Near and dear to my heart

This week, I’ve been reading Entrepreneurial Journalism, by Mark Briggs. (Click here to see a previous post based on other ideas from this book.) Chapter 4 is called, “Don’t Wait; Innovate.”

Briggs lists his four elements of innovation: creativity, risk, hard work and optimism. Basically, he says that you shouldn’t wait around for the next big thing, but that you should instead go out there and create it. What do you have to lose?

After reading the title and first few sections of this chapter, my mind instantly went to an example, one of my favorite companies: TOMS. For those of you who may not know, TOMS is a shoe and eyewear company, but it is first and foremost a giving company. It has a unique business model: “With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One.” And, since June 2011: “With every pair you purchase, TOMS will help give sight to a person in need. One for One.” Who would have ever thought that helping a child could be as easy and effective as buying a pair of cute shoes or sunglasses?

In 2006, founder Blake Mycoskie met in his travels some children in Argentina who had no shoes. Because many diseases are spread through soil and because many schools require shoes as part of a uniform that is mandatory for attendance, Mycoskie wanted to help the children he befriended. He created TOMS shoes, a shortened version of the “shoes of tomorrow,” and vowed to give away one pair for every pair that he sold. He modeled the shoes after traditional Argentinean shoes, and they quickly became popular.

(A couple of years ago, I attended a lecture by Mycoskie at Mississippi State University, where he told us that at one point early in the project, he got a call from a department store that wanted to order some TOMS, and the shoes had become so popular that he literally had none left in stock.)

They have now given away more than one million pairs of shoes to children in need and are funding sight restoration by surgeries and glasses, all thanks to the wonderful customers who believed in a great cause and a fantastic innovation. The best part is that Mycoskie didn’t wait until after he had turned a profit or after he had sold a certain number of shoes to begin his giving. He started right away.

The moral of the story is that, yes, innovation is a huge part of creating a new company, service or product, but it would be so much better if every new innovation came with some generosity that would truly help others. What would you change to improve the world? To learn more about TOMS and how you can get involved, check out their Movement page. Be sure to watch the video, it really shows the true meaning of what they do.


Am I doing this right?

I figure if you’re going to do something, you might as well put your whole heart into it, right? Similar to the stance I’m taking with my thesis (That’s another fish to fry, I will blog about it one day.), I am deciding here and now to put a little more thought into this blog.

I’m going to try to include more pictures, links and update the “about me” section. I have gotten a head start by finally figuring out how to add a photo of myself. Most of the things I’d like to do will take some time for me to learn, so please be patient. I’ve done WordPress before, but it was a much more fill-in-the-blank series of actions at a publication that I worked for.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what I should do to make my blog more interactive? Drop me a line and let me know!

Here’s to progress!

Tweet, tweet: Are you using Twitter effectively?

Last week in class we had some discussion about Twitter and using it to get more blog readers. Our homework for this week was to read two articles that focus on that same idea.

We read 20 Top Twitter Monitoring and Analytics Tools and Social Media Analytics Apps Are Topped By Twitter’s Own

Pam Dyer, who wrote the first article, compiled a list of applications that Twitter users can employ to see if their tweets are reaching the target audience or encouraging them to buy certain products. Some of the apps seemed like they might be a little bit more useful than others, specifically because they all have different aims. Here is a list of what I thought to be the most important features within those apps.

  • Link popularity (Twazzup): Measures the number of retweets of a certain link in the Twitter-verse
  • Following mentions of certain brands (TweetBuzzer): This app reveals which brands are the current most discussed on Twitter. Even if it is not your own, the real purpose in using this app is that you have the possibility of researching those brands and mimicking their Twitter campaigns to improve your own.
  • Revealing the effects of specific tweets (TweetEffect): According to Dyer, TweetEffect can show which tweets caused users to jump ship and which tweets brought in followers.
  • Using graphs to present the data (Twitter Analyzer): Users of Google Analytics will like this app, as they work in a similar manner. Twitter Analyzer shows how many of your followers are currently online, who retweets your messages, what people are writing about you, Twitter following stats and your own tweeting habits.
  • Following the most popular links (Twitturly): Similar to what Twazzup can do, Twitturly gives a vote to a URL every time that it is posted. The tweets with the most votes make it into their daily Top100.
  • Seeing interactions about your company (Spy): In a semi-lurking manner, Spy will show conversations that mention your product. That could allow for companies to see specific examples of praises and complaints concerning their products or services.
  • Keeping track of keywords (TwiBuzz): Like following links, TwiBuzz lets users see how certain words from a list are being used on Twitter.

And then there is Trendly, the Twitter-owned app. The chief feature that I was interested in was the ability to see the positive and negative effects of certain tweets, just like in TweetEffects. The dashboard has numbers, graphs and charts and seems to be useful for monitoring all kinds of activity.

There are a lot of apps out there for tweeters who want to keep an eye on the effects of their tweets, so make sure to check out Dyer’s list and do some research to find the app or combination that works best for you.

Check out my twitter: christi_cowan

Use advertising to your advantage

One of the major questions about news startups is where to get money. Entrepreneurial journalists worry about where to get the initial startup costs, how to pay for web development, hiring new employees and the conflict of interest they might have in writing about their advertisers.

This week, we read chapter two of Mark Briggs’ book, Entrepreneurial Journalism. This chapter, entitled, “Get inspired by success,” features many prominent and successful people who have created sustainable news startups. Some are based on certain topics like art or the environment, and some cover hyperlocal areas, but they all started with an idea, then faced financial challenges that the creators had to figure out.

The chapter outlined three options for this type of journalist to consider when it comes to advertising.

1. People will pay for quality content, but it is not a direct connection. The website operator can claim an audience once one is established from consistent quality, which appeals to advertisers.

2. Be truthful and upfront, and the money will come to you. Advertisers will come to terms with the fact that you may cover them in your news stories, but as long as you remain transparent about who is funding the site, your readers will trust you and remain loyal.

3. Experiment. Try a new business model. If the first one doesn’t work, try a different one. The money doesn’t all have to come from one place. Maybe a mixture of advertising and subscriptions would be best for your site.

I like the ideas that these three theories present. It seems that if they are used in conjunction with one another, they could prove to be profitable.

The chapter also addressed the idea that ads should pertain to the reader and the content. They products and services should be helpful to the readers, not something that they aim to avoid. Ads should be incorporated into the stories and should refer readers to some goods that they are interested in or are relevant to the information.

Check out TreeHugger, which Briggs mentions in the chapter and which aims to serve readers with appropriate ads.

Food, Zooey and high fashion

I had to share this with the other foodies out there.

HelloGiggles Illustrated Tweet of the Day

For those who don’t know, HelloGiggles is a site founded by actress Zooey Deschanel and her friend Sophia Rossi. It’s sort of a conglomeration of blogs, mostly containing super girly posts about movies, dating and nail polish. There are a variety of authors and contributors. I’m not a huge fan of the site’s layout, but I do love Zooey Deschanel. I mean, she’s a great actress (Have you seen  her in New Girl?) and a phenomenal singer (That’s her on the Elf soundtrack and in the indie folk duo She & Him.), not to mention gorgeous. She’s like superwoman. Plus, who wouldn’t love to have a name that includes the word Chanel? Say it with me now: haute couture.

Where are the chocolate chips?

Poynter definitely knows its stuff. I am new to the whole idea of web analytics and panel methodology to measure access to websites, but this article, “What web analytic can – and can’t – tell you about your site’s traffic and audience,” by Dorian Benkoil, gives the straight facts and shows how the two methods are similar and different.

Benkoil explains that some factors may affect the hit count and drastically over- or under-estimate the number that sites want so desperately to be able to share with advertisers. Cookies, codes that websites put on a browser to count users, are one of the main causes. According to a study that he cited, cookies can inflate the hit count by up to 2.5 times what it actually is. That could be a huge difference to advertisers and sponsors.

The issue caused by cookies is that they count the times a web browser system hits a website. They are not able to count physical people, and they cannot account for people who use more than one computer. With the existence of iPhones and iPads, many people can browse the web while they are on a train, eating lunch or waiting at the dentist (a much better alternative to reading old golf magazines).

My brother is an IT junkie, so over the years I have picked up a few things from him. Thank goodness he taught me how to set up an internet router, or I would be completely lost. The point is that he has often told me to clear my cache or cookies, and I blindly did it, not completely understanding it, but this time, Benkoil gave a good description of what cookies actually do.

The idea of panel methodology also seems like an interesting concept. Researchers study participants’ internet usage, and the data is based on real people, not arbitrary numbers. I’m sure that web analytics have their own unique purpose too, but it seems that panels could work really well for smaller regions.

The main question that comes to mind, since this is a class based on community journalism, is this: What is the best way to measure websites in smaller communities? The article mentions that analytics are not necessarily reliable in areas where many people use a computer, like public libraries, but it also says that smaller sites are not as easy to measure in a panel study, since the sample size decreases. Some companies will not even consider measuring a site until it gets a certain number of hits per month.

Even though they aren’t chocolate, warm-from-the-oven cookies, cookie codes seem like the easiest and fastest way to access information about web hits. We could argue that the over- and under-estimates probably balance out in most cases, so until we find a better way, cookies seem to be the best option.

Not everyone can be Steve Jobs

One of the articles that we read this week was called “What Can I Build Today?” from the Columbia Journalism Review. The article talks about innovation as it should be applied to individual areas.

The basic idea is that not everyone can be Steve Jobs, so online news startups should be innovative to the community that they are trying to reach. The author, Michael Meyer, gave some examples of sites that are doing it well and others that aren’t doing it quite so well. He suggested that smaller sites should try to be innovative in a current mindset, not always looking toward the future, but instead looking to the present to provide what the readers really need and want.

One of the sites that Meyer mentioned was the Birmingham-based Weld. Literally hitting close to home for me (I was born and raised in and around Birmingham), I decided to check it out. One of the first things I noticed was the fact that the political section of the site, called Second Front, is done in a blog-style format. I love when the news media organizes posts in that fashion. It puts the news in a reverse chronological order, so it is clear that the highest post is the most recent. (I’ll be honest here, that’s the reason I read E! News as opposed to People. When I need my guilty pleasure fix of celebrity news, E! is a lot easier to follow.)

The site also uses tags on all of its posts, but they are not tiny gray letters under the headlines. They come in the form of color blocks to the left so the reader can clearly see if news is national, local, developing or whatever else.

So maybe Weld isn’t run by geniuses like Steve Jobs, but just after checking it out one time, I think they seem to be running a pretty sound operation that caters to the needs of the audience.


This is the blog for my JN 553 class this semester. The class is called Assessing Community Journalism, and it looks like it’s going to be pretty interesting. Here’s to being one step closer to that degree!