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I’m releasing a new WordPress plugin today that allows you to use shortcodes to embed comments and comment threads into the body of stories.

It’s called Response Stack.

The goal is to build stories out of comments and help both the original story and the discussion around it live on. You can see the first story we built with it live on CFO.com.

I’ve long been of the opinion that comments are part of the stories that they run on. Many organizations will give up control of their comments to an external provider, or turn them off entirely. I think that’s a bad idea. The authors of our comments (the non-spam ones) are contributing to the conversation around our work and that means they’re growing it. They deserve our respect and those conversations deserve our attention.

Gawker’s Kinja shows that the comment section as an area where each comment can expand into its own universe. That’s good. That’s not everything. Allowing comments to grow into their own stories on our websites is a great idea, but it’s not really a journalistic one. Journalism sites succeed when there’s a sense of editorial decision-making. There’s a decision to write or to aggregate a story. That decision is a big part of what creates value and interest for readers.

The way some comment systems have reflected that is by allowing editors to select a ‘top comment’. That’s an OK idea, but it breaks the commenting section, it takes a thread of conversation and breaks it up by trying to pull out individual ‘good’ items. I’m not particularly excited about that.

At CFO Magazine, we’ve been thinking about open threads, the life-cycle of articles and how we can help useful or exciting articles continue to live and thrive past their publication date. Out of our discussion came the idea of a reader response post. These aren’t a new idea, but I wasn’t able to find a tool to make building one easy. Nor did I really like the old formats sites had built them in (mostly supplanted by embedded Tweets now).

The initial goals:

  • Keep the comments we embedded ‘alive’.
    • Continue to connect comments to their original location on the old post.
    • Replying is easy.
  • Make it easy to create response posts.

To accomplish this, I made it possible to embed individual comments and entire comment threads using their ID numbers and made sure that users could continue to click to the original positions or the comments and even reply to them while in the body of the new story.

So, working with our editorial and management team at CFO, and building on work being done by Human Made to develop CFO.com into a better WordPress site, I built a better tool and now we’re opening it up for use by anyone. If you have any problems, just comment here or open an issue on the GitHub repository. If you have ideas, contribute to the project!

Keep an eye out, I’m hoping to make this even easier to use and to expand this tool with more ways to build on your readers’ comments in the future.

 

How it works:

Response Stack uses WordPress shortcodes to pull comments (and comment threads) into a post from other posts on the same site. To get the shortcode working type the following into its own line in your post:

[responser comment="id" thread="depth"] where id is equal to the integer ID of the comment and depth is equal to the integer depth of the thread of comments you want visible.

Readers looking at the comments can even respond to them within the shortcode’s post, submitting threaded replies that will then take them to the original conversation.

You can find the comment id by looking at the hyperlink attached to any comment datetime stamp (on the post or in the comments page of the dashboard), where it will be in the format of http://site/post-link/#comment-CommentIDNumber.

Response Stack assumes you are using default WordPress comments. Support for other commenting systems is to come. If you’d like to add support for your commenting system, contribute to the project GitHub at: https://github.com/CFOPublishing/response-stack/

Is this drought a Suffolk-specific problem or a much larger crisis? And if the answer is the latter, what is holding an increasing amount of students back from being passionate about — and getting involved with — established college media?

 “Are Fewer Students Passionate About College Media?” Dan Reimold, College Media Matters

When I worked in student journalism I saw a drought in college media. Fewer students came in and many were badly informed about being a journalist post-1990.

Participation in campus media outlets is dropping for more than one reason.

In a sense Lauren Rabaino was right about when she talked about professors being behind the times. It is a big issue, but not the only one in the classroom. The problem isn’t just out-of-touch professors, even those professors who were more on top of things found that the structure of higher ed (textbook selections, syllabus approval, chair politics, and so much more) was highly resistant to building an educational program that changed as fast as the field.

University politics are antithetical to teaching fast-changing professions.

When I was a student media professional I saw the college media office unable to work with particular subsets of the journalism program because… ‘politics’. In the end, the entire electronic journalism academic program basically got downsized around the time I left Mason. It’s clear that even if professors figure out what being a modern journalist means, universities don’t get it.

It is incredibly easy and often more effective to do it yourself.

The other big problem is many people have taken on Lauren’s advice. With college journalism orgs suffering dropping ad dollars and funding, the students who do devote their time to college media find themselves underpaid, with huge workloads, and dependent on their flakier peers, often taking up the slack. It’s not a healthy proposition.

With the web, anyone who is truly passionate about journalism can roll their own outlet, promote it and run it for four years with not that much effort. Even better, if they enjoy it, or create something worthwhile, they can take it with them.

At George Mason University we launched a WordPress Multisite portal to try to capture and support that behavior with Student Media’s resources. We saw and helped a lot of young journalists self-start. We were able to leverage the platform to promote student content and find additional contributors. Even then we found ourselves competing with students who wanted to go it alone. Not to mention losing potential contributors who were willing to write for free or less on a larger scale outlet like Patch, College Candy or Huffington Post.

What we did with onMason.com and Connect2Mason was only possible with an abnormally high level of tech knowledge in the student media space at GMU (not just myself, we had a dedicated hardware/servers person and a number of really amazing technically adept students). Even the expertise we had isn’t really enough to take the scale of operations college newspapers enjoyed 15 years ago and move it to the internet. Most universities don’t have that much tech in their student media units and either can’t afford it or are unwilling to pay for it.

Other units have more money and fewer students can afford to work for free.

On the flip side, the growing student life professional sphere usually does have those tech people. Those offices are also more willing to let students have an impact in operations. Folks working in student support units almost always have larger pools of money to pull from and (thanks to content marketing) have many slots to support journalism-like behavior. Because of that, many of these students may have gone in with the full intent of becoming journalists, but been lured away by the promise of something that can actually keep them out of debt.

Which brings forward another component: the rising cost of higher education. Increasing student debt means students worry more about making money and look for higher paying opportunities from day one on campus. Usually college media isn’t even funded to pay competitively against other on-campus jobs . As far as I know, the funding continues to dry up. It isn’t a lack of passion, but an increase in practicality for many students. Especially when student journalists don’t see ‘making the newspaper profitable’ as part of their job.

Peter Kaplan

Was Peter Kaplan the last ‘editor-as-hero’? Is that a journalism role model anymore?

I’m my own example. I was pretty decently paid as a student in college media. If I hadn’t been, I could never have afforded to be involved. I am endlessly grateful that I had an amazing group of college media professionals who valued paying for student work. If I hadn’t been involved in student media, I’d probably never have done anything journalistic. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens that way on many other campuses.

In the end, the model for what makes a successful journalist is changing pretty radically. Columnists aren’t really heroes anymore. No one can point to an op-ed page they respect. Students want to, like Rabaino, run their own journalism start-up. They want to blog so well they get hired by The New York Times, like Brian Stelter. They want to build something so useful it ends up on their favorite websites.

Oh, and they want to graduate without insomnia-inducing levels of debt.

Is college media the place for those people? On most campuses, the answer is no.

It can be, but that would mean college media becoming less of an outlet and more a loosely-attached confederation of students passionate about journalism, whatever form it takes.

But our professor is in another castle: Universities don’t get MOOCs

When will academic institutions learn that outsourcing their online learning services is always a mistake?

PressForward Plugin Beta Now Available!

PressForward, the Google Reader replacement that runs inside your WordPress install, is now in open beta! This is one of the project’s that I’ve spent the last year working on and I’m very excited to get to this stage. PressForward, which is hitting beta just in time to complete testing when Google Reader hits the […]

The Access Paradox: The conundrum of growing a journalism genre. [Part 1]

For the profession of journalism, video games journalism is our canary in the coal mine. How it deals with the challenges and ethical conundrums of the new journalism will teach us all, if we’re smart enough to pay attention.

A WordPress shortcode for archiving Twitter hashtags and searches.

While numerous tools for publicly archiving Twitter searches have gone premium or disappeared entirely, I’ve built a new one that works entirely within WordPress. Now I need your help to test it.

About a year ago, I wrote an article about how to archive Twitter chats using the then popular and perfectly functional WhatTheHashtag. Later on the site was suddenly shut down and the service discontinued. Since then, I’ve stumbled from tool to tool, trying to find an equally optimal solution that would allow me to generate HTML containing Tweets and post them on my blog (independent from any other platform) with the greatest amount of speed possible.