Archive for February, 2012

The promise and problem with Pinterest

Lately, social media mavens have pinned their hopes on Pinterest as the next big thing in remote engagement because of the site’s stated goal to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”

Pinterest, its name an amalgamation of the words “pin” and “interest,” which you probably could have guessed, launched in 2009 and gained traction after its invitation-only wall came down in 2010 and prospective members were allowed to ask the site to join. Since then, Pinterest has garnered Facebook-level traffic, approaching 12 million new visitors a month.

The attraction: Pinterest is a picture-driven, digital cork board, a place for visual expression with themed “pin-up” boards where users can put up just about any digitized image or video they like. Member “followers” can also re-pin images and videos posted by others, thus trumpeting and spreading their interests and vision.

Certainly, Pinterest’s key attraction is its eye-candy appeal, but the site sports some versatility of a kind journalists may find useful. Among the ideas possible through Pinterest:

Breaking news and advancing stories — Journalists can pin on-scene images and video clips via iPhone to themed news boards, which can be linked to websites and other social media. Pinterest also works well as a place to post advances for upcoming news coverage.

Trend stories — Users have created themed boards on subjects ranging from fashion to pets to favorite jokes. The general topics are broad but Pinterest permits creation of narrowly focused boards. Even Pinterest’s traffic portends to trends — its chief demographic groups to date appear to be women, who make up about 58 percent of users, and people ages 25 to 44, who make up about 59 percent.

Storyboards — Pinterest’s boards can be rearranged, besides being customizable, so photographers, film editors and spot-news editors can organize their content into sequences that tell stories or send messages.

Portfolios and showcases — Pinterest can serve as a place to store, organize and display images for job applications, or as a storefront for selling those images. It’s also a good place to spotlight a publication’s best recent work.

Of course, everything that shows up online could show up on Pinterest regardless of whether anyone wants it pinned there, and this has stirred criticism that the site violates copyright law despite a “safe harbor” opening in that law. In the safe harbor, legal liability is limited or waived if a site either performs in “good faith” or adheres to agreed-upon standards.

Pinterest allegedly has received copyright challenges, but so far no one has pulled the pin in part because the site hasn’t taken egregious liberties with contributor content, like reselling it behind contributors’ backs. However, Pinterest seems to have found a way to turn re-pins into profit by modifying links to pins for commercial content, so that the pins link back to the image source. If the site has an affiliate-marketing program and Pinterest is part of it, then Pinterest profits from relinking to the affiliate, and the affiliate in turn gains a broader audience.

Pinterest has managed to avoid assessing fees, including sidebar ads, or allowing sponsored pins. But as Pinterest evolves, so too could its perception of fair use and right to reuse to pinned content unless members opt out, akin to Facebook. Prospective users should consider this before making Pinterest into a platform for their businesses.

Pinterest is a visual medium unlike any we’ve seen, but it’s still in a nascent state. Journalists should be careful: all the promise it holds has time yet to turn prickly.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Start here when conducting a background check

This may be difficult for budding journalists to believe, but there was a time when shoe leather was a reporter’s best research tool.

Every pertinent document sat in a file viewable only in person, unless a dependable source slipped it in the mail as a favor. And news editors were suspicious of journalists who spent too much time on the phone or loitering in the news room; they believed gathering news meant getting out of the office and returning only when it was time to write.

Of course, it’s still a good idea to go where the news is; however, a majority of the document searches formerly conducted by rooting through a dusty filing cabinet somewhere can be done at reporters’ desks — or if they’re truly savvy, on their smart phones.

But where to start? The Web has a wealth of valuable digital data tangled in it, yet the extent of that data is daunting. Thus, new and veteran journalists alike look at the lot of it, their eyes glaze, their palms turn sweaty and potentially good stories are bypassed for easier fare, all because the Internet intimidated them.

Relax. Just like building a house starts with a plan, so too does digital research. Once the seed of a story idea becomes clear, reporters need to settle on a strategy for making it grow: figure out what questions must be asked and where to go for answers.

For help with answers when researching people, try these websites:

* Naturally, start with Google. The “advanced search” feature can be particularly useful. But don’t forget other engines such as BingDogpileTwingine and Yahoo. Also, the site Zoominfo pairs people with their relationship to businesses.

FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter of course are great for examining a person’s online presence. Other interactivity monitors are 123peopleIcerocketPiplSamepoint and WhosTalkin.

BirthDatabase matches people by birth date.

Zabasearch is a free people-finder searchable by name and phone number. For a fee, the site also will run a background check on a person. Another site, WhitePages, also searches by phone number.

Portico compiles numerous websites containing public information. It’s a good place for quick link searches on such subjects as real estate holdings, aircraft and boat registrations, even horse ownership. Additionally, BRB Publications lists links to public records by state and by county. And Coordinated Legal Technologies can help trace a person’s corporate trail.

* For court records and criminal information, try the National Center for State Courts the pay sitePACER, the national sex-offender registry, and the criminal history site CriminalSearches.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.


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