Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Third Tuesday Toronto: Talk by Mathew Ingram of the Globe & Mail

Third Tuesday Toronto: Mathew Ingram of the Globe & Mail

Mathew Ingram is a former columnist, reporter and blogger. He is @mathewi on Twitter. http://www.mathewingram.com/work. He is now the communities editor for the Globe & Mail.

This is a repeat of the session he did at Podcamp Toronto but will give us lots of opportunity to ask questions.

What is the Globe & Mail doing in social media?

Public Policy Wiki: http://policywiki.theglobeandmail.com

The idea for the wiki already existed when he started, but became his project when he started. A way to let people tell them their thinking about important policies such as with regard to the federal budget and Canadian involvement in Afghanistan. They are now looking at the environment.

The LA Times Wikitorial was a bad wiki experience in newspapers - people started defacing the site, gave a bad reputation to wikis in news circles.

The Globe & Mail took a chance and still went ahead with their wiki.

Cover It Live
- a Toronto-based company (formerly Altcaster) live-blogging tool - the way of doing the same things they do with a news story but in a more interactive way. Pulls in photos, tweets from Twitter, comments, etc. in addition to the newspaper's own coverage. During one discussion they had the former head of digital for Rogers take part; it would have taken a lot of effort to book him in advance.

Twitter - growing number of their writers and staff are on Twitter. Do you get someone to tweet under the company name, or do they tweet under their own names, or do you do both? They have some automated feeds (e.g. Globe technology feed), but they also have personal Twitter feeds. The reason why people like Twitter, it is the personal connection. If you make it too "corporate" you are missing out on what makes it powerful. It is also possible to track "flash crowds" on Twitter i.e. can track fast-moving opinions e.g. Motrin Moms fiasco. Tools such as Tweetdeck help to track.

Why are they doing it?

Newspapers have always been social, but conversations always take place elsewhere. Social networking tools are helping to connect them to the conversations.

Connecting with readers can benefit the readers and also the Globe. Frequently what they pick are often different than what people pick themselves to talk about. They can also get direct feedback from readers; if they can find people who are touched by a story and have information for them, they can get a better story. It becomes a win-win situation.

What have they learned?

Wikis are easy to start. Policy wiki runs on Tikiwiki, an easy to use tool. The hard part is the "gardening", keeping it going, getting people to respond and feel comfortable in sharing things there and doing things there. These tools are not hard to use, but hard to keep going.

He didn't think people would care that much about the federal budget, but they had people create 35-40 policy proposals. That surprised him. They asked for input by a certain time (a time limit), it was topical, and they set the goal of sending the 2 best policy proposals to the government.

By contrast, they had very few participants, however, for Afghanistan and the current environment issue. There isn't a tangible goal or end. He believes they didn't get a lot of vandalism because a lot of people didn't know it was there. They also purposely set it up as a very serious discussion. The vast majority have been well thought-out contributions.

Cover It Live - some people want to experience the news in a different way. Some people with a live event are okay with a bit more chaos than the typical, organized news story. It feels like they are more part of the news story. Some people hate it, they see too many people's comments, they just want to see the reporters' takes.

Twitter - people like to connect with people. Just a corporate entity - smaller number of people following it. They are trying to find a happy media between corporate and personalities.

What is coming?

They are going to try everything, regardless how silly the name sounds. Allows them to understand what their readers are using and how they are using.

They have a new Globe & Mail beta iPhone app.

More writers using Twitter.

Why not think about a story about a blog? Blogs give you a better sense that journalism is a process, doesn't really stop.

Q & A

Q: As the paper of record, how does the Globe & Mail archive all of this stuff?
A: It doesn't right now. The idea of "paper of record" is an anachronism, from a time when there was no other way to find information.

Q: How do you tell people what the value is of things like Twitter?
A: There are a lot of people who are ambivalent or actively hostile. Twitter sounds inconsequential and very hard to get past that. People are used to something important sounding important. He finds someone else who is new to it, the lightbulb has gone on, and have them talk about why they are doing it. Frequently when you first learn why it is useful, you are the best salesman. Since it is his job to promote it, more difficult for him to promote it than someone who spontaneously talks about it. There is nothing that is going to reach people if they don't see the value. He suggests they try it, and if they don't find value, stop using it. Not everyone needs to use Twitter.

Q: What are the risks of putting your information out their e.g. privacy
A: Those are important things to be concerned about, privacy is an important issue. We have lost a lot of privacy. These tools are turning everything into a small town, both in good and bad ways. People pull together and help each other out, but also you get everyone knowing each others' business, pettiness, gossip. Everyone is going to find their own place on the spectrum maintaining their privacy.

Q: In the future, are hospitals, schools, newspapers going to go away?
A: Hospitals and schools are not going to go away. Newspapers will fit in somewhere even if not as prominent as they have been, just the way fewer people now go to theatre.

Q: Was there any thought in making the leap to the communities editor role?
A: There was some trepidation about the risk, but mostly he was excited. He fairly quickly got past the fear of being visible online by writing a column online for 5 years with comments from readers. He's now beyond the point where negative comments irritates him, and he can see the jewels from someone who makes an intelligent comment. He hopes to get everyone at the Globe & Mail to that point, where they can see the value among the noise.

Q: You are a journalist, not a regular blogger. How do you manage that risk?
A: There is no existing law that says who is liable if someone makes a comment online. He argues it is the Globe & Mail's duty to get sued so that law can be developed in this area. There is a little law in the U.S., but there isn't much knowledge of what would happen.

Q: Have you ever had negative comments on a story about a company that was also a big advertiser?
A: Companies do get concerned about negative comments on the story. They explain that is how the Internet works. The Globe has gotten good over the years of separating the journalism side from the advertiser side; however, may becoming more difficult with online.

Q: What do you do to attract more interesting comments on the stories?
A: The number one thing people suggested when he started that the comments needed to improve, that the trolls and garbage had to be dealt with.

One problem is a tools problem - their publishing system is older and doesn't necessarily do what they would like it to do; they need to add tools so that people can vote and elevate the good comments. They want to incorporate a reputation management tool so that people who do not identify themselves are at the bottom; people who jump through certain hoops get elevated and receive incentives for writing better quality comments. Currently they are doing the equivalent of giving them a blank wall and a spray can. He is actually surprised at the number of thoughtful comments that do get posted. The other problem is an attitudinal problem.

When they close down the comments to a discussion, so people just tend to move the conversation. They need to find a better way to explain why they close comments, and to keep the conversation on the site. The need to deal with it better.

Q. How do you decide when to cut your losses and move on to the next thing?
A. They haven't given up on anything yet. The Policy Wiki isn't super busy, but if it became a ghost town they would shut it down or turn it into something that would bring people. He doesn't see how Twitter is ever going to fail unless people move on to something else.

When he says "do everything" he does not necessarily mean use every tool every time. They have to think about what the tool does, what they want to achieve, then try it out. They may use it differently next time.

Q: How are the number of people reading online changed compared to reading the print newspaper?
A: Online readers have definitely increased. They have roughly the same number of people who just read online as who just read in print. There is a growing number who read both. He doesn't expect in his lifetime to see no printed version of the Globe.

Q: What about internal use - is social media being used internally to collaborate on stories?
A: Not really in a great way or terribly effective way. They have a wiki-type-thing (MS Sharepoint) and they are trying to do it, but not working that well since people don't know it is there, don't care, don't feel comfortable with it. They are battling the same types of issues internally as they are externally. He is trying to evangelise inside the Globe as well as outside, trying to show people why these things are valuable.

Q: Are you watching what conversations are taking place about your stories?
A: Yes, if they watch the traffic and keep stories on the page longer. Do they report the stories differently? Not always, but possibly. He remembers the comments affecting how they covered a story when someone pointed out they only covered one side of the story. The reporter added another interview to get another perspective. She could have seen the commenters just as trolls, but she used it as valuable feedback. Another example just after they launched the comments, someone in the comments gave an essential piece of information for a story that they wouldn't have otherwise gotten.

Q: When you first started at The Globe, your job wasn't well defined. How do you know you have been successful?
A: He still has a job. A job is the new bonus. He doesn't know how to measure whether what they are doing has an effect yet or not. Does his posting a link from Twitter affect readership--would they have found the story anyway? How does he know he has any affect at all? Their biggest story to date, he couldn't find any large site that he can give credit to. He thinks it was due to Twitter and blogs, but he can't prove it.

They are trying to measure engagement. How do you measure that? Time spent on a page, clickthrough, feedback? You measure all of those things.

Q: Would people be able to engage reporters online to make comments to articles?
A: He can't think of any example specifically, but if you are part of the conversation, you will be part of what they take into account when writing a story. If you are putting a spin on something, you will probably rate lower in the mix.

Q: How does the speed of things affect the old style of journalism?
A: He feels things are actually now better. Two benefits of how we are doing it now:
  • it is a lot easier to find things and do investigation now. Now everyone is online, so it is easier to find key people
  • news should be much more of a process; stories develop, get updated, new information comes to light. You are not pretending the story is whole and shaped in a certain way and will never change.
Closing thoughts

People have been hinting at what the benefits for The Globe or any company. They have customers (readers), reaching those people is good. There are going to be things they don't want to hear, but the process is good for them and for companies in general.

Live-blogged at Third Tuesday Toronto. Any inaccuracies or omissions are solely my error made during my note-taking and should not reflect on the speaker. Thanks to the Berkeley Church Heritage Event centre for the free wifi so I could liveblog this!

March 25 update: Rannie Turingan, who also took my current bio photo on this blog, took outstanding photos from the evening. See them on his website www.rannieturingan.com including this one of me in action liveblogging this post!


Kate said...

Thanks for this. I couldn't stay for the Q&A and it is great to hear what happened.

amandalaird said...

Thanks for taking the time, Connie. This is great and will be nice to share with others who were unable to attend this evening's event. Cheers.

Joseph Thornley said...

Awesome coverage. Simply awesome!

Your fingers must be tired. :-)

Eden Spodek said...

Amazing coverage Connie! I could have stayed at the office. Kidding. I'm glad I was there and I also have your post to refer to as well.


mathewi said...

Indeed -- an awesome job, Connie.

Connie Crosby said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you found this helpful. I just transcribed--Mathew did the hard work. ;-)

Marc Hill said...

I was looking forward to attending this session but unable to make it. Thanks Connie for taking the time to put it on your blog. I have already shared it with a few associates.