Archive for November, 2009

As promised to my University of Sunderland students – here’s a quick video walkthrough on how to create a slideshow in Photo Story 3. Hope it’s useful. Feedback welcomed. Should hold up to full-screen viewing if you need a closer look.

>> Download Photo Story 3 (it’s free!)


Post-moderation of user comments is now the accepted safest practice for journalists. Pre-moderation opens us up to the risk of letting through an offensive or libelous comment in error, effectively endorsing it through our approval process.

But there’s still confusion and differing opinions about how we should treat comments we don’t like once they go live.

This week a story about a Congolese woman facing deportation sparked an interesting debate in the Sunderland Echo newsroom.

>> Battle for mum and son to stay in Britain

A comment suggesting the subject of the article should ‘go back to the Congo’ as she was a ‘parasite’ was posted by a user. It was an uncomfortable read with worrying racial undertones.

But how do you handle such a comment? Removing it ourselves would set a precedent of moderation which would be difficult to maintain in terms of resource. More importantly, perhaps, it would show that we were hands-on with moderation thereby raising the notion to readers that comments we don’t remove are implicitly approved.

On the other hand, the comment does not sit with the inclusive values of our newspaper and journalists, and would almost certainly cause offence to the subject of the article or some readers.

In the end we opted to leave the comment and trust our readers to contextualise it with responses of their own.

Even by the time our debate had ended the decision had become a moot point – one poster had taken the original commentator to task and another had reported the comment as unsuitable, thereby hiding it from view.

But what would you have done?

David BanksI’m kicking-off a series of Q&As with leading lights in digital media – the interviews will be your chance to pick the large brains of key thinkers and doers.

First up is David Banks, media law expert and co-author of journalism legal bible McNae’s.

I’m looking for real-life examples to throw at him, plus any burning legal questions related to digital journalism. Everything from the legal rights and wrongs of post-moderating user comments to the dangers or otherwise of spent convictions cropping up on related links widgets are fair game.

Please email me with questions or comment on this post.

transfer deadline dayLast transfer deadline day digital intern David Allison and I ran a CoverItLive blog from 8am through to 6.30pm. Hardly original, but we used several techniques to make it an engaging read for users and a fun (if stressful) day for us. For the next deadline we’re scaling up the operation and asking student journos to get involved.

>> Sunderland Echo transfer deadline day Summer 2009 coverage

The response in the summer – thanks to intense work, solid preparation and some support from our sport team – was phenomenal. 7,000 visitors viewed the coverage and left 2,400 comments. It was a hectic day, but it paid off spectacularly with hugely positive feedback from those who took part.

For February we’ll step up the coverage on two counts. Firstly, we’re working with John Price in the Media department at the University of Sunderland. We’re setting up a live transfer deadline day HQ with a suite of computers, TV coverage from other outlets piped in and hotlines to other football journalists. We’re taking over the newsroom at the David Puttnam Media Centre for a day. No news yet on what biscuits we’ll be laying on…

Once again the blog will be hosted at But part two of our plan to ramp up the operation is inviting digital editors and editors from all across the Johnston Press network of 300+ sites – from The Scotsman in the north down to the Portsmouth News in the south – to take our coverage. It’s likely several smaller titles, including some dailies, will be delighted to do so.

As a result of this two-pronged approach we’ll be competing with similar services from national news outlets. Exciting stuff…

Any media students who want to know more or who wish to take part should email me or comment on this post.

wallwisherI’ve long been hunting for a decent interactive solution for tributes and user comments which is both easy to use and easy on the eye. Now I’ve found a site which ticks (almost) all the boxes on my wishlist. is a free-to-register site which enables the easy creation of a noticeboard. Users can post messages to the board, which is embeddable on your site.

The only downsides I can see so far is that an extra click is required which takes users to a pop-up version of the wallwisher board. And adding photos requires you to place a path to the image, when I’d ideally like less web-savvy users to upload their snaps.

For text messages, this is a far more elegant solution than simple comments on an article. And with the option to link to videos and photos, this is a tool I’ll definitely experiment with.

>> Sunderland Echo Wall of Honour

As a resource realist, I could probably be described as an advocate of the ‘quick and dirty’ approach to video. That’s because user-generated footage of a city-centre blaze, police clips of a scuffle with local hooligans, or a simple talking head interview shot by one of our reporters will generally deliver a good return for our effort.

>> Ghost Hunt – North East Aircraft Museum FULL VIDEO

I rarely encourage the production of complex packages which are often seen by just a few hundred users despite eating up a day of a reporter’s time. This trade-off is especially galling when the journalist’s written words or a photo slideshow would have been a more effective means of telling the story.

Sometimes the compelling subject of a video (such as our forthcoming series of first-hand accounts of the Second World War) or its longevity make going that extra mile worth it. We spent a little more time on our Halloween video than the hits we’ll get this year would justify, for instance. But it can now be rolled out every year without dating, along with our other Halloween specials.

We don’t claim the camera-work, voiceover or editing are world class, but the overall effect will hopefully be enjoyed by our visitors and enhance the Sunderland Echo brand online. Plus – yes – I enjoyed pulling the project together in Avid. And maybe that’s the best reason of all to spend time on your video output…