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The Second City Derby and the other problem with Facebook Trending

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The ‘Second City Derby’ took place yesterday – between Aston Villa and Birmingham City. Having worked with the Birmingham Mail for almost a decade, I now understand why so many fans of the two sides get so frustrated with the national media’s attitude to the city’s football clubs.

You don’t need to spend a long time with fans of Blues, Villa, West Brom (not in Birmingham I know) and other Midlands teams to know that they are as passionate as any other set of fans, so the constant referencing by radio commentators and media pundits to the ‘passion on show’ from the fans always suggests more about how much Midlands football is ignored most of the time than anything else.

It made an appearance in the Facebook Trending box on my timeline today too – or rather, a reference to Gary Gardner, who scored for Villa, appeared.

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How journalists can beat Facebook’s algorithm (but don’t expect a quick fix!)

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Should journalism be fearful of Facebook? Or, indeed, any other platform which has been successful in attracting a large number of people and, crucially, a large proportion of their time spent online?

If the thing getting so much attention banned journalism, or journalists, from existing within the walled garden it had created, and which so many people were happy to spend so much time resident in, then yes, that would be bad news.

But that’s not where Facebook is. It is huge, and can probably lay claim to being the power behind maybe half of the most-used apps in the world. And that could make it dangerous of course, but no more dangerous than anything which is so dominant has the potential to be.  Like a government with a landslide majority and, in theory, the mandate to anything it wants,  Facebook will also know that its strength as a business comes from its dominance, and a dominance it needs to preserve.

That dominance of user time will only continue for as long as it continues to deliver what people want on there, and the prospect of 80% of mobile web time being spent within a cluster of a person’s chosen apps within two years will be focusing minds like never before.

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EU referendum: What does the social media reaction tell us about coming out in favour of Remain?

Several titles I work with have, over the past week, urged readers to vote ‘remain’ in Thursday’s EU referendum.

Contrary to the popular myth being shared on some parts of social media by Brexiteers, each editor has been free to decide whether their titles should back either side, or remain neutral.

I think the titles which have taken a side – including the Newcastle Journal, Birmingham Mail, Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News – are proof that you can take a position on something while still providing balanced coverage.

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Journalism’s challenge isn’t Facebook. It’s much bigger than that

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The annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report contains so many interesting insights into where online journalism – and the consumption of it – is heading it can be hard to know where to start.

Most of the coverage has focused around the stat that up to half of people now get their news on social media, with a growing number using it as their main source of news.

And with that came a grim summary from one of the authors of the report, according to the FT:

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the Reuters Institute director of research, said: “The move towards a more distributed environment offers publishers opportunities to reach new audiences on an unprecedented scale, but as people increasingly access news via third-party platforms, it will become harder and harder for most publishers to stand out from the crowd, connect directly with users, and make money.”

It led some commentators to suggest that Facebook is effectively bankrupting the news industry – by hoovering up huge chunks of advertising (which presumably was destined for news publishers instead, a bit of a big leap to make) and not actually investing in content creation itself.

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The currency of endorsement (or why Facebook likes matter)

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Every month, brands within the company I work for, Trinity Mirror, publish the number of followers they have on Facebook and Twitter, along with unique browser data.

Every month, the data is picked up by the trade press, including sites such as Hold the Front Page, and reported in a straight-down-the-middle sort of way.

And every month, the same conversation begins in the comments section. “What’s the point of counting your Twitter followers” or “Where’s the money in Facebook likes?”

It’s a discussion which happens in newsrooms too, and the idea of counting followers and likes only really makes sense if you buy into the fact readers have a new sort of currency to bestow on you: Their endorsement.

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Facebook’s challenge to journalists: Make your work shareable to be successful

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Facebook’s latest algorithm changes came into view last Friday. Posted late in the evening UK time, the social network said it was going to using data from a tiny sample of users via surveys to help determine what everyone else saw in their feed.

The idea, claims Facebook, is to make the news feed ‘fundamentally human.’ Basing big decisions on the feedback of around 1,000 users via a survey when Facebook has such a vast volume of user data at its disposal seems a very odd decision, and Facebook runs the risk of making the mistake so many publishers have made over the years.

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Think like a human, report like a journalist: How to handle breaking news on social media

Managing Facebook communities can be a bit of a conundrum for newsrooms. On one hand, a strong Facebook community built around your brand’s page can drive huge audiences to your website.

On the other hand, it can be quite hard to ‘control’ the crowd – if, indeed, that’s how journalists see their role. Despite being perhaps the hardest social network on which to be anonymous, I suspect we’re all familiar with tales of seemingly innocuous stories prompting comments which veer towards the racist very quickly.

This obviously runs the risk of harming your brand, but not publishing any story which could be skewed by someone to have a go at immigration would probably render a page rather empty.

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Why journalism needs to get over its fear of Facebook

At the Online News Association conference in Chicago, Facebook went under the microscope, challenged almost to prove it was a force for good in journalism, rather than something to be feared.

Two main themes emerged. The first was that it is clear that Facebook probably drives far more traffic to news websites than previously thought. The Atlantic, for example, discovered that half of its unique users – coming up on in analytics as from a ‘no referral source’ – were actually coming in from the mobile app on Facebook.

Is that a bad thing? I’ll come to that.

The second concerned Facebook’s algorithm. Facebook’s Liz Heron was asked to give details about what will make sure a story works well on Facebook. Her response that journalists should just focus on good content didn’t seem to appease everyone, while there was concern about the impact of Facebook’s algorithm.

It, said some, meant many regular folk were more likely to see content related to the Ice Bucket Challenge than they were about the Ferguson shootings. In other words, does the mass audience on Facebook being presented individualised content based on what they’ve clicked on before or what their friends are clicking on, mean bad news for journalists?

My answer to that question, and the previous question is: Forget these questions and lets just deal with reality.

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When a sentiment works better than a headline on social media

Getting the tone right on social media, especially when dealing with a sensitive story can be tricky – and one of the most obvious examples of digital journalism not just being what we’ve always done, but on a different platform. 

I could write hundreds of words trying to articulate the dangers trying to deal with a vocal audience while sharing a sensitive story, especially one which involves a lot of background work which readers wouldn’t normally see. I could, but I won’t – because this Facebook post this afternoon from the Lancashire Evening Post shows how to get perhaps the most sensitive of stories just right – the funeral of someone who has been killed:

 

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This post was fraught with risks – people accusing the LEP of being callous for filming a funeral (because they wouldn’t have known they had permission) or complaints that the LEP was intruding into family grief if they’d tried to use a standard news line in the Facebook post.

Instead, the LEP got the message across that they’d been invited, and showed respect to the family by saying thanks to them for it as well – thus displaying the sort of engagement which helps make news brands more than just bystanders in their community.

 

Still debating the merits of taking Facebook seriously as a journalist? Facebook might just be about to change your mind…

Facebook’s success depends entirely on the relevance of the feed which appears when people first log in, so it’s no surprise that the secret formula which lies behind that service is constantly under review.

Trying to work out how to make the most of that feed has much in common with some of the more darkish arts which surround making the most of search engine optimisation … with similar repercussions dished out by both Google and Facebook if it thinks people are gaming their systems to get a better show. 

Facebook today announced a couple of new changes to Facebook feeds which should be of particular interest to journalists seeking to ensure the content they produce reaches the widest possible audience.

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