russel smith

Russell Smith on data journalism – interviewing another SearchMarketingDay speaker

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There is a world of difference between print journalism, as practised in newspapers, and online journalism. At least there should be, since they are two completely different media with their own peculiar advantages and disadvantages. Different people consume them in a different way and for different purposes. Another speaker invited for, Russell Smith, is responsible for managing editorial development of the website of one of the most trusted media institutions in the world – the BBC. The term “editorial development” encompasses all that differentiates good online journalistic content from its print counterpart – link and click baiting, interactive setting, and the special form of an online article. In the article below Russell will tell us how to transform a raw text to make it work online.

Maciej Janas: You are responsible for editorial development at the BBC website, a British public service broadcaster. Before that you worked there as a journalist. What does editorial development actually mean, what is it that you do? Why you do think it is not enough to just post some textual content on a website and wait for success?

Russell Smith: My role is to think beyond how we tell today’s news stories and ensure we adapt as audience behaviour and consumption patterns change. If we do not do this they will go to our competitors.

Maciej Janas: Referring to the Pareto principle: using what techniques that would take 20% of your time can you improve the quality of the published content to the extent that the result would improve by 80%?

Russell Smith: We constantly prioritise the stories we do and where we place our development effort as well – we live and die by the write once publish often principle.

Maciej Janas: What is the formula for good, link baiting infographics? Can you give us some links to infographics you consider especially good?

Russell Smith: The formula is simple – is it relevant to me and would I want to share it – if the answer is yes then the infographic is worth doing – bbc examples us swing states, 7 billion and uk crash data – google the links!

Maciej Janas: Outbound links are an important element of reliable journalism but SEOs in principle do not like them. What is the importance of outbound links for the source site? Why do the BBC website’s plans set the task of doubling the number of outbound links before 2013?

Russell Smith: Because it is the right thing to do for the audience and that creates trust and engagement – and because even the BBC cannot tell all the stories out there! It is all about trust and loyalty.

Maciej Janas: How to effectively go about outbound linking?

Russell Smith: Concentrate on direct links relevant to the stories you tell – then think about gaps you can fill in your coverage through other links.

Maciej Janas: Is inline linking to images, reports, infographics and other elements acceptable in any situation? You often use the term “data journalism”. What does it means, who needs and what for?

Russell Smith: Yes, unless the visual clutter of the links interferes with telling the story! Data journalism is the telling of stories from information databases. Sometimes they reveal important trends – sometimes they give the local and personal angle. For example a personal calculator tool after a budget makes a national story makes sense and deeply relevant to each reader in a way a general story cannot.

Maciej Janas: If you look at the assemblage of unsuccessful content/ news websites, do you see any features they share? In other words, how to create content that people would want to read?

Russell Smith: A clear goal is important – what makes you stand out from competitors. What do you do best? What is your USP?

Maciej Janas: What makes (or should make) writing for the Internet different from writing for offline media?

Russell Smith: So much – it can be Interactive, live, personal, relevant, responsive, digital – so so different from a newspaper!

Maciej Janas: What challenges have you recently taken on at the BBC? How will the website develop in the nearest future?

Russell Smith: Responsive design, tagging, live, social, mobile, IPTV.

Maciej Janas: What will you talk about at Poznań conference in May?

Russell Smith: Responsive content – Meeting the challenge of delivering stories in the format, style and on the platform the audience wants.

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