ideaLab Report

I am on deadline and it’s not my typical print deadline, which is early, by the way, because of the holiday. It’s a deadline to produce my first report for the ideaLab as it marks its first month.

I have all of the tools now — an iPad, Netbook and iPhone (the phone just arrived yesterday) — and now the powers that be want to know what I’ve learned and what I’ve taught people, so far.

At our meeting in Philadelphia last week, I set the following goal as reported on the Ben Franklin Project Blog:
Michelle Rogers: (@ideaLabHeritage) — Incentive co-workers to learn new technologies and understand the value of digital. Train co-workers to utilize new tools by showcasing the strength and potential of each offering.

Today I am proud to say I am making progress. The iPad is now in the hands of Donna Genaw, an advertising consultant at The News-Herald, a sister publication based in Southgate, Mich.; the Netbook is in the hands of Steven Howard, one of my reporters at The Saline Reporter and The Milan News-Leader; and the iPhone, having only received it yesterday, is with me.

Donna will experiment, play, learn and teach using the iPad, and will report back on this blog about her discoveries incorporating the iPad into her position selling advertising. One thing she mentioned to me was a desire to upload customers’ photos on the iPad into a program that will allow them to create an ad on the spot. She is searching for free apps as I write.

Steven will experiment, play, learn and teach using the HP Mini Netbook. He has already begun checking out Skype and the webcam feature. The plan is for him to bring it to his next council or school board meeting, write while he is there and upload his story directly to the website that evening. I will come in behind him and clean up his copy after the fact. I am sure he will find other uses, as well, as he continues to explore the possibilities.

One tool that wasn’t given to me as part of the ideaLab but was handed to me from our publisher, Jim Williams, is a Echo SmartPen. I’ve put this in the hands of Chelsea Standard and Dexter Leader reporter Sean Dalton, who will take notes and record conversations on it, which will be automatically uploaded translated to text files on his computer. This should be a huge time saver for him as he manages his time covering two cities, six townships, two school districts, local events and writing features.

The iPhone is still in its box, but I have plans to see a friend tonight who has an iPhone to help me through the set up and become familiar with some of its features. The possibilities involving video, and editing and uploading from the scene excite me, and I can’t wait to share it with other reporters on staff.

So, back to the formal report. Here are my answers to the questions posed by Jon Cooper, vice president of editorial content for the Journal Register Co. and our ideaLab leader:

Goal: To incorporate technology into our jobs as reporters, editors and advertising representatives to achieve better efficiency, reader/customer engagement and interaction, and produce products rich in hyperlocal content relevant to people’s lives in a variety of formats. Our first project is a regional story on medical marijuana use in Michigan and the impact the new law that allows it has on local communities. Our first step was to shoot a video of our editorial meeting pitching the idea and this will be followed by a live chat with readers to find out what questions are weighing on their mind related to the issue and how they would like us to approach the story or how they can get involved. Next up, we will produce the story using our new technology, including video and audio, and incorporate as much crowdsourcing as possible, depending on the level of engagement.

Allies: My fellow ideaLabbers, staff and the community. I won’t hesitate to call on anyone who may have experience or knowledge about what we’re trying to achieve. To be successful, I will engage everyone I can who has an interest in this project and moving journalism forward.

Obstacles: I still need to work on getting the sports department on board. I was knocked down by the sports editor when I joined his meeting Aug. 26, offering up the Netbook. He saw no value in tweeting or posting notes on Facebook of quarterly scores or big plays from high school games or providing any kind of live coverage, saying that’s only worthwhile at the professional sports level. I’d like to have one of our ideaLab sports reporters talk to him in hopes of getting him to see the value.

Training needed: Since all of this is relatively new, I haven’t identified training needs. The first two steps are playing and experimenting, and that’s what we’re currently doing. I am sure training will be needed further into this project as I’d like to know more about the capabilities of Windows 7, as well as everything the iPhone and iPad have to offer, rather than just stumbling across random things. For now, the plan is for my own ideaLabHeritage group to play, experiment, learn and teach. The group is currently comprised of about a dozen people representing the newsroom, advertising, online and the community at large.

Resources needed: I can see the need already for Internet access, other than free WiFi on the iPad, as well as the camera connection kit.

Accomplishments: We shot our first video pitching our regional story on medical marijuana in the state of Michigan and the uncertainty and hesitation local governments are experiencing as dispensaries seek to set up shop and local leaders don’t have zoning and other issues worked out. The next step is a live chat set Sept. 9 to engage readers and ask them what kind of questions they want answered and what their thoughts are on the issues, and whether they want to help us cover the issue by gathering video, audio or man-on-the-street interviews. I feel I have the support of the newsroom and that’s a huge accomplishment. The plan is to put the tools in their hands and they seem interested. I’d like to see more enthusiasm, however, with each engaging me one-on-one in conversation about goals and their own ideas. Right now, it seems to be me pushing this. I’d like to see their curiosity piqued and a light in their eyes when they ponder the possibilities of this new technology and how it can help us do our jobs.

What you’ve taught: I’ve taught sports reporter Dave Merchant how to upload our eight front pages from sports to Scribd, grab the embed code and then upload the documents on our website a day before print as a teaser and incentive for our online readers to pick up a print copy. I do this for three of our publications’ front pages, and I plan to train the three other copy editors to do the same for their publications. I’ve also uploaded press releases and government documents. In addition, I’ve taught reporter Lisa Allmendinger how to send breaking news alerts and enter her sources’ e-mail in our Mail List at TownNews to build our online audience through our e-newsletter. She paid it forward by teaching copy editor Jana Miller. The plan is to have Jana teach someone and so forth until everyone has this knowledge and capability.

What you’ve learned: I’ve learned how to upload pdfs, including our pages for print and government documents, using Scribd to provide more content for our online readers; I’ve discovered a few applications using the iPad, including Documents To Go, which I’ve used while on the run, as well as FlipBoard and Pandora for fun. I need to explore the photo editing capabilities. I’ve also learned how to do phonecasts, or phlogs, using as one of our copy editors, Daniel Lai, has been incorporating this technology regularly in his coverage area. My goal is for everyone on staff to begin using this.

Metrics: In terms of metrics, I still need to figure this out, but since establishing this blog in mid-July, I’ve had 1,000 hits.

Narrative: Although it has only been a month and the tools have been trickling in, I feel I am making progress. Now that the tools are in the hands of the people who can test them in the field, I am excited to hear about the results, which will be posted on this blog. Our first project is under way as we’ve shot the video. I just need to edit it and get it online. Copy editor Austen Smith, who is leading the project, is checking into the technology to do the live chat. This will be our first and I am excited about the possibilities that will bring once we learn more about it. I think the key to being successful will be engagement. I need to continue to engage my staff and encourage them as we incorporate these tools into what we do.

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