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Critical Analysis of Group and Individual Blogs May 17, 2010

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When we were deciding on the subject matter for the group site, we first came up with the idea of a music and fashion site. This was because all had an interest in music, with varying tastes which would allow our site to cater for a wide audience. Cheyne also has a keen interest in fashion so we knew we were using her strengths and would get a high quality of material from her as result.

However, after much discussion we decided to change this idea to become an entertainment site. We did this because we thought it would allow us to generate more material for our site on a variety of subjects. This in turn we hoped would allow us to draw a larger audience for our site. In trying to come up with a name for the site, we searched google for a list of entertainment buzzwords. This resulted in the bizarre discovery of the phrase ‘popcorn lung’. We chose it because of popcorn’s links to entertainment and also because our perhaps rather dark sense of humour. The phrase also happens to be the name of a debilitating lung disease mostly contracted by popcorn factory workers.

We then moved on to choosing a theme for the site. In doing so we looked at some entertainment sites such as E! Online and Perez Hilton’s celebrity gossip blog. We chose the Hybrid News Theme as it seemed very flexible as how we could choose to present it. It has also had a slider feature which we liked and thought added a touch of style to the blog. We did have some problems with the site design. Originally we had an idea for a banner for the site, where the popcorn lung title would be in red and placed on a background of a popcorn picture we found on a google image search. This banner was put onto the blog, but after some consideration we decided as a group to change this as it seemed a bit tacky and unprofessional. In light of this we did some research into customised fonts that we could use for the blog. We came up with a combination of two fonts, ‘Hollywood’ for the word popcorn and the ‘Mad Scientist’ font for the word lung. We chose the ‘Hollywood’ font because it connotes glamour and that is attached to the entertainment business. The ‘Mad Scientist’ font was chosen to represent the unsual and wacky nature of the name we had chosen for our site. The title was set against a white background, with a bar of red above and below the text. This was done because those colours are also associated with the bags that popcorn sometimes comes in at the cinema.

In terms of the content on our site, I do feel that the categories we chose for the material on our blog, comedy, film and tv, music, news and gossip were appropriate as they covered most of the areas attached to entertainment. This gave us the platform to produce a well structured and thorough exploration of the subject of entertainment. In the content I feel that myself and my colleagues have produced material suitable for an audience of an age similar to ourselves and that is fitting for the subjects we explored. With regards to my work on the site, I have endeavoured to write the material in a light – hearted, interesting and humorous manner that would be suitable for the entertainment genre and attractive to our audience. I looked to make good use of links to make the material less static and more interactive for the reader. I also made use of the polldaddy widget to encourage the blog’s audience to interact with the subjects I was discussing. This would hopefully make the audience feel part of the site and what we were doing as a group. We also each produced small biographies of ourselves in the authors section to let our audience find out more about us as people and writers and what we intended to give to them in our site.

I was disappointed that we failed to include our podcast on The Oscars on our site. The work was a good example of us working effectively as a group and producing what I thought was a well-structured and coherent piece of discussion. However, we failed to work well as a group by not collectively taking responsibility for editing the piece and placing it on the site.

We attempted to build an audience for the site by my idea to use a Twitter feed to post updates on Twitter when a post was added to our site. Overall I think the site is fairly successful in the design and the content, however the idea for the Twitter feed came quite late so didn’t really give us time to alert people about the site. In future, we will look to build the audience at an earlier stage to allow us to accrue would hopefully be a substantial and loyal audience.

I chose to do a music blog for my individual site. I chose this because previously I had focused on sports – related material and I thought it would be a valuable experience to try a different direction and approach a different subject. I chose the theme for my blog as it was designed specifically for a music blog so was perfect for my site. The only slight problem was with the header image. It was quite large so it would require the user to scroll down to see the material. I tried to halve the size of the image on the style sheet but that resulted in the image being out of proportion so I decided to restore the image to its former size. I actively looked to build an audience for my site. I set up a twitter account used a feed to post tweets on twitter giving updates when I posted new material on my site. I also set up a Facebook group for the blog, which I invited friends onto and encouraged them to leave comments on my posts on the blog. I am a member of a Reading FC forum and I posted on there asking for members to take a look at the site and comment on the material. Users were also able to contact me on an about/contact me page that I created. I used the zc mail widget to put a simple contact form on the page that would send users comments and queries to my personal email address. I did get a reply, and I was glad of the feedback to help me improve my site.

In hindsight I think I did not take full advantage of the possibilities of building an audience via Twitter. I did not get any followers, which I think is in part due to the fact that I needed to put tweets other peoples pages to get the site noticed, rather than just relying on people finding my Twitter page. I would look to be more active in raising awareness of my site in the future. I could also have set up a forum to stimulate music related debate from the users on my site. That is a feature that I will definitely consider including in my next site.

Overall I think my site has achieved what I wanted it to. I think that the content suits the audience that my blog would attract. This is because I have looked to include a good mix of the type of material usually found on music sites, such as news, reviews, interviews and my own video content. My aim was to write the material in an interesting and entertaining fashion, with humour where appropriate, and good use of links to external material. Where I could improve would be the inclusion of more interviews and video content, and I would seek to address this on my next site.

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Guest Speaker: Chris Marling – Broadband Genie May 17, 2010

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–          His website,  www.broadbandgenie.co.uk has been very successful and has thousands of hits daily.

–          It has about 15 staff now, but was started by 3 guys

–          It’s important to know your market – so you  know what keywords to use

eg.  In his H1 (headline 1) – Mobile broadband is the keyword

–          News features bring people to the site. .. the editorial and news sections are the journalism side of the site.

–          Good guest-writers gives the site a good ‘kudos’

–          90% of viewing comes from good editorial content. (he gets 35000 hits per month)

–          All the stories are link-rich

–          To promote his site he has done interviews on Radio 5, and features in Guardian and other news links.

–          70% of visits come from Google.

–          10% come from direct search

–          3% from Google news

–           3% from Yahoo

–          3% from Bing

–          Other statistics: News – 50% from Google

–          25% from Twitter, Googlenews, News now, Dig, Redit, Facebook, etc. These are free! Use these to develop your site!

  • You must be quick with relevant stories. Put them online immediately. His site had the story about 270,000 families to receive free laptops, and it was fast, keyword-rich and is still being used by Google two months later.
  • Optimisation of keywords is important.
  • Every story needs a good headline for SEARCH. (Newspapers are sold according to their good headlines. The same applies online)
  • Make sure your site is well structured. Revise it every 6 months
  • Most important thing is to have good content. This is the same for magazines.
  • Find a niche, something original to do, or if someone else is doing it already, do it better.

 

Use http://google.co.uk/trends  – ideas for journalism content. It shows terms most searched for. Try to put these terms in your content.

See Chris Anderson’s book The Long Talk.

Val: this is Chris talking on the internet: http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_anderson_of_wired_on_tech_s_long_tail.html

Skimlinks – sign up to this.

Affiliated marketing: Download the code to your website. Every time someone links on it, it puts a cookie on their site.

See affiliate-program.amazon.co.uk . ( he does not delve in this himself as he does not want to be biased in his views and articles.

PR

Ask questions and if you have 1000 responses, you can do your own news-story

He puts his face on his website as it is important to have recognition. Martin Lewis also does this on http://www.moneysupermarket.com

Content –rich pages:

See www.seomoz.org

See whiteboardfriday. It is very entertaining, and comes out each Friday

Legal and Ethical Constraints for Online Journalism May 17, 2010

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In this lecture we looked briefly at the copyright issues concerned with online journalism.

Photos

Breach of copyright – The Independent used some snow scene photos from Flickr.

(Pete Zab’s photos.)The Independent had to pay costs etc, as he had copyright instructions on the photos.

http://www.flickr.com/photos

Some Flickr images do have copyright instructions.

Creative Commons license:

–       You can download pictures but check if they say they would like a credit.

NB the photographer can see who has linked to them by checking the incoming links, so it is very important to find the copyright conditions.

The photos often have a tab they can track to see if anyone is stealing.

It is safest is to take your own photos!

YouTube

–       Embeddable video is fine to copy

–       If they want to protect it they disable it.

Written content

–       There are checkers for plagiarism

see www.plagiarismchecker.com

–       Written content can be traced very easily.

–       NewsNow trawls the Internet. It does custom searches of the news for subscribers, to tailor stories to meet your needs. Recently The Times brought up the fact that NewsNow was reproducing The Times and ‘charging’ for it due to the subscriber system. There is a big debate about ‘when is it stealing?’

–       Freelanceunbound has an article that has been copied by pindebit.blog – it is very common in blogging for people to steal. They do not do any work but sell on their own blog as they bring in lots of content. They should give a link, and they should add their input.

We also looked at changing the header and footer on our site.

Go to Edit themes > appearance

–       Look for the header url and paste the info in after background to change the colour to black.

–       Change the length of the header and footer by changing the sizes by looking in stylesheet, taking out the width and copy and paste it to the header info

–       Note that the front page has its own stylesheet.

We also looked at http://www.gravatar.com, a site which allows you to upload an image to be a globally – recognised avatar.

Group Site Podcast May 17, 2010

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In this lesson we produced a group podcast for Popcorn Lung on this year’s Oscars. In the five minute podcast we first discussed Avatar losing out to The Hurt Locker for best film. Ideally we would have liked to compare the films themselves but none of us had seen The Hurt Locker. As a result we focussed on Avatar’s huge budget of $237m compared to just $11m for The Hurt Locker. We talked about films which we think should have won an Oscar, such as The Damned United and The Hangover. Cheyne gave her insight on the film Precious and we finished by discussing the importance of The Oscars. I then downloaded some clips from the films we talked about to put into the podcast.

Theme Customisation March 18, 2010

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In this lesson we learnt about how to customise a theme for our website.

To change strip across the top

Editor > working with style sheet > see Front Page template

Go to style sheet ( style.css  at bottom of  the list of files on the right)

body container > header container > header

select header container

see body container where it has the bg /background url

In the my Blog page there is a band of blue that is repeated all the way down.

Chris cut this url out.

Then the header blue band vanished.

Note the spec for  the header ( width, height, margin)

He could can now create a header, 960 wide x 60 high

Add a colour.

Save as  header.png  ( png means portable network graphics)

To add an image

Go to Media Library

–          See file url

–          upload header to media library

–          paste in new background at header  >  background

–          go to My Blog and refresh.

–          Cheyne looked at http://images.google.co.uk for popcorn image.

–          make the size 960 x 60

–          The popcorn image is now imported in the place of the original blue band. ( Cheyne did this)

To edit themes

Go to Edit Themes, see theme files > front page

You can decide on colours.

Find their code, and put in the new colour code.

To change text

Open text editor. Copy all and paste into notepad. Find the code and replace it with the colour you want.

To change the Font : go to Style Sheet > font .  You will see the basic font is Verdana. There are only a few fonts available. Note the gap between the lines as well.

You can change the Footer in the same way. First get its code and then replace this code with the new colour code.

 This shows how you can control the appearance of your site.

We also drafted an idea of how our website would look.

Generating Post Ideas March 18, 2010

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In this lesson we concentrated on our personal sites and looked at ways to come up with posts for our sites. A useful tool was on the online journalism blog which had a post suggesting 12 ideas for blog posts. We then did an exercise which involved finding a news story, and working out how many of the 12 ideas could be used for a post on the subject.

I found a story on Thin Lizzy an award for ‘Best Live Album’ and this is what I came up with:

  1. A list of the best live albums of all time, inviting comment on the list.
  2. A review of what you think is the best live album.
  3. A post about what makes a great live album.
  4. Interview someone about it
  5. Disagree with it and say why
  6. Let someone else do a post on live albums.

Website Planning March 2, 2010

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In this lesson we looked at site maps, and moved further into planning our group site. Site maps are a list of pages on a website which helps search engines and users to locate material on the website. It is good practice when planning a site to look at the site map in detail and to ensure that all pages link together effectively with no dead ends.

We decided to change our original idea of a music and fashion site and to broaden it to become an entertainment site. We did this as we thought it attract a wider audience and would help us to generate a greater amount of material for the site. We needed to name our site so we did a search for entertainment buzzwords. One that caught our attention was popcorn lung. We chose it because of popcorn’s connection with entertainment. Popcorn lung happens to be a debilitating lung disease caused by inhaling diacetyl, a chemical used in butter flavouring. It is usually only contracted by popcorn factory workers. That is until the case of one Wayne Watson from Colorado, who contracted the disease after eating two bags of popcorn a day for ten years. Slightly maccabre yes, but for some reason funny nonetheless. My sense of humour must be darker than I thought it was…

Editorial Strategy February 11, 2010

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In this lesson we looked at Editorial strategy in preparation for designing our group site.

The key ideas to consider were:

  • Our audience – what demographic are we targeting?
  • The content – wide ranging or niche? Type of content – news, reviews, gossip, gig lists etc
  • Style and tone – Trashy? Serious? Reflective? A mix?
  • Media used e.g text, images and video

We looked at the way some other sites were set out. The celebrity gossip site  www.perezhilton.com was one example. The pink background catches the reader’s attention, the style of writing is frivolous and trashy with sensationalist headlines, a lot of video is used and the posts are very jumbled and disorganised. In contrast http://www.ivillage.co.uk/ has a more neutral white background, a more serious tone and it’s articles cover fashion and lifestyle.

We discussed general sites and niche sites, looking at the key aspects for each. General sites require writers to be knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, and there needs to be a significant amount of material on the site. Niche sites are good if you have a special interest, writers need to be more knowledgable on the subject than the reader.

Online Year 2 Session 1 – Gatekeeping February 3, 2010

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In this session we discussed gatekeeping in the media and how it has changed with the rise of the internet. Gatekeepers within the media, take on this name because they control what information they make available to the public. Before the arrival of the internet, the main sources of media the public could access were television, newspapers, magazines and radio. These institutions were very powerful as they had complete control over what they wanted the public to know.

The internet has had a massive role in changing this. It has caused a surge in citizen journalism where anyone anywhere can publish information quickly and it can be seen around the world. The reason for this is that there are very low barriers to entry, and the costs involved are minimal. In contrast, to set up a newspaper for example, the outlay would be far higher. The expense would need to covers aspects such as premises, journalists, photographers, computers, printing equipment and distribution.

Although the internet has allowed people to perhaps bypass the gatekeepers in traditional media, it has not meant the end for gatekeeping itself. Despite the large quantity of information available on the internet, many people still stick to the websites of the BBC and national newspapers to access news. This is because they see them as trusted sources and it has allowed those institutions to expand some of their gatekeeping power to the online format. Many people are not prepared to search extensively for information when they want it. This has led to  tools such as Google News, for example. This a feed from Google which gives its users a list of recommended news sites. Sites that are  unsuitable for the feed become filtered out. In this sense Google could be seen as a gatekeeper on the internet.

The internet has also radically changed the way that journalists work. In the past all the public ever saw was the finished product. The rise of  sites Twitter  means that journalists can publish information instantly and the audience can see the story unfold. It also allows the audience to communicate with journalists and give them a clearer idea of what they want, and how to improve the finished product.

Website Critical Analysis December 16, 2009

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When I chose the design for my website, I took into account the fact that my material would be based on sports-related news. I looked at the websites for BBC Sport and Sky Sports in particular to look at the way they presented their material.

After looking at several ‘Magazine Themes’ I settled on News Magazine Theme 640. I chose this because I thought its layout suited a sports news themed site and that it looked professional. It was also similar to the layout of the Sky Sports site which was one I regularly use and rate the website’s navigation and usability highly.  One feature of the layout I liked was to have the navigation at the top of the page. The reason I was in favour of this was because I was aware that doing this would mean that the navigation was visible whatever screen width was used. Whereas with the navigation down the side of the page, some of the categories can be lost in smaller screen widths.

One problem I had to solve early on in the development of my site was with the featured categories. I had created three categories for my posts, football, cricket and rugby. However in the theme there was a set space for a fourth featured category. I needed something for this space so I decided to use it as a ‘Humour’ section. I would find funny videos and articles to post in that category and I would link to their original source. Another problem I had with the categories was that I had to manually link to each post in a selected category. I thought that the remedy to this would be to paste HREF html code into the category title box along with the URL of the posts in that category. I thought that this would allow me to link to the posts in the selected category, which meant that the links would be updated automatically when I made a new post. That worked, however, it also changed my site design as the football category moved down the page and wasn’t in line with the other categories. Unfortunately this meant I had to change the design back to the way it had been before.

I also found that I had advert space within the site design. This created a problem for me as I was unsure about how best to use this space. I decided to remove these spaces as I thought they were unnecessary being that my site was not a commercial one. For this reason I removed the code related to this spaces so that they did not appear on my site.

One advantage of the WordPress platform is the greater number of widgets available compared to Blogger, a platform which I used in the first year of the course. One particular widget I made use of on my site was the text widget. I chose it because I could then paste embed codes into it of videos I wanted to use for my daily video section with videos of match action from football, cricket and rugby. I decided to have this section because I thought it would make my site more interesting and make the site more interactive for the user.

Interactivity is one of the crucial differences between the print and online formats. In print the text is static and the only other way to take the reader’s interest is with the images that are used. However, with the online format there is a much greater variety of tools to engage the reader. As well as images, there is the possibility of video and audio. The most crucial difference is links. Links allow users to click through to other material related to the subject they are reading about.

While these aspects of the online format are an advantage, they also present a challenge to me. This is because when I am producing material for my site I am constantly thinking about how I can use these tools to make the end product more attractive to the reader. In particular where I can use links, and what material would be useful to link to. Another challenge that was presented to me was using HTML code. I was not well versed in this having rarely used it before except for embedding video. However, working on my site has demonstrated to me how useful it is to be capable of working with code. Without being able to use the code, changes to the design of my site and fixing problems I had with that would have been impossible.

This assessment has also demonstrated to me some important aspects to remember when writing a feature. One aspect is the preparation for the feature. I have learnt that when I have an idea for a feature, it is important to do the research in good time. This is because it would allow me to work out if I have enough facts to make the feature stand up. If I then found out that I didn’t have the facts I would still have plenty of time to move on to another idea and do it well.

I took quite a lot of time to decide what I was going to do my feature on. About a month before the deadline I decided to do my feature on injuries in rugby. I realised after extensive searching that statistics to back up any points I wanted to make. Also, from previous experience of writing a rugby feature, I know it would be extremely difficult to get quotes from people within the professional game.

As an alternative I decided to my feature about Farnham Rugby Club and their ambitions for the future. I decided on this because I knew that my Print lecturer Steve Usher could give me a number to contact Farnham captain Karl Brown. This taught me a valuable lesson especially in my position as a student journalist. That lesson is that it is better to work out what contacts I have and then come up with a feature idea, rather than having an idea and not knowing whether I can get the information to write the piece.

Overall I was pleased with feature as I thought it addressed the key points well. However if I was to do things differently I would have liked to have been able to put the information about the controversy of Farnham Rugby Club’s relocation in a sidebar to break up the piece more. Unfortunately the WordPress platform did not allow me to do this. I would also have liked to have a video of an interview with a Farnham player about their teammates at the bottom of the feature. I thought that although not directly linked to the subject it would be a good addition as a humorous piece. Unfortunately my contact did not reply to me when I enquired about this and I had not left enough time to find another contact. In future I will take care to do forward planning and ensure I have time available To complete what I want to do.

Despite some problems with the site design, I am satisfied that the changes I made had the desired effect and that my site is suited to its audience. I feel that the site is easy to use and as a result I do not regret using either the WordPress format or my chosen theme and would be happy to use them again in the future.