No time for trolls

troll
A troll can be annoying in role-playing games and on social media.

Twitter can be great for exchanging ideas and sharing links. It’s my favorite news source, a sort of wire service that I can customize and interact with.

It has its downsides, too. A big one is the problem of trolls — people who seek to harass, badger and engage in straw-man arguments. They’ve been an issue online for a long time, including in comment areas on news websites.

I’ve fallen into trolling traps on Twitter a few times over the years. Lately, I’ve been working on ignoring and, in some cases, blocking trolls. Here’s how I decide whether to respond to someone on Twitter:

  • How many followers does the person have? Less than 100 means it may be a troll.
  • Does the account have a profile photo and a link to more about the person elsewhere online? An egg avatar and lack of a link mean it may be a troll.
  • What is the name on the account? Is there a first and last name, or name of an organization? If not, it may be a troll.
  • What are the account’s other tweets like? If they are mostly replies to other accounts that take a hostile tone, it may be a troll.

I like chatting with people on Twitter. I’m open to constructive criticism and civil discussion. But I have no time for trolls.

Writing and editing with Weird Al

“Weird Al” Yankovic is back. The song parodist who lampooned Michael Jackson and “Star Wars” back in the day has a new album called “Mandatory Fun.” Each day this week, Yankovic is posting a music video from the album on his website.

Two of the songs from “Mandatory Fun” share a “wordy” theme. “Mission Statement” takes aim at those jargon-filled declarations from corporations, government and academia. “Word Crimes” offers advice on grammar, word choice and punctuation, all to the tune of “Blurred Lines.”

“Word Crimes” has generated chatter on Twitter among writers, editors, linguists and lexicographers. Here is a sampling:

  • I think ACES has found its new theme song.
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” is fun but reinforces stereotype of editors as cranks who need to get a life.
  • I always take peeves as a sign that the person truly cares about language. Which is a start.

I see some truth in each of these statements. As an editor, I like grammar and have my own peeves, but I’m also more flexible on matters of language than I used to be. And I don’t edit personal email and text messages that I receive, as Al apparently does. Calling a lapse in grammar or bending of a style rule a “word crime” makes me uncomfortable, as does the song’s scolding tone.

But this is Weird Al. It’s all in good fun. His song uses a slinky beat and clever lyrics to share a lot of solid tips for writers and editors. If “Word Crimes” helps someone remember the difference between its and it’s, then I am willing to smile and sing along.

UPDATE: More reaction on “Word Crimes” from Grammar Girl and ACES blogger Pam Nelson.

Mapped out

Last night, The News & Observer shared the latest about Arthur, a tropical storm that may soon brush the North Carolina coast. The Raleigh newspaper’s Tweet included this map.

carolinas-badmap

As you may have already noticed, the labels for North Carolina and South Carolina are switched. South Carolina is highlighted, but for Raleigh readers, North Carolina should be. Also, Kentucky is marked as the United States.

The N&O’s Twitter followers quickly pointed out the error, some more politely than others. To its credit, the newspaper acknowledged the error and said it was working to repair the bad map.

carolinas-goodmapIn this morning’s print edition, the map is right. The Carolinas are appropriately labeled, and Kentucky is no longer a separate country.

The Web version of the story has the correct version of the map, but it apparently had the one with the errors posted for a while. You can tell by the reader comments, but the story doesn’t have a correction or acknowledge the earlier error.

I asked Craig Silverman of Regret The Error what the newspaper should do when a map is right in print but wrong online. His answer: Include a correction online, but don’t worry about mentioning it in print.

I agree. The N&O did the right thing by responding on Twitter, though I wish it had Tweeted a corrected map. A correction on the story page on its website is also necessary. A simple “an earlier version of this map …” would do.

We all make mistakes. It’s what humans do.

Careful editing can prevent many, but not all, errors from being published. When mistakes happen, it’s best to come clean, acknowledge the errors and set the record straight. On occasion, a dose of humor can help.

UPDATE: As Arthur passed through North Carolina, broadcasters had similar problems with geography, as seen here and here.

Q&A with Jordan Rogers of Raleigh & Company

Jordan Rogers is co-creator and an editor of Raleigh & Company, a collaborative website that consists of the work of nearly 20 writers. In this interview, conducted by email, Rogers discusses the site’s mission and its position in the Triangle’s media landscape.

Q. What is the objective of Raleigh & Company? What do you hope to achieve?

A. There were a lot of us sportswriters or freelance writers in the Triangle area who were already running our own blogs or writing creatively on our own. At some point a few of us figured, why not do this together and get the spillover from each other’s readerships?

We want to tell great stories, talk about important topics and give creative and smart people a platform to reach those in the area who would like to hear from them.

Q. How are writers selected for the site? Are their posts edited by you or other editors?

A. It has started with a loose group of writers, and we’ll do a mixture of invitations and accepting requests. Anyone who wants to potentially contribute should absolutely contact us. Most of the currents are either a professional writer, in an interesting professional field, or simply were such good writers we couldn’t say no.

I’ve done a little over half of the editing so far. That’s usually a good idea early in the development of any site to keep things similar stylistically, but we’ll spread out more duties as we go along.

Q. You’re on Twitter. How does Raleigh & Company plan to use social media?

A. As our main source of traffic. We simply hope to give people great stuff to read. If they like it, they’ll share it. I don’t know what else to say.

Q. The Triangle region of North Carolina is a crowded media market online, with not only traditional media like The News & Observer and WRAL, but also blogs like the Raleigh Connoisseur. How does Raleigh & Company fit into that market, and how can it thrive here?

A. You’re right, there are fantastic media options in and around the Triangle. It’s almost overwhelming.

WRAL is a national leader in local news, and it’s hard to get away from their footprint. (And there’s a reason for that — they’re insanely good.) INDYWeek has been so successful in this area in a time when other print weeklies have failed nationally because the Triangle demands an alternative and smart source of great writing and they’ve delivered for decades. And although in Greensboro, Our State magazine has been making a strong online push on social media with some great content. WCHL is a staple in Orange County, the N&O does fantastic work, and I should just stop there because I would leave someone out and the band orchestra is starting to play.

But that is what a smart and educated populace is all about: options; different points of view and topics. We might do a long form look at recreational adult leagues in the Triangle, discuss whether a terrible comic book has value, or do some reporting on the homeless that no one else is willing to talk about.

We might send a sportswriter to cover a cooking contest (and he did a fantastic job, didn’t he?) or we might send a culinary writer to cover the dining options at a basketball game at PNC. The Internet allows us to do a lot of different things and we plan on taking full advantage of that.

But to your point, we’re interested in making interesting things, and if people like it, they’ll respond. I couldn’t be less worried about “competing” and I only hope RaleighCo can be a part of the great media in the area.

Making it easier to share the news

The Los Angeles Times launched a bold overhaul of its digital news offerings this week. In this interview, managing editor Jimmy Orr says that the primary objective of the redesign is to have readers spend more time with LAT content.

Orr also wants readers to share that content. To make that easier, story pages on the LAT now include “sharelines.” These are three pre-written headlines written for Twitter and Facebook. The reader can pick one and click it to share on social media. Here’s an example from the story about the redesign:

sharelines

News sites have offered a one-click sharing function before, of course. What’s different here is the sharelines are written with social media in mind.

Other sites I have seen in recent years grabbed the headline as the Tweet automatically. That can work sometimes, but the language of Twitter and Facebook can differ from SEO-oriented digital headlines. Tweets often have a more conversational tone as well as hashtags and other elements.

So who is writing the LAT sharelines? I asked Henry Fuhrmann, who oversees copy desks there, about that. (I worked with Henry in Los Angeles in the summer of 2008.) Sharelines are a shared responsibility, he says:

The task of writing sharelines is divided as follows: Reporters and assigning editors write them for blogs posts. Copy editors do the honors on articles that are prepared for print and then go online. Of course, as is typical here, the copy desk ends up filling in gaps, so when we encounter blog posts that lack sharelines, we’ll fill them in.

So add “shareline writing” to the repertoire of journalists, including editors. In my classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have my students write a Tweet for a news story as part of the final exam. Perhaps next semester, I will have them write three.

#FollowFriday for Carol Folt

UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor, Carol Folt, joined Twitter earlier this week. Here’s her first post there:

I’m glad that Folt is a part of the conversation on Twitter. Her profile there indicates that the account is intended as the voice of the Office of the Chancellor, so some Tweets will be written by staff members. Posts by Folt herself will  include a “–CLF” signature.

Fair enough. Folt certainly has plenty to do besides checking on Twitter and posting there frequently. I hope, though, that we will see “–CLF” frequently.

Now, allow me to offer some Twitter advice to my boss, the chancellor: Who you follow is a big part of Twitter. At the moment, your “follows” are dominated by institutional accounts at the departmental level and higher. You can certainly learn a lot about what is happening on campus by following the Twitter feeds of various units.

But individuals on Twitter are often more interesting and informative than “official” accounts. They can offer personality, insight and humor that can, at least at times, be lacking in those departmental Twitter feeds. For example, you are following the UNC Admissions Office. It uses Twitter smartly, but for a more personal look at how that office works, follow Melissa Kotacka too.

Here are some other UNC people to consider following, starting with the journalism school:

@susking
@smalljones
@johnrobinson
@joebobhester
@winstonccavin
@rtburg
@JoSciarrino
@steven_king
@vekstra
@designmah
@RLLillis
@johnclark
@brandingofme
@kreissdaniel
@Stephanie Willen Brown
@UNCJschoolProbs

Others on or near campus:

@sczerwas
@lisachensvold
@EricaPerel
@ayse
@dsardia
@zeynep
@AndrewJPerrin
@UNCMemes
@DaggumRoy

This is just a start, of course. An ebb and flow to your follows is natural. Follow people who inform and entertain, who speak to your interests. Unfollow those who don’t. Twitter is a place to learn, share and have fun. Enjoy!

Q&A with Nate Johnson, weather forecaster at WRAL

Nate Johnson is a meteorologist and executive producer at WRAL in Raleigh, N.C. He has been with the TV station since 2007. In this interview, conducted by email, Johnson discusses his job, including how weather forecasters use social media, and where weather coverage fits into a world of digital/mobile news.

Q. Describe your job. What do you do on a typical day?

A. I often describe my role as similar to air traffic control. Pilots want to fly, and good ATC allows them to fly more safely and efficiently.

I do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to clear the way for our other meteorologists to focus on forecasting the weather and sharing those forecasts across a wide range of outlets. WRAL Weather isn’t just on WRAL – it’s on Fox50, Mix 101.5 and 99.9 FM The Fan here in the Triangle; WILM-TV and Sunrise Broadcasting radio stations in Wilmington; and more than 75 radio stations statewide on the North Carolina News Network. And that’s before we mention WRAL.com and our range of news and weather apps as well as social media.

To that end, I serve as the weather point of contact for other departments inside the company as well as external partners. For example, if promotions wants approval on copy for a radio ad to TV spot, I will work with them to ensure it’s appropriate.

I develop new graphics, data tools and ways to tell the weather story, and I work with the companies that provide the graphic systems we use for TV and the data we use in our forecasts to ensure we have the latest and greatest. Finally, I backfill the frontline roles, both weather and traffic, when there is a need due to vacation, severe weather and the like.

It’s a fun gig, and as I joked last week as I was asked to do traffic for our evening newscasts at almost the last minute, there’s never a dull moment.

Q. We’ve seen a lot of wintry weather in North Carolina this year. How does extreme weather affect what you do?

A. In the moment, it means I do more of it – more coordination, more graphics, more filling in — including fitting more of that into normal hours as well as working extra hours.

Before an event, especially when we’re in stretches of quiet weather, my role includes planning for the next bout with extreme weather, be it wintry, severe or tropical. Afterward, I assess our performance on a number of fronts, including both meteorological accuracy and how well we communicated what we did and didn’t know.

What we’re learning in the weather world is that even a perfect forecast, if it’s communicated poorly, has little value. Beyond simply making “good TV,” we have to make sure we communicate the forecast well so people can make informed decisions about everything from shoes to safety.

Q. You’re active on Twitter. How are weather forecasters using social media to do their jobs?

A. A lot are using social to share their forecasts or promote sources for their forecasts. Many are also using it to hear from their followers about their weather, including snowfall totals and severe weather reports. The best are doing all of that as well as using social as a sounding board to understand how people are using their forecasts and whether they’ve been successful in communicating the forecast and maximizing the value for the forecast user.

One wrinkle that has appeared recently is the rise of social media sites providing weather forecasts, with an emphasis on high-impact events. They get a lot of shares and likes, and some use official-sounding terms like “watch” and “warning” but have no connection to the advisories issued by the National Weather Service. Many also say that theirs is the real deal and other outlets like the NWS or TV are either too conservative or not allowed to share how bad it will actually be.

Sometimes, there’s a grain of truth, and these forecasts — often for severe weather outbreaks or major winter storms — spread widely, causing a certain “freak out” factor. Unfortunately, many forecasters are having to spend valuable time countering these so-called forecasts and tempering expectations.

Q. Weather coverage has always been a part of news, but how is that changing with the rise of digital and mobile media? What do you see as the future of weather forecasting and reporting?

A. Like so much else, people aren’t coming to the evening newscast to find out the forecast. Many already have a sense of what upcoming weather will be, and if that is all we provide, people will stop watching. We need to continue providing the details but focus more on translating those details into impacts and explaining the uncertainty that’s involved.

Weather forecasts aren’t perfect, and part of the bad rap meteorologists have is because we aren’t very good at explaining the uncertainties that have been there all along. Sure, we might have a “20 percent chance of rain,” but what exactly does that mean? Where we can be more descriptive in a way that helps people plan their days, we must be.

And that becomes even more important when the potential impacts are bigger: As last week showed us, a difference of a single degree a mile up in the atmosphere might make the difference between a cold rain that’s no big deal or a crippling ice storm. That forecast worked out well, but it was well within our ability to forecast for that line to have been off by a county on either side.

We need to do a better job explaining the capabilities and limitations of weather forecasts. Smartphones are very good at giving you an icon and a number, but we have to be better at translating that into useful information.

Follow Nate Johnson on Twitter and read his blog posts on Digital Meteorologist.