Director do demite-se ao fim de dois meses

Arcadi Espada, director do novo jornal digital espanhol, demitiu-se numa decisão que causou surpresa no mercado editorial espanhol. (ver outro post sobre o jornal)

Espada abandona o cargo apenas dois meses após o lançamento da primeira edição. As razões apresentadas  no seu último editorial revelam divergências entre a estratégia da administração e a perspectiva do director no “modelo e orientação” do projecto. Cristina Fallaras, a número dois na estrutura da redacção seguiu-lhe os passos.

Como o agora ex-director estava profundamente envolvido no desenvolvimento do Factual, há algumas dúvidas em relação ao futuro do jornal, que era visto como um projecto pessoal do próprio Espada. Ele diz:

“Qualquer pessoa que invista num negócio tem todo o direito a exercer algum controlo sobre ele. Da mesma forma, também tenho que proteger a orientação do modelo jornalístico em que trabalhei nos últimos dois anos. Esse período impede que Factual seja considerado como uma breve experiência pessoal.”

Juan Carlos Girauta foi nomeado como novo director, e a administração anunciou que irá contar com o contributo de todos os que trabalham no jornal, mas parecem estar a caminho algumas mudanças na estrutura da redacção. Presume-se que grande parte do pessoal será despedido, para dar lugar à  equipa do novo director.

Ao longo do dia de hoje, os membros da redacção não puderam trabalhar no jornal, por terem sido alteradas as passwords e os logins no sistema administrativo do site. Um dos elementos disse que estavam sentados à espera de mais informação, já que ninguém está a dirigir a redacção: “Eles pediram-nos para trabalhar hoje e amanhã, mas é um pouco estranho estar a trabalhar e saber que vamos ser despedidos.”

Vinte pessoas trabalham no Factual, em duas redacções, uma em Barcelona, outra em Madrid.

Building a hyperlocal news website: a short story on #Brum – Part 2

This is the second part of the story surrounding the creation and development of HashBrum (first part here). This bit will be more technical – not too much, though – and more interesting for those who want to create their own local news websites. I can tell you something: it’s not that hard, it’s not expensive, it’s never finished, and it will give you trouble. But if you are familiarized with your CMS of choice, then it won’t be that difficult.

Building the website

After spending a lot of time discussing what we should or should not do, we decided to build a website with some of the basic features we planned, and start from there, adapting and changing it along the way to better suit our needs, and see how the technology available would work for us.

I was in charge of the website construction, so most of the technical decisions were left to my consideration, although we agreed to use WordPress as a CMS, in a self hosted version. I offered server space that i already owned, and started working on the first version of the website. Don’t be surprised about WordPress, it’s a powerful platform, and i wonder why there aren’t more small newspapers investing in WP-powered websites. With a small investment they would benefit from a good platform. The other CMS that i used before for news websites was Joomla. If you know how to work with them, then you know that there’s a lot that can be done.

In a 16 hour straight site building marathon, I set the basic structure, design and main features for HashBrum. I went for a free template that I thought it would be easily customizable called Scarlett[i], and changed some CSS settings, and PHP. It already brought some plugins and original features that made me choose this specific template: the thumbnail carousel, editable areas for advertising that for me meant blank HTML fields, and a cascade on the right side. The possibility of placing a video next to the main content in the right column helped me to go for this theme. The main customization was the inclusion of a map on the upper part of the ‘body’ section, generated by the WPGeo plugin[ii] , that I learned about at Mindy MacAdams blog [iii].

Scarlett Template Options

We can never be thankful enough for the work some designers and coder make available for free. From the basic template to all of the plugins we didn’t have to spend a cent/penny. Just bought the domain and used some room on an already paid for server. I wish i could pay these guys for their work, since most are really enthusiastic about their projects, and some respond to your doubts quite fast. Kudos!

Now the blog had a content area and a map where we could pinpoint the news stories, and navigate to them. It wasn’t the most powerful interface but it was built overnight and it was simple to use, and we already had a place to put our stories up.

From the plugins that I added I’d like to highlight a few that provided extra features to the original structure (a longer list with links is available after the jump):

– ICS Calendar: this was a late addition to the site but it proved to be quite helpful and interesting. It presents a Google Calendar in a page, and the possibilities that we have if we make calendar open to user contribution are immense.

– Intense Debate: this is the most powerful commenting plugin available, it’s a shame we don’t get that many comments to take it to its fullest potential.

– Live Blogging (a Caroline Beavon’s request): since we were planning to cover some events live, I looked for a live blogging plugin. This one seemed to be the best one.

– Sociable: a social bookmarking plugin, for content sharing.

– SoJ Soundslides: to upload and embed Soundslides in posts.

There are other back office plugins, for security purposes in particular, like Akismet, Bad Behavior and Broken Link Checker. The most important part was that the website was ready to publish content; we just had to create it.

Decide with your team what will be the menu structure and categories needed. This is really important and if you don’t have a starting point you’ll have problems in the future trying to create a navigable website.

Major problems and some advice

The worst part is teaching others how to use the specificities of the template: how to place pics in the carousel, in the cascade, how to resize the video in the front page…so if you’re planning to do something like this, have someone to stay in control of the backend of the website, and someone else to substitute that person if not available. And people will mess up with the website when you are not looking.

The other part i find difficult is design. I’m not a designer, i wish i was good enough to do such a cool logo like we have. Another thing that failed has been the connection between the website and social networks, but that would mean a stronger effort from our part to manage an online community around HashBrum and its stories. Overall, the website has been working fine, i broke the CSS code once, that rendered the website unreadable, and had to spend a while to fix it (advice: backup every major change or group of changes you make).

And, of course, it’s not that powerful. We are restrained to the natural limits of the template options and plugin features. There’s nothing you can do about it, but there’s a lot you can do with it. Just keep trying. You can go for a different CMS, like Drupal or Joomla, that your problems will be the same – unless you’re a hard coder. Try to cope with your own and the platform’s  limitations.

Recently i found a good list of  WordPress plugins that would have come in handy when i was putting the site together. Check it out.

Before  you start doing anything, be sure of what you want. You can always revert the process, you can always start again, and you will be learning in the process, but sometimes it’s just time wasted. It’s hard to have the responsibility to do something like this for a team of people, especially when you have to step in because the developer who was supposed to do the thing wasn’t available. And the worst part was i devoted so much time to the website i neglected the content creation, and i didn’t sign up to become a webmaster. Still, i’m proud of what was accomplished, and it’s good to see some of my colleagues taking the most of the features that i managed to enable for the, and for creating a space where we could all experiment, and for coming up with solutions when they were needed. And it’s what this type of work is all about.

[i] Scarlett Theme demo .


[iii] Playing with dynamic mapping

Continue reading Building a hyperlocal news website: a short story on #Brum – Part 2

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Building a hyperlocal news website: a short story on #Brum – Part 1

Birmingham's experimental hyperlocal news website

One of the major efforts i developed in the last three months of 2009 was the construction and development of Hashbrum, a group project created by me some of my colleagues of the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. I have meant to discuss here the different aspects of planning and developing a hyperlocal news website, not only adressing the technical issues, but also conceptual matters. We never stayed on the same ground for too long, and we weren’t 100% focused on the project, and this was one of the main reasons we didn’t take the extra step to make HashBrum a more cohesive and truly original. Besides, the main purpose was to build a platform for experimentation for our own works for the MA. But it all went as follows.

What is HashBrum?

HashBrum[i] is a hyperlocal news experimental project, that covers the main Birmingham area. The team was composed by part of the students enrolled in the MA Online Journalism of Birmingham City University. When we started discussing the project, there were many ideas about how to present the news, but the main goal was to create as much interactive and multimedia content as possible.

We were inspired by hyperlocal projects like EveryBlock [ii],[iii] or VillageSoup[iv], that used maps as main interfaces, and/or covered specific geographic areas and small communities, on a neighborhood level.

When considering how the layout of the website should lead the users into that type of content, we too thought about using a map that would take most of the immediately visible space. The stories would be embedded in the map, and the users could navigate from story to story using the placemarks.

The agenda would be based in long feature, investigative reporting, using different types of media to create truly multimedia stories. There is audio available of our first three meetings as a team[v], where we discuss a embrionary version of HashBrum and its basic principles and goals, in which we debate some of the ideas I presented before. We wanted to reach out to the community even before we had something to show, and carry that spirit into the content creation phase. Or that was my perspective on what the project was meant to be.

The importance of being Hyperlocal – concepts and business model

What is going on with this hyperlocal thing? We keep hearing about this over and over, like if it was the Great Online Hope. It is in some ways. It is based in a long-tailed, low resourced, small-scale, community based, social networked, geotagged, backyard stories-type of approach.  This means more valuable information for specific groups of people, that connect more closely to it. This is also an upgraded echo of the work developed by the lone bloggers that typed away the problems that affect them and their neighbors. Some of that upgrade was provoked by some bloggers themselves, that found a market an audience at their doorstep (or backyard, whatever you prefer).

Reading the (magnificent) lecture by Alan Rusbridge, we come across the case of Will Perrin – who seems to have taken a personal interest in Hashbrum – author and owner of a hyperlocal news website (though he doesn’t call it journalism) covering the King’s Cross area in London, we understand another important factor regarding hyperlocal projects: engagement. Most hyperlocal websites are truly concerned about the quality of life on the places they cover, and are willing to expose, question and fight whoever and whatever stands in the way of that quality of life. It’s journalism not for the common good, beyond that, for the LOCAL good, if you get my drift.

This opens a whole new advertising market. If you check the VillageSoup model, you see that they have room for personalized daily adverts, for a low price, but from dozens of advertisers. Their profit margin is safer and more steady than if they relied solely in two or three big advertisers. Besides, there’s the direct contact, the element of trust, and an organic relationship, established with the  local businesses and costumers, the real people, and not a faceless brand. And this is all what being hyperlocal encompasses.

Now, the concept still has somewhat of rogue, and independent, since these projects work better, or at least are more honest, when they come from the users to the media, and not from the media to the users. Even though there are experiments promoted  by large media groups in the hyperlocal business, what separates these projects are three specific characteristics:

-proximity to a real, live, community;

-concern for that community;

-a specific agenda adressing the habits, problems and issues of the community;

And this last point is of huge importance: no longer the stories of the community are forgotten, or swept under the rug by the limited space and resources of general news outlets. So when in the description of the website it was written Hashbrum was all about the neglected stories of Birmingham, it felt like we struck gold.

But we needed a place to tell those stories. How it was done stays for the second post of this series.





[v] Audio from the meetings

1st Meeting –

2nd Meeting –

3rd meeting –

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