Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Transcontinental site thehockeynews.com has launched a free BlackBerry app (available for users of other smartphones in mid-October) that delivers updates twice a day on all things hockey. They’ll apparently be selling banner ads that are delivered within the app and are aiming to have 8,000 subscribers by the end of the year.

Mobile is a pretty trendy platform to be on – and as an iPhone user, I can tell you I really appreciate a good app – but I’m curious how well this will work for them in terms of making money. THN is probably a good fit with BlackBerry users but this sort of strategy may not be as feasible for other magazine brands, at least not yet.

I’d like to try it out but don’t have a BlackBerry – can anyone tell me what it’s like?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 is evangelistic about what he terms “link journalism“: selecting and sharing links to the best content around the web (either as an extension of your content or as a goal in and of itself) rather than being a pure content producer. Today he reviews the new Washington Post Political Browser, where staff writers and editors share links to the stories they’re reading around the web.

Eric [Pianin, politics editor for washingtonpost.com] acknowledged that washingtonpost.com is “late to the party,” but in fact the Political Browser puts the Post way out ahead of many other news sites — while many have begun to recognize the value of aggregation and links, most have been slow to act.

As Eric points out, it’s “not just aggregation.” (Heck, any algorithm can do aggregation — that’s increasingly a commodity.) What Political Browser has set out to do, according to Eric, is put The Washington Post “stamp of approval” on the choice of stories, and to provide “insight” into what’s important in the sphere of political news on the web.

Also looking beyond commodity aggregation, The Post believes, with good reason, that a lot people who are interested in political news and in the Post’s political reporting would find it interesting to get “inside the heads” of Post journalists, to see what they are reading and what is informing their reporting.

This is a great example of how a traditional media brand can leverage its reputation and trust factor to succeed on the web. I agree with Karp in that it’s ludicrous to pretend that competitors aren’t a mouse click or Google search away.

Monday, September 29, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008

I haven’t really covered repurposing yet, with the exception of discussing print heds vs. web heds, and more will come, don’t worry. But for now, I got a question via email about what to do with sidebars when repurposing:

I’m encountering a few problems with posting sidebars from articles. Have you noticed any best practices when it comes to posting sidebars along with the original articles they appeared with? For example, are others simply opting not to post sidebars online? Linking to them from the bottom of the article? Integrating them into the content pages?

Direction has been set for me to upload features (1500-3000 words) for some of our publications. I end up breaking up the content every 500-600 words which results in six pages or more for people to click through…with the addition of sidebars the thing becomes a monster. Right now, I’m wondering if I should just add a link to the end of each article that jumps to a separate page containing the sidebar. Wanted to know how others are approaching this.

This is a really good question, and unfortunately there’s no easy answer except “all of the above.” There’s no good formula for best practices in this case – it’s the web editor’s job to look at each piece individually and decide what works best. But here are some thoughts on each option.

Cut the sidebar
It can be hard when repurposing to cut content – after all, the print editors worked hard on every word of that article, and everything’s in there for a reason. But sometimes, you need to cut. Look at the piece, look at the sidebar, and decide if it really needs to be in there or if it’s extraneous information. (After all, I’ll step up and admit that I often find sidebars distracting in print when I’m reading a story.) Sometimes, you just need to leave it out. (Cutting part of the story is a discussion for another day.)

Build the sidebar separately
If the sidebar can stand on its own, and the word count is high enough, then go for it – build it as a separate article and link the two to each other. This is especially valuable if you’re aiming for search traffic, as you can optimize each piece with different keywords.

Tack it on the end
If you don’t want to cut and you don’t want to build it separately, then you can add sidebars to the end of the article, whether that means at the bottom of the page or on their own page. This can be awkward, but it really depends on the content. Try it out and see how it works for the article you’re working on. (The question of whether you should be splitting up features at all is another one to think about.)

Integrate it
If you’ve got the time and are feeling really creative, you can try to integrate the sidebar into the story in what can end up being a complete rewrite. An example of this just came up on besthealthmag.ca today (sorry for overusing my own site – please send in more examples) with an article that we were repurposing, “5 secrets for hot dates with your spouse“: I really wanted to use the sidebar, but it was very short. The editor working on the piece did a great rewrite and made each of the five points from the sidebar into a heading for larger sections repurposed from the main body of the original article.

I’m sorry I don’t have an easy answer, but I think the theories behind how to repurpose are in flux right now – more on this in future posts.

Please share your thoughts on repurposing sidebars – and any content, for that matter – in the comments.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Word on the Street is this Sunday, and there will be a Magazines Canada tent in Toronto with lots going on. I’m going to try and make it to the copyright panel at 2:00 – say hi if you see me. Here’s a lineup courtesy of Magazines Canada.

Canadian Magazines Tent at Word on the Street features diverse literary line-up

Toronto (MC) – Readers, writers and magazine fans in general will be in for a treat at the Canadian Magazines Tent at Toronto’s Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival at Queen’s Park on Sunday, September 28.

With programming running from 11:00am to 6:00pm, visitors to the free day-long exhibition can attend one or all of the diverse sessions put on by Magazines Canada:

11:00-11:30 – Writing Green
Join Nicola Ross, executive editor of Alternatives Journal, for a conversation on the key questions about environmental journalism in Canada. Are authors and journalists doing a good job of informing Canadians about environmental issues? Can newspapers and blogs handle the complexity of environmental stories? What role do magazines play in the media mix? Do we need to improve environmental journalism and, if so, how can it be done? With issues ranging from climate change to water quality and from nanotechnology to greenwashing, how can Canadian journalists to a better job?

Nicola Ross is the executive editor of Alternatives, Canada’s environmental magazine.

11:30-12:30 – All Tongues Are Red
Based on Dan Yashinsky’s recent article in Alternatives magazine, this talk explores the connections between listening, storytelling, myth and environmental activism.

Dan Yashinsky is the author of Suddenly They Heard Footsteps—Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century. He has taught and performed at festivals throughout Canada and around the world.

12:45-1:45 – Survival Tips for Freelancers
Dyed-in-the-wool freelance writer Nate Hendley shares insights and information on how to survive as a freelancer. Nate will share his many years of hard-won wisdom in a presentation geared towards beginning and experienced writers alike.

Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based writer/author who has written 10 books and countless magazine and newspaper articles.

2:00-3:00 – On Use and Misuse: Copyright Lawyers Discuss the Politics of Copyright
Three experts in copyright law shine a light on the grey areas involved in publishing in the digital era. Get your facts straight! Become better-informed in just one hour on digital rights, plagiarism and more. Panel moderated by John Degen, Executive Director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada.

Professor Giuseppina D’Agostino specializes in Intellectual Property law at Osgoode Hall Law School. Grace Westcott is a copyright lawyer in private practice and the Vice-Chair of the Canadian Copyright Institute. Warren Sheffer is a partner in the firm Hebb & Sheffer and specializes in copyright law.

3:15-4:15 – Lit Laffs
Feet sore from festival-going? Need to turn a frown upside-down? The Feathertale Review, a unique literary magazine from Ottawa, presents some light-hearted entertainment to send you on your merry way.

Iain Marlow’s writings have appeared in The Feathertale Review, the Toronto Star, the Independent (UK), the Globe and Mail and The China Daily. Kevin Scanlon has been working as a journalist in Canada for 33 years. Richard Taylor teaches writing in the English Department at Ottawa’s Carleton University. Brett Popplewell is a journalist by trade but a swashbuckling archaeologist at heart. He is the founding editor of all things Feathertale.

4:30-6:00 – Design Edge Canada presents…The Font Show

Get up close and personal with some of the hottest designers in town as they reveal intimate secrets about their love affair with type, with host Ann Meredith Brown, editor of Design Edge Canada, and designers Gary Davidson, Levi Nicholson and Scott Richardson.

Gary Davidson is responsible for the look and visual feel of outdoor magazine Explore. Levi Nicholson is an art director at Zaxis Custom Communications. He is also art director of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, ON Nature and Pulse magazines, and he is currently redesigning This Magazine. Scott Richardson is vice president and creative director, Canadian publishing, for Random House of Canada.

Don’t miss out on the hottest book and magazine event of the year – and be sure to stop by the Canadian Magazines Tent. Visit the Word on the Street website for more information.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Social media is going mainstream, and everyone wants a piece of it. But now that there are so many services available, it’s not just a matter of adding communities to people’s lives - they have enough to keep up with, says Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times. Which means there are two options: replace people’s existing tools with your own (which can be pretty difficult), or create tools that don’t require major shifts in behaviour.

It’s an important thing to think about if you’re considering adding social media or communities to your site. You’re not just competing with your traditional competing magazines’ sites – you’re competing with Facebook. So before you put in any major investment of time or money, think hard about what you can offer that no one else can. If it were you being asked to join this potential community, would it be worth your time?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The rules of publishing have changed. Established players are still important – and, for the most part, trusted – but they’re no longer the only route to getting your message out to a wide audience. Now anyone can put together a website and make him or herself* look respectable – whether they know what they’re doing or not.

I’m not saying this to be critical – there’s green grass on both sides of the hill. But it’s become a lot harder to find the true experts, especially if it’s in a field that’s not your own, as is true of the web for many (if not most) in the magazine industry. It’s a game of Where’s Waldo when you don’t know what you’re looking for.

The truth is, this isn’t rocket science, it’s social science – and therefore harder to pin down. The functionality of the web is a constantly evolving target, and as such there are no experts in “the web” as a whole, only those who’ve experimented with varying degrees of success. You can definitely find consultants, companies and future employees who know a lot and have a great deal of relevant and useful experience. But anyone who claims to have all the answers to all your problems is lying (or just has a really big ego).

So how do you find help when you need it? First, decide on your goals. Then treat it like a job interview – ask for resumes, interview thoroughly and do a good reference check. Make sure what they’re offering fits your original goals and your needs. And if they’re promising you the moon, turn on your skepticism filter.

* The linguist in me wants to know if “themself” will ever become an established English word. I think we’re heading that way, but I’m not ready to use it yet, even if I’m okay with “they” and “their” as a singular in colloquial use (and even though my brain tries to form it). There’s obviously a collectively felt need for a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Feel free to comment on this too.

Monday, September 22, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008

Kim Pittaway sent in a question (thanks, Kim!) in response to my post the other day about web heds vs. print heds:

Isn’t it also important to repeat keywords of the hed in the address for the article page? I still see magazines assigning page addresses like www.mymagazine.com/features/1134 – shouldn’t they be doing something like www.mymagazine.com/features/web-headline-writing-tips? I’ve been told this makes a difference in search – is that in fact the case?

Kim is completely correct. In fact, the URL is important enough for search that I’d been planning to devote a post to this topic. No time like the present.

The simple answer is, Google likes keywords to appear in your article’s URL – and as far as I know, the closer to the beginning, the better, which means your domain name is extremely important. For instance, in a bit of shameless promotion of my own site, while the keyword phrase “best health” is a pretty common one, Best Health magazine (besthealthmag.ca) comes up first on google.ca – but only second on google.com, after the website besthealth.com. (This result could also have to do with the fact that besthealth.com has likely been around a lot longer than besthealthmag.ca.)

You’ll notice when you do a Google search that the words you searched for are highlighted in your results. Next time you search for something, pay attention to whether the search terms appear in the URL (aka the web address) of the top-ranked pages. It’s likely that they are. For instance (click the image to view full-size):

You’ll notice that in the Seafood Paella recipe from besthealthmag.ca (oops, did it again), the keywords “paella” and “recipe” both appear in the page title, in the body (here, the dek) and in the URL. This distribution of the keywords really helps the results. (The external link I just gave it won’t hurt either, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Bottom line? If you want to increase your site’s traffic from search, it’s worth figuring out how to get more keywords into your URLs. You should notice a big difference in your rankings.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Payment terms for bloggers is a bit of an uncertainty in the industry right now. Do you pay them by the word? (That seems dangerous.) By traffic numbers? By number of posts? By the hour? Do you pay them just to write, or are they meant to promote the blog as well, or to interact with other bloggers in their community? These are all tough questions.

Salon.com is trying an interesting new strategy – they’re asking readers to “tip” bloggers when they like what they read through a system called Tippem. It’s part of their Open Salon user-generated content section (still in beta), and in theory it’s an idea that I like – you’re letting readers pay their content producers directly, sort of like sending Thom Yorke a few bucks when you listen to his newest album – and enjoy it.

But in practice? I’m curious to see whether it will take off. After all, everyone likes a bargain, and nothing’s a better bargain than free content.

Would you pay a blogger if you liked what you read? And if your site does have bloggers, how do you pay them?

About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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