About Tim Sohn

Tim Sohn is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at timothyjsohn@gmail.com and on Twitter @editortim. Also, check out his website at TimothyJSohn.com.

How Analytics Can Help You Hone Twitter Content


Programmatic Buying

If Google’s search-linked auction-priced do-it-yourself ad system was the Internet equivalent of inventing the wheel, then Google Analytics was the first road map. Since then the ad side of the Web has remained remarkably static, if more expensive, while analytics—the crunching of data to see what’s working and why—has taken center stage. As more marketing money has flowed online, businesses and publishers have demanded more accountability for their dollars.

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The Two Money Factors for Mobile Media: Location, Relevance



Media organizations are still tiptoeing into mobile—both on the content side and with their advertisers—searching for a way to grab eyeballs and monetize this fast-growing channel where traditional paywalls, display ads and stories don’t seem to be as sticky. To do that they’re focusing on two factors: location and relevance, according to a new report—“The Smartphone Choices for Media Companies” just released by International News Media Association (sorry folks, only the summary is free to non-members).

While brands and agencies may be more focused on customer engagement—re-tweets or Facebook likes, for example— publishers want to attract an audience and make it pay, much as they have with print, broadcast and other traditional media. But mobile monetization has been challenging for all players, even as more and more people check news, email and social media via their phones or tablets.

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What the Pope’s Twitter success can teach brands



Pope Francis’ social media team clearly knows what it’s doing when it comes to Twitter. In a tweet on Sunday, the head of the Catholic church announced that he now has more than 10 million followers on the social network, and he thanked his social flock.

The divine tweet from @Pontifex:

Dear Followers I understand there are now over 10 million of you! I thank you with all my heart and ask you to continue praying for me

Since Pope Francis took over, the number of followers on the papal Twitter accounts has tripled, according to a Reuters report.

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#Journo100 Profile: SCOTUSblog


As part of the Ebyline/E&P 100% Journalism Challenge, we’re profiling examples of 100% journalism to find out what challenges, mistakes and triumphs come with the responsibility for covering a topic completely. Enter the 100% Journalism Challenge by Oct. 12 and win up to $35,000 to spend on your 100% journalism idea.

Lawyers Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe’s popular SCOTUSblog is not just any legal blog. Boasting 200,000 unique visitors per month during the U.S. Supreme Court’s summer recess (effectively the off-season), and one million during landmark decisions like the Affordable Care Act, this Bloomberg Law-sponsored blog has become the go-to authoritative voice on reporting and analyzing all Supreme Court cases and decisions. Ebyline caught up with editor Amy Howe to discuss the advantages and challenges of running a 100 percent operation, and her advice for others who want to start covering a topic so completely.

Content on SCOTUSblog is all about the Supreme Court. What challenges does focusing entirely on that one branch of government pose?

Our biggest challenge is generating content when the court is not in session, particularly during the summer recess, which starts at the end of June and continues until the end of September, and the mid-winter recess, which lasts about a month in a period that spans mid-January to late February. We want our regular readers to find new substantive content when they come to the site every day. To that end, during the summer we have recently begun holding online “symposia” focusing on big issues that are pending on the court’s docket or may be on the docket soon.

What advantages are there to focusing 100 percent of your content on the Supreme Court?

There are a few different advantages. First, it gives us a limiting principle – we don’t have to be all things to all people. Second, the court’s docket and the goings on at the court are on a small enough scale that we can provide near-comprehensive coverage and over time really start to feel like we have an excellent grip on how the court works. Third, because our focus is only on the court, it gives us a level of credibility so that we can become one of the go-to sites when something like health care is happening at the court, which in turn generates more regular readers.

How does focusing on one subject change the nature of reporting, audience, etc.?

Particularly in the beginning, we wrote for an audience that we believed to be made up of lawyers and law students, so we tended to write on a fairly high level. In recent years, we have tried to broaden our coverage to be more accessible to non-lawyers, both in terms of how our posts are written and by adding special features like our “Plain English” and “Made Simple” columns, designed specifically for non-lawyers.

How many absolute unique visitors are you seeing a month on your blog, and how responsible for its success is the concept of 100 Percent Journalism?

It will vary tremendously depending on what the court is doing — from 200,000 in the summer, when the court is not in session, to 1 million when things are busy at the court. Certainly, most of our reputation derives from being objective specialists on the court.

Do you think the future of news will be less bundled and more super-specialized? Why or why not?

I do—for two related reasons. First, with the decline of traditional print and TV media, many if not all news organizations have fewer resources to devote to particular topics like the court – especially when, as with the court, a topic does not generate news on a day-in, day-out basis. Second, with the advent of the Internet, people can — and I think want to — focus on niche coverage, so there is more of a demand for super-specialized news. I imagine that these two reasons together are the classic chicken-and-egg problem.

What advice would you give to anyone considering starting a 100 Percent Journalism project, focusing entirely on a specific niche?

I would focus on a niche that you really enjoy, expect to put a lot of work into it, posting every day if possible, and be patient. Our blog is now 10 years old, and I feel like we’re really hitting our stride now.

Should traditional media have ceded coverage of the conventions to social?


ConventionsThey may be scripted down to the last fist pump but, if nothing else, the 2012 Democratic and Republican national conventions should be remembered as a turning point for the news business. That’s because the numbers, and the buzz, make a pretty convincing case that social media took the mantle from traditional media in covering the Charlotte and Tampa confabs. Using hashtags in place of actual words and names may, God help us, finally be warranted—at least in the case of  #DNC2012 and #RNC2012.

Before we even get to the numbers that make that case, it’s worth noting that many media pundits have cheered this development as if it’s media evolution at its best. The knock on the conventions is that they don’t really produce anything newsworthy  but continue to devour now-precious news industry resources. With 15,000 press passes issued at each convention—a number that has held mysteriously steady despite other signs of decline—the best an enterprising reporter can hope for is getting to know future pols before they’re media stars or finding some interesting fringe characters outside the convention hall.

The argument in favor of passing the baton to social media goes something like this: the conventions are so stage-managed and the attendees so media savvy that what the audience requires  isn’t wise interpretation or skillful narrative but direct, unfettered, real-time access that allows the audience to zoom in or out from granular to big-picture depending on their level of engagement. Whether you agree with this focus-on-your-strengths mantra or liken it to giving away your crown jewels, it appears to be happening.

The changes in media coverage between 2008 and 2012 couldn’t be more stark and the rise of social media over the last four years looks to be at least as big a factor as the decline of traditional media in that same timeframe. The headline figure is broadcast coverage and TV ratings. This year the big three networks cut their primetime coverage of the conventions from three hours a night to one while Nielsen released figures showing a 23% drop in viewership between John McCain’s speech in 2008 and Mitt Romney’s in 2012 (the drop from Palin to Ryan was a whopping 41%.) All of which is in line with declining viewership over recent years (2008 appears to be the anomaly).

Other traditional media have pulled back as the audience for their brand of coverage has declined, too. The Associated Press had 90 staffers on the ground for each event in 2008; this year the wire service sent just third of that number. Paul Colford, AP’s director of media relations, blamed the lack of news, not financial strains, for cutbacks on the conventions. “They’re now scripted affairs. In terms of there being any unforegone conclusions, that seems unlikely,” he told Ebyline.

The more interesting trend to document, however, is the stunning transformation of social media from its usual role as auxiliary platform into perhaps the biggest pipe feeding information. And it’s not just the audience numbers that matter, it’s the increasingly visible and essential role that Silicon Valley is playing. Facebook, Twitter, and Google sent their own representatives to the conventions to encourage convention speakers to actively use their social media platforms. The conventions themselves shifted much of their media strategy to YouTube, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Flickr, and Instagram. CNN and Facebook partnered on an app that parses the latter’s data to track mentions and trends on the candidates while Foursquare and TIME got together to provide “political animal” badges and interactive maps, which allow users to find out about convention events and track down friends. Not to put too fine a point on it, but one side of these partnerships was essential and one was a brand name that lent added credibility but probably could have been swapped out for a competitor.

And then there are the numbers. During the Republican convention—from Aug. 27 to 30–there were more than 4 million tweets related to the event, and during peak moments, there were around 15,000 tweets a minute. (Ironically, it was President Barack Obama’s response on Twitter to Clint Eastwood’s presentation that received the most re-tweets during the Republican event.) Compare that to just 360,000 tweets in total between the Democratic and Republican conventions in 2008, according to Adam Sharp, the head of Twitter’s government, news and social innovation team. The YouTube channel of the Republican event drew 2.8 million viewers while Google says that 300,000 hours of live-streaming were viewed.

So is there still a real role for traditional media beyond getting to know the next Marco Rubio? Consider that even with far fewer viewers than in the past, Romney’s speech still garnered 30 million people. Like the Olympics, there’s so much going on that people want to digest it in little bits, socially, as they see fit but when something big happens they want to be watching it with everyone else. And while Twitter’s much-buzzed political index can be used by anyone, Google stats show that it turns up most frequently in news searches indicating that a great many people would rather let a journalist or blogger summarize their findings than learn to use it themselves. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LA Times sent around 30, 19 and 12 staffers to each event, respectively, and managed to produce meaningful copy.   The trick for the news business is to adapt and provide something of added value—maybe just don’t spend $60 million doing it.