‘The Player’ opening shot by Robert Altman

This opening shot from “The Player” by Robert Altman is eight minutes long without a cut. I’ve been a fan of many of Altman’s intertwined stories, and I love how he uses the camera to introduce us to multiple story lines in one tracking shot.

Opening scene from The Player (1992) from Single Shot Film Festival on Vimeo.

#jcarn: Finding the way to meaningful, long-lasting content

Author’s note: This post wraps up the responses to my earlier prompt for the Carnival of Journalism blog project. Feel free to contribute your own blog responses, and I’ll add them to the thoughts compiled here. 

As I’d hoped, our group stretched my prompt about longevity and meaningful content in a variety of directions. Engagement remains a fluid, malleable idea in today’s landscape, and I doubt we will agree on a singular definition in the weeks and months to come. But these responses provide some sharp insights to move our thinking forward.

Each response seized a separate piece of the journalistic puzzle to dissect: the journalistic process, the journalist/content creator, the technology, and the journalism itself. Take half an hour or so to scan these posts; you will find thoughts and ideas to inspire your own work.

Circa and the journalistic process

Circa news appDavid Cohn (@digidave), our ringleader and chief content officer of Circa, focuses on his organization’s idea of the “follow” for stories.

Circa taps into the idea of journalism as a process.  Instead of focusing on a singular story, Circa watches news events and topics unfold over time, combining several stories into an overall news narrative. This ability to “atomize” individual stories allows Circa add them for context as news evolves and permits users to “follow” news topics.

As David notes:

We can see how many people have “followed” a story in the last hour, the last 24 hours and how many have unfollowed (happily always our lowest number). The follow count doesn’t represent “eyeballs” to monetize with banner ads but rather relationships. Each follow is a decision by a reader to keep in touch, for us to keep track of what they know and alert them when something new happens they aren’t aware of.

In a sense, the approach is akin to Quora’s ability to follow particular questions, a strategy embraced by the New York Times on its AskWell blog.

(By the way, if you don’t have @circa app on your smartphone, you need to download it now. Its mobile-first storytelling style is a model for developing scannable narratives.)

Understanding the journalist/content creator

Donica Mensing (@donica), associate professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, takes the question away from the content and focuses on the content creators themselves. What do skillful, passionate creators experience personally when a piece of content takes off?

She writes:

If we find journalists who are moved and excited by what they are doing, it’s likely they will be connected to subjects and communities that feel similarly. It’s another set of data points to help us define and measure what has lasting impact, what engages, what is meaningful.

She has compiled a list of research questions that we could ask journalists to delve into this topic (a #jcarn collaboration, perhaps?).

(By the way, Donica has done important work analyzing local news ecosystems and networks. Her research is mandatory reading for anyone wanting to understand online journalism.)

Using technology to make content findable

Carrie Brown-Smith (@Brizzyc), associate professor at University of Memphis, hits the practical aspects of timing, tagging, and technology to make content findable and usable. Like other participants this go-round, she says we should stop searching for one magical metric to solve our engagement woes:

I’m increasingly convinced that it’s less about choosing any one particular “golden” metric that will help us to quantify quality or impactful or engaging content, and more about being smarter and more sophisticated about the way we think and talk about the constellation of metrics available to us – and especially the story we as journalists tell advertisers.

(By the way, Carrie has pushed the boundaries of entrepreneurial journalism education during her time at the University of Memphis [check out the #jpreneur hashtag on Twitter]. The lessons from her experiments are valuable for any newsroom/journalism program.)

Creating journalism that empowers audiences

Steve Outing (@steveouting), blogger and media futurist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, chose to focus the idea of content on “significant news that makes you angry.” Though that’s been the goal of many an investigative journalist for decades, Steve makes an important update to that notion: News organizations — especially in today’s interactive environment — should empower their audiences to take action.

He writes:

The ideal, in my view, is that for appropriate stories (like those we’re discussing) there’s a section at the end — “Take action” — with ways for readers who are angry about what a news story has uncovered, to do something (more than just rant in Comments). And don’t just do the old thing of listing the time and place of the protest, for example; provide actions that readers can take, whether it’s to sign a petition or commit to volunteer work.

(By the way, Steve is also the founder and program director of the innovative CU project the Digital News Test Kitchen, an incubator for experiments in journalism and technology.)

A side note: I mentioned the book Spreadable Media in my original prompt, and one of the authors, Sam Ford, responded in the comments by drawing in Anderson’s notion of the Long Tail into the mix and noting the importance of archives in the Internet age.

Thanks to all who participated. If you decide to add your own thoughts to the mix, please let me know and I’ll add them here.

Interpreting polls: Motivated interviewees, motivated voters?

Prior to the first Obama-Romney debate, some critics blasted polls as Democratic-leaning.

The more accurate statement: Polls reflect the people more willing to answer pollsters at the time of the poll. And now, it seems Republicans are the more motivated interviewees.

Before the debate

Before the debate, Democratic voters were motivated. After the conventions, President Obama’s lead had been growing slowly but steadily. A September poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed Obama with a 51-43 lead over Romney.

A look at the poll’s sample shows a greater number of Democratic voters responding:

Soon after, Republican candidate Mitt Romney committed several gaffes (e.g. his reaction to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and the “47 percent” comment), and it seemed Obama’s lead was growing. Some Republicans even came out publicly with their frustrations with Romney’s campaign.

After the debate

But then came the first debate, which, by most accounts, Romney won handily. Republicans and conservatives were energized by his feisty, focused performance.

And, it seems, they became more willing to answer pollsters’ questions.

The latest Pew poll released Oct. 8 showed Romney above Obama among likely voters, with a 49-45 advantage.

Unlike earlier polls, Pew captured marginally more Republican voters than Democrats:

Making sense of the polls

Does that mean the poll is “biased”? Pollsters say no because you are grabbing a random sample of the entire U.S. population, which gives everyone an equal shot at participating. Polls are a moving target, something that the sage Nate Silver reminds of consistently in his must-read FiveThirtyEight blog; it’s best to look at a collection of polls and make sense of the aggregated data.

One concrete conclusion we can draw: The race is extremely tight, and at this stage, it’s impossible to know how many of those who say they support Obama or Romney today actually come out to vote for those candidates on Election Day.

Massachusetts Senate race: Referendum on Obama?

Let the punditry commence.

The political chatterers have spent much time recently on the special election in Massachusetts as Republican state Sen. Scott Brown closed in on the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Tuesday, Brown defeated Coakley, taking the U.S. Senate seat held for 46 years by Ted Kennedy, known as “the liberal lion of the Senate.”

As many experts have done with other recent Republican wins, they extrapolated this race as a referendum on Obama and health care. How could a Republican win in such a Democratic state — unless people wanted to stop Obamacare and a growing national debt?

Such an analysis oversimplifies what led people to pull the lever for Brown on Tuesday.

Though Massachusetts elects many Democrats, a recent Gallup study showed that most people in the state consider themselves politically independent (49 percent), far greater than the national average. About 35 percent consider themselves Democrats, the same percentage as the national average.

In the waning days of the campaign, many independent voters did express worries about health care. But Massachusetts already has a state requirement that residents get health insurance.

Obama remains popular: people like him on a personal level, and an average of recent polls shows more Americans approve of the job he’s doing than disapprove.

Candidate Coakley also brought much of the outcome on herself.

Too often, pundits reduce complexity to a singular narrative. When hundreds of thousands of people are involved, however, the chatterers should refrain from generalizing what thought process led people to vote in a particular way.