The Fifth Judge: a successful blog?

The Aim

The purpose of my niche blog was to look at the contestants on the reality television show The X factor, in a light-hearted, tongue in cheek way. I wanted to present an unbiased judges opinion on the performances, as I felt that in recent years the judges on The X Factor had become increasingly more tactical with their comments. I also wanted to create discussion with other X factor enthusiasts, by posting bold, honest blog posts and communicating with them through the blog comments.

I aimed to do this by posting three to four times a week with two main posts after the two live weekend shows. I wanted to create discussion on my blog by becoming a regular visitor on other X Factor blogs and encouraging readers of those sites to visit my own.

The Reality

I posted on average four times a week. The first post revealed the song choice rumours for the upcoming live show, the next post revealed the official song choices for the live show, the third post reviewed the live show with links to all performances and gave an elimination prediction and the fourth post confirmed who had been eliminated.

I quickly realised that the key to my blog being successful was timing. Viewers of the show wanted to read about it and discuss it as soon as possible and as a result I had to get my posts up quickly. This was particularly true of the weekly post that showed the official song choice. The official song choices were revealed at 5pm on a Saturday, so I aimed to get my post up by half past to try and be one of the first sources on the internet with this new information. As a result the purpose of my blog did change slightly, although I was still presenting an opinion on the show and creating discussion with other enthusiasts, I was also trying to be one of the first sources of new information for X Factor fans.

My main post was my review after the live show; it gave a small round up of the evening, a short review on each performance, elimination predictions and also a “Dermot joke of the week” which was very popular with my readers. These pieces were often fairly long for a blog post (between 1000-1500 words) and although they contained links to the performances there were no other visuals on the post, which could lead to them being a bit intimidating to read. However I tried to break them up with bullet points and titles so that they were easier to dip in and out of.

Tellymix – The big hitter

These posts were the most popular of my four weekly posts and I continued to comment on other X Factor blogs. One blog, tellymix spotted my weekly review on the comments and offered me payment if they could post it on their site. I agreed and I also linked from tellymix to my blog. As a result of this I received considerably more hits. After my first post on tellymix I received 148 views in one day. In my 2010 automated wordpress review it read that, “A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.” I believe that a lot of this traffic was driven by my guest blogs on the popular and highly search engine friendly tellymix.co.uk

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow. (WordPress diagram from 2010 review)

Social Media

My social media strategy was to link to my blog through Twitter and Facebook and become a visible presence on X Factor forums. In practice I linked to every blog post on my Twitter feed and tagged it #XFactor. This brought new people to the site, particularly those looking for song choice rumours and official song choices. I also created a page on Facebook and posted a link to every new blog post; this was very successful and it brought in more readers and comments. Unfortunately I was not as visible on X Factor forums as I would’ve liked to be, and if I were to create this blog again this is certainly something I would like to build up.

Changes

The other changes I would make to my blog would be to have more images and visual excitement. I wanted to find lookalikes to feature on my blog, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any and with legal problems surrounding the use of X Factor images my blog posts looked a little dull. I would’ve also liked to have had more interviews with experts and possibly celebrities to get their opinions on The X Factor. I was lucky enough to talk to one X Factor auditionee after the show had finished and I felt this added more depth to the blog and I would’ve liked more of these. I thought polls would work really well on this blog as the whole show revolves around voting, however when I did try a poll there were very few responses and it didn’t work. I could’ve experimented more with different types of polls and tried to get more feedback on the shows in this way.

Success?

Overall I feel that my niche blog was a success and tapped into something that people were very eager to read and discuss. There are changes that I would’ve made to the execution, but the bullet points and short opinion paragraphs seemed to work well.

Top 3 posts

Blogging: it’s journalism Jim but not as we know it – A blog post after a talk with Adam Tinworth on the importance of blogging for journalists.

X Factor Live Show Week 8 – This was my longest blog post and it shows the layout of my reviews of the live shows. It also contains links to all the videos of the performances.

Official song choices for X Factor week 8! – The popularity of these indicated that people were beginning to rely on my blog for the X Factor news.

Is the tablet computer the cure for online journalism?

In a lecture with Robert Andrews editor of paidContent:UK the future of online journalism in a recession hit world was discussed.

paidContent:UK is an essential website for those in the digital media business. Founded in 2002 by Rafat Ali and now now bought by Guardian media, it covers the UK’s digital media economy. At the moment it isn’t too rosy with many newspapers losing about a third of their advertising income.

The Problem

The most common way to make money from online journalism is advertising, however online advertising is a lot cheaper than analogue  and as NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker puts it we are “trading analogue dollars for digital pennies”.

As a result newspapers such as The Times have implemented a paywall as a way to get money from their readers for quality journalism. Unfortunately a PCUK/Harris poll in 2009 found that newspaper paywalls were not the answer and the general public were not willing to pay for content.

When asked what they would do if their favourite news site started charging for content:

– 74 % would find another site

– 8 % would read the headlines only

– 5 % would pay to use it

– 12% were not sure

The Solution?

Many people including Rupert Murdoch are claiming that the iPad and other tablet computers are the way forward for online journalism. Indeed, the Apple apps are incredibly successful, and are repackaging content in an easy, portable system that people are willing to pay for. Robert Andrews said that it was “allowing publishers to conceive a post print world”.

However it is still very early days for the tablet, with only 2% of the population owning one. Whether it will cement itself as the turning point for online media or  be just another fad remains to be seen.

BigLittleCity: Dan Green exhibits Cardiff’s beauty

BigLittleCity founder Dan Green

In the middle of one of the harshest winters recorded, the masses can be forgiven for wanting to get away to a sunnier, milder climate. When they come back from their winter break they will undoubtedly have hundreds of photographs of various beauty spots and idyllic beach scenes, but what about the beauty spots that are right outside their front door? Do our own home towns have as much to offer as an exotic getaway?

Dan Green founder of the project BigLittleCity would argue that there is beauty just round the corner, if you go and look for it. “The grass is always greener and people don’t realise how great it is here. There is beauty on our doorstep, there is beauty everywhere and Cardiff is extra special.”

The idea for BigLittleCity was conceived by Dan three years ago after an exhibition of his portraits of Cardiff’s unsung heroes, entitled Cardiff Characters.  During the six weeks which Dan manned the exhibition he noticed that the people he photographed came to the exhibition with their own entourage and it brought together unlikely groups of people. A community was created around the work.

Marcello - Chef from Cafe Minuet by Dan Green from Cardiff Characters

“There are so many wonderful people here it feels like one big community” Dan Green

However some people questioned his choice of characters and Dan remembers one day in particular, “Someone came in to Cardiff Characters and said ‘this is your Cardiff, not my Cardiff’ and that got me thinking because it was my perception.” Dan admits that he stuck to what he knew and that by using the images that were his choice, it would ultimately always be his perception of Cardiff on display and what made Cardiff special to him.

With BigLittleCity, Dan has opened up the floodgates and asked people to show him their Cardiff, through a series of interactive projects and solo work. Some of these projects include: redesigning the Cardiff coat of arms, an animation of the Bute Park animal wall, and a chance to design a t-shirt for the oldest record shop in the world, Spillers Records.

Dan talks more about the various projects

The resulting work from BigLittleCity will aid the launch of the new people’s museum The Cardiff Story in March 2011. BigLittleCity will be exhibited for four months in their 3,500 sq ft first floor exhibition space, The Cardiff Story inhabits the Old Library building on The Hayes, appropriately in the heart of Cardiff.

The ground floor of the museum depicts Cardiff’s history and how Cardiff came to be. BigLittleCity acts as the modern chapter to the Cardiff Story. Alison Tallontire, exhibitions officer at the Cardiff Story says, “The Cardiff Story galleries will tell the tale of how Cardiff came to be the city we know today through the eyes of those who created it – its people. BigLittleCity continues that story to celebrate modern Cardiff in a very fun and interactive way. The inclusive and interactive nature of BigLittleCity fits in perfectly with our aim of giving Cardiffians a chance to engage with and be proud of our city.”

One of the aims of the exhibition is for visitors to repeatedly come to the project and see how it continually evolves. The many interactive projects will continue to grow and grow throughout the months and they will gradually incorporate everyone’s vision of Cardiff. Ultimately a true view of the city will be reached, whether that is the rugby crowds, the fruit and veg stallholders or the Saturday night party people. Everyone will have their say about what makes Cardiff special to them.

This winter, a trip abroad may seem like the more appealing option to many, but perhaps, like Dan and the many contributors to BigLittleCity, we should spend some time exploring our homes and finding out what our own cities really have to offer. When questioned why he is so passionate about Cardiff, Dan answers, “It’s my home, because of the people, because it is very special to me, very dear to me and because it has to be done. It has to be done, maybe I’m too much into this, maybe I’m too much in my own bubble, but I think Cardiff needs this. I think all places need this to help them realise what’s on their doorstep.”

Dan has detailed his top places to visit in Cardiff, so others can venture out and explore the beauty of the city.

Those with smartphones can tour his top places on Gowalla.

Hyperlocal blogging: News Where You Are

Not necessarily the most interesting type of news it is true. Sometimes you don’t need to hear about the neighbourhood kids vandalising some trees, or the little old lady who is missing her cat. But beat blogging has brought local news back in vogue.

Glyn Mottershead outlined two strong examples based around South Wales. The first is the South Wales Argus from Newport. The most popular story in the last year was not to do with sport, or redevelopment or even the New York/Newport parody song.

It was regarding the information about school closures during the period of heavy snow. It was acting a local service to Newport people to inform them about important news in their area. It was there for them when they needed a community centre and they needed it instantaneously.

The second is the Guardian’s local Cardiff blog, run by Hannah Waldram. The blog displays news, details of upcoming council meetings, the opportunity to contact your councillors and the ability to report any problems.

These are the details that people really want to know and discuss with other local people. In a time when many complain that our sense of community is dissolving due to a growing global network online, these local news blogs are proving exactly the opposite.

Data Analysis: the heart of a good story

In a talk from Glyn Mottershead this week we learnt about data analysis. I thought doing a journalism course I would have safely got away from the nightmare of GCSE mathematics and analysis of journal sales from my previous job, but unfortunately no, it seems data analysis will follow me wherever I go.

It is not all bad though, turns out that in between nursing wounded soldiers Florence Nightingale was doing some pretty impressive data analysis, recording the soldiers causes of death.

Nightingale knew that data analysis was an excellent resource for looking at the bigger picture.

And that is exactly what data analysis allows us to do as journalists.

A more recent example of data analysis  is the MP’s expenses scandal. Hundreds of people were slaving away over data to find the gems of expenses claims such as duck houses and moats. A fantastic story that caused wave upon wave of uproar and controversy, that wouldn’t have materialised without data analysis.

Online journalism: You can’t always get what you want

This week Joanna Geary, Community and Web Development Editor at the Times spoke on the importance of engaging with the reader.

In some respects her views were similar to those of Rory Cellan-Jones, the reader is not always interested in the most news worthy story. Online journalism is often measured in how many views or hits a story gets – the assumption being the more hits, the better the story. But Geary reminded that if we continually wrote to get reader hits all our stories would be about  poker, porn and kittens.

These searches are only representative of the gossipy, human-interest strand of the human psyche said Geary, that, although important to recognise, is not representative of the reader as a whole.

Geary also noted that this strand of of the psyche is not something readers will usually want to reveal and may even be ashamed admit. Therefore if you ask a reader what they would like more of on a news website they may say more hard-hitting political writing, when they would actually rather read about Will and Kate’s upcoming wedding.

The solution that Geary presented, and what they are aiming to do at the The Times is to strike a balance between what the reader says they want, what they actually look at and what the brand stands for.  But how do we do that? Perhaps as Geary suggests:

“We need people experimenting right now”

Blog comments: terribly interesting or just plain terrible?

In a lecture last week Rory Cellan-Jones spoke about blogging for the BBC. The BBC has been mentioned a lot in the online community recently as journalists Andrew Marr and Nick Robinson have both famously said that they do not read any of the comments on their articles as they are invaluable.

The BBC has been criticised for it’s online snobbery, but Cellan-Jones  explains their position. He cited that the most read story on the BBC website is ‘Man Marries Goat‘ and the most commented on story is the ‘9/11 Conspiracy Theories’ these results suggest that the BBC readers may not always be interested in the most news worthy stories and therefore may not be informed enough to comment.

Originally uploaded by Tambako the Jaguar

I remember for a week at my old office the most read story on the BBC news website was ‘Great tits cope well warming‘. It was an ornithological article, but obviously the title, had a possible double meaning and was too intriguing for some. There is even a website called speak you’re branes which shows the most hilarious, ridiculous and sometimes worrying comments from blogs.

However despite the fact that there are many harmful, offensive and uninformed comments on blogs, I still believe that many comments are of value and can create an interesting discussion around a particular niche. To not read any comments on the basis of a few (or even of a majority of) ignorant comments is to deny the conversation which has become available to journalists since the arrival of the internet. As a result journalism cannot fully embrace and move forward with technology.