Talk about social media in newsrooms and the conversation very quickly focuses on Twitter, and sometimes Facebook gets a look in too. But what about other social networks? In particular here, I mean Flickr.
I’ve been a big fan of Flickr ever since Garry Cook introduced me to it during a quiet evening on the subs desk of the Daily Star about six years ago. At the start of 2008, Capital of Culture year in Liverpool, Alison Gow and I experimented with a Flickr group for the Liverpool Daily Post, encouraging people to drop in pictures which showed their pride in the city.
Four years on, there are 1,286 members, 68,326 photos and a flourishing community who enjoy being part of the Post, and who’ve participated in an exhibition of their work (along with members of the Liverpool Echo’s Flickr group) and chosen pictures for a book to mark the end of Capital of Culture year.
Many, many newspapers have Flickr groups now. But there’s much more newsrooms can do with Flickr. Here are five ideas:
1. Do more than just create an inbox for photos to use in print: The caveat I should have put in the line above is that many newsrooms have Flickr groups now, but many don’t use them very well. To thrive, they need an owner in the newsroom, and some times from that owner. Not a lot of time, but enough time to ensure those wanting to get involved feel as though they are valued. The novelty of seeing your work in print will wear off if people don’t feel appreciated – the result being an endless stream of your best-known local landmark and not much else.
The Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo Flickr groups are great examples of how to get it right. Every time a photo is used, the titles’ shared digital team record the fact in the Flickr group. They also encourage photographers to get involved in discussions on all sorts of subjects and have made them part of decisions relating to the groups, ranging from picking pictures to use in print from other photographers through to the categories which helped shape the exhibition. You can get a flavour of the community here.
2. Share front pages: Flickr isn’t restricted to just photos – in fact, one of the enduring debates I see in Flickr groups is whether they should allow altered images or other such images). In that sense, newspaper front pages have a place on Flickr – many hours of hard work can go into creating one. Uploading front pages – or any printed page – is hardly new on Flickr – type in the name of any newspaper in Flickr’s search engine and you’ll find pictures – as this quick search for Peterborough Evening Telegraph shows. Whisper it quietly, but links in the description box back to your website will probably even help your SEO.
3. Create a group of shared photos: When we were creating Birmingham Communities, we asked those involved in the hyperlocal community and bloggers what we could give them. The answer came back: photos. While I’m not suggesting newspapers should put their entire archive online (the archive remains one of the most valuable things we have), how much harm could it do to put a batch of useful pictures – town centre shots, crowd shots from a football match, archive images around big events, one picture from a large event – onto Flickr with a Creative Commons licence which permits reuse so long as it is credited? In my opinion, no harm at all.
4. Get your photographers on there: You don’t have to be a fan of Arsenal Football Club to appreciate the work of David Price on his Flickr stream. A professional photographer currently working at the Gunners, Price’s collection of images is stunning. And it would only take a couple of minutes a week for other Press photographers to do the same too.
5. Go where the communities are: I’ll end with the obvious – look beyond your own profile and group. On Flickr there are 72 groups which come up when you search for Chorley in Lancashire – amusingly including one for Chorley Conservatives with just one member. Spending time getting to know people in these groups should pay dividends – and show you’re there for a two way conversation, not just a quick haul of photos to fill the paper. I guess it’s the same point I make when I write about forums and messageboards. Our job as journalists is to find communities and information – and this is another way of doing just that.