Working the web

Working the web

Whether you are staff or freelance, how can you use social media and simple web tools to get stories, get them noticed and relate better to your readership? LMB invited Guardian blogs editor Kevin Anderson to a recent branch meeting to answer those questions.

Kevin said the Guardian divides the users of its website into four groups - best imagined as four concentric circles. Working in from the outside these are casual, committed, connected and catalyst users. The paper's social media editorial strategy has several purposes:

  • Open the paper up to the audience (after all, some of them know more than the journalists...);
  • Tap into the wisdom in the crowd (making an important distinction between this and the 'wisdon of the crowd');
  • Go to where the conversation is

The general idea is that most of the site's content is sourced from the crowd, the contributors become part of a community and also build relationships with other audiences. The committed make up 1-2% of the audience, 5% tops; the rest are consumers. There are high levels of engagement with the sports section of the site, but it is surprisingly difficult to get the same level of involvement around environmental stories - possibly because people have strong views. There is a generally higher participation rate among US users of the Guardian's site.

Video contributions keep coming in, weeks after an event. Three weeks after the Hudson River plane crash we were still receiving new videos; the same happened after the G20 protests in London.

On a recent, 4,000km trip across the US, Anderson's journalistic field kit consisted of just a laptop, a Nokia phone that captured standard-definition video and a microphone. Enough to edit and file video and text reports and continually respond to readers’ requests to investigate particular issues.


Question: How do I justify this kind of effort to my editor?

Answer: I get paid to sift through stuff to find the genuinely interesting. This is an important role for any beat reporter, including on magazines. Journalists are paid to find the signal amid the noise.


Question: But some groups of sources and readers are generally too busy to chat online – nurses, for example (on the other hand, if your readers are architects, they have plenty of time for blogging at the moment…) so how do you reach them?

Answer: Think: is there already a forum concerned with your area of interest? Also, focus on the interactivity rather than the technology. The tech does not need to be cutting edge: text messages are still relevant. Indeed, the contributions from African texters to a recent Guardian discussion almost overloaded the website.


Question: I work on a serious magazine. Contagious stories, such as the allegedly crack-crazed squirrels of Brixton, can spread far and wide in the bloggosphere without a shred of evidence – that is hardly journalism, is it?

Answer: Working with social media should not change any of our journalistic standards, methodology or ethics: only our tools have changed. Checking stories is more important than ever


Question: What are the revenue options or small, even one-person sites?

Answer: It depends on your niche. Google's AdSense is still pretty poor: it is too general. We are starting to see niche ad networks develop. A good site, eg John Battelle's SearchBlog at can get a hundred times the PM of AdSense with well targeted ads for a valuable audience. It really takes a focused offering PLUS the ideal niche advertising company to achieve this. Battelle's site uses Federated Media Publishing at


You can contact Kevin at

click date | clear event

Branch affairs

  • branch business
  • expenses policies
  • maglight
  • minutes
  • where we meet