Using Google Forms for shopping habits survey

As part of JP-wide campaign to highlight and encourage independent retail in print and online, “championing our independent businesses with our Shop Local, Eat Local, Play Local campaign“, there was opportunity to engage our local audience and gaining some real insight into Peterborough shopping habits.

For the Peterborough Telegraph I put together a story linking through to an online survey to find indie shopping habits in Peterborough.

I had great collaborative input and feedback on the survey questions from Rachel Parkin, Nyree Ambarchian and John Baker.

The survey has had over 100 responses so far, we will publish the result findings soon.

I kept the survey – produced using using Google Forms (very easy to produce and manage in my experience) – fairly generic and succinct in content to encourage users to finish it, and so that it could potentially be replicated elsewhere across our group.

The key I felt was making it long and detailed enough to gain qualitiative data, but short enough not to put people off completing it.

I also created a unique Bitly link for the form, so I know that 253 people have to date (8 April) visited the survey, and 113 people completed the form, so not a bad response rate.

Shop Local survey story screenshot

Screenshot of a web story for an online survey to find indie shopping habits in Peterborough

Digital content – making it engaging, findable and shareable

It looks like you're trying...

Clippy: ‘It looks like you’re trying…’

To re-purpose the famous words of an infamous paperclip, “It looks like you’re trying to… write content for a digital audience…?”

Even when I started out in the newsroom over 11 years ago – originally a newspaper focused arena – I’ve always held onto the mantra that a newspaper [publisher]‘s digital content should adhere to the same standards any print content does (read Steve Buttry on digital content standards).

Print isn’t web isn’t a liveblog isn’t social etc, in terms of style, the audience and the differing needs of that content. But, it’s all content with an associated journalistic brand and author and as such should adhere to a level of journalistic quality – whether it’s printed on paper or scrolling on screen. Use the appropriate content skills and standards and give it the best chance of getting the widest audience regardless of the platform.

Well here’s my digital strategy from within a multi-platform news publisher, i.e. print, web & social…

A few opening thoughts: Your story could be competing against competitor versions, locally or nationally. Make it easily findable, quickly scannable for the growing percentage of your audience finding content on mobile devices – and potentially not anywhere near your website.

Encourage and make sharing as easy as possible – the headline performs various roles for readers, within social streams and for search engines – neglect it at your peril.

  • Web headlines: find a balance between clever wordplay and selling the story to people in one line one.
    Ideally it must work as an easily identifiable phrase and as shareable as possible (read more about how and why shareability is important) on social media too.
    If from print, must contain at least one keyword – add place name, surname, organisation, event title etc. to ensure getting noticed and avoid ambiguity.
    Above all remember, your headline may well be seen all alone on a small screen, no intro, photo or branding to add context – it has to make people click on it, all on it’s own merits.
  • Intros: all of the above not already mentioned. Titles, sports teams and players should initially be referenced in full before using nicknames. Not everyone will know/understand the reference (including search engines) and ensures being found by either name via web or social searches.
  • Date stamp: I’m a big fan of  a date stamp, don’t leave the article reader wondering when the story was written or last updated, and ‘today’, ‘Monday’ etc should always be followed by ‘(6 March)’.
    A ‘live’ or unfolding story should  always start with the last updated time. Don’t make readers guess how up-to-date story is.
  • Keywords: Always write every person’s name, business, location in full initially, teams nicknames should be used, but the first reference should always be a full team name. Not everyone reading or searching for the story will use or be fully aware of a nickname or common local term. This also helps to give the content a better chance of being, found, read, shared, interacted with.
  • Bylines: journalist should be associated with lead story for everyone’s benefit, adds a point of contact for feedback and interaction. Also benefits search engine ranking assigning known content author.
    Read more on ‘Why bother with Google Authorship?
  • Sub-heads: break up the content for digital readers who will frequently be skimming quickly at various times, and more and more often via small mobile screens, lists are also key ways of ‘chunking’ content more efficiently for a time-poor online audience.
  • Call to action: encourage debate via commenting or social media. Ask a leading question, ask for interested readers or potential experts to engage or contribute – it’s not lazy journalism, it’s opening up the news process in a digital age where the barriers of communication and interaction have come down.
  • Links – related content/sources: if it’s a follow-up to a previous event, link back (and ideally forward from previous), or create a timeline for an ongoing event and link new articles back to. Don’t leave dead ends encouraging users to leave the website, add efficient context – no point re-adding backstory to each online article as might be done in print. People might be put off reading an unnecessarily overlong piece.
  • External links: if it’s important or a focal point of the story, make URLs clickable, ideally not just to a homepage if a specific page (don’t leave users straned on a strange site, not sure where to look), add value to the story and the page in the short and long term.
    You should always link back to sources, let other people see where the facts/quotes/stats came from.
    And why link? Because links are what the Web is built on!
    And, remember the link text should describe what the link is/where it link goes, never ‘click here’ alone. Read: Why is link text so important? from Webcredible
  • Captions: Keep it simple, who, where, when, and credit, always credit as you would any other piece of content or information someone else has provided. And you would expect the same in return…
  • Updates: Always close the story, if a breaking story has progressed or ended at a later time/date, update the intro timestamp to immediately identify new information and alwaystie-up loose ends, don’t leave readers wondering what happened. (Or the story lives on in the archives, forever waiting for closure…)
  • Corrections: As should be an obvious strategy, always correct errors in online version of story, if a serious change, particularly if any legal issue, reference this change and date stamp it at the end of the story.

Fast, free and efficient image editing tools for digital publishing

Need to quickly edit/crop/resize an image for publishing to web, social media? Here are some on and offline image editing tools I use/have tried:

Photoshop is great, has many uses and advanced features, but for more efficient (and free!) working with, and publishing digital images , there are plenty of online and offline options.

As highlighted during a session at the recent news:rewired digital journalism conference, Pixlr is a fast and efficient option for making quick adjustments and saving, I’m referring here to Pixlr Express (there is a more advanced fuller version Pixlr Editor – essentially an online Photosop-esque clone), screenshot below. It’s pretty quick, edits also are snappy, and be in and out in a couple of minutes. For me it’s usually for web and social media publishing, so mostly cropping, resizing, a bit of sharpening and on my way. Express screenshot

Screenshot of in action

Mobile apps are available for both versions – I’d also highly recommend them – see Pixlr mobile apps for Google Play and iOS. See also: a guide to Pixlr Express on Gizmo’s Freeware ‘Edit Your Photos Like a Pro’

One advantage of the full-fat Pixlr Editor is you can sign-up using a Google account and edit and share saved images via GMail to Picasa, flickr or Facebook which may fit some workflows – tip via Nick Summers of The Next Web at news:rewired.

Other online options include Fotor, although a little slower, still provides basic editing and more advanced tools.

Photoshop itself has an online Express Editor, again, not as quick as Pixlr in my experiences, and can only output as JPEGs, but has a good set of editing tools and effects.

For more advanced work, without the expense of Photoshop, try GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) a free piece of software for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. (via Dan Thornton @badgergravling)

Smashing Magazine has some Handy Tweaks To Make GIMP Replace Photoshop.

More online photo editing tools reviewed by The Next Web.

For cloud storage, sharing and more sedate editing and image management, Picasa (naturally linked with Google+ now) has always been a solid (and free) performer. Plenty of editing tool enhancements recently to beef up its offering.

For offline image editing/screen-grabbing, I couldn’t live without FastStone Capture – see the last free version here.

A great, small, efficient tool for screengrabs or image editing – very efficient, with a simple toolset for basic edits, I’ve literally been using it most days at work for several years. Either screengrab or locate an image file, drag the image onto the floating desktop toolbar to edit. You can save out as GIF, JPEG, PCX, PNG, TGA, TIFF and PDF formats.

I find the text overlays/annotations are a useful addition. I have it installed to a USB for use on the go, only a small program file.

Twitter, journalists and their audience – managing expectations

There are expectations from and of Twitter (as well as other social platforms) now for journalists, newsrooms and their growing audience of followers.

The process of understanding social media strategies and management is ongoing as we all get to grips with what works and doesn’t.

But on the ground, all journalists should feel comfortable using Twitter and know how to use it whether at a desk or via mobile device linked along with useful additional tools either in-browsers or apps, security is also important.

There aren’t too many technical skills required, but training, support and sharing of best practices and standards (always aim as high as any other medium) in this emerging new news/communication landscape is essential, here’s my post: Get more value from Twitter – tips, tools and ideas

Newsrooms should have strategies in place so that everyone knows their responsibilities for checking, managing and interacting via their own and team accounts and importantly what any objectives of the accounts are.

But there are expectations from the audience, and as the follower numbers grow, so do the expectations.

Should journalists/news accounts be manned ’24 hours’ or ‘out of office hours’ or if only ‘manned’ during office hours, this needs to be communicated out via ‘home time’ tweets.

The subject of timed tweets causes debate, but I would say careful, occasional use has more benefits. Bascially, rule 1 woulod be ‘never time a tweet where major details could change’.

Big stories should get a repeat airing because people’s social streams can move by pretty fast, and as the NYT say via Nieman Lab article on newsroom tips ‘If a tweet worked once, send it again’

It will inevitably depend on time and resource, but the benefits of a clear team strategy and advanced skills and tools will make all the difference.

See also a recent find: ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media’ by

I have embellished this ramble with links… thank you for your patience. Any feedback appreciated.

Breaking news, social & mobile journalism tips – notes from news:rewired

(Un)Impressively, almost a year old, I’ve finally got round to sifting through my collected quotes, ideas, tips, best practices and talking points from the news:rewired digital news and journalism conference at Microsoft UK offices in London in December 2012 organised by

I think, hopefully they still resonate and have importance for anyone in the news industry… I’ll let you judge and heckle:

View from inside the Microsoft UK building at Cardinal Place, London
The view from inside the Microsoft UK offices at Cardinal Place, London venue for the News:Rewired conference in December 2012.

Data journalism

Newsrooms collect data all the time, stored in various methods, e.g. paper, spreadsheets, shared files, links to maps, a datastore is required to make the collected information more useful now and in the future.

An important post-conference discussion highlighted the issue that data journalism, like social media, it shouldn’t be viewed as a separate or specialist areas of journalism (comment inspired by @kcorrick), they are all part of journalism in the digital era.

Unattributed quote: “Data is not just for finance any more”

Nicolas Kayser-Bril, Journalism++, @nicolaskb: ‘Open data is not always available or easy accessible, requesting, data-scraping an essential skill – but not always any point creating own data files if official sources exist. All needs time and resource.”

For local newsrooms, on a basic level, just linking to the original source of a report or a more detailed analysis elsewhere if there’s no time or resource locally – it adds value to the story even if it’s on an external site.

Panel: collecting social conversations

Katie Rogers, Guardian US, @katierogers: ‘Use existing Twitter lists for big events, Facebook Interest Lists too.’

  • ‘But “mind the bubble”, don’t go to the obvious, usual sources, eg Reddit, Quora.
  • ‘Gather the news and check it twice”. Accuracy and verification important as can break down, follow up with basic journalistic verification, make contact etc.
  • Try and add something to the news, interesting angles, people’s stories.
  • Reliable sources can share bad, inaccurate news, e.g. Separate account created to share inaccurate content, ‘bad’ news.
  • The more people are using mobile devices, the more curating will be required and vital.
  • has good search power including Facebook profiles.

Related: How news groups use social media to build stories #newsrw

David Wylie, Breaking News: ‘You’re not always part of the conversation. An approach can be scary, e.g. Being quoted – the reaction unknown… But should be expected as part of publicly publishing.’

  • Personal touch is preferred to corporate accounts. Always ask re republishing information/content.
  • An important point #1: ‘People can trick us (news organisations) if they really want to, however much you check up’
  • An important point #2: “The initial few minutes of a news event are where the best information is, “people don’t have time to lie”, get your search phrases, contacts, sources”
  • It is vital to ‘manage the chaos’, use TweetDeck etc. to pull in as many sources as possible. “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” Clay Shirky
  • “Don’t try and do too many things at once, do a few well.”

Catarina Oldershaw, Synthesio UK: ‘Twitter/Facebook are very transitory, many other sites important for finding content, topics and insights.’

‘E.g forums, e,g. Are they talking about subjects you think people are? Who are the (new) influencers and where are they talking?’

Related links:

Mobile reporting & journalism session

Mark Settle, BBC College of Journalism:

  • Hold camera phone horizontal; know what youre filming is what’s being recorded, extra space around viewable are;
  • Be aware of distance for interview sound and where your mic is, and get a wind-shield; airplane mode for when you are recording;
  • Choose which recording app carefully, what format does it come out in, is this quickly, easily usable, sendable. Filmic pro, 8mm, fast Camera, Camera+ are good for Applle video/camera use, SoundCloud and AudioBoo for audio sharing
  • Glyph for sticking to tripod, special gloves, external batteries! More
  • Battery life, recharging essential aspect/problem for mojo, but chargers needed for variety of devices
Neil McIntosh, WSJ Europe:
Mobile reporters, mobile video examples, users demanding/appreciating authenticity of video reports, not to same quality of broadcast, but adds to the story

Twitter reporting session

Channel 4 news (under ITN) team, Anna Doble, Jenny Rigby:

  • Round the clock presence, we are listening & ready to act on info; a ‘family’ of tweeters.
  • Play to individual strengths, use specialist knowledge, post mod/common sense policy.
  • Trying to create news #event topic, exclusives, campaigns, real-time etc, e.g. #nogobritain
  • Consistent approach, strategy across multi-platform, and YouTube, Facebook etc.
  • “Twitter is the story”, use tweets in other mediums/publications, ‘understand where social topics cross over with engaged digital communities’
  • Verification “more vital than ever”, hold workshops, share best practices and experiences
  • Twitter is an easy way for people to speak, share their stories, experiences
  • Be human, fun: Cheeky tweets can get most attention, retweets, still with important point – give people a payoff sometimes, different ways of engaging, introducing to a news team
  • Important to respond to questions and potential tip-offs – vital to check @s, DMs
  • Archiving social media, tweets, for future viewing in context
  • Social media success not based on numbers, e.g. followers, but level of meaningful engagement
  • Google+ success started organically without external promo, not for breaking news, used fir debates, using Hangouts – a different platform/audience

Digital lessons from 2012

Irish Times, @johnnyryan, analogy, oil tanker needs help to move, change course. The paper inviting startups to get involved, harnessing young businesses. Feeding into a digital channel, funded by finance from venture capitalists.

Tool to turn data, tables into print ready and HTML5 digital content

FT on paywall strategy, print/digital subs have same cost now = same value to customers. Pulled out of App Store, went HTML5, for web app, 15% subs via that route.

“Mobile devices make people read more news” move towards responsive content, e.g.

More Android tablets, growing market from Xmas onwards.

Need to accommodate single article viewers/pay strategy, @johnmlevitt, filter failure driving product, traffic metric tool. Real-time data ncorporating social data, offering API. Unifying all aspects of publishing, including content metadata to help newsroom workflow. Looking to content personalisation trend.

Storyful, @MarkLittleNews, momentum in newsroom change, understanding and harnessing social publishing. “Sheer scale of the noise” in digital content. ‘Building social newsrooms’ enabling big news brands.

2012 saw “The Death of #Social Media?” = no longer parallel, separate from established journalism.

Instagram’s rise, now pulled out of Twitter, Facebook, competing social platforms.

Attribution not standardised, Pew said of YouTube content.

Who guides the ethics of content – also about human behavioural change

My Conclusions, important points

Future about rebuilding sustainable news organisations, money and truth & justice important issues. A constant, sometimes painful but important battle.

Importanly, the distance between journalists and technologists needs to narrow. e.g. ‘Distance between News editor and social media/web editor in physical sense’ – wisely observed by Mark Little. But has it happened in your newsroom?

Applying ‘agile’ to journalism, leveraging the technology, e.g. don’t be scared of the data.

It’s now far more accepted that social media can be an original source for breaking news – newsrooms need tools to monitor/filter/curate.




Modern journalism: the same but different

Following a Press Gazette report:  Editors: ‘Traditional skills more important than new media’, which caused much discussion in the comments and on social media, here are some thoughts:

The essence of journalism and storytelling hasn’t changed, accuracy, honesty, truthfulness and quality of content are clearly vital. Newsrooms have changed, sometimes even become a laptop or just a smartphone.

The process of finding, creating, editing and publishing has and continues to evolve.

Choosing the right questions to ask in an interview hasn’t changed, but the process has: whether you do it face to face, via Skype or Twitter. Journalists have to be able to understand the basics of social media interaction as an extension of traditional communication methods.

This together with other digital media skills as elements of being a modern journalist, alongside spelling, accuracy, understanding data and online search skills, photo- and videography, also coding, developing a blog or CMS.

Essentially there are many variations of ‘journalist’ in the digital age. Creating, editing, publishing stories/content/information. But all based on the core and objectives of news storytelling, there is no nailed down career route or narrow skillset.

“@knightlab: For journalists, web literacy is not quite enough Inspired by the people and ideas at #MozFest.”

Just focus and learn to tell stories people should or want know about. So go get me pictures of Spider-Man!