Friday, December 12, 2008

New media tools power coverage of Blagojevich scandal

Poynter's E-Media Tidbits blog has a great piece on how community news site Windy City is using new media tools to turbo charge their coverage of the Blagojevich corruption schedule.

Two innovative tools they created to report on this story:

-- "Blagojevitter" -- a page that lists all Twitters with words "Blagojevich" or "Jesse Jackson" in them.

-- A word cloud of the federal complaint against Blagojevich. A word cloud is a visual representation of how frequently particular words are mentioned in a particular document. The more mentions the bigger the word. A quick glance at the word cloud tells you which words are used most frequently.

"So what?" you might ask. What does this really tell us? Neither is the equivalent of a straight news story that answers the questions Who, What, Where, When, and Why.

True. But they're still valuable. They're still worth providing for your readers. Here's why:


-- For journalists, think of this as a new kind of primary source. Just as going out and doing a bunch of "man on the street" interviews helps you understand what happened and what people think about it, reading these tweets can help you build a picture of what's happening and help you get a read on what your community thinks about it.

-- For readers, this is fun and interesting. Sure, they won't get out of reading the tweets the same thing they'll get out of reading a standard news story. But some readers like this primary source stuff. As a Washington Times reporter recently told me, the rise of phenomena like YouTube have made the average person on the street increasingly used to reading and watching unfiltered information. It's building an appetite for raw information. News organizations should start thinking about how to provide that.

Word cloud

-- As E-Media Tidbits pointed out, "This approach can provide insight into a document -- even on a subconscious level. For instance, this image makes it obvious that the Chicago Tribune is a significant topic of the complaint."

-- Again, those insights are important both for journalists, who can treat it as a primary source, and readers who are hungry for raw information.

The fact that both of these are valuable even though they aren't "real" news stories illustrates a final point: In the new world, traditional news articles are no longer the sole offering of merit.

Rather, any piece of information you can put out there that helps provide insight into a news story or feeds you readers' hunger--whether it looks like a traditional story or not--is a value service to your readers.

Screen shot taken from Windy City Blagojevich word cloud.

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