Infographics: Not Dead Yet

As the one or two dedicated readers of this blog can attest, my affection for infographics waxes and wanes on a regular basis.

Of late, I’ve been rather down on this graphic approach to conveying complex information. Too often, what information value is contained in the graphic is overwhelmed by cuteness, triteness, or both.

So when one Allison Morris inquired via my contact page (rarely, alas, a reliable source of useful interaction) about promoting an infographic she’d worked on, I was skeptical.  (It was a good sign, though, that she had in fact read at least one post on this blog.)

My fears, happily, were unjustified. I don’t know anything about OnlineClasses.org, but I do like their  flowchart for young jobseekers about what to post or not on their social media accounts. Well done, Allison et al!

To Post or Not to Post To Post or Not to Post Infographic

New-Media Survival at SIPA 2012

As regular readers of this blog will know, one of my frequent topics here is surviving the new-media revolution. Next Monday I’ll be sharing my ideas on this topic at the annual meeting of the Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA) in Washington, DC.

SIPA 2012 Annual Meeting WebsiteIf you happen to be attending the event, I hope you’ll drop in to my presentation. I’ll be talking about how the transformation from industrial media to social media is changing career paths for editor, reporters, and other content creators, and outlining nine keys to a successful new-media career. I’ll also be giving away a few copies of the paperback edition of the New-Media Survival Guide to audience members hardy enough to stay with me through the entire talk.

If you can’t make it to SIPA, fear not. I expect there will be more than a few attendees reporting on the event. Look for the #SIPADC hashtag. My hectic schedule and a deplorable lack of ambition will probably limit my own efforts at live coverage, but I hope to manage at least an occasional tweet.

Journalism, Professionalism, and the Turing Test

What’s the way forward for journalists? Doubling down on the traditional ideals of objectivity and impartiality? Embracing the subjective, personality-driven approach of social media? Or is there some uncertain, ill-defined middle way?

Turing Test By Bilby (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThose are some of the questions being raised recently by a number of new-media observers, most notably GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram, who’s lately been rolling out one must-read blog post after another.

The problem with traditional news is that traditional journalists are increasingly unnecessary to produce it. Robot reporters are cornering the market on facts, as companies like Narrative Science and Automated Insights perfect the science of teaching software to turn data into news stories.

If basic news becomes a fungible commodity, one obvious alternative for journalists is what Ben Huh says great reporters already do: convey not simply the facts, but their subjective emotions about those facts.  But this, he says, is a “very, very dangerous” approach.

That’s one lesson that could be drawn from reporter Anne Sutherland’s recent suspension from the Montreal Gazette for remarks she made on Twitter. Covering a “nearly naked” protest by university students, she tweeted a number of photos of the protestors accompanied by “snarky” comments about their physiques. Neither her Twitter followers nor her employers found it amusing.

Writing about Ben Huh, GigaOm’s Ingram says that “in order to be effective, journalism needs to be personal.” But doesn’t Sutherland’s seemingly personal reaction to the protestors prove the opposite, and that the dangers of being personal outweigh the benefits?

I think not. I don’t know her, of course, but I’d guess the problem isn’t that she was being human or that she was being too personal. Rather, she was responding to the wrong instincts and emotions.  She was there as a journalist, but reacting as an average, and thoughtless, bystander.

In a post written before Sutherland’s misstep, Steve Buttry addressed a similar issue in explaining “how to respond to staff members who were using crude language and behaving unprofessionally on Twitter.” On social media, he says, journalists must be personable, yes, but also professional:

“A professional journalist using Twitter should behave professionally. Your profile should identify you as a journalist with your news organization. You should behave accordingly.”

I don’t disagree. But I wonder if professionalism is sufficient. The problem for me is that professionalism is more shield than guiding light. Too often, it is just a way of doing what won’t get you fired.

To succeed in a personal medium, you ultimately need a personal standard. The preeminent question to ask yourself now may not be Is this a professional and objective statement of the facts? but rather Is this my best, most honest, and most personally true assessment of those facts?

This might not seem like the appropriate corrective to the all-too-personal Sutherland. But I suspect her reactions were not truly personal. They sound, rather, like received views, the trite and formulaic reactions not of a person, but of a type of person. It is a behavioral response that could be easily programmed into a Narrative Science algorithm: If see hairy body, then tweet “Ewww.”

In gauging how to handle social media, maybe what journalists need is not so much a standard of professionalism as a kind of Turing test. That is, could what you’re writing be produced by a computer imitating a human reporter?

The test is not whether the content is dryly factual or snarkily silly, superbly impartial or grossly biased. Those traits are easy to replicate. Instead, the test should be whether the prose is truly personal. Does it reflect a real consciousness struggling to find the truth, or an automaton juggling ones and zeroes?

Such a test can never be very precise. But journalism, whether conducted in traditional or social media, would be the better for it.

More Lessons from My 10-Tweets-a-Day Challenge

Chart showing tweets per day for February 2012In the beginning of February, I challenged myself to post at least 10 times a day on Twitter. As I explained in the blog entry announcing the challenge, I had a variety of reasons for undertaking it. Mainly, though, I wanted to make better use of my Twitter account.

Now that the month is done, how did I do? And what, if anything, have I learned?

Unlike my previous challenge to publish one blog post a day in November, I didn’t quite achieve my goal this time. The main reason for my shortfall was a vacation in San Antonio, Texas. As the accompanying chart shows, I fell short of 10 tweets for all 5 days of the vacation. On one lamentable day, I managed only one tweet.

Overall, I sent out 301 tweets, for an average of 10.4 a day. Humble though that number may appear, it is 10 times my daily average for the previous six months.

My aim was not just to tweet 10 times a day, but to make about one-third of the tweets promotional (linking to something I’d written), one-third curatorial (linking to something elsewhere on the web), and one-third conversational (where there is no link, just a comment). Despite having just self-published a book (the New-Media Survival Guide), my usual reticence restricted my promotional tweets to just 12% of the total for the month. Conversationally, I was closer to my target, at 24%. More than 6 of 10 tweets was curatorial.

A couple of other metrics are worth noting. My lifetime average for daily tweets, as determined by How Often Do You Tweet?, has risen from 0.7 to 0.9. And my net number of followers has increased by 28, to 283. Though I can’t say for sure whether my stepped-up activity is responsible for the increase in followers, I gained 45 in February compared with 29 the month before.

Midway through the month, I noted a few of the things I’ve learned about Twitter and myself in the course of this challenge. I would add a couple more.

First, I’ve found that tweeting about articles and other Web content is a good way to keep track of them. I don’t often remember to bookmark things I like. But since my Pinboard social bookmarking account records links in my tweets, I don’t have to remember to bookmark them if I’m tweeting actively.

Second, both the quality and quantity of my tweets are related to those of the people I follow. On days when a lot of them were sharing great content, I didn’t have any difficulty meeting my quota. On other days, there wasn’t much worth retweeting or commenting on.

Recognizing that this review of my challenge is of interest primarily to myself, I won’t draw it out. But as I noted two weeks ago, it’s been a good experience for me.

Will I maintain my average of 10 tweets a day in the coming months? I can’t guarantee it. But I will try. Stay tuned.

A Leap-Day Special

To mark the auspicious occasion of leap day, I’ve marked down the price of the e-book edition of the New-Media Survival Guide to just 99 cents (or, if you’re outside the United States, the equivalent in some other currency). This is just a one day sale, more or less, so if you’re tempted, don’t wait. I don’t anticipate another discount for some time.

Managing one-day sales, it appears, can be a bit tricky. You can already buy the discounted e-book on Smashwords; but Amazon requires a review of all changes, so it may not take effect for the Kindle version until leap day proper. Likewise, the price might not return to the regular $2.99 until a few hours after leap day.

Atoms being what they are, I haven’t discounted the new paperback edition of the book. However, that handsome version has its own charms, well worth the $6.99 cover price.

Though there really is not much risk in spending 99 cents, you can find out more about the New-Media Survival Guide before you buy it at NewMediaSurvivalGuide.com.