Lessons from the Online News Association Conference

The past few weeks have been busy but exciting in the world of journalism. Tonight, I’m camping out at Hearst’s D.C. Bureau with reporters from other regional papers as well. It feels good to be part of breaking news and dive into a subject I admittedly never follow (elections). I never appreciated a John King hologram or a New York Times flash map more than tonight. Seriously, new media has made old media a lot less stressful.

I’ve learned a lot tonight, but I also learned a lot about the more techy side of journalism at the ONA 2010 conference.

I was fortunate enough to attend panels on Friday and Saturday as well as an amazing job fair on Thursday. My live blogs are on the site, but here are some takeaways from the conference based on my experience.

 1) Stop saying “journalism” vs “digital journalism.” What we’ve learned is that digital is the new standard. Newsrooms have made the adjustment (God help them if they haven’t) and now they’re playing with new tools (graphics, social media, data collecting) to deliver information to a very digital audience. It is detremental for newsrooms and especially j-schools to see digital as a luxury or advanced skill. It is now a necessity.

3) News is going to be a social experience. When you look at basic sociology, it seems obvious that the best way to provide a successful service is to LISTEN to your audience. How do you listen to your audience? You RESPOND to them (as @WSJ does on their twitter feed), invite input and make changes based on that input. I’m not going to “engage” in a website if I think a human being won’t ever see it or reply. People today follow trusted news streams rather than individual news sites, and crowdsourcing has become more important than ever b/c of the limited resources many newsrooms are facing.

4) J-schools better step it up. I was most intrigued by the “Rewiring the Ivory Tower” discussion b/c it seemed like there was a huge divide between J-schools that are “with the times” and J-schools who still see journalism as a degree for people who like to write. I’ll say that the writing drew me to jouranlism in the beginning, but now it’s part-writer, part-expert internet stalker, part-computer programmer, part videographer and part digital social butterfly. They NEED to require HTML and design courses as well as video. And most importantly, they can no longer separate online journalism from broadcast. We need to know it all, and I feel like I missed out b/c of that divide.

5) Know what makes a good site. I really enjoyed the session on website traffic and search engine optimization. Search engines care about social media (notice the amount of YouTube videos and Tweets that show up for your average search). Some tips the panelists gave included adding “related stories” to stories that get big hits on your page, making SEO-friendly headlines and links, ask for viewers’ zip codes to target information, and monitor interactivity. Engagement is far more important than hits. Also, use written numbers, understand the importance of location, use tags in the Titles, describe what’s going on in your multimedia (those don’t always show up in search engines) and write for your audience!

Search Engine Optimization: Tips for getting your site noticed (In a good way) and Marketing on Social Media


SEO means improving the visibility of your web site in search engines like GOOGLE, which is the way most people find your site in today’s web environment. SEO allows you to get more hits on your page through natural search results, aka unpaid.

First things you need to think about

  • Who comes to my site NOW-demographic
  • Why do they come to my site?
  • What is the most popular thing on my site (Google Analytics or Review should tell you this)
  • What do I WANT to be the most popular thing on my site/what do I want to get more attention on my site?
  • What kind of marketing am I doing now to get people to see my articles
  • Goals: What audience do we want, how big of an audience, and what do we want to be the “draw” of the site

Most Popular sites today and why

  • The most popular sites today (traffic wise) are search engines and social media sites. They include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Youtube, Blogger, Wikipedia, and Twitter
  • Why do they get the most hits? #1—b/c they are excellent search engines/easy ways to get information you want fast. #2 B/c they promote interactivity, they are a part of the “social media” lifestyle and they get you committed.
  • Applying it to you—you need to make sure your site gives your target audience what it wants from you in an easy way and you need to promote interactivity to establish some loyalty/commitment to the site.
  • Most popular think tank site (based on some Google searches): Heritage Foundation. Why? My guess is b/c they have targeted their audience, given them the content they want (and can only get there) and provide some interactivity.

 Ways to improve your SEO-Marketing Outlook

  • Know your audience and give them a lot of what they want. Do they come to the site b/c of a particular issue? Nail that issue on the head and give them ways to spread it around to their friends on social media.
  • Think to yourself-what do I Google? What kind of phrases do you Google—like “Top 10 election lies,” “Economic experts on immigration,” etc and incorporate those phrases into your URL titles (which are the titles you come up with in your headlines)
  • Use social media to your advantage but do not come off as a used car salesman. Target certain groups, media and leaders that would be interested in your issue.
  • To find target followers—see who similar orgs are following and follow them but don’t bombard them with ads for your organization via @’s or DMs. Give them a taste of what they want but don’t force it in their mouths.
  • On Facebook-announce upcoming events, give away prizes for joining and facilitate dialogue on each post through “comments”
  • Promote your video projects on the home page and send out a notice about them in your newsletters (I get them, so I’ll know!)
  • Use lists! People Google lists all the time and those will pop up first.
  • Have your fellow colleagues and interns promote site content on their personal social media. Nothing’s more convincing than the recommendation of a friend.

Ways to improve your SEO-Tweaking your website

  • Search for your Twitter audience using popular hashtags either by issue #iranelection or news event #midterm. Go to hashtags.org for a starting point. But the best way to use a good hashtag is see what others who cover what you cover are using and join those conversations.
  • Use tags on your website when posting stories as your personal branding. Do you want to be the go-to source for a certain issue, expert or trend? On every post, tag the story with whatever keyword you want to be associated with.
  • When using multimedia—like a photo, image or graphic, people won’t find it in a search if the description or title is built into that multimedia. You have to label them in the body of the text for it to show up in searches.
  • LINKS LINKS LINKS! Do not put a hyperlink on “click here.” Rather, hyperlink the keyword you want people to find when they type it in a search. Add lots of links!
  • Your title: Make your title search friendly with keywords, phrases and names that will be searchable. In AP style you’re supposed to only put someone’s last name, but SEO calls for full names.
  • To show up in area specific searches, you need to specify the location in the body of the text.like instead of “the store,” say “the Houston store,” etc.
  • Make sure your URLs in each post aren’t a bunch of mumbo jumbo. From what I understand you can change the URL of a post on most CMS platforms. If your URL is something like http://www.ladannekoomaram/top-10-ways-to-get-fit that will show up more likely than http://www.ladannekoomaram.com/article-13453234. Likewise, when you create URL names, put hyphens in between in each word instead of having them run together.
  • Always remember, if you spend a lot of time on a video or fancy piece of flash, it is unsearchable. Put what you need in text too.
  • Search spiders love UPDATES, so make sure to update frequently and link to other popular sites that cover what you do. If you get picked up and linked from another popular site, that’s free traffic for you. The best way to get noticed is by the recommendation of someone trusted which is what happens when you get linked by someone or put on their blogroll.
  • Surround your links with relevant, descriptive text
  • Don’t overuse keywords b/c if a spider sees the word being used too much in an abnormal way, it will count against you.
  • People don’t usually read a site for more than five seconds, so give them something clean, visually pleasing and a great lead “above the fold” on the left side. People read screens in the shape of an F (left to right then down).
  • Always put captions with images
  • Never underestimate the power of the “share” feature, comments and social media
  • Your “about” page should have good links, tags and keywords that will make it so your site comes up in relevant searches or similar searches
  • Avoid using JavaScript or FLASH navigation. Google’s crawler typically moves from one page to another by following your links/navigation. It can easily navigate “a href=” links, but cannot always follow JavaScript or FLASH links—nor can it complete any forms on your site, needed to “view” a page. This is important if you have any web content behind a password-protected login.
  •  If you want more details, I found a great “Beginners Guide to SEO” which is free online, but lengthy http://guides.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-search-engine-optimization

Why I Unfollowed You on Twitter

I’ve only unfollowed a few people on Twitter, and I gotta say, it took a lot of patience before I reached the breaking point. For some of us Twitter nerds out there, we monitor how many followers we have and cringe when we see the numbers drop. Most of the time, it’s just a bot discovered and deactivated, but sometimes it’s someone who decided they didn’t want you to pop up on their feed anymore. A few of them discovered that I unfollowed them and got personally offended…to which I would like to respond—give me a reason to follow you, then I will.

If you post silly updates, news stories that don’t interest me or flat out stop posting for a month, I will look the other way. But there are a few key Twitter “don’ts” that will get you blocked faster than you can type 140 characters.

I present: How to NOT annoy me on Twitter

Post things I care about

Remember to link your stuff–I wont trust it (unless you’re Anderson Cooper or something) if I don’t see the link!

Quit with wasteful hashtags. Saying stuff like #omg or #ihatemylife or #lolz are a total waste and quite frankly make you look like a twitter snob. It’s obnoxious!

If you are a marketer or PR person I don’t know, do not tweet me unless you have something i would actually want. Don’t follow me either—i get excited when I see a new person has and then I come to see you’re following 50,000 people and have 70 followers…

Mix it up. Add some personal pizzaz to your tweets if you’re just going to regurgitate news stories or retweet things.

Don’t @ like ten people on irrelevant things. I see what you’re doing on my feed. You’re that kid in class who waves “me me me” when the teacher is trying to think of someone to call on.

Don’t check in at your house. Seriously. The point of 4 square was so people on twitter could be like “oh wow that sounds like an interesting place,” or meet up with you if they’re nearby. Do you really want people finding you at your house? Didn’t think so.

Don’t blast out 10 tweets at a time. I’ll only read the first and second from the top.

Lastly, it’s ok to self promote (that is one of the main functions of Twitter), but do it with class

The New Water Cooler: My talk with UGA students on New Media

Yesterday, I had a great time talking with a group of students from a summer program at the University of Georgia on new media. I met with them via skype and told them the importance of becoming social media savvy now before it becomes a prerequisite to today’s journalism jobs. If an employer sees that you are using new media NOW to enhance your work and connect with others, they can trust that you will continue using it on the job.

Only a handful of students in the class had active Twitter accounts, while many of them said they were on Facebook. It got me thinking about journalism education for high school and undergraduate students and how new media should be incorporated into the classroom.

I remember telling them that I feel one of my best tools for networking, getting my work out there, and learning about topics in my field had to be Twitter, although that wasn’t always the case. People must not mistake Twitter as the value added, but rather, the tool to create value-added content and personal branding.

I just started using Twitter to my advantage this semester when I learned that most major journalists and news organizations talked to each other on it as the new virtual water cooler.

I started noticing the web of connections with D.C. journalists, and I’m now observing this trend with college students, NGOs and political groups. Whenever news breaks or if something goes viral (cough the Old Spice proposal and Paul the Octopus), you can bet the Twitter community is actively chirping about the issue with one another through @’s and hashtags. Instead of having a “behind the scenes” page on news sites, they might as well go to the Twitter pages of its reporters for the real deal.

I’ve made “friends” on Twitter more than Facebook because Facebook is a tool I use to talk to existing friends. Through Twitter, I have gotten breaking news from multiple sources, got some tips on stories for work and met people that have been valuable allies in my journalism career.

So what can Twitter do for you? Just like any social media tool, it has the potential to bring life to discussion and create a spot for you among colleagues in your profession. Or it can be a fun way to stay in touch with friends and tell the world what you’re up to every minute of the day.

For young, aspiring journalists out there going through their journalism courses in high school and college–you cannot ignore the possibilities of new media. It’s important to learn the fundamentals of journalism (writing, storytelling, interviewing, capturing a moment), but what will put you ahead of the dinosaurs is your knowledge of web, mobile and social media.

To hear their report on my interview, visit their blog. Here’s what I said on using your degree to pursue journalism:

“A 2009 DePauw University graduate, Nekoomaram took some time to talk about training for a journalism career. She studied English writing and history at the liberal arts school, located in Greencastle, Ind. She explained that her English classes helped to develop her writing schools, something she sometimes felt gave her an edge over her classmates in American University’s Master of Arts in Journalism program.

The history “helped with understanding context,” especially when it came to Persian affairs, a particular interest of Nekoomaram’s due to her heritage. “The news doesn’t give you the history [as a reporter]. You’re the one who has to do the research about the issue you’re talking about. You need to know your topic,” she explained.”

Climate Change, American University, Twitter, Facebook, Iran, Haiti, Kim Kardashian: A Lesson in Search Engine Optimization

SEO is the name of the game when writing for the web.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the way you file your article into the content management system that will maximize the amount of hits you’ll get on search engines. Whether your title is “The future of our earth” or “Climate Change and Global Warming” can make the difference between single digits or hundreds of viewers.

Same goes when using Twitter or Flickr. If I throw in a bunch of hashtags saying #climatechange, #global warming, #americanuniversity, #environmentalists, that will up my chances of my post getting re-tweeted.

At the American Forum on Monday, I added hastags and links to other Twitter feeds everywhere I could. It seemed a little much, but I’d argue it helped drive traffic to the event and the Twitter feed.

Last week, I got more hits than ever before on my post titled “Top 10 Facebook don’ts,” and something tells me it isn’t just because people were deeply interested in my list. I used a very SEO-friendly title that Facebook users around the world probably Google frequently. Plus, Facebook is a popular topic among my age group, and these types of lists are things they could see themselves writing or contributing to. Simply put, I chose a hot topic that a large demographic wants to read/weigh in on, I made it easy to search, and I used Facebook and Twitter to market the post. My friends in turn commented on it, retweeted it and posted it on their pages.

Can this kind of luck happen again? Absolutely.

It’s about creating posts that are

a) easy to find via SEO

b) easy to read and relate to

c) address a hot topic, even if it’s not a serious one

d) linkable, aka getting it out there to people who are internet savvy and spread your content

e) well written and aesthetically pleasing via photos/multimedia

f) updated frequently

I was hesitant at first to fully embrace the language of SEO because I figured it would make my headlines less creative. But I realized that I could simply make the subhead SEO friendly and keep the more creative leads and headlines. Including links and tags will also help spread your content.

My fellow classmates and I have analyzed The American Observer’s traffic via Google Analytics. We saw that we get a steady rate of traffic on the days we publish, but it plummets on the days we don’t and during breaks. To my surprise, my story has the most page views of the year (starting in August). Was it ground breaking journalism? Not really. I put a lot of work into it, but I’m guessing its success has everything to do with SEO.

The title: “U.S. Military Presences in foreign countries exceeds rest of world.”

So people, probably doing research projects or from the government, have been visiting this page. It continues to get hits even though it was published months ago, so that says it wasn’t from advertising it on Facebook and Twitter: it’s from search engines.  From this semester, my friends Kim and Coryn lead in the top story about sexting and modern dating. Not only is it a clever article, it came out right before Valentines Day, sexting is a hot topic, and the story had good SEO.

So how is this going to influence my blog and future writing?

a) I’m going to try to post every day or every other day to fulfill the “updated” factor

b) I’m going to add more links, tags, and references to other sources

c) I will make my articles cleaner to read with more SEO friendly titles

d) I will incorporate lists, photos, and any mulitmedia I can to enhance presentation

e) I will post them on Twitter and Facebook (already do that…but why not do it more?)

f) I won’t just write about things I feel will help with my career. I will dive into other topics that are popular, shorter, less formal posts, and talk about different subjects that others would be interested in.

Status Matters: Top 10 Facebook Don’ts

Can I just say that I love the advent of sites like Failbook and Lamebook because they publicize what I’ve been thinking all along? Think before you update.

I’m not going to be like someone’s HR representative and say you must keep all of your social networking professional, but there is definitely a line between being social and being stupid.

I used to ban myself from doing the following:

a) writing anything slightly related to relationships or men

b) writing something emo that merits a pity party or makes me look depressed

c) updating dramatics (including complaints, frustrations, anger towards something) that would cause a negative reaction from friends

d) friending professional contacts and family members outside of my brother and sister

e) swearing

f) referring in any way to drinking or going out in a social setting

Today, I still think some of those values hold true, but I’ve loosened up a bit on who I friend. Sometimes it’s nice to see your fellow coworkers, bosses, or acquaintances in a non-work environment. I get a little peek into their passions, loved ones, and daily lives. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find out you have something more in common than your job.

The reason Failbook and Lamebook are so popular is because we all have a Facebook friend who does the things they make fun of. We all have the emo friend, the inappropriate friend, the friend that advertises how much they party, who they date, misspells EVERYTHING, complains about his or her job, and gives off a negative online persona. Do we all have the right to do these things? Yes. But should we? That’s another story.

My favorite Lamebook example thus far:

And from Failbook….

Here are my personal recommendations on ways to avoid such humiliation. Below are my top 10 DONTs on Facebook (and I guess Twitter for that matter)

1) Do not friend your parents. Even if your profile is relatively clean, you never know when it backfires. Say you tell a white lie that you stayed in and did homework when instead you went out. Say your friend gets inebriated one night and writes something private on there that your parents find first (because if they’re anything like my parents, they get up hours before me). Honestly, they will either lather your page with comments and “likes” or they’ll catch something inappropriate that you or your silly friends write.

2) Do not engage in a heated political or social debate via someone’s wall comments. If someone wants to post an article in favor of health care or gay marriage, don’t use that as an excuse to go on a soapbox. Facebook isn’t really a forum to have intense fights with your friends or your friend’s friends. Take it outside, people.

3) Do not write emo statuses unless you’re willing to acknowledge that you are in an emo mood for the irony of it or if it’s clear you aren’t about to jump off a bridge.  It’s uncomfortable for people to read and makes whatever is wrong seem silly or melodramatic. If you really do feel those sad feelings, broadcasting it to the world probably won’t help and will in fact isolate you more.

Sidenote: Emo songs are also included. I do love my share of Death Cab and Celine Dion, but paragraphs of heart-wrenching lyrics won’t change your luck in life. We’ve all had emo moments, but do you really want everyone to know? A blog dedicated to those thoughts or poetry might be better.

4) Do not make your profile open to the public. Do you really want ANYONE scrolling through your photos, your info and what people say? I took it a step further and made myself unsearchable, but there’s no need to go that extreme. I would advise making it open to your friends only.

5) Don’t post an entire album dedicated to your Mac Photobooth picture twists. Everyone who gets a new Mac does the whole picture distortion thing and it’s just weird.

6) Don’t friend your exes or their new girlfriend or boyfriend. It might be a fun game at first among your friends, but it ends up eating up hours of your time at night when you’re having one of your emo days…which in turn leads to more emo statuses.

7) Don’t over post on your own page. It makes you seem like you’re on Facebook too much or that nobody cares enough to post on your page.

8 ) Don’t gush to your significant other on Facebook. I’m not saying don’t show some online loving, but if your girlfriend takes up your last 10 posts, it might be too much. No need for an album of kissing pictures, closeups of you gazing into each others’ eyes, or little virtual gifts when you’re too cheap to buy a candy bar or something.  It’s not pleasant to look at and it makes it seem like you’re compensating for something missing in your real-world relationship.

9) For the love of God…no Animal farms (farmville?) no virtual pets, no sorority life games, nothing other than the simple act of social networking and article/picture posting. If your page is filled with little turtles and giraffes, you have to find a new hobby.

10) Always log out. If you use a school computer and simply click off of Firefox, your profile is still logged in and subject to embarrassing posts from strangers. Also, NEVER give your password to anyone unless you have theirs in return. I’ve seen too many girlfriends hijack their boyfriend’s Facebooks and what dark direction that turns. And YES…even log out on your own personal computer. I’ve had my Facebook hijacked while going to the bathroom in my dorm. And don’t make your password your name. If you do, then you deserve to get it hijacked.

If you have more, please leave a comment.