Media Monday Edmonton: Results of the Twitchell Coverage Survey

In last week’s update, I included a survey on the media’s coverage of the Mark Twitchell trial. As of this morning a total of 73 responses were recorded. Here are the results:

It’s the reasons why people are or are not paying attention that I was really interested in, however:

Clearly there’s a difference between paying attention and wanting to pay attention. The good news for the media is that no respondents said the coverage was of low quality, and only one suggested it wasn’t being delivered appropriately.

I know there are plenty of people out there who want to read about the trial. I am not one of those people!

A total of 17 respondents (23%) would describe themselves as a member of the media. Just 4 respondents (5%) did not identify themselves as residents in the Edmonton region.

Twitchell Tweets

I decided to look at Twitchell-related tweets from Edmontonians since March 1. It’s interesting to see the weekends so clearly defined:

Here are the top twenty Twitchell tweeters:

  1. edmontonsun
  2. ctvedmonton
  3. KaraokeFanatic
  4. BillFortierCTV
  5. SimonOstler
  6. bengelinas
  7. RyanTumilty
  8. stalbertgazette
  9. ETownMickey
  10. edmontonjournal
  11. GlobalEdmonton
  12. MacsTheWord
  13. iNews880
  14. EdmontonCourts
  15. metroedmonton
  16. Jasmine09
  17. lindork
  18. EdmJrnlCitydesk
  19. YEG_Shannon
  20. cbcedmonton

So who’s talking about Twitchell on Twitter? The media, as you can see. Those 20 users account for 69.8% of all local Twitchell-related tweets.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #5

Here is my latest update on local media stuff:

Rick McConnell wrote an article in The Journal essentially defending coverage of the Mark Twitchell trial. I’m interested in the media’s coverage of the story, and I’m curious about what others think. I’ve created a quick survey to gather some feedback (it’s not meant to be scientific or anything):

var host = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://secure.” : “http://”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + host + “wufoo.com/scripts/embed/form.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));
var m7x3s5 = new WufooForm();
m7x3s5.initialize({
‘userName’:’mastermaq’,
‘formHash’:’m7x3s5′,
‘autoResize’:true,
‘height’:’1005′});
m7x3s5.display();

If you have trouble with the above form, you can access it here. Thanks in advance!

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #4

I’ve decided to rename the “week in review” posts to simply “update” because I don’t do them every week! Here’s my latest update:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

Media Monday Edmonton: Title Junk

I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a while now. Back in December John Gruber wrote about title junk, also known as “poorly designed web page titles”. It is something I have thought about more and more since launching Edmonton Etcetera, because I link to so many things using essentially just the title of the web page. I like relatively clean titles, but unfortunately as John wrote, “an awful lot of websites use patterns for page titles that are ugly, hard-to-scan, and/or just plain stupid.” Let’s find out which local media websites are the worst culprits!

Here are the front page titles for some local media sites (in no particular order):

  1. Edmonton Journal | Latest Breaking News | Business | Sports | Canada Daily News
  2. Edmonton Sun
  3. CBC Edmonton | News, weather, video, audio, traffic, blogs and features
  4. iNews 880 On Radio. On Line. On Demand. – Edmonton CHQTAM
  5. CTV Edmonton – Edmonton News, Breaking News, Weather, Education, Mobile, Lottery Results, Contests
  6. Global Edmonton
  7. MasterMaq’s Blog – Edmonton Blogger
  8. Only Here for the Food
  9. the edmontonian: awesome since 2009
  10. daveberta.ca
  11. City and Dale – Edmonton Happenings & Style
  12. Vue Weekly :: Edmonton’s Alternative News, Arts, Music, Film and Food Weekly
  13. SEE – Edmonton. News. Entertainment. Life. Weekly.
  14. The Charrette
  15. Metro – Edmonton : Home

And here are the article page titles for those same sites:

  1. Edmonton police detonate Groat Road pipe bomb
  2. Penguins beat up Oilers | myOilers | Sports | Edmonton Sun
  3. MLAs hold emergency health care debate  – Edmonton – CBC News
  4. iNews 880 On Radio. On Line. On Demand. – Edmonton CHQTAM
  5. CTV Edmonton – Man accused in death of Alta. mother makes first court appearance – CTV News
  6. Alberta opposition succeeds in push for emergency health-care debate
  7. Edmonton Notes for 3/13/2011 at MasterMaq’s Blog
  8. Only Here for the Food » Blog Archive » For the Love of Food: Eat Alberta 2011
  9. Divorceapalooza with CraigyFerg – the edmontonian: awesome since 2009
  10. gary mar’s peeps – supporters secret facebook group revealed. | daveberta.ca
  11. City and Dale – Edmonton Happenings & Style – Win 2 Tickets to Western Canada Fashion Week
  12. Revitalizing debate  :: Front :: VUE Weekly
  13. SEE – Edmonton News & Views – News & Views – Exploring Our Complicated Provincial Psyche
  14. The Charrette » Blog Archive » The Heart of the City: getting people downtown
  15. Metro – Alberta health minister called in conflict

There’s a little bit of everything there, from nice and clean, to full of junk. There are all kinds of delimiters too – colons, dashes, arrows, pipes, etc. I think what is perhaps most interesting is the variety! Aside from the Edmonton Journal and Global Edmonton (which appear to have the same CMS), and a couple of the WordPress sites, they’re all different.

I like the cleanness of the Edmonton Journal’s article headlines, but I think including the source would be better. I love the “awesome since 2009” tagline of theedmontonian. And I despise the lack of anything meaningful in the iNews880 article titles – they’re completely useless as page titles.

I’ve thought about what to use on my own blog, and could never really decide. Source: Headline? Headline – Source? I’ve changed my page titles more than a few times. I settled on the “at” delimiter most recently, which I’m still not 100% sold on, for one reason only: it sounds appropriate when you read it aloud.

The bottom line is that page titles matter. They should be written for humans, not software!

What do you think?

Media Monday Edmonton: Week in Review #3

Here’s my third week in review:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

Media Monday Edmonton: Week in Review #2

Here’s my second week in review:

I was fortunate enough to take part in an informal conversation on local media on Thursday evening. It was a great discussion, and I came away with lots to think about. I was reminded of this post from April 2009: Newspapers, cities, and the local web.

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

Media Monday Edmonton: Meet the new West Edmonton Local

Last week a new media organization launched here in Edmonton, one that is quite unlike any of the others. West Edmonton Local is a project of Grant MacEwan University’s journalism program focusing on news in the west end of our city. It’s a website, an experiment in hyperlocal news, and a fantastic learning tool for MacEwan students. I talked to the new site’s editor-in-chief Archie McLean and two of its journalists about the project.

“As much as possible, we want to be an authoritative voice for the west end,” Archie told me. I think that statement says a lot about the new project – it might be easy to dismiss it as just thing for students, but to do so would be a mistake. West Edmonton Local is the real deal. “There’s a market for local news,” he declared. Chelsey Smith, one of the site’s contributors, agreed saying “there’s definitely a need for something like West Edmonton Local.”

Archie became the chair of the program back in August, and even then he was thinking about the idea of a local news site. “What’s the best way to channel the output and collective interest of 20 journalism students?” Traditionally, students would have had to write a couple of big articles during the term, giving them limited opportunity to work with editors. For Archie, that would mean 20 big articles all coming in at the same time. “It doesn’t reflect the media reality,” he told me. West Edmonton Local changes the approach – instead of learning to do journalism, students are doing journalism and learning from that experience.

Students are tasked with writing articles every week, and they also need to include a multimedia component. They’ll also do a few feature pieces throughout the term. They’re using Flickr for photos, and might also include Google Maps, video, slideshows, and other rich content. Chelsey told me “it’s a major time commitment, but everyone is so excited about it.” I also talked with Pamela Di Pinto, who highlighted the big head start the project is giving students career-wise. “It’s not often that my work gets published anywhere, so to actually have my name online is pretty cool.” Archie echoed that, saying that the skills students are gaining with West Edmonton Local will be valuable when they move to other organizations.

In addition to Archie wearing the editor-in-chief hat, the site has two student editors that alternate every two weeks. The Managing Editor helps with the articles and content, and the Community Engagement Editor (apparently the title has changed a few times now) focuses on Twitter, Facebook, and other aspects of the project. Chelsey is the Community Engagement Editor until Wednesday, and said she has focused on tweeting links and posting stories to Facebook, so that more than just the feature articles are read. “We want people commenting on our stories on the website, so it’s important to spread the news.”

The site officially went live on February 7. Archie and the team decided to focus on the west end partly because that’s where the MacEwan program exists, but also because the community seemed like it might be receptive to the idea. “It has a distinctive feel, it was Jasper Place until really not that long ago,” Archie told me. The project’s “boundaries” are west of 124 Street, and south of 111 Avenue to the river. There’s lots of potential news stories in the area, such as the Stony Plain revitalization, the LRT extension, etc. The boundaries are just guidelines, however. If there’s news that is relevant to the west end communities, West Edmonton Local will cover it.

While hyperlocal sites are nothing new, there aren’t many of them here in Canada, and certainly not from journalism schools. One of the sites Archie looked at was Mission Local, a hyperlocal site focused on the Mission district in San Francisco. The “trouble” section was borrowed from that site. Crime is one aspect, but there are other things covered in the trouble section, such as noise bylaw complaints, graffiti, etc. Stuff that is relevant to people in the community, but which might not meet the threshold to be covered in something like the Edmonton Journal.

Archie told me that the biggest challenges the project has faced so far are quality control and workflow. “It’s an ongoing challenge to keep a consistent voice.” The journalists are students of course, so they’re learning as they go, and they all have different abilities and experience. Workflow has also been a challenge, partially because the site is running on WordPress. Students pitch their own story ideas, and post the article in draft form. An editor comes in and checks things over, making any necessary adjustments (Chelsey commented that one of things she has learned so far is the importance of editing). Final approval is given from either Archie or Lucas Timmons, the production editor, and then the article goes live. Multimedia follows a slightly different workflow.

One of the most obvious questions about West Edmonton Local is what happens after school is over. “Worst case scenario is that it lives for a few months and then goes away, but ideally we want to keep it going over the summer,” Archie told me. He has applied for some grant money that would allow a student to work over the summer, carrying it through until the next term. Eventually advertising revenue could cover the operational costs, which at this point are quite small. Partnerships is another aspect of the site that Archie and the team are exploring. They’ve focused primarily on getting everything up and running so far, but are eager to speak with organizations in the community about how to work together.

The team sounded happy with the launch and the attention the site has received thus far. Pamela said the experience has been great, and that she’s excited to see the site grow. She also praised the work Archie and Lucas have put into the site. “They really are helping us out, getting our names out there.” Archie, perhaps unsurprisingly, said it is the students that should get the credit. “They’re putting the content up, and content is king.”

For now the site seems to be running fairly smoothly, but discussions about how to improve it are ongoing. “It’s so young, it could go anywhere,” Chesley remarked. Archie stressed that the team is looking for feedback at this stage. “We genuinely want suggestions from people on what we can do better.” If you have a comment or suggestion, tweet @westedlocal, leave a comment on Facebook, or get in touch with Archie.

For Archie, seeing West Edmonton Local come to life has been a great experience. “It was an opportunity to try building a news site from the ground up,” Archie told me. “It’s potentially an infinite amount of work.” His passion for the project definitely showed during our conversation however, so he seems up to challenge. He also knows this is a unique opportunity. “We don’t have any baggage, so we have the freedom to take chances.”

Congratulations to everyone involved in West Edmonton Local on what you have accomplished so far. I look forward to seeing the project grow and evolve!

Media Monday Edmonton: Week in Review #1

Like many others, I’m interested in the continual evolution of journalism and media. And given my passion for Edmonton, I’m particularly interested in that evolution at a local level. Where have we been, and where are we going? What’s next?

I’m not particularly interested in the distinction between “traditional media” and “new media”, though I recognize there are instances in which treating the two separately can help our understanding of the changes that are going on. Taking the long view, however, I see the entities the terms represent merging.

I’d like to start devoting an entry each Monday to this changing landscape (it’s all about experimentation, right?). Some weeks it’ll be a review of relevant news (like what you see below), other weeks it might be an opinion, or a critique, or an interview, or some statistics, or something I haven’t thought of yet. Hopefully I can keep it interesting for both me and you!

Here’s my first week in review:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer. The big news today is of course the Huffington Post acquisition by AOL.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? And what would you like to see me write about in future Media Monday entries? Let me know!

Two reasons journalists should learn to love Excel

I love Microsoft Excel, I really do. It’s currently the second highest item in my Start Menu, that’s how frequently I use it (now that I think about it, I should just pin it). I use it for all kinds of things – calculations, cleaning up data, and yes, generating graphs. It’s a really versatile tool, and it’s really easy to use (especially the latest version).

I often talk about changes I’d like to see in the mainstream media, and two important ones are context and presentation. There are so many stories that seem like they’re written in a vacuum. A story about housing starts is a good example, like this one from the Edmonton Journal yesterday. There’s 560 words there, words about numbers. Is that the best way to present that information? And even if you think it is, where’s the context? How do the housing starts this month relate to averages and historical numbers?

That’s the first reason that journalists should learn to love Excel – it can make providing context and better presentation easy. Here are three simple graphs, created with Excel, that tell you about housing starts in Edmonton.


This data comes from a PDF provided by the City of Edmonton. It shows annual housing starts since 1970. Copy and paste into Excel and you’re done!


This graph shows monthly housing starts from October 2008 until now. It uses data from the CMHC’s Reports & Publications section. Took maybe 10 minutes of copying and pasting.


This graph compares housing starts for this time of year from 2006 until now. Also comes from the CMHC.

Imagine if the article included graphs like these. The journalist could then focus on telling a more interesting story.

So, what’s the second reason journalists should learn to love Excel? Well, it can help them get their story right. Here’s what the Journal article starts with:

Despite a strong spring, the slowing trend in new-home construction became clear in October with housing starts dropping to their lowest level since June 2009 in the Edmonton region.

As you can see from the second graph above, that’s just not true. Is there a slowing trend? Maybe, if you just look from the spring to now. Was October the lowest level since June 2009? No. There were just 690 starts in August 2010. In fact, there were six months with lower housing starts since June 2009. I’m not sure what data the Journal was looking at, but it doesn’t appear to be CMHC data.

Add Excel to your toolkit. You won’t regret it.

UPDATE: Here’s the Journal story on August housing starts. Maybe if finding archived stories was easier, Dave Cooper, who wrote the story on October housing starts, could have consulted previous Journal articles to see that the lowest level was much more recent than June 2009.

Would you trust a citizen plumber to work on your toilet?

That’s one of the questions, referring to citizen journalism, that Edmonton Journal columnist Dan Barnes asked last week in this all-over-the-place piece. Was it rhetorical? Maybe, but I’ll bite anyway.

I know you’re not supposed to answer a question with a question, but I wonder what Dan meant by citizen plumber? Did he mean someone whose experience with plumbing is limited to some fancy new tool, or did he mean someone who simply lacks the license but has all of the necessary interest, skills, experience, and knowledge of a plumber-minus-the-citizen? My point is that its easy to misuse the label “citizen journalist” and to paint with too broad a brush.

It’s also really difficult to define. I wonder how Dan defines it? Maybe he thinks I’m a citizen journalist because my platform is this blog. But what about “mainstream journalists” who have blogs – aren’t they also citizen journalists then? If we can’t define it with the tools or platform, maybe we can define it with the kinds of content the citizen journalist produces. But there again, what’s the distinction between someone who rewrites a press release for a newspaper and someone who does an interview for a blog post? Is the only distinction the employer?

Why do we need that label anyway? What would happen if we dropped the term “citizen” and just called them journalists? Both tell stories, after all.

Dan Barnes and I would be on the same level, that’s what would happen. And my guess is that Dan wouldn’t be able to deal with that.

It’s worth mentioning that Dan’s argument is not new or unique. Though at least one other “mainstream journalist” has used the term “citizen plumber” before, the straw man is most often made with a “citizen neurosurgeon” or a “citizen dentist”. As always, Techdirt does a nice job of dealing with that:

Most people seem to recognize the basic difference between reporting on something and cutting into someone’s brain. And, many people also recognize that most reporters themselves are often not experts in the field they’re reporting on — and what participatory journalism and the internet enable is the ability for actual experts on the topic to take part in the discussion and reporting as well.

I don’t think it’s that difficult to recognize the differences between a plumber and a journalist, either. There are only so many ways to fix a leaky pipe, but a myriad of ways to interpret and write about something, for instance.

The reality is that journalism is not a constant, it’s not static or unchanging. Like most things worth caring about, journalism is constantly evolving, and whether Dan likes it or not, journalists who don’t work for the mainstream media are here to stay.

I can understand why we’d be hesitant to call the first guy I described above a plumber, but it’s pretty clear that the second one is a plumber. If we call them both just plumbers, do we risk cheapening the term? If we call them both “citizen plumbers”, do we risk preventing the second guy from making an impact?

What if the new tool that plumber #1 uses turns out to be a plunger, or Drano, all of a sudden enabling millions of people to deal with simple plumbing problems on their own, and thereby freeing up the non-citizen plumbers to focus on more difficult problems? That’s the real risk, in my opinion, with putting too much weight behind a label. We risk overlooking the significant contributions that both can make to plumbing overall.

Still not convinced Dan? Maybe you’ll enjoy this story (from way back in 2006!):

Witness the power of the humble tools of citizens’ media. A citizen dentist used them to become a journalist. He used them to give the world a unique and human perspective on a story where too much is unreported. He gained an appreciative and supportive audience around the world. He helped give birth to a new medium. And journalism is all the better for it.

Give a citizen dentist a blog and he’ll change the world? Maybe not, but he might just impact journalism for the better.