The rewiring of news one tool at a time

This week I attended the news:rewired conference organised by journalism.co.uk and held at Microsoft headquarters in London.

The event had grown immensely since I last attended four years ago and is now a Mecca for freelance and tech-savvy journalists, rather than laden with curious hackademics as had previously been the case.

The rich, packed programme featured sessions on visualisation, engaging younger audiences, covering the elections, mobile video journalism podcasting skills, web analytics, online investigation techniques, Twitter advanced search operations and the use of wearables and drones.

The impressive speaker list included editors, trainers, designers, consultants, analysts, technologists and futurologists (???) from the likes of Sky News, the Guardian, BBC, Buzzfeed, Mashable, NPR, News Association, The Telegraph, Manchester Evening News, The Times, The Economist and Twitter UK.

As expected, running alongside the conference was an invaluable barrage of tweets from delegates and speakers, using the hashtag #newrw which live reported key tips, quotes and links from the event. The journalism.co.uk reporting team also created a series of blogs based on the keynote speakers making for a fully interactive experience.

One recurring theme at the event was the importance of online visuals and the use of infographics, visual storytelling, photographs and video to engage users in online content – even to the extent of turning audio in animation or a series of photos, as illustrated by BBC News Beat’s assistant editor Anna Doble.

One of the best ways to absorb all the ideas and information from the conference is to look through the #newsrw tweets by doing a search on Twitter.

I was not able to attend all of the sessions, as sometimes there were three running parallel, but here are some general pointers from the ones I was able to catch.

INFOGRAPHICS AND VISUALISATION

  • Always think first: what does your reader want from this?
  • To see if an infographic really works remove the words and see if you can understand the sense of the story without them – you should be able to
  • An infographic is not a visual aid to support the words it should stand alone in itself
  • Useful services are Tableau.com or Datawrapper
  • Vines work well but sometimes a well selected screengrab will be even more effective
  • Remember that pictures convey emotions but not context
  • Handy App to create visuals is ThingLink

ONLINE AUDIO

  • The jury is still out on what works effectively as online audio (aside from podcasts) and what is potential viral material
  • Audio should be kept to under 90 seconds
  • Audio needs a strong headline that captures the promise of a great listening experience when you click
  • It is helpful to have strong visuals with an audio link
  • The best types of online audio are: Explainers, Whoa, Storytellers and Snappy Reviews
  • Lots more advice from Eric Athas, senior digital news specialist, NPR Digital Services here
  • Podcast users are a niche audience but they are heavy users that listen regularly and for long periods of time (to The Economist podcasts at least)

MOBILE VIDEO JOURNALISM

  • Always shoot in landscape
  • Be aware of your phone settings and use them to adjust the phone’s camera
  • Useful Apps: Video Pro, FilmMic Pro (for shooting video), Video 2 Photo (for easily capturing good quality stills), iMovie, Pinnacle Studio (for editing), 8MM (for special effects) Compress Video (for compression).
  • Useful accessories are an external mic, a battery pack and an external flash
  • Lots more advice here

TWITTER ADVANCE SEARCH TIPS

  • Remember that tweets are reactive passions and interests not necessarily a true indication/representation/public gauge of something
  • To find out what young people are talking about start a search with ‘my mum doesn’t…’
  • Use Followerwonk to search Twitter profiles
  • Twitter Curator is a new search system that allows journalists to monitor keywords and profiles and keep abreast of topics and how popular they are
  • Curator can then be used for data visualisation
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