Category Archives: MA Online Journalism Posts

Are News Publishers Getting Too Bloggy?

I recently took part in a Google Hangout Q&A with Julian March, NBC’s ‘Senior Vice President of Editorial and Innovation’.

Despite a rather ridiculous job title (by his own admission), he gave some useful insights into how traditional broadcasters are trying to react to the popularity of trendy, social media-geared blogs, such as BuzzFeed, Vice or The Huffington Post.

You can skip to the most important bits of the Q&A, i.e. the two questions I volunteered, using the bookmarked videos below.

What are your thoughts on how some ‘serious’ news organisations have adopted a more ‘bloggy’ BuzzFeed-style approach?

How much is content and headlines dictated by SEO at NBC?

The Q&A took place during a session of my part-time MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University (where I also work).

Twitter reach

Data journalism, snow fall and BuzzFeed

As some of you may or may not know/care, I’m currently studying a part-time MA in Online Journalism, alongside my job as a Digital Marketing Manager at Birmingham City University.

As such, some posts on this blog are more geared more towards specific MA assignments, rather than you, the dear audience.

So, in case you hadn’t guessed by the featured image of dry Tweet Reach graphs (YES, GRAPHS!), this is one of those posts. If this type of blog post isn’t your cup of tea, please feel free to leave now, I shall not be offended. Honest.

If on the other hand, you’re one of the few that are, I’ll be using this post to round-up my tentative proddings into the worlds of data journalism, data visualisation and ‘snowfall’ in this rather exhaustive blog post.

Good luck, it has lots of maps, tweets and an unhealthy amount of iframe-age. Continue reading Data journalism, snow fall and BuzzFeed

Building an interactive, long-form infographic

As part of my MA in Online Journalism, I recently popped down to London  for News UK’sBuild the News’, or as it was originally titled ‘Hack the News’.
2014-02-22 11.22.45
Some of the welfare team members; Kat, Lewis and Lorcan (left to right)

Funnily enough, as the organisers News UK (the UK arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News International) are somewhat touchy about the word ‘hack‘ at the moment, someone wisely made the decision to substitute the word with the slightly more benign ‘build’.

Still, wording aside, the weekend event, set within a quintessentially trendy converted industrial unit in Shoreditch, was  an opportunity for teams of journalists, developers and students to build experimental tools for gathering, telling and publishing the news in new ways. Continue reading Building an interactive, long-form infographic


How do you make your own ‘Snow Fall’ effect?

When the New York Times published ‘Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek‘ in  2012 it gained plaudits everywhere for its clever integration of multimedia elements and long-form journalism.

Visit rates were huge, and bounce-rates low, as the video and embedded interactive elements for the Pulitzer winning pice by John Branch.

Alongside instantly coining its own rather pretentious verb (“we need to snow fall this”), the article  took a team of developers six weeks to produce.

But the success of it inevitably meant other journalists, publications and content creators, both big and small, naturally wanted to create their own versions – and ideally without the 6 weeks of hand-built development work by a team of high-end web developers. Continue reading How do you make your own ‘Snow Fall’ effect?

why blog

How to set up your first blog or website

Looking to set up your own professional website or blog with your own domain name but have little technical knowledge?

The easiest-to-find guides on the web to installing free website platforms such as WordPress, emphasise words like ‘simple’ and ‘easy’, yet many are not and often plunge newbies into a complex world of managing databases, editing ‘.php’ files or push them to purchase unnecessary services.

So, here’s the first part of my little guide to getting started with blogging – or setting up your own news, events or other website for that matter (interestingly, 69% of surveyed WordPress  users  use it primarily as an all purpose ‘content management system’ rather than a blogging platform), if you’re completely new to it.

What I’d suggest

  • If you’re new to blogging, register a free website (e.g,, dive straight into blogging and posting regular content and managing the website.
  • Once confident with your own blogging abilities and the direction of your site, purchase your own domain (e.g. and hosting space, and then transfer everything over. This will provide you with greater flexibility along with a more professional-looking website (e.g. no ads, your own web address, etc.).

WordPress to do list

Got yourself a free blog at now? Good.

In this post, I’ll cover a few basic things you should do once you register a WordPress blog. First of all, make sure you’re in the ‘Dashboard’ view of the site (you can reach it by going to ‘[yourblogtitle]’), then:

  1. imported postsClick Posts > All Posts. Then delete the default ‘Hello World’ (if it’s there)
  2. Click Settings > General. Then edit the Site Title and Tagline so they’re how you’d like them to appear (potentially) at the top of the homepage.
  3. Click Pages > All Pages. Edit the default ‘About’ page with something that describes the purpose of the website. Click ‘Publish’.
  4. Click Pages > Add New. Enter ‘Contact Us’ for the page title, then click ‘Add Contact Form > Add this form to my post. Click ‘Publish’.
  5. Click Appearance > Themes. Browse the themes and choose a theme that suits your website’s purpose and its target audience. Fiddle with the various theme options and layouts if you feel confident.
  6. Click Appearance > Widgets. Depending on your theme click and delete any ‘widgets’ you don’t wish to appear in the sidebar to the left part (e.g. Search, Meta, Archive, Recent Comments). Then click and drag any widgets you want to appear in (e.g. Facebook Likes, Twitter Timeline*, Follow Blog, Gravatar, etc.).
  7. Go to Settings > Sharing. Connect every social network that you have an account for. Doing so automatically shares your posts to these networks and improves the chances people will see your post.
  8. Click Posts > Add New. Write and publish a blog post (for instance, a short post about why you’ve just set up the blog).

There you go. You’ve now got a website with all the basic foundations in place, and it didn’t cost anything, nor did it require looking at or changing any code anywhere along the way.

If you try blogging for a while and find it isn’t for you, you’re not tied into paying for a domain name or hosting subscription for 2 years, and you haven’t lost anything besides the short time it will have taken you to do the above checklist.

Next, I’ll be posting a short guide to the next step, transforming your website into a proper, ‘self-hosted’ website with its own hosting and domain name.

*To set up a Twitter Timeline, you’ll need to set up a Twitter widget first.

Reinventing the Email Newsletter

In these days of government-toppling tweets, 8-second feature films over Vine and Facebook’s steadily assimilation of the planet, the unfashionable uncle of social media; email, seems a tad neglected. Like LinkedIn, it’s often seen as a professional necessity for work, rather than the multi-purpose, tantalising playground offered by Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr et al.

So it’s somewhat unusual to see a digital publishing start-up basing its entire business model on the platform. As part of the part-time MA in Online Journalism I’ve recently started, our class met Tom Cullen, former FHM and Shortlist writer, who’s recently relocated to Birmingham to set up a new, daily digital ‘magazine’ distributed and accessed exclusively by email, iCHOOS_Birmingham.

Describing iCHOOS_Birmingham as an “email mini-magazine of sorts, that doesn’t have a parent magazine”, Tom’s plan is essentially to “publish fremium content to the Birmingham market” about things to do in the city to affluent men and women, entirely via a daily email.

You can listen to the audio, recorded by Paul Bradshaw, on this Audioboo board. The nasal, brummie questions that tail off towards the end of sentences are asked by me.

Interestingly, at a time when anyone can publish their own content via their own website or blog, and so competes with everything-else-ever-written-ever, Tom’s plan was to avoid publishing articles online (although an email archive will be present on the site), and instead publish micro-articles of around 100 words each, just to subscribers. In doing so, the idea is to ‘reward’ subscribers with good quality content through – somewhat unusually in 2013 – what is essentially a closed off, non-public domain; an email newsletter.

“It’s really important to make people feel like they’re part of a club,” says Tom, who formerly ran Shortlist Magazine’s daily email, Mr Hyde, which boasts over 100,000 subscribers. “So you sign up for it and you’re one of a very few people who receive this very cool thing that keeps you in the know.”

“The more I learned about email the more I saw that it’s a beautiful crossover between the old school magazine publishing, in that you hit send and it’s published, but that it’s also online in that you have a website to drive traffic to sign-up, so it’s a cross-over of the two worlds.”

As someone who used to run an email newsletter to 1,000+ animators for Animation Forum West Midlands (AFWM), I can sympathise with the often-underestimated value of a humble email newsletter. Members of the AFWM group at the time (around 2008-10) would sometimes tell me how much they valued the email newsletters – which contained a round-up of local animation industry news and jobs – but would rarely mention the website’s news feed or Twitter feed. After all, anybody could access the publicly posted content, it wasn’t just for those outside of the ‘club’.

Sadly, the time-consuming nature of having to hand-code HTML, Outlook-compatible emails at the time, eventually meant the Animation Forum WM email newsletter become too inefficient to compile (this was before the brilliantly simple MailChimp – which Tom intends to use – really took off). The ‘club’ part of the group however, still remains on the Facebook group.

In an age where everything is open and accessible, it’s interesting to see local-content geared publications attempting something new, by reinventing something seemingly old-fashioned, the email newsletter.

Do you run an email newsletter? What type of content tends to get the best user engagement?