You sense he’s had an uphill battle trying to change the newsroom culture at the Washington Post, though he’s too loyal to actually say so. But he does say that the basic assumptions are shifting, so that today the multi-media folk get to work with reporters and their editors at the beginning of the process, rather than having the web extras tacked on at the end. 

And here’s a taste of how Luckie does it. He knows what works because he gets a daily analytics report.  As he works, “my key word is scale”. Is it breaking news, a regular weekly feature, or a front page special project? “What can we create in the time that we have?” 

He aims for a visual element on every page. Sounds simple, but worth repeating, because it works. Just one photograph makes your story more likely to be read. “People love photo galleries. And people love seeing their own content.” He asks reporters to take out flipcams, to record quick video takes: the ideal is not a political talking head but a emotional real-world response that adds impact to the text. 

He offers easy extras. If a story involves an unusual or complicated concept, he’ll offer a “click through” to get a definition, something he says does really well on search 

He likes cool graphics – dont we all – but you really have to choose where you use them, since they’re so time consuming. He highlighted the Washington Post graphics spreads on tax policy, healthcare and mortgages. Watch the Post for more on this.

How about providing readers with more sources? On politics, on court coverage, on business, he says there’s a very good response to putting  documents out there. WaPo uses document cloud which allows reporters to annotate documents online for readers to see. It allows for a big impact in a short space of time, the online equivalent of showing your readers your notes marked up with a yellow highlighter pen, basically doing the heavy lifting for the audience while giving it the opportunity to dig down for more detail.  

How about creating a timeline? Luckie pointed us to  dipity where you can create a timeline, add photos, make youtube videos, and the site outputs an embed code that you can drop into your website.  

If you’d rather design a vertical scroll than a horizontal timeline, he recommends storify as a great aggregating tool for journalists. You can curate any developing story by adding tweets, blogposts, youtube videos. For the 2010midterm elections for example, the Washington Post scrolled through all candidates and commentators’ twitter streams, adding its own captions to point up the most significant. (Blowing our own trumpet, I should say the BBC website has provided some excellent examples of similar techniques.)

We discussed how much journalism right now is moving towards offering up our sources – readers love to see for themselves who you consider to be credible and what they’re saying as stories unfold, and you can present it to them within your own walls. 

Along the same lines, one big feature of the WaPo iPad app is the stream of curated tweets – on the big stories, WaPo creates twitter lists of the most interesting players and streams them.  Look at twitterfall for more insight into the way this one works. 

What else? Luckie tells us that at the Washington Post the LIVE chats incredibly popular. They’re moderated by reporters or experts. WaPo uses the free tool coveritlive, which allows you to add comments, moderate comments, run polls, add photos. They sometimes also use  ustream to embed live video in the chat. The screen shows webcam with questions streaming down the side.

Want a map? The website umapper allows you to create embeddable maps and super fast. how about a Twitter map, to show who’s saying what in your area, or search for new sources? 

Find new voices? The Post often creates hashtags and asks readers to use them. You know you’ve done well if they become Twitter trending topics. 

The point of all these tools? You don’t have to have big budgets or official tech experts. You can give even little stories the multi media treatment they deserve. 

We got a few top tips on self PUBLISHING too. Mark Luckie used createspace.com to make The Digital Journalists Handbook. It’s not in bookstores, but it’s a simple process of print on demand by Amazon. You decide the price. Plus side, he gets 11 dollars a copy. He got his first readers through his built in blog audience,  then reviews spread of word of mouth. he’s looking pretty happy today. 

A couple of final quotes after a high energy couple of hours. 

“I do everything because I love doing it”.

“I’m a see a need fill a need kind of guy. ”

Mark, thanks for sharing. 

Author: philippathomas

I've been a BBC newswoman for 28 years: reporting from around the world. Currently to be seen anchoring BBC World News TV. Main interests - politics, diplomacy, tech, media, arts and all things American. I began this personal blog as a 2011 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard. You can also find me talking daily news on Twitter at @PhilippaBBC, and sharing anything from travel photos to my year in books on Instagram at @philippanews. Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Top tips for Digital Journalists

  1. Thanks for joining in Philippa!

  2. Thanks for posting this Philippa. I was sorry to miss it, but couldn’t be in two places at once.

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