Online media: Trying to make sense of it all

Everyone understands how online media outlets work nowadays – which types of writing work when, how to use social media effectively, the trick to luring readers repeatedly, connecting with a growing audience.

Or so they think.

The truth is, journalists analyzing how social media work are like old-school baseball writers trying to understand sabermetrics. For most of them, it’s gibberish – something that makes them shake their heads, fear for the future and head back to the bar. Sure, there are now countless cohorts of journalism students whose schools incorporate digital, social and online media into their daily diets. But only a handful of people actually understand what goes on beyond WordPress’ always-open doors.

I know how online media works more than the average 20-year-old journalism student. And my expertise in Middle Eastern affairs is only growing as I continue to pursue a second major in Middle East Studies. The intersection of the two is my project for the next 10 weeks: Nile-Style Politics.

It’s a website focusing on Egypt’s May 23 presidential election. Since last year’s Arab Spring, Egyptian politics have been chronically underreported by English-language media outlets. My goal is to grab a share of online readers currently interested in what’s going on in Cairo, while bringing news and analysis to many who have never followed the topic. I will obviously be unable to conduct first-person reporting. On the other hand, I plan to curate, categorize and analyze that which is reported upon by the Big Boys on the  ground.

But what’s more than creating an analytical blog is that I wish to understand how online communities grow – from infancy to maturation. What are the best social media strategies to gain a following? What are the best times of day to publish for garnering readership? What are the best ways to connect with a consumer to get them to return?

My publishing schedule for NSP is ambitious for a one-man-band: I want to – and need to – publish one story to three stories online per day. An aggressive social media strategy will help create a virtual paper route, and it will be the premier tool with which I plan to expand my audience.

Each week, I will report on NSP’s progress here in as academic a way as possible. I will include data such as time spent blogging, views per post and the avenues through which readers arrived at those posts. Analysis will include reading time of specific types of posts, the role of interaction with other bloggers/online voices and potential expansions of coverage.

I don’t have concrete statistical benchmarks set for the project. Contrarily, I want to focus on the nuts and bolts of the operation, learning how blogging communities operate, how readers digest their information and how content providers can interact online. Audience growth is a goal – albeit a secondary one.

Much of what I do will be journalism. But not all of it. The project, however, will be important for all students of media and current affairs. Understanding how one digests information has become as important as understanding the information itself – something I don’t plan on forgetting soon.

If you’d like to help get this independent research project off the ground, follow it on Facebook. Write about it on Twitter. And visit my blog any day of the week for analysis on Egyptian politics.

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