Thursday, 30 October 2008

Getting Saddlers supporters on side the Express & Star way.

This week I was hoping to write a blog that was not tenuously linked to sport. Mission failed!

On hearing about different methods used to bring members of the general public to a broadcast medium within professional media organisations during our most recent lecture, one particular case of this leapt out at me.

Although the examples our guest speaker Dr Daniel Meadows brought up were put into practice in a diverse range of places – from Cardiff to Canada – the idea I'm going to highlight is a bit closer to home for me.

Yes, back in the Black Country newspaper journalists are harnessing enthusiasts to bump up their growing online video content.

In Wolverhampton, the Express & Star have begun to trial a number of experimental ideas online.

Amongst these includes online Fans Forums. Intermittently, a fan from each of the 'Big Five' West Midlands clubs (Villa, The Albion, Blues, Wolves and the Super Saddlers of Walsall for those of you who need to ask) is invited into the E&S offices to chat about the goings on at their club.

Now for newspapers to call upon public opinion on the sports teams they cover is nothing new.

For years 'Vox Pops', letters pages and even individual columns (for instance, the Walsall Advertiser run a weekly "View from the Cheap Seats" article authored by Saddlers fanzine editor Steve Stuart) have been used as means for papers to interact with their audience, and for their audience to see their names and faces in print.

What with it now being an online world, and with the use of streaming video becoming common place, this is just natural succession.

But what with the power of television I think that, if utilised correctly, the use of video could potentially be more effective than any of the above methods.

Take the Express & Star example. Unfortunately for them, there is a consensus of opinion amongst football supporters in the Midlands that says the newspaper pays scant attention to 'Little Walsall' and instead chooses to obsess over the Mighty Champions of Europe (circa 1953) from the Molineux (a reputation which I personally think is very unfair incidentally).

So, what better way could there be to challenge this negative perception of the E&S not caring about Walsall and being all about Wolves than producing videos like this one:

"Anthony Gerrard transfer listed – Wolves' defenders are dropping like left, right and centre; it's conceivable that they need two new centre backs."

Sorry, I couldn't resist!

Seriously though, inviting a Saddlers daft fan into your office, just to plonk them in front of a webcam and get them to chat football for the web won't just please one fan.

This fan is someone's mate, someone's brother, someone's son: many of whom, in this case, will likely be local, interested in the said subject matter discussed and be a potential E&S consumer).

They'll tell their mates, word will spread and thus might change a few people's pre-concieved ideas about that paper.

It might not be groundbreaking, but this kind of user-interaction might just help improve a few newspapers visibility and standing amongst their audience – which surely is what having an online presence is all about.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

How the Worst Team in Baseball alerted me to Networked Journalism in a Sports Context

To be honest, I was struggling for inspiration when writing this blog.

You see, my mind is fixed on the best underdog story in the world of sport right now – how loveable losers turned winners the Tampa Bay Rays have gone from 'Worst to First' and have reached Baseball's World Series, which starts in just a few hours time as I write this.

But, whilst Googling America's pastime when I should have been researching for my blog, I managed to stumble across a stateside sports website which I feel is an interesting case study.

The Bleacher Report website has proven that citizen journalism, rather than being looked upon with distain and suspicion, can actually be embraced and used as a soundboard for networked journalism by the professionals.

From looking into its background, I discovered that the Bleacher Report is not just another user generated content news website, which are beginning to become ten-a-penny on the net.

This site is notable because, as of June this year, it struck up a partnership with the Fox Sports on MSN website, one of the most widely known American sports websites and indeed the online home of the US TV broadcaster that is airing the World Series.

Understandably, people are focusing on the Bleacher Report and how the fledgling site has come from nowhere to be in a position to provide content for a major organisation, and are looking upon this deal as a victory for citizen journalism.

However, what I want to know is what's in it for Fox Sports?

As Kristen Nicole notes in her blog article about this which I've linked to above, one of Fox Sports' main rivals – ESPN – had started to introduce user-generated content onto their already strong website. felt they were falling behind.

By forming an alliance with a large network of sports bloggers, not only could Fox Sports improve their standing amongst this user base, and directly take content from them, they are in the position to use the Bleacher Report as a smorgasbord of opinion to dip into when they see fit.

Not only will Bleacher Report users be pleased to see their articles uploaded onto the Fox Sports website, with no much being done to differentiate them from those written by professional journalists or by former Major Leaguers and other sports stars, but due to the notoriety of what is happening it will attract further users into the community.

And all of these people will be giving their feedback about what their fellow users on the site are blogging about, on whichever stories that are getting them talking.

This information can be analysed by Fox Sports webmasters, helping them to better understand which specific topics within the myriad of American sports are raising interest online amongst a certain breed of their consumers.

This, in turn, gives them a good indicator as to which issues may be worth giving more or less prominence to on their website.It's still early days yet, and it is probably too early to tell how successful the Bleacher Report-Fox Sports partnership will be, but it will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.

Who knows, if it works out maybe other noted sports/media websites will follow suit?

Oh, and C'mon the Rays!