Chapter 9 - Social and community journalism

Chapter 9 Social and community journalism web version

In the book version of this chapter we cover:

Enhancing your presence on the main social media platforms and mining community content from them

  • Enhancing your presence on Twitter and Facebook
  • Mining community content via Twitter and Facebook
  • The role of the community reporter and editor
  • Building a forums area on your WordPress site
  • Managing forums.

Here we will look at:

  • Step-by-step guides to adding a forums area to your WordPress site
  • More on journalists' role in community engagement, with case studies and examples
  • Further examples and case studies in community engagement, and gaining community content
  • More on managing forums
  • A summary of the law of defamation and contempt as it applies to community content published by sites based in England and Wales.

Always have the book version of Multimedia Journalism to hand while you use this website – the off- and on-line versions are designed to work together.

9B1 Developing our community journalism and use of social media

Further resources:

Wikipedia definition of community journalism:

Oxford dictionary definition of what they call citizen journalism, but which is the same as community journalism:

Online training in community journalism:

Research into engaging with communities:

Community reporting and citizen journalism explored:

9B2 Enhancing your presence on Twitter and Facebook, and mining community content on them



Improving the look of your Twitter page

Buffer has guidance here:

Here's a summary of Twitter's guidance on improving the look of your profile by uploading your own background image or customising the sidebar and colour scheme of your page:

  • Sign in
  • Go to your Settings, click on the Design tab
  • Scroll to the Customise your own area
  • To upload a background image, click on Choose file. Images justify to the top left of the screen, and will display as the size you uploaded
  • Your file must be smaller than 2MB. You can't stretch your image to fit
  • If your image is too small, you can fill the background by ticking the box to Tile background
  • Choose whether your Background position will be left, center or right.
  • If your image doesn't fill the space, you can choose a background colour that will show behind the image
  • Choose a colour for your links
  • Choose a black or white transparent overlay
  • Click Save changes.

Twitter stories

What's a story for Twitter could be a story for you.

They say: "From the observant commuter who first shared that a plane had crashed in the Hudson River to the hashtag rallies of #Jan25 and the Arab Spring, citizens everywhere tweet what’s happening around them as a first impulse — one that eventually complements professional journalism."

Here's an example from Twitter of the service being used for war reporting. Eyes and Ears Nuba, Twitter reports, is a network of citizen reporters who cover the war along the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. They see their goal as being to fill the information gap that occurred when journalists were banned from the region in June 2011. Today, Twitter says, locals tweet urgent updates, shoot, edit and upload videos, and post news reports to their website.

Other stories:

How to follow everyone who is following a particular hashtag

Using Twitter search to the max


Improving the look of your Facebook page

Find more on improving the look of your Facebook page:|sFfd6ChBN_dc|rcrid|39382126779|rkw|design%20facebook%20business%20page|rmt|b|non-brand&gclid=COf7xZy0i8ECFSuWtAodOSEATQ

Facebook story finding

FB Newswire

Maybe because so many journalists prefer Twitter, Facebook is working hard to persuade journalists and media organisations of its value to them. They will point out that they are responsible for many referrals from Facebook to media organisations' branded sites, and see themselves as an important part of the news ecosystem.

Facebook developed the FB newswire ( ), which, Mashable reported here, ( ) "will make it easier for journalists and newsrooms to find, share and embed newsworthy content from Facebook in the media they produce.” 

FB Newswire is described as "a resource for journalists that aggregates newsworthy social content shared publicly on Facebook by individuals and organizations."

Here's an example from a big story on the day I researched this. The comedian Robin Williams had committed suicide, aged 63. His name and phrases associated with his career were trending on Twitter, and social media was full of tributes.

FB Newswire ran this, among many other contributions:


The text began: "ROBIN WILLIAMS: Jeffrey Hastings from New Hampshire shared the story of the time his son, Zach, met Robin Williams in 2007. Zach was due do a meet-and-greet with Williams before a show in Connecticut, however the venue was not wheelchair accessible."

FB Newswire's report goes on to report Hastings saying that, when Williams heard about Zach, he personally asked them to stay back after the show, and exceeded every expectation they had of him when they met up.

The report also offers an embeddable image, and gives contact details for Jeffrey Hastings.

Now that's not big news in national or international terms, but it would make a front page picture story for a weekly newspaper in Zach Hastings' town.

By mining social media like this, a local reporter could get a good angle on an international story.

There will be many occasions, for any reporter, anywhere in the world, where social media will throw up great stories, or angles on stories that they would not have got otherwise.

To see if it works for you, Like FB Newswire on Facebook, then click the Like button again and select 'Get Notifications' from the dropdown menu. You will be notified every time FB Newswire posts a new piece of content.

Or, if you prefer to follow it on Twitter, its @FBNewswire.

When FB Newswire shares something from a Facebook user, it links to the original content. On that piece of content is an embed button, meaning you can copy and paste it onto your website, and into any story you write.

Facebook Graph Search/

Find a step-by-step guide to Graph Search here:

You can find out more about Graph Search and how it works on Wikipedia:

9B3 Community engagement, and community or user-generated content

How to add polling and surveys to your site

Polling software called Polldaddy ( ) is integrated into When you write a page or post you'll see an Add poll icon right by the Add media one. There is also a Polls submenu located underneath the Feedbacks menu on the left-hand side of your dashboard.

So in, the Polldaddy plugin is already there. But on .org you need to add the plugin manually. Go through the search, install and activate process and then go to to open an account. This account needs to be linked to your WordPress site so it's easiest to click the prompt you get within WordPress to do that.

You create your polls at Polldaddy, design and save them. Then, when you click on the Add poll icon, you can choose between those you have created. You can embed a poll into a post, into a page or post of it's own, or into a side bar, using the text/html widget to house it.

You write your question and the answers that readers choose between.

You can also create surveys. What's the difference? Here's the Polldaddy definition:

"A poll allows you to ask one multiple choice question. Participants can choose from among answers that you predefine. You can allow the voter to select one answer or choose multiple answers." You can also add an Other field to allow voters to enter their own answers.

Polldaddy says that a survey allows you to ask multiple questions across a wider range of question types: "You can ask for a comment, email address, name, address etc., as well as multiple choice questions".

User Inequality

Jacob Neilsen ( has some interesting points to make about the community content on Amazon: “At the time I wrote this, 167,113 of Amazon’s book reviews were contributed by just a few ‘top-100’ reviewers; the most prolific reviewer had written 12,423 reviews. How anybody can write that many reviews – let alone read that many books – is beyond me." It's a classic example of participation inequality, says Neilsen.

He concludes that online reviews only represent a tiny minority of the people who have used those products and services. The many low quality postings on discussion groups make the good ones hard to find. As a result, many users stop reading comments because they don't have time to wade through the many from those who have little to say.

9B4 How to build a forum on your WordPress site

A number of WordPress forums plugins are available. The default is called bbPress.

You'll find five WordPress forums plugins, including bbPress, introduced and recommended here:

Below is a quick guide to using bbPress (full account here:

Installing bbPress

Here's what you do:

  • Go to dashboard>plugins>add new.
  • Type ‘bbpress’ into search.
  • Install and activate.

Set up some test forums

Go into Dashboard>forums>add new.

Add a test forum – you need at least one to get the forum page going, but you can delete it later. Don't give it a parent page, so it will appear in the top navigation bar on your site.

Then go into dashboard>topics and create a new topic or two. Make sure that, under parent page, you assign these topics to the forum page you just created. That means your topics are nested under the forum they are relevant to.

Ok, so now we have bbPress with one forum and a couple of topics, but we’ll need to display it somewhere.

Displaying your forums on a page

You need to check a couple of things first

In Dashboard>settings>forums look for what is set in the forum root under the forum root slug heading. The default is ‘forums’ but you can set this to anything. Stick with the default for now.

In Dashboard>settings>permalinks check that the common settings check is set to ‘postname’.

Now create a WordPress page with the heading that you found against forum root slug above. Save it.

Once the permalink has been created, you can rename the page to whatever you wish. The permalink will stay the same, and bbPress looks for this permalink when you create further forums.

Save this page, then publish it to your site.

Setting up the visibility of your forums and access to them

We need to decide who can see each of our forums, who may contribute to them, and what level of access we give them.

When you have a forum open in edit mode, go to the panel at top right and click on the dropdown to see, and if necessary reset, the visibility of your forums. They can be public, private or hidden. Here's what the categories mean:

  • Public: anyone can see these forums
  • Private: only logged-in registered users with a forum role can see these
  • Hidden: only moderators/keymasters can see these.

Users then have a forum role, which can be:

  • spectator
  • participant
  • moderator
  • keymaster
  • blocked.

Forum access

You can set whether users need to be registered and control the registration process.

Public viewing, public posting

By default forums are public.  If you switch on 'anonymous' then any viewer can also post. The only way to control what is said in such a forum is to delete offensive posts after then have been made. Avoid this on a professional journalism site.

Public viewing, registered-user posting

Anyone can view the forums, but only registered users can post to them.  Registration can be automatic or manual – we'll cover that below.

Private viewing, registered-user posting

Only registered users can view and post. You'll want to control registration in this case, making in manual rather than automatic.

Setting up registration

To allow automatic registration, go to Dashboard>Settings>General settings and, under membership, tick 'anyone can register'.  Click on save changes.

Then, in Dashboard>settings>forums, tick the auto role, and ensure this is set at 'participant' level only. Click on save changes.

To set up manual registration, go to Dashboard>Settings>General settings and, under membership, ensure 'anyone can register' is not ticked.  Then in Dashboard>settings>forums tick the auto role, and ensure this is set at 'participant' level.

Creating a registration screen

Whatever form of registration you use, you'll then need a screen on which users can register.

Go into dashboard>pages>add new page and create a page. Calling the page 'register' or 'registration' would be logical.

If you are doing automatic registration, then put whatever wording or guidance about registration you’d like and then add this shortcode: [bbp-register]. The shortcode won't show up when users view the page.  Make the parent page 'Forums' and publish the page.

If you opt for manual registration, then you’ll either need to get your users to email you, or set up a contact form for them to use.

Creating a forum-specific sidebar

We are using the general sidebars on our WordPress site for a range of content that is relevant to the whole site. In our forums area we need a sidebar that is relevant only to the forums section.

We can add to it a login, a list of forums, recent topics and other functions designed to show how active our forums are and encourage participation.

To do this, we'll use a plugin called bbPress WP tweaks. It adds a forum-specific sidebar.

In Dashboard>plugins>add new search for 'bbpress wp tweaks'. Install and activate.

Then go to Dashboard>appearance>widgets and on the right of the screen you’ll see a new sidebar item: bbPress sidebar.

On the left of the screen are a number of bbPress widgets which you can drag and drop into the new area on your sidebar. I'll drag in a couple of essentials, but you can add more if you like.

Bbpress login widget

  • Add a title that makes it clear this is where they log in to the forums area.
  • Under 'Register URL' paste in the url of the register page we created, but did not place, earlier.
  • Under 'Lost password URL' type in /lost-password.

bbPress forums list

  • Give it a title
  • Under 'Parent forum ID' – enter 0 if you want the top level.

bbPress recent topics

  • Give it a title
  • Set the maximum number of topics to show
  • By 'Parent forum ID' type 'any' if you want them all
  • Choose what other information you want to display and in what order.

Add other widgets you think will be useful.

Now test that you have added all functions correctly. Log out and go through the registration process to check it works.

9B5 Managing forums and the role of the community reporter, editor or manager

More from Gannett on their job descriptions: (

Here are summaries of some of the descriptions you'll find at that link:

Engagement Editor I

"Plans and executes engagement opportunities to maximize community impact and story resonance in print, digital, community event and social media settings." This person oversees content that "highlights discussions and debates on important community issues". They should possess expertise in social media, marketing and events planning, and must be able to connect content with "creative ways to generate community interaction both virtually and through events".


This person researches, reports and writes compelling journalism that "continuously grows a fan base by informing and engaging readers". They also act as what is described as a public ambassador, by means of community outreach, and connect with readers through social media. They provide thoughtful analysis of complex issues and work with other individuals – the content coach, content strategists and audience analysts – to shape storytelling that will meet audience needs and interests on all platforms.


This individual creates and develops visual storytelling across multiple platforms, via the use of both photography and videography. What they produce should inform, engage and entertain what are described as fan bases. The person in this job also acts as a public ambassador via community outreach, and should connect with readers through social media.

The Guardian's community engagement programme

A number of Guardian community journalists contributed to a conference on building communities. There's a summary on the book version, but you can read a full report on what they said here:

Another example of community engagement

Farmer's Weekly Interactive

Farmers Weekly Interactive, the online version of the B2B print title Farmers Weekly ( engages with its community of farmers on both light-hearted and serious topics.

It ran a Britain’s sexiest farmer competition on the website and its Facebook page:


The title finds that communities really come into their own when a big story affects the readers. Isabel Davies was communities editor at the time of a major outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK, when farms in the affected area were quarantined and many animals slaughtered and their carcasses burned.

She told Press Gazette (, in a report that is no longer available online, that the magazine’s online communities helped the title get vital information out to readers during that outbreak, and helped her hear back from those affected.

Isabel told PG: “The job of community editor is a new post…and a lot of it is about championing the voice of the reader. It really worked in this instance – they’ve asked questions and we’ve used our influence to get them answers.”

It’s pretty clear that, particularly in extremis, farmers – or any community – will go to the home they trust. The challenge for B2B magazines is to create those homes, to nurture them and keep them their own. Do it well and you can own them, do it badly, and others will take on the job instead. The community will do what customers in a pub that goes downhill do – they find a nicer place to meet.


book icon

We looked briefly at TESConnect in the book version of MMJ, but it’s worth looking in a little more detail how the site has become so good at community engagement.

First, go to the site and see how it welcomes users. It’s worth registering – there is content that might help you while you are studying.

The site is friendly – it feels much more like the social network it is than a news site with a bit of community content tacked on as an afterthought. It is a social network just as much as Facebook is, with the added advantage that almost all its members are in the same line of business. It lets them create a community, to find and invite friends, to create storage areas for all they find useful, email other members, and create a profile.

How to welcome the user

Here are the things we can do to welcome readers and encourage them to get involved. Of course, we need the software to do this, and not all publishers have it yet. To nurture communities effectively, we need to be able to do all that is outlined below.

When they register – and log on

Give them a warm welcome – and their own home page

  1. Invite them to complete their profile
  2. Find friends
  3. Show them friends’ activity
  4. Comment – and total number of comments
  5. Present links to popular posts
  6. Select their favourites
  7. Invite new people to the network
  8. Show them a video and offer FAQs.

Depending on the nature of the site and their reasons for being there…

Give them quick links to check those things – jobs, for example – that are important reasons for their being part of your community.

  • Encourage them to share
  • Let them choose to make things public or private
  • As they explore – guide them
  • Ask: first time here?
  • First time in forums?
  • Not posted a comment before?
  • Is this your first upload?
  • Introduce yourself – as community reporter.

How community builds

Here’s how community builds organically on TES. Edward Griffith said: “When the user has found a great piece of content, they click through to see the rest of the content from that user, friend them, and subscribe to their friend feed."

Griffith describes tis as "the million dollar moment", when the users add each other to their networks. Then they can rate the content.

Because of all this, he says, the user-generated material is going to be more important. Griffiths sees the key point as being to harness the creativity of half-a-million professionals who are preparing and testing the resources in the classroom.  That, he says, is the really valuable content for TES users.

Know your reader

We spoke very early on about the vital importance of understanding your audience if you are to become a good journalist.

Nowhere is that understanding more important than with generating, managing and encouraging good-quality community content.

The New York journalism professor Jeff Jarvis said this in The Guardian ( about the importance of editors in what he terms mass collaboration journalism:

“I’m a believer in the role of the editor". The editorial voice, he goes on, still has an important role – perhaps an even more important role – in the world of mass collaboration. "It’s about point of view, but it’s also about promoting what’s out there. Even in today’s world, an editor’s view holds real credibility." If he says there are a few thousand people voting on a theme, it’s the editor’s role to take notice of it, organise it and promote that content.

What that means is we can make community content a part of the editorial process – not something that goes on in isolation from our other editorial content. This is particularly pertinent in B2B publications, where the readers can be viewed as a large body of experts in the field that the magazine and website cover. Their views, what they want to discuss, and the comments they post, are highly valuable.

At the FT, for example, Rob Grimshaw,’s managing director, told MediaGuardian: "We're allowing users a lot of latitude. We think the users are smart intelligent people with lots of insight into their fields. We want to get all that insight onto"

9B6 Managing forums

Find out more on how to be a good host:

An outline of the UK law on community content

The Association of Online Publishers has set out an excellent summary of defamation and the dangers for online publication, including from community content. I’ll summarise some of the main points below, but you can read the full guidance on their website

What defamation is

Defamation includes both libel and slander.

Slander is publication in a transient form – eg speech.

Libel is in a permanent form.


Defamatory material is that which is calculated to injure the reputation of another by exposing him or her to hatred, contempt or ridicule.

It can also be defined as a statement which is likely to diminish the subject “in the eyes of right-thinking people”.

Essentials of defamation

  1. The words must refer to the person who believes they have been defamed
  2. They must be published (in some cases with malice); and
  3. They must be defamatory or capable of being defamatory.

Main defences

Justification: it’s true and I can prove it. Often a tall order. Will witnesses come to court?

Fair comment on a matter of public interest

Absolute privilege: It was said in parliament or court

Qualified privilege: If it was said in a range of situations such as at a public meeting or press conference, in which case a fair and accurate report should be safe if published without malice and subject, on request, to a reasonable right of reply.

Editorial content

With editorial content generated by journalists, we are expected to know the law and adhere to it

Community content

With community content we have a bit more leeway. If a defamatory statement is published by a user we should move "expeditiously" to remove or disable access to it.  We aren’t required to monitor content, but if we are monitoring it we are expected to spot and remove anything objectionable. Some publishers decide not to moderate, but if you take that course you may well find potential community contributors put off by the nasty stuff they see on the site.


If it’s still in the archive and someone clicks on it, you’ve republished it. So archives must be cleared of material that becomes defamatory. For example, the story from a police appeal we discussed in Chapter 6 becomes defamatory and in contempt once the person is caught, so we must remove it, or disable access to it.

BBC guidance on moderating community content