Archive for December, 2009

How NOT to attract traffic to your blog

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Log in to your blog. Wait for the statistical figure to show. Fingers crossed—wish Total Views number surprisingly skyrocketed. “What the hell is wrong with people? Why don’t they read what I write?” You wonder.


Yong checking his blog view statistics

Almost all rookie bloggers fit into the profile I just described. Don’t feel ashamed if you are one of them, even if you are already a veteran blogger.

It is human nature to be noticed, cared, praised or criticized, and liked or hated. Your blog is part of you. It wants spotlight as well.

Basically, every blog is important to at least 5 people: your father, your mother, your husband/wife, your kid, and of course, yourself.

But you want more people to read what you write up there, make their comments, or just leave a smiling face like :-).

How to generate traffic

So you learn to write online, fighting some old habits of so-called “good writing” in the traditional sense.

Thanks to David and Paul, two funny lecturers who specialize in online journalism, I now have some golden rules for online writing, including blogging.

  • Write for Google search engine (SEO).
    Over 40% of all traffic to a site comes from Google search. This doesn’t include those who first know your site through Google but later visit your site by typing the URL or clicking your URL address in their bookmark.
  • Key words for headlines
    and less than 60 characters. Jacob Nielson acclaimed BBC News for having the best headlines
  • Keep sentences short and simple.
  • One idea per paragraph and keep paragraph short.
    Why? Because it’s easier for online readers to scan. (I know there are two ideas in the above line. No need to remind me.)
  • Use sub-headings after 5-6 paragraphs.
  • Use list or bulletin points.
  • Cut, cut, cut and cut again.
    or, shall I say cut just once and cut the other three cuts?

Dailyblogtips gives 30 traffic generation tips. I would suggest Jacob Nielson’s Writing for the web before worrying about the number of your blog visitors.

How NOT to generate traffic

It’s always easier said than done. And persistence requires even stronger mind.

I could have finished piling up what I want to say in a lump within 15-20 minutes, but one hour later, I’m still here writing because I’m trying to follow those golden rules.

Back to the headline of this blog, how not to generate traffic, or how to lose traffic, the answer is very simple: Do not follow any online writing rules.

You can tell I’m kidding, right?

Well, I noticed some habits, or “mistakes” over the past few months that might cause bloggers to lose readers.

  • Write about things of not much “value”
    You can write about your own life, but unless you are a celebrity like Opera Winfrey or Brad Pitt, you should not expect people to be interested in your blog.

    Jonathan Morrow from Coypblogger wrote a touching story On Dying, Mothers, and Fighting for Your Ideas that best makes clear this point.

  • Force” readers to visit your site
    Many people now read in RSS readers such as Google Reader or Blogline. Some set their feed export to “abstract” or “headline” instead of “full text”.

    What makes you so confident that you write better headlines than BBC News or irresistible first paragraph (with a few more lines, usually considered “abstract”) so that people would click on the feed and go to your site?

    Most probably, they will just never bother checking your feed or simply cancel their subscription of your feed.

  • Bolden sub-headings
    Sub-headings not only function as road signs all the way down your post, but also gives tags to Google search.

    If you just bolden the sub-headings, they are actually still body texts put in that <p> tag.

    You have to set them into Heading 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 according to your blog layout. Headline 1 is usually reserved for THE headline. This gives a <h> tag that Google spider catches.The Headline block usually is located in the style tool bar, next to other layout buttons such B (bold), I (italic), U(underline), etc.

  • Update blogs irregularly
    “Sorry, I’ve been busy these days so I didn’t update.”People don’t care about your schedule.

    If they come to your site on day 1, and see no new blog, then on day 2, still nothing, then there is a slight chance they might still come on day 3, but if then they still see no updated blog, they might never come back.

    And on day 4, you feel like writing, and you publish 3 blog posts, or 4, or even 5, but sorry, the gone readers are gone. They are not coming back.

All in all, blogging is about quantity, but more about quality;
it’s about talking to yourself, but more about interacting with others;
it’s about following hot topics, but more about offering original idea; and
it’s about finishing assignment for the Online Journalism module, but more about polishing your writing and getting prepared for a journalism career.


Briton executed in China over drugs

December 29, 2009 2 comments

A British man convicted of drug smuggling was executed in China today. BBC’s coverage of the story lacks balance, fairness, objectivity and impartiality.

BBC top story of British man executed in China

Top story on BBC news front page on 29 Dec

The British man Akmal Shaikh was executed for smuggling 4 kgs of heroin into Urumqi, Xinjiang in the north-west of China.

UK government and Akmal’s families made repeated pleas for clemency and visited him in Urumqi this weekend.

BBC has been following the story heavily in the past few days, and the execution became its top story today.

The headline: good and/or bad

On its news front page, the headline is “China executes Briton over drugs”.

By criteria of headline writing, this is undoubtedly a good one. With just five words, it tells who did what and how and why. It even hinted where and when.

Besides, it uses an active verb. This is where the editor shows off his wisdom.

People who get killed usually become the subject in a headline, e.g. “Man killed in harbour car plunge in Cornwall”, and “Iran protesters killed, including Mousavi’s nephew”. However, the editor obviously wants to put the blame on China.

Let’s compare BBC headline and my headline for this post.

  • China executes Briton over drugs
  • Briton executed in China over drugs

Is “China” a specific person who did the execution? Which appeals to the British readers more, China or Briton? And does two letters longer really matter here?

Now let’s click to read the story. Oops, the headline changed. Now it reads “British man said to be mentally ill executed in China”. Interesting, hah?

Wait a minute. What is that “said to be”? If you are not sure of something, make sure of it, or don’t talk about it. How can you even put it in a headline?

EU national Vs. Briton

Let’s move on. Here comes the third paragraph:

The execution took place despite repeated calls from his family and the British government for clemency.

This sounds ridiculous to me, well, because of the structure of the sentence, especially the use of that “despite”. UK government and his family called for clemency, so what? Should China let the man go just because some guys made the plea?

The prime minister Gordon Brown also made fun of himself by saying “am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted”.

Okay, you are the almighty PM, so whatever you request, we have to grant. Is that what you mean?

However, this is not the worst part. One paragraph down, the following sentence stands out.

Mr Shaikh is the first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time that BBC used EU national referring to Mr. Akmal Shaikh. What’s the point, please? Is this impartial? What are you trying to “achieve” here, soliciting sympathy from other EU members so that they will join you condemning China? You wish.

Keep journalists code of conduct OUT of mind

Two paragraphs down, BBC brought up the man’s mental illness issue again. Let me give you some key points from the article:

  • family said he suffered from bipolar disorder
  • They said he had been delusional
  • Mr Brown: particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.

According to Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC World service and Global News Division, “Balance means arranging things in equal or correct proportions to one another. ”

If BBC is indeed balanced, where are the explanations from the Chinese side?

Don’t tell me you can’t get China’s officials to talk. They have explained this a long time ago. Besides, your Chinese correspondent should have told you about the procedure of asking for mental illness verification in court.

If you keep on reading, you’ll see all quotes are against China. Don’t you think this is biased?

The article also quotes legal charity Reprieve’s communication director saying that “he (Akmal) was frankly failed by China and by their legal system”.

An opinionated and false accusation. Can China sue for defamation? The quotation marks doesn’t prevent you from being sued.

Role of media

In the past few days, the Chinese media remained absolutely silent about the story. Equally oddly, the British media showed excessive enthusiasm while the public didn’t appear to be very much interested.

After all, it is a man who committed felony in China and was trialed and sentenced in accordance with China’s laws. It’s a criminal case, as simple as that.

What the UK government and Mr. Shaikh’s family were trying to do was to ask the Chinese government to overrule the court’s decision.

However, aren’t they used to criticise the Chinese government for their intervention into judicial independence?

What do they apply double systems when a British man is involved?

And what role have the British media played? Is it right for them to allocate so much space or air time for the drug smuggler story? Are they acting as the mouthpiece of the British government as they always accuse their Chinese counterparts for doing so?

All in all, can a public service broadcaster really stay independent, willingly or unwillingly?

Update at 10:00 am: The Telegrpaph also puts the story on its front page. Their reporting is much better in terms of following journalistic code of conducts.

Can they save the British man sentenced to death in China

December 28, 2009 Leave a comment

UK government, media and families of a Briton sentenced to death in China are making their last effort to save his life, with only 24 hours left before his execution.

Akmal Shaikh was arrested for carrying 5-kg heroin in Xinjiang Airport. Under China’s zero-tolerance drug policy, he was sentenced to death months later.

His finally appeal was rejected and his execution will take place on 29 December 2009.

His families and some UK officials have flown to Urumqi on 27 December to visit Akmal, and will make a last plea for clemency from the Chinese government.

UK prime minister Gordon Brown has also written to Chinese officials including President Hu Jintao asking China to spare the British man’s life.

Chinese media Vs. British media

Almost all UK media report this story these few days, including BBC, Channel 4, Itv, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, you name it.

Akmal was on the frontpage of newspaper or in the headlines of TV and radio programmes. The only competitor was the failed terrorist attack on a US plane by a Nigerian man.

On the contrary, the Chinese media kept silent about this story. Not a single word on the mainstream media.

This is quite different from over two months ago when Akmal making his second appeal to China’s Supreme Court.

A journalist back in China confirmed to me that no written notices from the central government were given, but there was an oral instruction, telling them to follow the Foreign Ministry. As the foreign ministry says nothing so far, there is no reporting at all.

Kill or not kill

The journalist also said that he didn’t believe the Englishman would be actually executed.

He said that the Chinese government “banned” reporting of this story was a proof. The government would let him go, but wanted to save face at the same time.

We don’t know if Akmal will be killed or not.

In China, shooting in the head is a normal execution method. If Akmal is indeed executed, I don’t believe this method will be used. Electric chair or injection seems to be more appropriate.

Kill or not kill, China is now facing a difficult choice.

Interview: ‘yes’ or ‘no’

December 23, 2009 2 comments

A friend called me to speak on BBC Radio. The thought of giving an interview, especially one that would be broadcast live to thousands or even millions of listeners scared the shit out of me. Shall I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’?

Source: Jason Ralston

I was dreaming something when the call woke me up.

“Yong, what do you think of the Copenhagen Accord? Want to join our live talking tonight at 18:00 to 19:00?”

It was Jessica. She is doing one-week internship in BBC World Service, Chinese Service. She was trying to secure some interviewees for a BBC programme.

We discussed about the topic and I figured out what they wanted:

  • opinions on the climate summit from a Chinese;
  • how the summit was reported in the Chinese media; and
  • what did the general Chinese people say about the outcome.

“Do I have that much information they need?”
“Is my English good enough to go live on BBC radio?”
“What kind of image shall I present about the Chinese media?”
And, “what if I said something wrong?”

Many questions flashed in my mind. I even thought of those people whom I contacted asking for interviews for my TV and radio assignments.

“Did they think about the same things as I had?” I wondered.

“Yes” or “no”

Jessica was waiting for my confirmation on the other side of the phone. There wasn’t much time for me to hesitate.

“Okay, as long as they don’t mind that I am a Chinese journalist.” I told her.

I said ”yes”, for the sake of myself and Jessica.

This would be my first live interview. No matter how scared I might feel, my consciousness told me that I had to do this. If I don’t take the first time, there will never be a second time.

I also thought about Jessica. I could even imagine how much she needed a “yes” answer after making so many calls to secure someone for the interview. Her editor might be whipping her to get things done. (I made myself seem noble, eh?)

How did the interview go?

Well, I couldn’t tell you how the interview was.

It never happened.

From 17:30 until 19:00, I checked my mobile phone 4 or 5 times to make sure it has signal. I thought about the interview and couldn’t focus on anything else.

I looked into the mirror and tried to speak as I was being interviewed. Then I wrote down some key points. And then, I just sat and waited.

After 19:00, my phone haven’t rung at all. At last, I was sure they wouldn’t call.

Why? Possible reasons included:

  • mobile phone is never good for live interview
  • other interviews went too long and squeezed out my time slot
  • my identity as a Chinese journalist might be a concern
  • they found someone else who went into their studio (as I was not physically available)

I’m proud of myself

I felt relieved and happy. You might understand why I felt relieved, but why happy?

Well, I was happy because I said “yes” in the first place. I felt proud of myself. I didn’t have to regret that I didn’t have the guts to go live on a BBC English programme.

True, this could be a small piece of cake for you, and some of you might even dream of having such an opportunity.

But for me, it was not. I dared myself, and the go-for-challenges me knocked over the shy me. It was a glorious battle I won.

I might despise myself if I said “no” in the first place, no matter whether the interview went as scheduled or not.

Something I neglected before

In fact, the aborted interview made me think about interview again.

When we approach people asking them to give an interview, do we ever think about their worries or concerns? Have we ever put ourselves in their shoes?

When I did my TV interviews, I contacted people from Harrow council, the NHS primary care trust, a hospital, and many other institutions. Why was it so difficult to get their “yes”? Some even looked frightened when they saw my video camera and tripod. Did I ever think of it, that people might be scared of speaking on TV?

After all, it’s not about what we need, but what they can or are willing to give.

TV talenet show exposes China’s race issue. Or, really?

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

CNN website published a story about a black Chinese girl causing controversies allegedly due to her skin color, and concluded that racism is a serious problem in China. Is this reporting objective?

Picture from: SMG

Lou Jing, 20 years old, was born in Shanghai to a Chinese mother and an African-american father. The only difference she has with other Chinese girls is her black skin.

Four months ago, she participated in a TV talent show in Shanghai called “Go Oriental Angel”, and was eliminated before the finale.

At the stage, she said she was raised in a single-parent family, and now wanted to find her father.

Off the show stage, Lou became the center of heated discussion. She was “attacked” on the Internet. Some Chinese netizens even made racial discriminative remarks such as “she shouldn’t have been born” and “get out of China”.

Did she lie?

This is basically the CNN version of the story. But, was it really her skin color that sparked those hostile remarks as CNN claimed?

Let’s hear the other side of the story.

With the help of “human flesh search engine”, some Chinese netizens claimed Lou was lying.

Lou’s mother was married to a Chinese man. When she left work to pursue further study in a Shanghai college, she had an affair with an African-american who also studied there. The man left before Lou was born.

The Chinese man was protective of both Lou and her mother. He said Lou’s black skin was because her mother ate a lot of Chinese herbal medicines when she was pregnant.

For three years, the Chinese man protected “his” family until he could no longer undertake the never-stopped finger-pointing. He gave up his career and left for Japan.

However, Lou said she had never had a father and was raised by her mother single-handedly.

Those who believed she was lying felt it was unfair for the Chinese man who sacrificed so much for three years to bring her up. They started to pour their anger over the web.

Has CNN been objective?

I’m not here to judge which side of the story is true; I can’t prove anything.

But I’m sure that CNN was absolutely wrong to say that it was Lou’s skin color that was the center of the disputes.

Totally disagree. The central issue of the disputes was honesty.

Besides, those racial discriminative remarks were made by just a few. They were not the main voice on the web.

In fact, I had some doubts about CNN’s reporting of this story.

  • The story happened in late August and lasted until mid September. Since then, it has subsided. Why did CNN pick it up after three months later?
  • Why didn’t CNN mention the real controversies about Lou Jing? For fear of defamation? Then why didn’t CNN ask Lou or her mother to clarify?
  • Was it right to say that a few unreasonable people’s remarks stand for what most Chinese people think? Search “Lou Jing” in Chinese in google, there are only less than 600,000 results. If you can read Chinese, you’ll see nearly 80% talked about her story instead of racial problem.

These is nothing wrong to report a single case to address a general issue, but there must be a solid connection between these two; otherwise, it’s like you call a white cloth “black” when all you see is just a black dot on the cloth.

Jounalist’s code of conduct

When we talk about news reporting, there are four rules that journalists have to abide by:

  • objectivity
  • fairness
  • balance
  • impartiality

Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC World Service and Global News Division, had an article “Holding on to objectivity” in which he talked about the differences of these four principles.

Sadly, none of them is loyally implemented in the CNN story.

Movie review: Avatar

December 21, 2009 4 comments

No dazzling stars. An expense worth $500mln. And a 3D wonderland never seen before. Based on a 5-star rating system, I give the 3D movie Avatar 6. Yes, you read me right. SIX.

Avatar is a story about an indigenous race called Na’vi fighting against humans who intruded their planet Pandora for minerals.

Director James Cameron imposed his ideology against war in this movie. You can hear the buzzwords in his movie such as “preemptive strike”, “shock and awe”, etc.

You can also hear the heroic declarations such as “they think they can take whatever they want; no, they can’t; this is our land” (not the exact quote).

One mind going into another body is not so much an original idea, but the beauty of the planet created with CGI, computer-generated imaging, is really breath-taking. It is a fluorescent world new to our visual entertainment. There is nothing to compare with, and my words are too limited and pale to describe it for you.

Huge investment

Mr. Cameron first came up with Avatar idea 15 years ago, but he had to put it on shelf for a while as the technology was not sophisticated enough to visualize his envisions.

When he finally started, the movie consumed an astonishing amount of money estimated to be $200-300mln. Plus the high-profile marketing, total expenses are expected to be close to $500mln.

However, the last movie Cameron directed, Titanic, brought in $1.8bln for the investors. They have enough reasons to believe that this movie will success as well.

Avatar fans

Avatar 3D is not a 3D movie in the traditional sense, by which I mean there is nothing suddenly flying to your face to beg for that “ah”.

It brings a new perspective of 3D movie production. The world created in the movie is like another Harry Potter magic world.

Less than a week after the movie is on, it has attracted many fans. Avatar movie fansite is an example.

Try to google “avatar movie”, as by now at 23:26 on 22 December, you’ll get 120,000,000 results. If you just google “avatar”, you’ll get 562,000,000 results, with all the top five among the first 10 results actually about the movie and only two about computer user representations.

I watched it in Vue cinema in Harrow last Friday, and I’m going to watch it again on the 26*20-meter screen in BFI IMX.


December 20, 2009 2 comments

Brainstorming sounds fascinating. Ideas come up like running water in a brainstorming session. Well, I know “like running water” is a cliché, but don’t criticise yet–this is Brainstorming Rule No. 1.

Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

Brainstorming is a relatively new word but the method itself has existed maybe since the beginning of human beings.

It is a method of problem-solving either by a group of people contributing ideas or by one single person generating a variety of possible solutions.

Basically, everyone can have or conduct a brainstorming session, but it requires one who is trained to do so to guarantee a satisfactory outcome.

A failed brainstorming

About eight years ago I was an Account Executive in a PR company with 20 or so employees.

One day I was asked to hold a brainstorming session about how to sell a brand of wine (one of our clients) in night clubs.

I didn’t know what to do except for repeating “what ideas do you have”.

After two or three people spoke up, the room submerged into silence.

It was really awkward. Some colleagues looked at each other while others played with their pencils or bended their heads down reading some papers.

“What the hell went wrong?” I panicked and stood still in front of the whiteboard before my supervisor took over.

I didn’t remember what exactly happened after that, but I did remember we “discussed” some ideas, both positively and negatively.

Brainstorming rules

Most of the time, we discuss instead of brainstorming. There is a huge difference between these two.

Discuss involves opinions and analyses of ideas while brainstorming is to generate ideas themselves. Based on experiences from my failed brainstorming and later on successful ones, I would suggest the following rules for brainstorming, with reference to a post by Dean Rieck titled “How to brainstorm brilliant ideas for your blog“:

  • Don’t criticise ideas, even not discuss them;
  • Define the problem clearly
  • Clarify what ideas you expect;
  • Prepared a few ideas beforehand if you are the conductor, in case no one speaks up after a while;
  • Write down every idea and let everybody see them immediately;
  • Allocate easy time during the session, e.g. one-minute joking or nonsense talking, but do drag everybody back to the table after that;

In fact, there are many sites talking about brainstorming if you are interested. I would like to say a few more words about rule No. 1.

People tend to criticise

To criticise an idea seems easier than coming up with an original one. Why? Maybe criticizing satisfies their self-esteem for making them feel better than others. It is hard to people to hold back the desire to criticise, and many even don’t realize it when they are criticizing others or their ideas.

To some degree, it is human nature to criticise. Let me explain.

When babies start to know things, they learn to refuse to do things they don’t want to. For example, you give them milk, they might push your hand away. “I’m not hungry,” they might say: “drinking milk now is a bad idea.” See?

However, criticising is not always a bad thing. In fact, constructive criticising is more valuable than compliments, especially those I-don’t-actually-mean-it compliments.

To expand this topic, we can discuss criticising as an art, both for those who criticise and those who are criticised. I’ll not go into details on this.