Sarah Booker


What’s the point? – Foursquare

Filed under: Web tool review — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 10:06 pm
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For some time now I have been pondering the point of FourSquare.

I joined the sit and started checking in with gusto in December 2009. However, I found myself becoming underwhelmed rather quickly.

I was also uncomfortable broadcasting my location, especially after seeing the state of my Facebook and Twitter feeds after a shopping trip to London.

When the website Please Rob Me appeared with its constantly updating list of tweeted Foursquare updates, it didn’t surprise me.

Since December I have given it a try a couple of times, without Tweeting locations, but the game hasn’t grabbed my attention and I couldn’t see wider application for it at this stage.

Then I read Elizabeth Redman’s article on Editor’s Weblog “What does Foursquare mean for newspapers”.

Redman quite rightly points out Foursquare is a great way to link up with venues for reviews and reader offers.

The New York Times has created a badge for people who “check in” at Vancouver Winter Olympic venues.

Canadian newspaper Metro has joined with Foursquare to link editorial content to locations and send alerts out to subscribers/friends.

Reading this I can see the potential for local newspapers, linking reader offers with a Foursquare to do list. The difficulty is grabbing advertisers’ imaginations.

Something I keep reminding myself is how I didn’t “get” Twitter or Facebook in the early days.

Even now many of my colleagues can’t see the point of using social media to drive traffic to our newspapers’ websites and interact with a wider audience.

But, there is hope as the advertising sales people are starting to ask about using Twitter and Facebook. After all, these sites are our fourth and seventh biggest referrers.

Additional (March 13, 2010) : I am still playing with Foursquare and have become mayor of two locations. There is a long way to go before its potential is realised in the UK.


Brighton Future of News Group first meeting #bfong

The first Brighton Future of News Group took place yesterday (Monday, February 8), attracting a variety of journalists, writers, bloggers and techy folk, all interested in telling stories and relaying facts in new and interesting ways.

Jo Wadsworth

Our first speaker was Jo Wadsworth, web editor at the Brighton Argus, who spoke about building a community of bloggers writing on specific themes or hyperlocally, the sort of news that might not make it into the newspaper, but will be of wider interest.

Examples included the Bevendean Bulletin, which uses the Argus in lieu of its own website. Student reporters from the Journalist Works gaining experience by writing patch blogs, and others are aspiring writers dipping their toes in the water.

Jo was keen to point out the bloggers aren’t considered a replacement for reporters, but rather augmenting the newspaper’s website.

After all, as Jo explained, these people will be blogging anyway why not utilise their enthusiasm and talent for the paper?

The bloggers benefit from a ready-made audience and technical support, the paper gets street-level coverage.

Jo cited the pothole paradox hypothesized by Steven Berlin Johnston ie. extremely local, small-scale news is interesting to people living in a certain street with pot holes but not to those living a few streets away.

When it comes to looking after a paper’s bloggers, Jo advised giving constructive but honest feedback and never be afraid to turn people down.

I was pretty pleased to hear there was a high turnover of bloggers and some who didn’t even start, as I’ve had similar situations with a number of ex and failed-to-starters.

Simon Willison

The second speaker Simon Willison initially talked about his work creating the  software and database for The Guardian’s MPs’ expenses crowd-sourcing project, where more than 200,000 documents were studied in the search for interesting information.

The structure was put together in a week before 450,000 documents were dumped into the public domain during this act of government “transparency”.

It was a steep learning curve for the team behind the project, but it was developed on for the second release of MPs’ expenses information for 2008/9 and the first quarter of 2009/10.

A few thousand documents were torn through by the crowd. Simon and the team created a wider variety of tags for each page, such as food or soft furnishings.

Hand-written pages were often particularly interesting, such as a lengthy note from Jack Straw.

My personal favourite site Simon has created is where people can share their pictures of wildlife, both wild and captive. It’s an amazing site where people can vote for their favourite pictures of animals, add their own, find creatures geographically. It really is imaginative.

A spin off site is which has had friends/fans hijacking the American Superbowl hashtag #superbowlday superb-owl-day, geddit…

Simon also showed impressive crowd-sourced maps, particularly a post-earthquake map of Haiti, created by users of

It was pretty impressive to see what could be created by people with the imagination and skills to make something happen and not just draw ideas out on paper.

Break away

Both talks definitely fired the imaginations of everyone involved who took part in the break-away sessions at the end of the evening.

The four groups came up with multimedia ways to cover Brighton Pride, this year’s general election and transport issues.

A particular favourite of mine was creating a spot the candidate Google map. Now that’s an idea with legs.

Other blogs/posts about Brighton Future of News Group:

A document of all the event’s tweets featuring the hashtag #bfong.

Laura Oliver, editor of also blogged about Jo Wadsworth’s and Simon Willison’s presentations, as did John Keenan.

Judith Townend, from organised the event at The Skiff and put together a summary linked with the first Future of News Group West Midlands meeting, which took place on the same evening.

The original UK Future of News Group was set up by Adam Westbrook.


Web headline relief

Filed under: Web journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 4:18 pm
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A four-hour flying visit to Grantham later and I’m feeling much happier about the new-look website than I did when I wrote Making the headlines work.

The content management system (CMS) is radically different to the current JP system, but at least I know it is possible to have specific web headlines and edits.

I think the new sites look cleaner and are/will be easier to navigate.

The majority of reporters, particularly the Worthing team, will be able to grasp this quite quickly.

It’s just a case of bringing everyone else on board.


Making the headlines work

Late on Friday afternoon (February 5, 2010) I had an interesting discussion with a member of senior management about the difference between web news and the newspapers.

It’s no secret that Johnston Press is changing its operating systems, and part of that includes a redesigned website. The Grantham Journal already has its beta site up for feedback.

Tomorrow I am going to Grantham to see how it all works, hence the discussion with the senior manager. I explained I particularly wanted to know how the web edits and headlines are separated from print, as the system is integrated.

This was something he couldn’t get his head around. Why the difference? Writers, and sub editors in particulars are aware of the need for expressive, concise and witty headlines necessary for print.

However, those of us working with news websites are well aware of the need to simplify headlines for search engine optimisation (SEO).

When I was handed the newspaper websites I knew nothing of SEO, but as a web user of 12 years standing at that point, I had an instinctive understanding of how the headlines and stories needed to be written.

It seems obvious to me that journalists need to put themselves in the position of someone searching for a particular news story.

On Friday I had uploaded a video of fans queuing to see Peter Andre at the Holmbush Centre Tesco in Shoreham-by-sea.

My chosen headline was Peter Andre thrills fans at Holmbush Centre signing and the picture caption included the words Tesco, and Shoreham.

The Shoreham Herald version of the story topped Google on Friday afternoon, and the story was the most popular on the three websites it appeared on. My work was done.

However, the senior member of management couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t use that headline in the print edition. It’s not dreadful, but it’s hardly the sort of pithy eye-catching stuff you might expect.

I suggested the print headline “Fans scream for six-pack star”, and pointed out it wouldn’t work on the web, but had an element of fun for the paper.

Unfortunately the senior manager couldn’t understand why it would work in the paper and not on the web, and vice versa.

When I checked the web analytics I found “Peter Andre” was the top search term and high in the rankings were the phrases “Peter Andre at Holmbush”, “Peter Andre in Shoreham” and “Peter Andre signing at Tesco”.

It may not seem like rocket science but I have tried to explain this to a number of reporters who still don’t get it, and use print style headlines instead.

An example I use during the online journalism workshops I host at Brighton City College, is The Sun’s Gotcha headline.

I’ve read variations on the Gotcha isn’t good for the web theme, but the best is Shane Richmond’s post for British Journalism Review.

The “Gotcha” headline on a Sun front-page splash about the sinking of the General Belgrano is one of the most famous, or infamous depending on your taste, in the history of British journalism.

Yet no web producer with any experience would consider a headline like that today. The reason is search engine optimisation (SEO).

SEO has been around almost as long as search engines themselves, but journalists were quite late to cotton on.  It didn’t really reach newsrooms until a couple of years ago.

The concept is simple.  It’s about ensuring that your content is found by the millions of people every day who use search engines as their first filter for news and those who don’t search at all but trust an automated aggregator, such as Google News, to filter stories for them.

These people are essentially asking a computer to tell them the news.

If you want your story to be read, you’d better make sure the computer knows what you’re writing about.

It’s logical and simple, it’s strange how some people just can’t get it.