Archive for August 2011

A reporter with today’s tools should use them

August 29, 2011

A multimedia journalist today has so many tools at her fingertips that it makes a reporter from the 1990s envious and wishing the tables were turned.

I’ve been an editor for 11 years and, although I’ve filled in when we’ve been short-staffed to cover a government meeting or write some police briefs, most of my 60-hour work week is spent editing copy, posting articles and photos online, assigning stories to staff and freelancers, engaging the audience on behalf of our publications via social media, keeping abreast of issues going on across the county, checking out new technology, processing press releases and reader-generated content, and administrative tasks such as tracking website traffic, managing my email account, which brings in about 300 messages a day, reviewing and submitting payroll, employee reviews and processing stringer invoices.

While I try to promote and model the approach that I would like my reporting staff to take in today’s world, with social media and new technology at their disposal, part of me is torn in understanding why it’s not being done completely the way I ask. On one hand, I think, “It’s so much less cumbersome and a lot more fun to report the story today and do it a more engaging and meaningful way, so why aren’t they all doing it?” But, on the other hand, I think, “Well, I am not in the trenches, so who am I to ask?”

And this is what I would ask:

*Did you crowdsource this topic so you could ask more relevant questions of local officials?

*Did you upload the City Council’s agenda to our website using Scribd.com before the meeting and share it on social media so readers would know that city leaders were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit?

*Did you “check in” to the meeting on social media and then Tweet and post on Facebook some of the discussion points during the meeting?

*Did you shoot video of local residents during the meeting protesting the decision, process it during the meeting and post it our our website before the meeting ended?

*Did you post a paragraph on our website under breaking news about the vote during the meeting and then write the full story shortly after, post it online, and push it out using social media, SMS text or our breaking news alert via our e-newsletter subscriber list?

*Did you follow up on the issue by hosting a live chat the next day with local leaders and residents?

I don’t buy the excuse, either, that it has to be a controversial topic like the one I described above to report it like I want it done. For instance, this past weekend was the Relay for Life fundraiser in Milan. I saw posts in my Facebook news stream about it from people in the community. I didn’t, however, see a single Tweet from us, a single Facebook post, or a story and video. By late Sunday, after the event had wrapped up, I thought — and expected — we would have something. Again, I was disappointed, as, I am sure, were our readers. And now it’s Monday and I still haven’t seen anything about it.

So, in an attempt to promote and model what I expect of my newsroom, yet be empathetic to the pressures and time constraints on young journalists today, I’ve come up with a scenario of how I would cover an event and expect the same from my reporters — A day-in-the-life of a modern-day community journalist, if you will.

Covering the Relay for Life: What to do
*Tweet and post on Facebook days before the event that I am going to be there and ask who else from the community will be there. Use these sources and officials from the American Cancer Soiciety to write a piece for our website telling readers about the event and sharing the stories of people involved (maybe a cancer survivor or someone who has been volunteering at the event for a decade).

*Use social media the day before and morning of the event to post the schedule of events and remind readers I will be there looking for stories. Ask readers to share their stories, photos and video from the fundraiser so we can share them on Facebook, our website and in print.

*Show up about 15 minutes before it starts to chat with organizers, volunteers and participants, take photos, capture audio interviews for a podcast and shoot video of the opening ceremony.

*Find a place to sit down to upload audio, photos for a slideshow and video to our website using my Netbook and Flip video camera. Have this posted within the first two hours of the event.

*Push out on social media a link to the content I’ve generated so far: a short story about the opening ceremony, with an embed of video, audio and the photo slideshow.

*Crowdsource cancer survival stories, information on how much money individual teams had raised, what events were taking place and all of the effort that goes into organizing such a a huge event that means so much to a small community.

*Hold a live chat with the main organizer and team leaders from the location using Cover It Live discussing what was going on, who was saying and doing what, and sharing statistics and information from the American Cancer Society about cancer rates, research, needed funding, and efforts to raise awareness.

*Create a timeline using Dipity.com or Capzles.com to document the entire event, from start to finish, featuring “capsules of moments” with headlines, text, audio, photos and video. Embed this in my finished story for online with embeds of all my other media, including a Twitter stream from people Tweeting at the event using storify.com.

My reporters have learned all of these tools and I encourage my freelance writers to learn and use them, as well, especially as we move forward in this new world. Now the trick is to get them to do just that. Hopefully, they will see the value. As an editor, journalist and, most importantly, as a reader, I certainly do.

Tell me how you would report the story. What other tools and opportunities should we take advantage of while in the field?

(Note: Based on some feedback from readers, I’ve edited and updated this piece.)

Storify: There’s a reason it’s garnering a lot of attention

August 12, 2011

One of the most exciting free online tools out there for journalists right now is Storify, a curation tool that rounds up social media posts, including tweets and Facebook posts, YouTube videos and other media, and allows the user to mesh them together to tell a story.

It’s a fantastic service, and very easy to learn. I did my first one on my own outdoors blog regarding a chain of fires happening in the Grayling area. I was amazed at how detailed the search could be, limiting the tweet range to as few as 10 kilometers and as much as 100 kilometers. The ability to pull so many different networks and content is a huge plus. Sometimes, a single medium doesn’t do the trick, and Storify does its best to pull from many sources.

A new exciting feature comes from Storify realizing its forte is in breaking news coverage. It’s a go-to tool for news happening on the fly, both nationally and internationally. So it recently launched a partnership with BreakingNews.com, an aggregate service that collects and distributes breaking news from around the globe. It’s a nice addition to any big, breaking story.

I’ve found it to be a useful tool with localizing big stories people are talking about, as well as big local stories and events. I compiled a localization of the reaction of people near Ann Arbor during the Casey Anthony murder verdict, where she was found not guilty. It was interesting to see how resident in our area built up to the drama of the case, and their reaction once the verdict came back in. It showed an interesting dynamic, and one that didn’t take very long to compile.

Storify is attracting much attention. Earlier this year, it won the Knight-Batten award for Innovations in Journalism, along with an additional $10,000 in funding. It’s a great alternative to the traditional story, allowing your readers and others the ability to become the story, without being intrusive. It gives the opportunity for the story creator to add text for context throughout, but it’s still very user-driven, a plus in today’s communications society.

What have you used Storify for? Let me know in the comments below. Hopefully we can share some ideas.

PhotoPeach not quite ripe

August 4, 2011

The value of photographs for our readers is indisputably not in question — particularly with small weekly publications that serve an almost “blog-like” function for parents who always love to see little Johnny or Jane in print, exponentially so if high school athletics are a factor.

What is in question is how to deliver this visual content.

For the purposes of this post I’ve taken a look at PhotoPeach, an online software tool with embeddable functionality useful for links in stories on our newspaper websites and blogs. Essentially what it does is build a photo slideshow that allows the creator to mix the photo roster however they wish with further customization options including text, sound and even quizzes.

San Francisco-based Nota Inc. describes it as such: “PhotoPeach helps you share your memories in a new way by moving your photos like a video with your choice of background music, captions on each photo, fun effects, and more” or “Living slideshows,” as they more concisely put it.

So we’ve established that readers want photos and PhotoPeach wants to do that for us, but is this fruit fresh?

The answer, sadly, is not really.

While PhotoPeach very promptly uploaded 130 photos from my camera’s memory card to its website and allowed me to very easily strip out duplicate photos and organized my photo album, past that point the service becomes very restricted unless you pay $3 per month to license it from Nola Inc. Until a license is purchased a slideshow can only exhibit 30 photos and only paying members can download or otherwise make much use of a PhotoPeach slideshow.

Much worse is the fact that PhotoPeach implements a dramatic slow zoom in “transition effect” that is slightly off center that occurs with each photo in a slideshow created by free users. While it wasn’t too distracting from the content of my Civil War reenactment photos that were used for my trial, the effect would look silly when applied to crime scene photos, shots of a house fire or even pictures from a public meeting. And the only way to unlock the full range of transitions is by paying $3 per month, which at the number of staffers Heritage West has, would be between $45-50 per month.

The tool seems more suited for teachers’ use in the classroom or for family photo albums. The program can import all of your photos from Facebook and Picasa, but our story images are held on our website server, not those programs.

The attached slideshow will take you through the steps of signing up, creating your profile, uploading your first album and some of the rudimentary functionality of creating a slideshow afforded to a PhotoPeach free user. It really is a simple program that even a child could use. Sadly the base slideshows themselves could only be appreciated by a child or his/her relatives if said child is in some of the pictures.

If that sounds good, go wild with it. The free version is quite fun for personal use. In the meantime Capzules and the ability to create slideshows on the backend of www.heritage.com are more suitable and cost effective.

Here’s the PowerPoint walkthrough: http://www.mediafire.com/?saf325s1zyn5ax6

A Twitter Newswire

August 3, 2011

As a member of the Journal Register Company’s ideaLab (#JRCideaLab), I’ve been tasked with establishing a Twitter newswire in my newsroom. The idea is to have reporters create lists within their individual professional Twitter accounts or, as I did, establish an account (@ElectionFollow) dedicated to following local political candidates and active party members and political watchers, with the goal of generating story leads from their tweets. I’ve asked my followers to use #mielection in their story lead tweets to make it easier, but I can’t depend on them to do that, so I’ll have to continue to look at their individual tweets.

The thought is that there are many untapped sources and stories in cyberspace, and reporters should start paying attention on social media to what the audience is interested in — what’s relevant to them — and utilizing the audience as sources, experts or for their story leads. While the plan is to start off small with stories focused on the upcoming general election in the weeks leading up to the election, the goal is to establish a thriving and robust Twitter (or social media) newswire, where reporters regularly turn to for potential stories, producing at least one a week.

I introduced the idea to staff about a month ago and our online coordinator/reporter, David Veselenak was asked to be the first to set up the lists on his account and generate a story. He has produced one, so far, but has had a difficult time writing a story each week from it. While I established @ElectionFollow Twitter account to “lead by example,” I suspect the enthusiasm for this project is not at the level I would like to see. I will continue pushing it at our editorial meetings and begin to hold staff accountable for results. In the meantine, it would be helpful if the audience encouraged the effort via Facebook, Twitter and email. If you like the idea, tweet it or post on our local reporters’ personal Facebook pages or our newspaper fan pages.

Often, I think, reporters get in a habit of doing their jobs a particular way and aren’t open to new ideas — or maybe curious but not motivated to actually pursue them — especially if they think their current approach works good enough. But, in my opinion, they need to get out of their comfort zones and start innovating, experimenting with new technology and utilizing all of these new opportunities, such as social media, to produce more crowd-sourced, multimedia journalism.

A reporter can find some interesting news tips on Facebook if they’re following local residents, officials, and community leaders and stakeholders. For example, in my Facebook news stream Monday, I saw a post from Saline City Councilman David Rhoads: “One of the softening units at Saline’s water treatment plant is out of commission for repairs. The less water we can use, the closer the water will be to the normal softness, until the unit can be repaired.” Six comments followed, and I emailed the comment stream to Saline reporter Kevin Doby. The next morning, he fleshed out the story and posted it online.

This example is exactly what JRC wants to see more of in our newsrooms. The challenge is getting everyone to embrace it. Hopefully, through this post and more opportunities to come, they will see the value and get their own newswires up and running.

Evernote software introduction

August 3, 2011

Do you make notes to yourself? How do you retain and retrieve them? Over the years, I learned that when I wrote down assignments, they got done – eventually.

I’ve learned that problem-resolving is often a process. Sometimes it takes several steps, and several people, to resolve an assignment.

So I had several 3×5 pads at home and at work to make notes to myself. I found that the safest place to keep them was in my wallet.

Absent a computer or a smartphone, it worked for me. But I learned recently about a software called Evernote and provided a brief introduction to it to the Heritage West staff. It allows one to take notes, record audio and snap photos on your smartphone, with access to it all from your computer, where it’s automatically shared via the Evernote application.

Check out Getting Started on Evernote for tips on how to get the most out of Evernote.

P.S. – I got a smartphone a few weeks ago. I recorded all my notes on Evernote on the smartphone, and threw away this morning about seven slips of 3×5 paper. I still have much to learn, but I’m making progress.


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