How to guides

13 alternative tips for student journalists

See Number 11

I often get asked what advice I’d give students looking to go into journalism. I think people half expect the answer to be: “Don’t!” Of course, it’s tough, but it’s still a great profession, which is changing all the time. Here, slightly tongue-in-cheek, are 13 alternative tips for student journalists: 


Tools for journalists: Rediscovering Twazzup


New social media tools come, and some go again. Some gain traction and then fall by the wayside when Twitter changes its API, others struggle to make ends meet and introduce subscription service, while others just get forgotten about.

For me, Twazzup falls into the last category, but having rediscovered it a couple of weeks ago, am finding that it’s still remarkably useful. There are a myriad of Twitter monitoring tools out there, some of which look very sleek, some of which are excellent. But here are six things which I think are behind my persistent return to Twazzup:


Tools for journalists: Using Yatterbox for a different view on Twitter

One of the best things about Twitter – and there are many – is that it can give anyone a voice. That’s huge for journalists, turning Tweetdeck into a modern-day radio scanner, only tailored to just the bits you’re interested in, and involving many more people.

However, the downside to that approach is that it can make verification very hard. If you’ve got a Tweetdeck column, then you know you can see every Tweet which includes an important phrase to you, eg a place, but you need to be looking at it all the time.

To conquer that, you might  use a tool like Twilert ($9 a month to have every tweet involving a keyword which is important to you feels like a bargain) which will ping you an email whenever a Tweet containing an important word or phrase crops up. That solves one problem, to a point, but what about verification?

That’s where Yatterbox comes in. Aimed at people who spend their lives managing the reputations of brands, Yatterbox works on the principle that the Tweets some people write about a brand or issue have more impact that those written by others.

So it set about creating comprehensive lists of the people it feels have the greatest impact with their Tweets, and created three lists: Journalists, UK policy and EU policy. I suspect more are on the way. The help video which launches when you first sign up makes it very clear the aim is to help PRs keep track of what people PRs probably consider important are saying.


18 things I learnt about being a council reporter which I hope still apply today

About three years ago, when I first started this blog, I wrote ’10 alternative rules for covering court’ which still proves to be a popular post today. Not bad for someone who rarely covered court! Council was more often than not my beat, so here, slightly tongue in cheek, are 18 things I learnt about covering councils and local politics which might be useful to someone out there…


Twitter for editors: How to know if your brand account is doing a good job

It goes without saying that pretty much every media brand out there – including, I guess, every local and regional newspaper, has a presence on Twitter.

Knowing how effective that Twitter account is for the brand is a different matter. There are a plethora of Twitter analytics tools out there – some good, some bad – but few make it possible to see, at a glance, whether your brand account is doing its job.

That’s why I like so much. In one quick view, you can get a real feel for a brand and how it is – or isn’t – connecting with a community.

This post is based on the following assumptions:

  • Automation is bad. I’ve no problem with advance scheduling of Tweets – that’s very much a good thing, especially if you are doing so with an audience in mind – but allowing headlines (and worse still, the first few words of an intro) onto Twitter doesn’t look good.
  • Interaction from the brand account is good, but on-going dialogues with just one particular person just makes everyone else switch off.
  • The primary aim of a Twitter account is to connect with a community and get them to connect with your content. Links, therefore are essential
  • But you also want to be useful, so linking to others also helps people value what you do.

Here’s what shows. Enter the Twitter address of a brand and off you go:


10 useful websites for ‘rainy day’ stories

A rainy day in Bury

Holdthefrontpage used to have a interesting, and updated daily, section called ‘story ideas.‘ The idea was simple – you have slow news days, and these were ideas to see you through.

A rainy day in Bury,  obviously, isn’t news. However, hopefully these 10 websites could be of use. Yes, some of them are obvious, but I thought I’d list them all the same.


How to make your live tweeting of an event indispensible for readers

heartmonitorUsing Twitter to provide live coverage from an event is so popular largely because it’s so simple. You don’t even need a web-enabled phone to do it, so long as the phone you’re texting from is connected to your Twitter account.

However, that means you have a rather one-way conversation – you’re broadcasting, in a way the media always has. But simply using the an app or mobile internet to access Twitter to live tweet from an event doesn’t guarantee a two-way conversation.

Often, newsrooms encourage reporters to live tweet from an event because it’s a simply and effective way to get the updates back into a liveblog powered by the likes of Coveritlive and Scribblelive, or one of the increasingly common purpose-built live-blogging solutions publishers have.

That’s fine as far as it goes – but it’s still missing a trick. We can report live, or we can go a step further and make the audience part of the event we’re covering. As a rule, we can’t feed back what they’re saying to the event – if it’s council meeting, football match, court case and so on – but we can make our coverage the centre of a discussion.

The best way to describe what I’m talking about is to show a great example I followed last week. In Greater Manchester, the local NHS is putting itself through yet another wave of reform, under the banner Healthier Together. Type the phrase into Google and you’ll see similar things going on across the country.


Using Storify as your one-stop social network search engine – and 12 tips on how to do it

Hmmm. Social networks. So much information, but in so many places. For journalists, this is both blessing and curse.

Social network search engines vary in terms of reliability and depth of coverage – especially where keeping an eye on Facebook is factored in.

Until now.

Storify wasn’t built – as far as I’m aware – as a social network search engine, but that’s exactly what it requires to work.

Storify allows users to build stories around things which have been posted on social media. As far as I can tell, it’s designed to curate after the event, but I also think it has legs as a live-blogging tool, but more on that another time.

And for journalists covering a breaking news event, Storify could be the thing you’ve been waiting for – even if you don’t plan to create a Storify. Here are 12 tips for getting the most out of it.


Here’s a picture which speaks just one word – but shows the value of social media search

If a picture can speak a thousands words, then I reckon the first one this picture on the front page of the Manchester Evening News would say is ‘ouch.’

A still from a video posted on YouTube, it shows the moment a suspected thief is hit by a car as he fled from a local Asda.

The MEN carried the story in the following spread (click the image to see an enlarged version):

This story proves two things to me:

1. Stories involving user generated content (which essentially this is) work much better when you don’t make a fuss about how it surfaced. The story is the content, not the fact it’s on Youtube.

2. YouTube stories aren’t old hat – just stories which make a fuss about the fact it was on YouTube (which this doesn’t). That makes YouTube a must-check source for journalists. Two ways of doing this: Either search Youtube every day for the keywords you’d look for, or set up RSS searches like this:

Where word Oldham is, replace this for your search term. If you have more than one search term, put a + between the two words. So if you only wanted video involving Oldham and Rochdale, you’d go:

Of course, this relies on the person uploading actually using the words Oldham or Rochdale in their uploads.

You can create your own personal newswire using Google Reader – click here for a guide – although Reader is increasingly flaky. My favourite alternative, which wipes the floor with Reader, is Spundge – a guide on how to use that is here.
(I’ve added these pages to a collection of great newspaper pages on Pinterest – click here)

Spundge, a tool all journalists should try – and 10 ways to use it

I don’t think – generally – journalists make enough of RSS feeds. RSS readers should be used by every journalist to create their own personal newswire, pulling in information from all over the web based on search words or specific feeds from sites you really should stay on top of, but invariably forget about.

But here’s a surreal problem: Google News RSS feeds invariably don’t work anymore in Google Reader. Which is a bit of a problem – as any personal newswire worth its salt needs to be pulling in from the best news search tool around.

And then there’s social media. You could build Tweetdeck up to search Twitter and other networks, but Facebook search is notoriously flaky, and wouldn’t it just be better to be able to view all your searches in one place?

Today I discovered Spundge. Which does all of that.