How Nieman Journalism Lab optimized for social, curation and search

Stories from constantly show up in Twitter and Facebook streams, email roundups from Summify, and curated pages from Conducting Google searches for three items that Neiman recently covered – slate redesign, pearl project and byliner – show Neiman on the coveted first page of each search results page.

With no real research to back up this claim (remember, this is just my personal blog, not a product of journalism), I’m sure the key to the lab’s success is that they do a great job surfacing stories that I, and the people I follow, find helpful, informative and useful.

The sites and humans that I follow frequently share links to Neiman because they consistently provide interesting content that is often news to their audience of journalists. Those links increase the chance that Neiman stories will show up high in search engines, social streams and curated sites.

People search less for journalism, more for news

According to Google Trends, people search for the word journalism 55% less than they did six years ago. This chart shows how many searches for journalism have been made since January 2004, using the average during that month as a volume of 1. Number crunchers, feel free to take a look at the week-by-week data.

Chart showing the number of times people searched Google for the word journalism between January 2004 and March 2010

Compare that to the search for the word news, which has held on to an increase of about 10% that it experienced in 2008.

Chart showing the number of times people searched Google for the word news between January 2004 and March 2010

People who use Google for search are looking for a little more news, and much less journalism.

What does this mean?

Do people want less journalism, or are they defining journalism differently? Should journalists start worrying less about journalism and more about news? Should they ignore these numbers? How should news organizations react? How does citizen journalism fit into this picture? Is there an empirical definition of news today?

Journalist-programmers absent from top stories

Valleywag recently revisited Adrian Holovaty’s call for more “technical people” in newsrooms, citing examples of “how programming can grow naturally out of writing.” That same week, Editorchat devoted a session to discussing the question “Do editors need writers who are also software developers?

I agree that some journalists could benefit from picking up coding skills, but I’m not sure that the journalist-programmer path is one that most journalists should pursue.

Most reporters and editors publish content on sites that rely on traffic for revenue. Yes, we need to diversify our cash sources, but I’ll leave those arguments for other blogs, sites and panels. For now traffic equals income, so journalists need to generate page views simply to keep news organizations in business.

Let’s see if programming skills contributed to the most popular New York Times stories last year.

It looks like readers of The Gray Lady were more interested in interesting stories than flashy software. The same is true when you examine the most-viewed posts from the Times’ City Room blog or Bits blog.

Maybe journalists are more interested in pieces storytelling technology than “regular” readers. A quick look at Poynter’s top media stories of the decade blows that theory out of the water.

Well, surely fans of tech-centric sites were interested in programming-driven stories. Not so much on Engadget, Macworld or the ultra-niche Lifestream blog.

Even a look at Techipedia’s best internet marketing posts and Time’s list of 25 best blogs don’t point to content that relies on anything more than basic HTML skills.

Of course, web traffic is only a small part of the big picture, and the sources listed in this post are a very small sample of the many stories that people read, but I have to wonder how critical are programming skills for most daily journalists?

More importantly, what skills should journalists focus on?

Your thoughts?

Twitter in journalism’s infrastructure

Tales of journalists using social media, and non-journalists committing acts of journalism using social tools, are starting to sound like stories of people using their telephones. Social media is becoming part of everyday communication for many people in general. Journalists rely on communication tools to get their job done. Does that mean that social networks like Twitter working their way into the infrastructure of today’s journalism?

I threw the question out – on Twitter of course – and here are some of the responses that I got back.


  1. Kevin Sablan
    ksablan Is Twitter becoming part of journalism’s infrastructure? @ckanal @robquig @donlemoncnn @jeffpulver @danielhonigman @davewiner
  2. Chip Oglesby
  3. Matthew Peters
    schoolofold @ksablan For some people yes, but I don’t think it’s quite as widespread as those of us that are deep in it think.
  4. Sona Patel
    sona23 @ksablan It definitely is, though I think it’s coming to a point where papers focus on it too much and not enough on other tools.
  5. Daniel B. Honigman
    DanielHonigman @ksablan Not yet — it’s not paying the bills. Once Twitter traffic — and conversations — become monetized, then that’s a different story.
  6. Craig Kanalley
    ckanal @ksablan Not sure about Twitter specifically, but certainly SM & real-time Web are part of journalism now & there’s no going back IMO.

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  1. Chip Oglesby
    cophotog @schoolofold @ksablan people will resist it the same as being web first. But will journo’s pick up on it before it loses it’s effectiveness?
  2. Kevin Sablan
    ksablan @cophotog They are picking up on it. Are you predicting Twitter will eventually lose its effectiveness?
  3. Matthew Peters
    schoolofold @cophotog @ksablan Who knows but if people think its just some silly trend that doesn’t apply to them, it’s their loss.
  4. Chip Oglesby
    cophotog @schoolofold @ksablan I think we’re starting to see the ‘tribalization’ of Twitter. People converse with smaller groups based on geography.
  5. Chip Oglesby
    cophotog @schoolofold @ksablan and I agree about the trend, but they aren’t use to an audience that can talk to themselves. They want to feel needed.
  6. Kevin Sablan
  7. Chip Oglesby
  8. Chip Oglesby
    cophotog @ksablan I want to do a heatmap that shows a users replies over time based on the physical location of the person they’re replying to.
  9. Kevin Sablan
    ksablan @cophotog That’s a great idea. It would be great to compare that to a person’s IRL conversations.

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Other tools

  1. Sona Patel
    sona23 @ksablan It definitely is, though I think it’s coming to a point where papers focus on it too much and not enough on other tools.
  2. Kevin Sablan
    ksablan @sona23 Good point. Focusing on the tool seems a little silly, really. When’s the last time we spoke this much about telephones?
  3. Sona Patel
    sona23 @ksablan Right. Building a strong online community requires attention to several areas: social media spaces, blogs, story comments, etc.

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  1. Craig Kanalley
    ckanal @ksablan Not sure about Twitter specifically, but certainly SM & real-time Web are part of journalism now & there’s no going back IMO.
  2. Craig Kanalley
    ckanal @ksablan Twitter’s value is clear now, to me & many others such as yourself. But many people don’t see it; that could impact it long-term.
  3. Kevin Sablan
    ksablan @ckanal Agreed. I figured I would phrase the question more narrowly for a start of the discussion. Thanks for the reply, Craig.
  4. Craig Kanalley
    ckanal @ksablan Absolutely. Interested to read others’ responses & see where the conversation goes.

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Photo courtesy of Nathan Gibbs via Flickr.