Reflection on online journalism – December 2014

That’s mad how time flies.”

Although this might be one of the most popular, misused, and agreed upon sentences in the world – and also fills the gaps in an awkward conversation in which the weather has already been mentioned – it sort of rings true to me. I kind of feel like this has been what my worries and negative thoughts have revolved around lately.

I started university at the end of September and since then it’s all been a long succession of days in which work is taking the central spot. To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like I can commit to watching any new TV shows because it would distract me from my journalism path – and when the path is worth ten grands, a few months of abstinence don’t seem that much. To be fair, I am not complaining. I knew beforehand what I had signed for and here are the first things that I have learnt so far.

  • WordPress – Eastside

For our first assignment in Paul Bradshaw‘s module ‘Online Journalism‘, we were all given different online platforms to investigate, including Twitter, Instagram, and FaceBook. I ended up with WordPress. Overall I think I produced a decent piece of work – not terrible though not amazing. Using Birmingham Eastside, I managed to post 9 articles within a timescale of 8 weeks. I am not boasting, far from it – September Robin probably would though – as I come to realise that standards in this field are higher than this, way up there.

WordPress is not a very complicated platform to use. One can get to grips with it just by playing around a bit. In my case, I had already used it with the magazines (music ; cinema) I write for and was quite familiar with most of its functionalities. What I was more or less a rookie with were SMO and SEO. It is true that we had covered these in class and it just all seems like logical and simple steps that would get us more clicks and views. The reality is somewhat different.

  • Search Engine Optimisation:

My biggest failure with this experiment can be summed up with three single words: “search – engine – optimisation”. Amongst the +400 views my articles got, I dare you to guess how many came from the fact that they ranked well on search engines.

If you guessed one, well done. If you guessed more than that, you have truly flattered my ego. If you guessed otherwise, f**k off, you’re a prick. Sorry, this was inconsiderate and I apologise, maybe I am still too touchy about it…

I learnt that you may be an expert on SEO, if you have not got the tools (a website with an already constituted audience and them referring to your blog) then there is not much you can do.

Starting off with the domain name “Birminghameastside” it appeared complicated to optimise stories in which Birmingham was not the focus for search engines.

Unfortunately, according to Bruce Clay’s SEO hierarchy of needs, the thing that matters the most for a blog to rank well on search engines is something that cannot be controlled: referrals and links to this blog. Of course there is still the option to post comments on blogs to engage a conversation (that has never occurred for me).

Bruce Clay's SEO Hierarchy of Needs
Bruce Clay’s SEO Hierarchy of Needs
  • Social Media Optimisation

In terms of SMO, the outcomes of the experiment were not as catastrophic as they were for SEO. Although the links on my tweets only got clicked on when they were relayed by others – I had less than a hundred followers then – I used the techniques I learnt throughout my SMO research. Here is what I found for Twitter:

  • Time:

Tweet around lunchtime and before/after dinner:

Tweet time

Also tweet on weekends:

tweet weekend

  • Characteristics:

The perfect tweet contains between 70 and 100 characters, a picture, hashtags, and a link. Alternatively, to optimise the link’s ‘clickability‘, it does not harm to make your tweet brief, clear, and add a bit of humour.

Alternatively, tweets that are using psychological techniques seem to work well. They would typically be addressed to the readers curiosity. Something along the lines of “This guy is the cleverest person on earth and here is the reason why.” engages your curiosity on two aspects (1) the guy (2) what he did.

If you clicked the link, it proves that the theory is right, not that I am the cleverest person on earth (thanks for making me feel that way though).

  • Lack of contacts equals lack of control?

The biggest problem to one’s progression – and I can relate to this a lot – in this field is something as similarly to SEO there is no way of exerting control over: others. Let me explain. When he writes articles about events, news, or even interview, the journalist needs to get in contact with people who will give him insights on circumstances, details, and feelings that will make the story unique and relevant for others who weren’t there.

How is it possible to be an efficient journalist if people do not reply to one’s mails or do not return calls? Suddenly, Camus‘ expression of the “unreasonable silence of the world” in front of our “desperate call for help” is starting to make sense.I guess a key point here is what is known in the jargon as networking. The more sources one has the less likely he is to get turned down or even worst: ignored. Perhaps it is something that takes time to build, a bit like SEO does.

Fortunately, I came across people who even though they had other preoccupations, had time to spare me. Although sometimes the person you are trying to reach do not respond, it happens that they will come back to you a month later or so apologising for their late reply and proposing an interview time that does not fit your schedule. The article has already been written and long gone from your home page anyway.

  • What it brought me:

The general experiment has been an interesting one, not only because it taught me how to cope with failure but because it made me realise that nothing can be taken for granted in journalism: there is no place for complacency. It also gave me the opportunity to explore social media – in particular Twitter – something that I had only used to connect with friends. I do realise now the potential of using it for professional development and networking and believe me, I plan to use it to that aim from now on. In a way I have already started, but that is a story for later.

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