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Production Editor, The Christian Index - sbarkley@christianindex.org

Reminders of the importance to verify

It goes against our nature now. At one time the news appeared sporadically, with one installment around six in the evening or via the morning paper. Today, consumption never stops and every now and then were given examples of the potholes that can come because of it.

In the hours after the news broke of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Conn., I heard several reports that ended up being false. The shooters parents were both murdered. His mother was a teacher at the school and it was her classroom he targeted. Ryan, not Adam, Lanza was the gunman. A following intentional string of hoaxes spread via social media became such a problem that police said charges could follow.

I even had a personal episode related to the story of not verifying concretely. Like many of you, I was trying desperately to find high-resolution photos for a Sandy Hook story to appear in The Christian Index. Florida Baptist Witness managing editor and BCA officer Joni Hannigan (follow her on Twitter and Facebook) came to the rescue with an email recounting her exchange with Erik Ogren, senior public relations specialist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The BGEA had a team of chaplains in Newtown and Erik was kind enough to make their photos available for publication.

After getting permission from Erik, Joni forwarded a Dropbox link of more than 50 photos to various members of Baptist media. I emailed Joni and asked if it was okay to post the link to the BCA Facebook page. Joni said that was fine with source information because it would be a good tool for BCA members.

What I forgot was that BCA Facebook posts automatically go to the BCA Twitter as well. So instead of the link being available just to friends of the Facebook page, I inadvertently put it out there to anyone doing a Twitter search for Sandy Hook. Oopsie.

After realizing my mistake I panicked and deleted both posts, but have since added it back to the BCA Facebook page.

Most recently, I posted on my personal Facebook page this morning a question asking if people were going to delete their Instagram accounts over the new Terms of Service slated to take effect in January. Basically, the ToS released Monday left the door wide open for photos on Instagram, and by extension Facebook, to be used by advertisers with no compensation to the owner. At the time I was asking the question, Instagram had already backed down from the new conditions. However, to further show the speed at which news moves Flickr was already promoting a way to entice Instagram users not happy with the announcement.

To my surprise, many people were unaware of the furor or hadnt taken a closer look, which resulted in a pretty good online discussion over personal copyrights and alternatives to photosharing. Many had already deleted their Instagram accounts entirely, which may prove to have been a little premature.

Baptist deadlines don't run as around-the-clock as CNN's, so there was a grace period of sorts for facts to sort themselves out. It can actually be an advantage given the extra time for misreporting to work itself out. When your organization is built about Christian principles, though, it becomes a weightier motivation to make sure what you report is truth, not rumor.

POSTED: Dec 19, 2012

Four Tools I Use To Cover My Area

The fields covered through Baptist communications are as varied as the tools at your disposal. In the almost-nine years since I began working at The Christian Index, a number of online avenues have developed to keep up with our readers, which in turn give us a clue as to concentrating story coverage.

Rather than an exhaustive list of these tools, here are four you need to establish or begin building today.

  1. Blog lists  There are several ways to do this, such as RSS feeds, following particular blogs the way I do on Wordpress, or simply setting up a folder and storing links there. On Google Reader I've established two subscription lists pertinent to The Index's coverage area: Georgia Baptist Convention ministers and GBC laypeople.

    Since feeling its impact at the 2006 Southern Baptist annual meeting in Greensboro, SBC leadership has had a tenuous relationship with the blogosphere. Today, it's becoming more the exception for pastors to not have a blog. Don't just keep up with what's on their minds, but considering those blogs as possible sources for your next story.

  2. Hootsuite  I used the free version for awhile, but finally sprung for the $6 a month upgrade and it's been a great investment. Through this program I can post to various social media outlets at the same time, but the biggest benefit is scheduling a post through those resources  Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, etc..

    Each morning, one of the first things I do is go through my Reader and check out GBC pastor blog posts. I then take those posts and schedule them at various times through the lunch hour when people are more prone to check Twitter and Facebook. Should lunchtime get crowded I'll schedule posts toward the end of the workday and, depending on the topic, even on Sunday morning when many pastors are posting to Twitter.

  3. Twitter lists  Everyone knows about Twitter, but an underused feature is Lists. Want to know what your target readership is Tweeting but not dig through a hundred posts to get there? Create a list. I have my GBC list as well as SBC media and SBC. In writing this post I realized I didnt have one for BCA, so you'll see from my Twitter account (@scottbarkley) that it's in the initial stages. Lists can be public or private, and in looking through them you can choose who out of that list to follow or with one click follow them all.

    A couple of weeks ago the reporting of Baptist Press and Tim Ellsworth prompted me to create an Olympics list so I could keep up with the athletes they profiled. I ended up adding more athletes from the Games, which gave me a look into how a persons strict diet goes to pot when you get a break after years of strict training. So whether work-related or just for an interest (football season is upon us), lists are great for chopping up your Twitter timeline.

  4. Google Maps.  A few months ago I created a map using this free tool for showing where Georgia Baptist churches were going on missions. For me, the information was fairly easy to attain through either the aforementioned Google Reader or old-school paper church newsletters that still come to The Index offices. Im also in the process of creating a map showing where Index writers have reported from this year.

With the exception of the Hootsuite upgrade, all of these tools are free and can add not only to your story-gathering, but story-telling capabilities.

POSTED: Aug 21, 2012

Make the most out of that Instagram account

Walking to get a glass of water from the hallway, I saw Georgia Baptist Convention archivist George Houston carrying a set of dusty black folders chock full of yellowing papers. Asked if he was getting rid of some old, useless stuff he corrected me in saying, "Just old."

That led to my going with Houston into the archives (conveniently, for me, located across the hall from my office) and getting a quick rundown of items donated by a career Home Mission Board-appointed police chaplain. Not having my regular camera with me, I clicked off a few shots with my phone.

At one time accepting pictures taken from a phone was... well, unacceptable. But with higher resolutions becoming the norm and online becoming the preferred option for consumers, those parameters are falling. A quick check by our designer showed my pictures were a high-enough resolution to fill most of a page in our print edition.

I've just been baptized into the world of the iPhone thanks to an unfortunate meeting of my previous phone with our kitchen floor. I'm still finding my way around, but in exploring its possibilities for journalism I've become fixated on Instagram.

Instagram is the quirky (their term, but yes, it fits) program where iPhone owners can take photos and edit with various light and color settings. More important for journalists, it's also a social network where others can follow your photos and make comments. For Android, where I lived up until about a week ago, there are similar applications such as Vignette and picplz. These apps are picking up on a seemingly nostalgia-led craze by providing filters that make your top-of-the-line, highly-technological photo appear like it came straight out of 1977.

Perhaps the closest thing to Instagram on Android is Lightbox. Until checking my account recently, I'd forgotten just how many pictures I'd placed there. In terms of sharing it actually has a leg up on Instagram by providing a link to your Google+ account.

Those are just options, though. The point is whenever there's a way to transmit pictures of an event quickly and easily - especially to social networks where more of your audience is living - it's another tool to share your story.

Taking a couple of photos in the archives with Houston, it struck me how easy it would be to use these apps to create an online photostream at an ongoing event. There's live blogging and live tweeting, why not live photoing? In addition to uploading to your photo site, you can share through various other sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. A photo of Houston I took was shared over Twitter as well as posted directly to The Christian Index's Facebook wall.

As for professional development, in Instagram a search through my Twitter list revealed profiles by ABC World News and The Washington Post. Reputable media outlets are already seeing the benefits of having securing a presence. Baptists aren't behind the curve on social media or photo sharing. No reason for those of us telling their stories to be.

POSTED: Dec 7, 2011

Is Google+ something you should look into?

Whenever The Next Big Thing in social media comes along the techie squeals of joy are almost drowned out by the groans of practically everyone else. What is another great option for staying connected and finding story resources is also seen as yet another password to remember and site post to update.

It's not hard to find online sources chronicling the growth of G+ (apparently that's the hipster shorthand). The latest social media effort by search giant Google reached 10 million users in 16 days, quite a feat when you consider the time it took Facebook (852 days) and Twitter (780) to reach that mark.

I was given an invite to G+ and have been using it a couple of weeks now. What does it offer you?

  • Synchronization with other Google services. Of course, this is what the folks at Google are counting on. When on G+ the regular toolbar on your browser is replaced with a black one containing your Google services such as Gmail and Reader. I'd like to see an option where a story or blog post in my Reader can be shared easily on G+. The service is still in development. This goes back to the handing out of invites as opposed to a Wal-Mart-on-Black-Market-Friday opening. Google technicians wanted to fix snags as they showed rather than deal with an instant crush of users.
  • Sharing on Facebook and Twitter. These are extensions you have to find (I always go to Mashable.), but they are out there.
  • Sparks. These are news feeds out of Google News. Featured interests are available (movies, recipes, gardening) but can also search for ones more applicable to you (Southern Baptist Convention, Bible Study, Jacksonville State football).
  • The Circles. We've all probably shared something on Facebook that applies to some groups more than others. Facebook has the capability to separate your friends into lists, but I'm just too far into my Facebook existence to divvy those names up. That's a lazy answer, but with the new start in G+ I've already created Circles for the Georgia Baptist Convention (where I work), Friends, Professional sources, and yes, BCA. I really like the ability to pinpoint my message. There's a Public option for posting if you want your message out for everyone.
  • Hangouts This has a lot of potential. Hangouts are video chats that can host up to nine people at one time. There's a YouTube option where the chat can be recorded for later as well. I sponsored a Christian Index Hangout this week and had the cyber walls busting with... 1 attendee. Okay, but a youth minister in a rural church who also had planned on participating was foiled by a group trip to the movies. Even with a small showing, I spent a few minutes talking to the pastor on about stories coming out in the current issue of The Index and what we were working on for the next edition. At the end I asked him for feedback on story ideas he'd like to see, where he provided a couple I've now started to follow up on. I plan on holding another Hangout in a couple of weeks. Hopefully a few more pastors and even laypeople will join in.

The narrative has been G+ is seeking to take over Facebook. I don't see it that way. I'm still on Facebook and do quite a bit of work on there and Twitter because right now that's where the people are. There are several functions of G+ that are particularly useful for journalists. With its options, Google+ could definitely be a tool worth investigating.

POSTED: Aug 12, 2011

Collect and gather resources through Storify

With so many Southern Baptists taking to social media, it's natural for their comments to range from not just anecdotal but into the realm of denominational polity. As dialogue grows, a tool to gather quotes and context through sites such a YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs is Storify.

I first came across Storify late last year and was intrigued by it's possibilities in covering Southern Baptist news. It's no secret that online SBC-related discussions pick up steam as the annual meeting in June approaches, culminating in a flurry of feedback during the gathering. Many of those online users are sticking with the medium, though. This leads to a pretty consistent stream of thoughts from Southern Baptists nationally, and specifically, in your state or focus of coverage.

Still getting used to it myself, I used the service last week to Storify comments on Twitter from SBC pastors and leaders in chronicling the reaction to Osama bin Laden's death. One bit of coaching I'd give is if you don't have a Twitter list set up for Southern Baptists and/or those from your state, do that now. If I didn't have those two in place I'd have lost a great amount of time looking through tweets and digging out those I needed.

(By the way, we're looking for BCA members on Twitter. If you're up and tweeting let us know. I'll be putting you here.)

To see more of the tools put to use, look at this Storify of Newsday's report when President Obama visited Ground Zero last week. I can see church groups - especially smart-phone savvy youth - Twitpicking and videoing their own contributions on mission trips that can later be pieced together for installation onto a church website or minister's blog. Storify pieces can be embedded into self-hosted Wordpress blogs, Tumblr, and Posterous.

As more people use social media to offer their insights they become contributors, even if unknowingly. Storify appears to be a great tool in collecting that feedback and packaging it.

POSTED: May 9, 2011

Social media a double-edged sword for international missionaries

Perhaps the loudest cheers for social media are how it opens up the conversation not only in number of voices, but speed. A few weeks ago, Twitter officially exploded onto the SBC scene with pastors (yes) young and (but wait a minute) older signing up to post their thoughts during sessions at the SBC annual meeting. President Johnny Hunt's blessing on Twitter the day after the SBC ended (@johnnymhunt) practically made it an institution of pastoral communications.

But what if that same openness can lead to danger? In an effort to head off trouble caused by well-intentioned messages via outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, the International Mission Board added a new element to missionary training recently - how to use social media wisely.

"It is a concern," said Wendy Norvelle, spokesperson for the IMB. "Right now we have 54 percent of missionaries working in areas where they need to be cautious in how they communicate. In April we talked to missionaries about adjusting their privacy settings and being sure who they consider a 'friend.' On their profile, we encouraged them to use the 'limited' profile and disable some options that could inhibit their ministry."

The mirage of a smaller-than-actual audience is the biggest threat. College-age missionaries serving overseas may have to fight against their own culture of sharing almost-all online.

Warren Skinner, consultant for Collegiate Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said so far there have been no instances of student missionaries from his state placing themselves in harm's way via tweet or status update.

"We've addressed it for several years now [in training] and make them aware of what's appropriate to share and what's not. They know to be careful about posting personal information on the missionaries they're serving with and anything that might compromise that ministry," he said.

Journalists may be tempted to contact missionaries through social media when their part of the world is in the news, such as with the recent unrest in Honduras. Norvelle asks media to help in protecting their status.

"One of the things we tell our personnel is to not pass judgement on governmental actions," she said. "Taking political stances is simply not helpful. We tell them to be very careful about what they say [online] about such events.

"We also ask that any stories written about them are ministry-related and not political. If a missionary says something that can be seen as politically-charged, I wouldn't mind if journalists even chided them a little for it."

POSTED: Jul 13, 2009

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