Success of media lab found in community engagement

Posted March 17, 2014 by Michelle Rogers
Categories: Digital First Media, Macomb Regional Community Media Lab, Southeast Michigan Media Lab

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A couple of my colleagues have questioned why we are using precious resources to run the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, my ideaLab project that morphed into a full-time job along with the addition of new responsibilities. But others, particularly those who understand the value of community engagement, totally get it.

I think the numbers from the last six months — keeping in mind the media lab doesn’t have a full-time staff and only has my attention part of the time — speak for themselves.

Media lab stats
I launched the Southeast Michigan Media Lab exactly two years ago under the name Community Media Lab after winning funding from the corporate offices of our parent company, at the time Journal Register Company, now Digital First Media. My proposal was the only one, out of about four in Michigan, to get the coveted funds. Last summer, I had the pleasure of helping Maryanne MacLeod at sister publication The Macomb Daily launch a second media lab, the Macomb Regional Community Media Lab, adding to DFM media labs across the United States.

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab, housed in Ypsilanti, strives to bring the audience inside the newsroom as content-sharing partners, as does the Macomb media lab. But there has been some discussion as of late about the words “inside the newsroom” since the media lab in Ypsilanti is housed at SPARK-East, a business incubator, not a newsroom.

I interpret “bringing the audience inside the newsroom” as having an editor or journalist working with individuals and establishing partnerships, and embracing their contributions just as they would from a member of the newsroom. For example, I work with individuals interested in writing news, sharing photographs or media galleries, producing video and audiocasts, and work with them to get that content ready for publication. All of our news sites link to our blogging partners, and I work with bloggers to improve their sites.

In addition, at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, we — in partnership with professors at Eastern Michigan University and professionals in the community — hold free workshops in digital media and social media for the public. Some of our outreach also includes working with journalism, marketing and public relations students, as well as members of the senior community interested in learning more about digital communication.

We chose Ypsilanti for the Southeast Michigan Media Lab for a number of reasons, which I outlined in my original proposal, and I still believe those reasons are valid. Beyond what was mentioned in my proposal, The Saline Reporter building, where our Washtenaw County newsroom is located, doesn’t have adequate space and it would have been too costly to remodel to include the media lab. Moreover, the lab, based on its central location, attracts people from as far away as Oakland and Macomb counties, as well as Wayne County’s Downriver community and western Washtenaw County.

But back to the numbers.

We’ve had a total of 527 visitors to the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and Macomb Regional Community Media Lab (at our brick-and-mortar locations) in the last six months, since we started tracking. I think it’s safe to assume one could double that to get a year’s picture.

We’ve hosted 35 workshops for the community in the last six months, which is an average of nearly six per month. In fact, on Meetup.com, where we draw some of our audience, we have a combined 155 “labbers” — 119 associated with the Southeast Michigan Media Lab — who have voluntarily asked to be notified via the service every time we schedule a workshop. That says something.

We’ve had 2,117 views of our two blogs (CommunityMediaLab and Macomb Regional Media Lab) that chronicle our media lab activities. Admittedly, both Maryanne and I could do a better job of producing more content for these blogs and keeping them fresher, which will attract more readers. If we did, we could easily triple that number.

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab has had 25,864 views of its PowerPoint presentations uploaded and shared with the public, and our workshop attendees — virtual and those who come in person — on Scribd over the last two years.

On the Southeast Michigan Media Lab’s YouTube channel, where we house videos from our workshops and blogger events, we’ve had 1,053 views since its inception a year ago. In all, viewers have watched 3,671 minutes of our videos. I could do a better job with this, as well, promoting the channel and directing audience there.

Combined, we have 524 likes on Facebook and 1,683 followers on Twitter , which is more audience than six of our branded new sites’ Twitter accounts. We’ve also tweeted a combined 5,424 times — 4,818 of the tweets coming from the Southeast Michigan Media Lab Twitter account, which was established two years ago. In comparison, a reporter at one of our dailies, who admittedly doesn’t tweet much but is working on it, has 211 lifetime tweets.

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab also has a Tout account and shares original video, as well as those from across Digital First Media. Since August, that account has shared 1,094 Touts and has 294 followers. The account also ranks 18 out of 30 at The Oakland Press for views, as the account is linked to the Oakland Press group on Tout. So, we capture more views — and share more content — than some of the reporters who are supposed to be incorporating Tout into their daily coverage.

With numbers — which demonstrate the outreach — like that in just the last six months, during harsh winter conditions that sometimes lead people to hibernate, who could deny the value of our media labs? Not only is the work we are doing building stronger relationships between Digital First Media and the communities we cover, but it’s bringing more content to our sites and providing our audience a forum to share their voice and outlet to learn new skills.

Michelle Rogers, director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab (the writer of this blog), teaches a workshop on emerging social media tools.

Michelle Rogers, director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab (the writer of this blog), teaches a workshop on emerging social media tools.

Digital First Media’s ideaLab coming to an end

Posted December 27, 2013 by Michelle Rogers
Categories: Uncategorized

Michelle Rogers:

More to come.

Originally posted on Southeast Michigan Media Lab:

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab, part of my ideaLab project, will continue, although the ideaLab is coming to a close.

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab, part of my ideaLab project, will continue, although the ideaLab is coming to a close.

It’s hard — and not so hard — to believe. After 3 1/2 years, Digital First Media’s ideaLab is coming to an end.

I was shocked when I was named to the inaugural group in July 2010, surprised when it continued past what I thought would be a year-long stint and forever grateful how my time spent experimenting with digital media tools has helped me grow as a journalist, editor, mentor and trainer.

The news came in the form of a phone call Dec. 13 from Mark Lewis, communications/operations editor for DFM’s Thunderdome in New York. He wanted me to know the project was ending. He also solicited my feedback about the experience and announced a new project could replace ideaLab in the coming months. I wasn’t completely shocked at…

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Glenn Gilbert, ‘architect of the modern newsroom’ in Michigan, to retire after 45 years

Posted December 23, 2013 by Michelle Rogers
Categories: Uncategorized

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Glenn Gilbert, executive editor of The Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., and group editor for 21st Century Media's Michigan Cluster, is retiring Jan. 3, 2014, after 45 years in journalism.  (Photo by Tim Thompson/Oakland Press)

Glenn Gilbert, executive editor of The Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., and group editor for 21st Century Media’s Michigan Cluster, is retiring Jan. 3, 2014, after 45 years in journalism. (Photo by Tim Thompson/Oakland Press)

Glenn Gilbert, known for transforming 21st Century Media’s Michigan newsrooms into data- and visually-driven 24/7 content producers that welcome community contributions and engage their audience through two-way conversations and outreach, is wrapping up a 45-year career in a field that has undergone major changes in news gathering and delivery.

“I believe Glenn Gilbert’s legacy will be guiding the newsroom at The Oakland Press, as well as the newsrooms throughout Michigan, through a difficult period of transition – both it was an instable time in the industry, as well as the economy,” said Stephen Frye, online editor at The Oakland Press, “and, also, journalism in general changing with the new digital tools available and the digital outlets.”

In the last seven years, Gilbert, 63, has reimagined newsroom positions – from old-school reporter and copy editor jobs to community engagement editors and multimedia journalists who interact with their audience and use a variety of storytelling methods to convey their journalism through videography, photography, audiocasts, data visualizations, and live-tweeting and blogging.

Just as importantly, he has opened the newsroom to the public, launched community liaison boards, established a blogger network and encouraged media labs to train the audience in covering secondary news and use of digital storytelling tools.

“He had the vision, I believe, to open up the newsroom to the public,” Frye said. “That was the strongest first act that opened people’s eyes in our newsroom when he said, ‘We have to invite the public in to participate.’

“This was in 2007 that he said that – that the readers are part of the storytelling. We rely on them to give us stories, to give us ideas, but also to share their stories, whether that be in blogs or submitted works – (and) for every reporter to work with members of the public.”

Glenn Gilbert is known as the "architect of the modern newsroom" for 21st Century Media's Michigan Group, which includes The Oakland Press, The Macomb Daily, Daily Tribune in Royal Oak, The Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant, The News-Herald Downriver and Heritage.com.

Glenn Gilbert is known as the “architect of the modern newsroom” for 21st Century Media’s Michigan Group, which includes The Oakland Press, The Macomb Daily, Daily Tribune in Royal Oak, The Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant, The News-Herald Downriver and Heritage.com.

Frye said reporters, at the time, were witnessing the rise of social networks – and joining the ranks of users – opening up another medium for public expression and storytelling beyond newspapers. It didn’t take long, he said, for Michigan editorial staff to embrace Gilbert’s philosophy of an open, more collaborative newsroom sharing news in real time.

“It was realizing we’re the professionals, but guide those who want to participate,” Frye said.

“It was very quickly that people in our newsroom realized that the readers were part of the future of storytelling.”

Julie Jacobson-Hines, local news editor at The Oakland Press, respects Gilbert for his efforts early on to embrace the change ushered in with the Fifth Estate’s rise, and work to transform 21st Century Media’s Michigan newsrooms.

“I think he has set us up for success in the digital world and social media. Obviously, that’s where the business is going,” Jacobson-Hines said.

“As a newsman, I think he wanted to give more power to the reporters and people in the community to be able to come up with stories rather than us dictating to people what we think the stories should be,” she said.

“He, one time, said he wanted to return the paper to the people, and that’s how it began in the United States. And this, I feel, is his legacy.”

Jeff Kuehn, regional sports editor for 21st Century Media’s Michigan cluster, has worked with Gilbert for seven years, since their days at The Macomb Daily. He has been impressed with Gilbert’s early push, as readers embraced online news sites and social media, to transform traditional newsrooms into 24/7 operations that use social media for crowdsourcing, engaging the public in conversations and sharing news as it breaks.

“He has changed the mindset, not only of us (at The Oakland Press), but he has gone to the weeklies and said, ‘You know, you no longer are a weekly. You should be thinking 24/7. You should be getting your copy up immediately,’” Kuehn said. “He has told dailies, ‘You are no longer a daily. You are a what’s-going-on-now operation.’

“And that has been embraced by some more than others, or I should say some have been quicker to the table than others.”

Transforming weekly and daily newspapers into 24/7 news operations online while maintaining excellence in print – as demonstrated with Local Media Association bestowing its Best Digital and Print Combination award to The Oakland Press in 2013 – is not an easy task, especially with shrinking newsroom budgets resulting from lost advertising revenue as more competition crops up for ad dollars and some businesses are slower to embrace online.

Gilbert, through his position as executive editor, has had to make painful cuts to editorial staff positions, while alleviating some of the hemorrhaging by creating efficiencies with a universal copy editing desk and centralized pagination center serving all of Michigan, with plans to bring in the Midwest sister publications.

“He has had to make some tough decisions because, of course in our business, we’ve had to have some cost-cutting measures, and he has gone into all of those very thoughtfully and thinking each thing through thoroughly,” Jacobson-Hines said. “He has never taken this lightly, but it’s just something that had to be done to keep the doors open of the properties we currently have. It took a lot of guts, I think.”

Despite cuts to editorial staff positions, Kuehn says the Michigan cluster has maintained its editorial integrity and reputation for solid journalism. The cluster continues to earn state and national awards for its journalism. In fact, Kuehn says the group, under Gilbert’s watch, has been a leader on many fronts across the chain, from use of Tout for short-form social-sharing-enabled video, to its macrolocal website Michigan PrepZone, named Top 10 Website distinction in 2013 by Associated Press Sports Editors, featuring high school sports coverage written by staff and community contributors.

“Under trying times, he has done a fabulous job,” Kuehn said. “The Oakland Press, I think … we’re a leader … in the company as far as what we do digitally and maintaining our print product.”

Keeping up with the media
While a student at the University of Michigan, Gilbert learned early on the importance of embracing change to keep up with innovation and efficiencies in industry. In particular, he recalls a conversation with one of his professors.

“I said to the professor … ‘How do you avoid getting stuck into what you’re doing so that you’re blind to what is new?’ And I’ll never forget his answer, although I didn’t understand it at the time … He said, ‘Keep up with the media.’”

But, as Gilbert’s career has been winding down while technology has been racing at a breakneck speed – and after a health scare this past summer – he began thinking more about retirement.

“As I grew older, that comment kept coming back at me – that you had to keep up. And, in my case, it has become increasingly difficult, frankly, and certainly is a contributing factor to the retirement,” he said.

Gilbert is proud of his social media presence since joining the Twitterverse in 2010. He had 4,552 followers and 17,161 tweets as of Dec. 21, according to Muck Rack. He took to Twitter quickly, he said, because he saw the value of it as a tool to steer audience to content.

“Twitter is simple yet difficult to comprehend, but I’ve tried to keep up with Twitter,” he said.

“And, so, it’s a matter of keeping up with the media and turning over the operation to those who know it better than I.”

The philosophy of “turning over the operation to those who know it,” or empowering your digital staff, was first shared by Digital First Media CEO John Paton, as Gilbert recalls.

“I think, honestly, the best decision I ever made was to follow John Paton’s advice. And he was somewhat criticized for the way he put it. He said that the guys with – I think he said, the guys with – the white hair aren’t going to get you where you need to go. Well, I have white hair.

“What he was saying was empower your digital leaders and then get out of their way. And I think that’s what I’ve tried to do. And I think that has brought us great accolades.”

The making of a newsman
Gilbert started his career in 1968 as a high school senior and worked steadily in the field through college before earning his degree, bypassing the traditional stint at the college newspaper. With 45 years in journalism, it’s no surprise that he has had to navigate change.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT A TIMELINE OF HIS CAREER ON DIPITY.

Gilbert’s first job was as in 1968 as a student columnist at News-Herald Newspapers in Southgate for $1 an hour. He was a reporter, and then an editor, at The News-Herald’s Flat Rock Guardian, through 1972, a big responsibility for a student maintaining a full course load and still developing his reporting chops.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1972, Gilbert was hired as a reporter by The Ann Arbor News. He also worked as an assistant city editor and editorial page editor before departing in spring 1983 with a master’s degree in social sciences under his belt from Eastern Michigan University.

Gilbert had a short stint at The Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Ill., serving as assistant city editor of the privately held suburban daily from September 1991 to January 1992. He landed at The Beacon-News in Aurora, Ill., for the next eight years, working as city editor, and in February 1992, he took a job with The News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio, as assistant managing editor. In the Buckeye State, Gilbert was recognized for his leadership abilities and was promoted to managing editor in 1994. Five years later, he was named executive editor.

The Journal Register Co.-owned publication, now part of 21st Century Media, managed by Digital First Media, allowed him more advancement opportunities across its chain, as he accepted a new position as executive editor of The Macomb Daily in Michigan spring 2006. Three months later, he arrived at his permanent home in Pontiac at sister publication The Oakland Press, where he was promoted to group editor of all 21st Century Media nameplates in the Great Lakes State and regional editor for the Midwest, including publications in Ohio and Minnesota.

A hankering for politics
While Gilbert’s long and storied career has been a dream realized for him, it’s not his only aspiration. Since he was in junior high, Gilbert has desired a career in politics. In fact, he decided on a career in journalism because, based on his research in the 1960s, it was where many politicians had their start, in addition to jobs as teachers or lawyers.

“I think I was in junior high when I wrote my first piece for the school newspaper … so that’s what got my taste for it (journalism),” Gilbert said.

“And I ran for student council president in junior high and I was elected.”

Gilbert signed up to work on the high school newspaper as a junior and ran for class president, and succeeded in both endeavors, again marrying both of his passions – journalism and politics.

Throughout his career, Gilbert has stayed actively involved and held close to his journalism roots while also keeping a close eye on politics and public policy.

“If you are covering a City Council meeting, you can experience the politics. You can vicariously,” he said.

“You put yourself in that position. You hear about the problems they solve and deal with, and later as an editorial writer and so forth you are dealing with public policy issues.”

Jacobson-Hines said Gilbert’s nose for news and reputation as a respected newsroom leader precede him.

“People think he is a good newsman,” she said. “In addition to everything else he has done, every week he writes a column about a current topic and it’s usually very well-researched. And he is extremely well-read, as far as he gets his news from a variety of sources.

“No one could second-guess his news judgment.”

The next chapter
With his official retirement day, set for Jan. 3, 2014, fast approaching, many of his colleagues are wondering what the future will hold. Will this visionary and change agent – the “architect of the modern newsroom” at 21st Century Media’s Michigan cluster – ride off into the sunset or will we see him reinvent himself and realize his childhood dream?

Gilbert said in addition to possibly maintaining his blog, “Between Extremes,” tweeting Oakland County news and continuing with his job teaching mass communication at Rochester College, where he has worked for four years, he may finally pursue the path he has been called to since his adolescence.

“That’s the one thing that I thought would be a possibility if I could run for say the state legislature,” he said. “My motive, frankly, would be to tell people the truth, which means … I don’t think I’d attract lobbyists’ support. That just makes it harder to win.”

The West Bloomfield resident – married to Linda, a part-time teacher, and a father of three adult children – isn’t interested in local politics. He said city council and planning commission positions are difficult when dealing with contentious neighborhood issues. He says, however, that he respects and admires those who are willing to take the heat.

One question remains, however. Will he run as a Republican or Democrat? Gilbert said he has always leaned Republican, but with the party’s opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, he’s not quite sure anymore if he fully identifies with the right wing.

“I don’t know how to characterize myself …,” he says now.

Whatever Gilbert’s future may hold, Kuehn says his boss has at least one advantage. While some of his colleagues have been unceremoniously ushered out of the business, Gilbert has come to a decision on his own.

“He is very fortunate to go out on his own terms,” Kuehn said.

Adds Jeff Payne, editor of The Macomb Daily, “I think his combination of experience, wisdom, insight and tenacity are going to be missed. And whoever is put into that role – You know, I would trust in the people making that decision that they will find someone who is well qualified and will do a great job, but that person is not going to be Glenn.”

Editor’s Note: The writer of this story, Michelle Rogers, is director of community engagement and editorial training for 21st Century Media’s Michigan Group, and Glenn Gilbert is her direct supervisor.

PARTING THOUGHTS
Best Decision: Followed Digital First Media CEO John Paton’s advice to empower the staff’s digital leaders, and then get out of their way.

Worst Decision: Fought the management at The Ann Arbor News, when he was employed there. He said it cost him from a career perspective. As a manager, he has tried to represent the employees’ views to upper management.

Best Gamble: Hiring Aftab Borka, a broadcaster, to assist The Oakland Press with an online video-based news show, called “News at Noon,” that grew into a short-lived partnership with Detroit TV station WADL and now a partnership with public access television. “It was an unconventional hire and I think it has worked out,” he said.

Advice for Staff: Ask yourself where you want to be five years from now and keep that question in the forefront.

Accolades: Best Digital and Print Combination, Local Media Association, The Oakland Press, 2013; Oakland Press named one of 10 newspapers in the country that “do it right” by Editor & Publisher, 2010: Second place, General Excellence, Associated Press, News-Herald, Ohio, 2006; Best of Ohio, Cleveland Press Club, The News-Herald, Ohio, 2005; Distinguished Community Service Award, Lakeland Community College, The News-Herald, Ohio, 2004; Society of Professional Journalists, General Excellence, News-Herald, Ohio, 1999.

Working on a data journalism team reignites spark for reporting

Posted December 17, 2013 by Michelle Rogers
Categories: Uncategorized

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Multimedia journalist Charlie Crumm created this map using ThingLink.

Multimedia journalist Charlie Crumm created this map using ThingLink.


In October, I was invited by Charlie Crumm, political reporter at The Oakland Press, to join 21st Century Media’s Michigan Data Journalism Team. He had launched the team earlier in the year and was working with a small group of journalists from across our cluster, but had lost a couple as they moved on in their careers. Initially, I was a little hesitant, as numbers aren’t my strong point. In fact, I had to take algebra twice in college because I failed it the first time and needed it to graduate.

But I decided I needed to challenge myself and take risks. After all, data journalism is the current trend and will only become bigger as we learn better techniques for managing data, understanding data, visualizing data and telling stories with data.

So, on Oct. 17, the reinvented Michigan Data Journalism Team — with returning members Charlie Crumm and Norb Franz of The Macomb Daily and new members Nichole Seguin of The Chelsea Standard, Randi Shaffer of The Morning Sun, Erica McClain of The News-Herald, Kevin Martin of The Macomb Daily and myself, representing the Southeast Michigan Media Lab — met from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Oakland Press in Pontiac to develop some story ideas and talk about our objectives.

Charlie presented a PowerPoint, which I livestramed, and we each talked about our backgrounds, strengths and our level of comfort with numbers. The lunch was catered, thanks to our executive editor, Glenn Gilbert, and his assistant, Vicki Arsenault, who are both very supportive of our endeavors.

By the time we were done, I was excited about the prospects. Looking back I realize, three days later, I took ownership and totally bought in by creating a working document in Google Drive that would serve as our road map. Each of us entered on the document our own story ideas, and began signing up to tackle the various tasks: writing the main story, producing or curating photographs, creating a graphic/map/visualization, editing and uploading. We also set deadlines, publication dates and included a space on the document for project notes.

With the holidays nearing, we decided to go slow in the month of December with three lighter-fare topics. And on Dec. 1, we published our first piece: 14 New Year’s Eve party spots in Michigan. I volunteered to write the story and crowdsource the nominations. To that end, I created a poll using Google Forms, which I shared on all of our social media sites across Michigan. I also created a word cloud and photo collage, with photos from those venues, using the tool PicMonkey. Nichole created an incredible interactive map using ThingLink, and the rest of the team edited it. Check it out on The Oakland Press website.

Our second project was a look at unemployment rates by county across Michigan.

Kevin Martin's graphic for our unemployment story.

Kevin Martin’s graphic for our unemployment story.

This was Charlie’s baby. He wrote the story and created a map highlighting the data by county using ThingLink. I am so proud of him, as he learned this tool on his own and did an incredible job. Kevin, a graphics guru, created an amazing and clean-looking graphic visualizing the data for print and online. It made for a great team effort between the two of them. Check it out on The Oakland Press site.

The third project was on holiday light displays across Michigan. Again, I crowdsourced nominations in local neighborhoods from our audience, with three coming in from Mount Pleasant, Milan and Chesterfield Township, and wrote a story. Charlie wrote the main piece on the history of holiday light displays.

Kevin Martin, a graphic artist at The Macomb Daily, visualized numbers for our piece on the history of holiday light displays.

Kevin Martin, a graphic artist at The Macomb Daily, visualized numbers for our piece on the history of holiday light displays.

Nichole used the photos I had crowdsourced to create a photo slideshow in Media Gallery and Kevin made another amazing graphic visualizing the data from Charlie’s story. Nichole also wrote a sidebar on holiday light-inspired events in Washtenaw County. Norb and Charlie edited the various components. Check it out on Heritage.com.

Our fourth piece runs this week. It’s on the Top 10 Christmas Movies as crowdsourced from our audience. Again, I created a questionnaire using Google Forms. I then handed the results over to Amanda Lee, a sports reporter at The Macomb Daily with a blog and passion for movies. She did a great job writing the piece. I edited it and used her summaries to create a timeline in Dipity. The timeline also incorporates movie trailers and other clips I curated from youTube, as well as links to Wikipedia entries on each movie. (update: Click here to view it on The Oakland Press website.)

In 2014, we plan to delve deeper into the data and work on some harder-hitting topics, including soaring property values in Michigan, land trusts, gas prices, weather trends, nonprofits, farm subsidies, real estate transactions, the cost of insurance, university enrollment, municipal tax rates, assisted living facilities, public employee compensation packages, tax breaks for businesses, traffic tickets, and more.

As we take on these bigger projects, we realize we will be managing tons of documents, from spreadsheets to responses to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, to public emails and public records. So, in talking to Tom Meagher, who heads Digital First Media’s Thunderdome Data Journalism Team, we’ve learned working as a group in DocumentCloud will help keep us organized. Tom, who was a guest on one of our group conference calls, led a webinar especially for us Dec. 13 on DocumentCloud and Charlie helped set up our accounts as the tool is only for journalists and an editor must sign off on it.

The tool is among a list I compiled on our Google document to help us in our reporting. Other tools listed include ManyEyes, Infogr.am, Visual.ly, Google Media Tools, GeoChat, OpenStreetMap, Zeega, ZooBurst, Overview Project, MindMeld, BatchGeoo, Tableau, Dipity, TimeToast, TimelineJS, and more. I’ve learned about many of these tools through my colleagues in ideaLab and Thunderdome.

What’s exciting, beyond the privilege of working on the Michigan Data Journalism Team, is that returning to my journalism roots has really inspired me. I had forgotten how much I love to talk with people, dig up information and write. And, of course, see my hard work published online and in print.

What makes all my extra work worth it, as I also juggle media lab responsibilities, and my work as a newsroom trainer and director of community engagement, is the response from our readers. Two of my sources on the holiday lights story contacted me through Facebook and email to express their gratitude for the coverage. That’s what makes the extra time spent and brain strain working in data journalism, when you’re not a “numbers person,” worthwhile.

And so the journey continues in this ever-evolving field, as I dance down the path of experimentation, innovation and taking risks while learning a better way to tell and visualize stories that are relevant to our readers. Wish me luck!

Community engagement sometimes means getting out of the office

Posted November 21, 2013 by Michelle Rogers
Categories: Uncategorized

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Macomb Intermediate School District students work on their Global Trade Mission proposals.

Macomb Intermediate School District students work on their Global Trade Mission proposals.

As part of my relatively new position as director of community engagement and editorial training for 21st Century Media’s Michigan Group, and in my role as director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, I occasionally get the opportunity to leave our media labs and newsrooms, and immerse myself in the community. Yesterday was one of those days.

Karen Johnston, career education specialist at the Macomb Intermediate School District, called me last month about volunteering as a business coach at their annual Global Trade Mission. I had met Karen a few weeks earlier through the new Macomb Regional Community Media Lab, which I helped launch with media lab Director Maryanne MacLeod, who also serves as community engagement editor at The Macomb Daily. Karen was enthusiastic about furthering the MISD’s partnership with The Macomb Daily through the media lab, where we offer to train the public in new media and social media as we seek to develop more news-sharing partnerships.

The Global Trade Mission provides an opportunity for students to participate in a simulated trade mission. “GTM is an outstanding model of business, government, and education working together to address 21st century student skills,” according to the Macomb Intermediate School District website. “With collaboration from business, education and government, and working in cross-district teams of four, students are presented with a real-world case study on how to best market and sell a Macomb County company’s product, service, or technology overseas based on the opportunities, challenges and unique characteristics of doing business in a particular country. Student teams create a unique business export plan, and present their findings to a panel of business executives who will evaluate them on content, quality, originality and feasibility of their business proposals.”

Among the companies that industry and cultural experts represented were Ford, Department of Homeland Security Investigations, DTE Energy and U.S. Department of Commerce. I represented 21st Century Media, while Macomb Community College, Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals, Identity Graphic Design, Sensi Change and General Motors sent volunteers, as well.

I came in on the second day of the three-day project, and offered help to students in social media, public relations, marketing and PowerPoint. MISD-1 Students were working in small groups associated with a global region, such as Europe, Africa/the Middle East, Asia, North America and Latin America. Coaches were encouraged to approach each group, ask the students about their products and companies, and offer advice and assistance. For instance, I helped a group bringing purified water to the Middle East by brainstorming names for their company. They liked my suggestion of Puri-fection, a play on the words promoting their purified water as perfection.

I helped another group create its company logo. While I didn’t have experience with the graphics program they were using — and neither did they — we were able to use PowerPoint to create something that met their vision.

A third group asked for my suggestions in marketing their product. We chatted about the product, and I recommended a website, a drop-down menu featuring a blog or section for product news and updates, Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel to host their product demonstration videos. I also suggested becoming an expert on their subject and share their blog posts on LinkedIn with peer business groups and with their connections.

A highlight of the afternoon was a video presentation by Don Ritzenhein, professor of communication and vice president for academic personnel at Eastern Michigan University.

While he has attended in person in the past, his busy schedule prevented it this year, so he created a dynamic video presentation on using PowerPoint.

Donald Ritzenhein, assistant vice president of academic personnel and contract administration at Eastern Michigan University, taught students how to create a polished PowerPoint

Donald Ritzenhein, assistant vice president of academic personnel and contract administration at Eastern Michigan University, taught students how to create a polished PowerPoint

I found it particularly interesting because I create PowerPoints for teaching new digital storytelling tools and social media tools for staff and our media lab workshops, and I’ve never been formally trained on PowerPoint. I learned about a lot I was doing wrong, such as adding to much text to my slides. He also provided helpful tips on using infographics, choosing color schemes and presenting in front of an audience.

Today is the big day for the students. They will present at 6:45 p.m. at the MISD to various “investors.” Certificates will be awarded by teachers and coaches, and an awards presentation and closing remarks will take place 8 p.m. in Global Hall.

While some of our interactions as community engagement editors involve reaching out to our audience on social media, using such tools as polls and surveys, and running contests and stimulating conversations behind a computer, the job also involves getting out of the office and interacting live and in person. The Macomb Intermediate School District afforded me that opportunity and in the coming weeks I have been invited by the new mayor of Milan, Michael Armitage, to train city officials and staff on social media, writing news releases and public relations. Both of these opportunities have inspired me to reach out even more to schools, chambers of commerce, business groups and nonprofits to lend my expertise through this position. After all, what’s more engaging than face-to-face interaction?

Promoting RebelMouse for curated news streams

Posted November 10, 2013 by Michelle Rogers
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

RebelMouse is a content creation, aggregation and publishing platform.

RebelMouse is a content creation, aggregation and publishing platform.


Six months ago, I started a RebelMoue page for the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and wrote about the tool. The lab, as regular readers of this blog know, is my ideaLab project as a member of Digital First Media. While I had experience with the content creation, aggregation and publishing platform, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized its true potential for curating news and conversations unfolding on social media.

In May, I set up the media lab’s RebelMouse page as a way to curate, in real time, news stories from Heritage.com, its Pinterest boards and Flickr, as well as the media lab’s posts on social media, and embedded it in my blog so my blog would always be fresh. Months later, on a conference call with our Michigan editors I learned about a special section called Made in Michigan to be produced in October, and thought we could create a RebelMouse microsite and use it for community engagement. I thought we should start a hashtag campaign encouraging our audience to post #madeinmichigan or #michiganmade Tweets showing off or promoting their favorite Michiganmade products and feeding them into the microsite. To make the site more engaging, I decided to bring in Pure Michigan’s tweets and its videos from YouTube, as well as its Pinterest boards and Facebook RSS feed.

As I reflected later, I thought while I used the RebelMouse microsite as a community engagement tool, which was cool and fun, it wasn’t helping to drive page views to our websites. Lesson learned.

When Demarius Reed, a football player at Eastern Michigan University, was shot and killed Oct. 18, Rick Kessler, managing editor of Heritage Media, asked if I would monitor Twitter and look for story leads. It was at that time that I thought about using RebelMouse again, but this time as a hub for all news about Reed’s death and the community’s reaction. Between Oct. 18 and Nov. 10, that page has had 43,400 impressions, an impressive number, as it has featured news stories, Tout videos and tweets about the police investigation, memorial service, campus safety meetings, and voices of those mourning Reed’s loss.

I set up the site to collect all tweets with the trending hashtags #DemariusReed, #DR2, #RIPDReed, and Reed’s Twitter handle @D_Reed2. This brought in news stories and video from news organizations and reporters using the hashtag, as well as tweets, Instagram pics and YouTube videos from his family, friends and fans. In fact, one fan created an original song and posted it on SoundCloud, tweeting it with the hashtag. So that, too, was featured on the RebelMouse page. Occasionally, I would check the “drafts” folder, where tweets without photos would land, and approved some to appear on the page. I also searched out news, such as a letter from EMU President Susan Martin to alumni, and I took a screenshot of Reed’s last tweets, and manually added them on the page using the blogging function.

At Digital First Media, we are encouraged to use one-third professionally produced content from our staff, one-third user-generated content and one-third aggregated content from other media, and RebelMouse is the perfect tool to achieve this formula.

Unfortunately, when I shared the embed code for the page, the local editor did not use it. So, all the page views went directly to RebelMouse, a missed opportunity for us that greatly disappointed me. But it was another lesson, just as the Michiganmade RebelMouse page was a month earlier, and a challenge to overcome.

So, what I decided to do was offer to teach editors and reporters the value of RebelMouse and explain that embedding the page in an article page on our sites, and then promoting it on our social media channels, will bring traffic to our news sites. On our next editors call, I talked about the success of the Demarius Reed RebelMouse page, the magical mix of our content, aggregated content and UGC, and offered to teach editors and reporters how to set up microsites on RebelMouse and embed them on article pages to capture page views.

So far, The Oakland Press has taken me up on the training. On Thursday, I traveled to Pontiac and shared a PowerPoint I created about the power of RebelMouse as a curation site that can aggregate news and serve as a hub of information for breaking news, celebrity news, trending topics, topic-specific content, such as the Detroit Tigers or Lions, or even serve as a stand-alone news curation site for communities we don’t cover with our resources, such as Monroe, Mich., but are covered by other news organizations, and have an active community of bloggers and people using social media.

As part of the workshop, I created an Obamacare RebelMouse mircosite, curating news, video, Pinterest boards and tweets on the subject. The demonstration showed how easy it is to set up a microsite and how fast it can be to add the feeds. I suggested each reporter do the same and shared possible topics, such as Twitter being sold on the New York Stock Exchange that day for the first time and the Olympics. For kicks, and as part of a workshop on RebelMouse for the community, I created a RebelMouse microsite curating news, information, blog posts and social media posts about the reality TV franchise “The Real Housewives.”

Since creating the Obamacare site three days ago, there have been 8,351 impressions. And this time, learning a lesson from missed opportunities, the embed was used on three of our Michigan news sites, our group editor’s blog, and Oakland Press political reporter Charlie Crumm linked to the site, adding a tab to his RebelMouse page using RebelNav.

What’s great about RebelMouse is that once you enter the hashtags, and Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, and RSS feeds, it’s all automated. You don’t have to do anything, unless you want to take the initiative. And I have on the Obamacare microsite, adding articles posted by our sister publications that haven’t been tweeted out using the hashtags (#AffordableHealthCareAct, #Obamacare and #AHCA) we have told RebelMouse to aggregate. It’s so easy to add news articles, videos and other content, even your own, by using the blogging function on RebelMouse. You can paste the URL of a news story or YouTube video directly in a box on the page and it will post after clicking on a button. You can add photos and other elements, too, if you wish to provide richer content.

Check out my PowerPoint and create your own news curation site or social front page using RebelMouse. On a professional level, it’s fun for me to master another digital tool that adds value to our news sites and provides a hub for information on specific news topics, making it easier for readers to find and read a variety of sources. I love it!

Creating reader engagement contests on MichiganRewards.com

Posted October 8, 2013 by Michelle Rogers
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Graphic artist Kevin Martin created this.

Graphic artist Kevin Martin created this graphic.

One area of my job that I need to work on more is community engagement, specifically creating contests that excite people, engage them with our news sites and social media channels, and inspire them to invite their friends to join in the fun.

And through a new reader rewards platform called Michigan Rewards that we recently launched, I have an opportunity to create contests that engage, and drive audience to print and online. I posted our first two contests Friday.

My selfie with Michiganmade Jiffy Mix.

My selfie with Michiganmade Jiffy Mix.

One is our #Michiganmade Selfie Photo Contest. It’s designed to encourage audience participation in our Made in Michigan coverage, a special section highlighting products made in Michigan. I’ve also created a RebelMouse page to complement the section, bringing in all #Michiganmade and #MadeInMichigan hashtags on Twitter, @PureMichigan tweets and Pure Michigan YouTube videos.

I’ve had fun promoting the photo contest, creating my own selfie with a box of Jiffy Mix, Pinterest board, and promoting it on all of our Twitter and Facebook channels with a beautiful graphic created by The Macomb Daily’s Kevin Martin.

This graphic was created in PicMonkey and shared on our social media channels.

This graphic was created in PicMonkey and shared on our social media channels.

The other contest is just in time for Halloween. We’re encouraging you to dress up your pets in Halloween costumes and shoot a video, upload it to MichiganRewards.com, and ask family and friends to vote. I’ve promoted it with a meme, a collage that I created in PicMonkey and a gif, my second ever.

My bunny Ari stars in the meme I created to promote the video contest.

My bunny Ari stars in the meme I created to promote the video contest.

I’ve also created Touts promoting both contests. In the Tout below that I embedded from Twitter, I humiliated my cat, Samson, by dressing him up as a sports reporter with a baseball cap, notebook and pencil. As you can imagine, he wasn’t too excited about it.

We’re awarding $100 for first place, $75 for second and $50 for third. So far, we have four entries in the #Michiganmade Selfie Photo Contest and none yet in the Best Costume-Clad Pet Video Contest.

I am excited to dip my toe in the engagement waters, so to speak, with these two contests and look forward to offering more. I’ve also set up a Word of the Day, featuring the name of a Michigan landmark in print and encouraging readers to enter the word(s) online at MichiganRewards to earn points toward prizes.

Look for more to come as I get to know the true potential of this new platform. And please share your ideas with me.

Check out my #Michiganmade board on Pinterest

Check out my #Michiganmade board on Pinterest


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