How web-sharing tools can help or hurt you

Everyone nowadays is talking about how social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook, are godsends to the journalism world. Reporters and news organizations can Tweet their hearts out and attract readers by appearing to be up to speed on new media, and readers can link to articles they liked on their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. But this article from Poynter Online seems to say that some organizations utilize those web-sharing applications better than others.

The author said he looked at both the New York Times and Washington Post to see how easy it was to link stories to Twitter accounts. He found that the New York Times made it really easy by compressing the length of the link in a bit.ly address. Using this shorter form, users could pull the link and still have enough characters to comment on the content of the article. However, the Washington Post didn't foresee this issue with long URLs, making it a whole lot harder to post links from the Post to a Twitter account and have room left to "retweet" the article. Readers would either have no characters left or would have to go through a convoluted process to compress the length of the link themselves.

The author also noticed (and it's easy to double check, just click to both sites) it's also a lot easier to find the "Share" button on the Times website (right next to the headline). The Post only puts its sharing buttons at the end of the article, after the "Sponsored Links" ads. Most readers probably won't bother linking if they can't find the button easily, and the Post makes it quite a scavenger hunt.

The Post gets points for including the option to link to their story, but it loses a whole lot more points by making it impractical for readers to actually do the sharing. If it's difficult to use, it's almost not worth it to attempt having web-sharing tools because it makes readers think you're not actually as tech savvy as you think you are... And that doesn't reflect well on the future of an organization in a new media world, does it?


Ethics in Audio Reporting and Slideshow Publishing

A student in my online news bureau posed an interesting ethical question last week: He's doing a Halloween-pegged story and slideshow about purported "hauntings" at the Surratt House in Clinton, and he wondered if when he plays the audio interview of the museum director talking about alleged ghosts if he could insert sounds of his own footsteps and opening and closings of doors.

It sounded a bit too much like manufactured sound, rather than the capturing of real sound, to me, so I consulted friend and former colleague Keith Jenkins, who now leads a multimedia team at npr.org.

Jenkins' take: If the narration on the slide show made it clear it was the reporters' footsteps we were hearing, it would be OK; but if there was any ambiguity, it would not be ethical. That sounded like a good solution to me. Perhaps the same clarity could be achieved through captioning under the photos, rather than narration.

I'll post a link to the finished stories as soon as they're ready this week.

BTW: Sound issues on slide shows have come up in the past. I agree with purists, including Jenkins, who argue that no background music should be heard in a news slide show, unless the music was playing at the time of the interview. But I've heard others in the business argue differently.

--Chris Harvey