Posted tagged ‘Eastern Michigan University’

Student studies ideaLab blog for class

December 28, 2011

An Eastern Michigan University graduate student contacted me recently about an independent study he had under professor Michael McVey, a contributor to this blog, in the School of Education. He was studying my ideaLabHeritage blog and wanted to ask me some questions via email as part of his class. You can imagine how stunned-yet-honored I felt that a student was studying my blog, and I was more than happy to answer his questions. I thought readers may be interested in this as his questions and my answers pretty much highlight my first year of ideaLab work and this blog.

Q: Tell me about the establishment of the blog. Where did the idea come from? How did you go about setting it up and decided what topics to cover?

A: I created the ideaLabHeritage blog in July 2010 after I was named to the Journal Register Company’s ideaLab. I wrote about it under the page “ideaLab forms.” At our first JRC ideaLab meeting in Philadelphia, board members encouraged every member of the ideaLab to set up a blog and Twitter account as I had. The type of topics to cover on my blog was a no-brainer as they had to be associated with my work in the ideaLab. Many of the posts are associated with learning different technologies and applying them to reporting. I decided right away that whatever work I did in the ideaLab should be written about and shared publicly as it would be beneficial to journalists and aspiring journalists alike, and would be a good way to gather feedback, as we try to figure out the future of media in a world becoming increasingly more technologically adept. I thought it was important to share my ideas, seek input and feedback, collaborate and partner. My initial idea was to create ideaLabHeritage, a local arm of the JRC ideaLab, made up of veteran journalists, student journalists, educators, IT professionals, newspaper advertising and production staff, as well as our audience in Washtenaw County, to brainstorm, innovate and execute projects exploring new forms of technology to help move journalism forward. I asked for volunteers and invited people who I thought might be interested in participating. What I found, however, was that my level of commitment was much stronger than the desire of those who expressed initial interest. The only volunteer to actively contribute has been Eastern Michigan University professor Michael McVey, who played a vital role in my first project, a historic walking tour podcast of downtown Saline, so in the spring I folded my staff into the group and asked each reporter to sign up for a technology tool to learn and teach.

Q: Have you been able to add any of the technology discussed in various posts into your newsroom? If so, how’s that going? How are your reporters utilizing the technology?

A: I still struggle to get reporters to embrace the technology we have learned. That’s partly because of a turnover in staff, as we have lost some journalists who have taken advantage of other career opportunities and, to be honest, others who “saw the writing on the wall” and didn’t want to evolve into multimedia journalists. Luckily, however, we hired an online coordinator, David Veselenak, in spring 2011, who has been helping to teach these new tools to staff, and has been leading the way in incorporating technology in our newsroom and encouraging others by leading by example. Some examples of our work as a staff include live Tweeting government meetings, creating a Storify to localize national topics, embedding Google maps, creating photo slideshows in Flickr and Capzles, using Dipity to create timelines, hosting live chats, and improved video quality that came after JRC training coupled with a tutorial for iMovie created by David. He has also conducted blogging workshops for the public and is in charge of recruiting community bloggers for our website. As of just a week ago, every reporter now has a professional Twitter account, in addition to each publication having one, to better leverage and engage our audience, and crowdsource stories. So, I feel as if we’re making progress, probably not at the rate of speed I would like, as we seem to take steps backward with turnover in staff. You probably read about some of my frustration last summer in my post “A reporter with today’s tools should use them.”

Q: I know your editor of a group of papers that belong to a larger group. Do you share any of the information gained from various conferences and other meetings about new technologies with editors from other publications? Talk a little bit about the reception things such as iMovie have gotten from other editors.

A: I have always been big on sharing. I think my desire to share with colleagues ideas and successes that I’ve had in the field, and open communication with company leaders led to my appointment to the ideaLab, as I was the only member who did not apply. On my blog, I have shared what I’ve learned at conferences and, most importantly, while I’ve been at conferences, I’ve “walked the walk,” putting these tech tools I ask reporters to use on the job to use by live tweeting and live blogging, and capturing audio using, the tool I’ve experimented with the most as a member of ideaLab. In addition, I’ll send a companywide email sharing my blog posts, and share links on Twitter and Facebook as many of my followers are fellow editors and reporters. Some people seem receptive and thank me, but, for the most part, no one responds. However, I closely watch the stats on my blog after I send an email with a link and I do see them climb, so I know they are checking it out. For example, today I posted “Using Google Voice for Journalism” and shortly after I sent a link to editors in our Michigan cluster of papers, I had 22 views. My best day was 264 views, the day I posted “A reporter with today’s tools should use them.” My total number of views since establishing the blog in July 2010 is 6,376. I’ve been asked by one of the executive editors in the Michigan group to create a toolbox incorporating definitions and tutorials of all these tech tools highlighted on my blog, and more found on the company intranet and explored by other ideaLab members, to serve as a resource companywide for editors and reporters. I’ve delegated this project to my online coordinator, and I am advocating for it to be open to the public. The key will be to get reporters and editors to actually think of using these tools to enhance their online storytelling, engage their audience and provide more visual storytelling, and then remind staff regularly that this resource exists.

Q: I am an avid user of Twitter. How do you feel about the impact the medium has had on journalism? I’m currently a sports writer. For sports reporters, it seems like you get better quotes from athletes – and not canned quotes – from reading their Twitter feeds. Do you see Twitter possibly ending the need for the face-to-face interview?

A: Twitter has had a tremendous impact on journalism and that impact will grow even more in the coming year, especially with tools like Storify to aggregate content, and as reporters learn its value as a crowdsourcing and audience engagement tool. I’ve been using Twitter as of late to seek input from our audience and local experts for our #whatsnextmi project, as well as a Twitter newswire, which I haven’t devoted the time I should to and probably will delegate to our political reporter, Amy Bell, for the 2012 election season. I will admit that I haven’t put the time into Twitter that I should and I haven’t used it conversationally, as we should, but rather to push out links in a rushed fashion after editing and then posting stories. I applaud you for understanding the value of Twitter and incorporating it in your everyday reporting. That really is the future. The shooting at Virginia Tech and the college newspaper’s reporting on the incident, sourcing through Twitter and posting frequent updates on the social media site, is a testament to that.

Q: How mobile are the reporters in your newsroom? I agree with you on tablets beings the new “it” thing. Is there a way you could equip all your reporters with tablets so they could submit breaking news briefs and information via Twitter without needing to be in the office?

A: All of my reporters have Netbooks, with Verizon Wireless built in, so they can post live from the field and engage our audience on social media. Our reporters are completely mobile. Frankly, I am surprised that all reporters at every media outlet aren’t. This isn’t the future; it’s now.

Q: How do readers of your publications feel about the blog? Do they see it as an inside look at the future of journalism?

A: I haven’t had a lot of feedback from readers of the eight publications I am involved with on my ideaLabHeritage blog. I try to engage them by posting links on each publication’s Facebook page and Twitter account. The norm seems to be that if they’re satisfied, they don’t comment or communicate. I see that reflected in the low number of comments posted on our online stories and on our Facebook pages. I am hoping this means they’re either content or busy, and not disconnected or disinterested. They do engage us when they’re not happy, such as the reaction we received over our decision to publish a photo of a local wingwalker as he fell to his death. In that instance, as a protest was launched by the victim’s sister on our Manchester Facebook page, we decided to remove the photo and held a live chat to explain why. Ninety-nine percent of the audience from that chat had a background in journalism with no connection to the community. Again, it speaks to the fact that we just don’t have a lot of audience interaction when readers are satisfied. We’re actively trying to build better audience engagement through social media and by forming a Community Media Lab.

Q: Do you ever take any of the posts from the blog and use them as editorials on your opinion page or is the blog strictly online?

A: I do repurpose some of the content from my blog for print when it makes sense. For the most part, though, I don’t because I incorporate a lot of hyperlinks, which, of course, are lost on print readers. I think the print reader, right now, is a different breed than our online reader. Our web readers have higher expectations. They want linked source material, database-driven content, rich visual storytelling, info graphics, timelines, maps, audio, video and they want to connect, interact, have a conversation, and that’s all fun and exciting stuff for me. Very soon, I think everyone will get there. Print will be converted to online and everyone will be getting their news on a mobile platform.

Feel free to add any additional thoughts or comments.

Additional comments:
Recently, I restructured our newsroom so that we are better serving our online readers. We have a beat structure in which we localize news that affects all of the communities in our coverage areas, rather than having one reporter as the sole person responsible for a defined area, splitting reporting time between two communities. This will help increase our page views and drive more traffic to as all of our content will attract a wider audience, but still retain local relevance and appeal. Lastly, if you’re interested in being part of ideaLabHeritage, our Community Media Lab or writing a blog that we host on our website, I’d be happy to discuss the possibilities with you in person. We’re always looking for more contributors.

Learning how to create podcasts

October 31, 2010

Reporter Gerald LaVaute edits audio for a podcast.

My ideaLab report for October is dedicated to podcasting, which I and my staff have learned to do with instruction from Eastern Michigan University College of Education assistant professor Michael McVey. The Saline resident joined me Oct. 20 at Marble Park Cemetery in Milan, where we gathered audio clips at a Trick-or-Treat Tour put on by the historical society. Members of the group, dressed in period clothing, shared first-person stories of some of the local leaders and people of significance buried there.

While we used McVey’s fancy audio recorder to gather the audio, it can be done with the iPhone, as well, using “utilities” and “voice memos.” The sound quality won’t be as clear, but it will work. The phone is actually quite functional because you can also shoot photos for a slide show to accompany the podcast, as well as video to complement your written piece.

On Oct. 28, I invited my staff over to my home for podcast training. Everyone either brought a laptop or used a couple that I provided. First they had to download free software at Each reporter was given a clip, such as local historian Martha Churchill playing the role of the wife of Milan’s first village president, Nathan C. Putnam, and Lance Smith portraying the town’s late police chief and historian, Warren Hale.

The training went well, as McVey gave individual attention to each reporter, helping them eliminate ambient noise and edit the clips down to under three minutes. They were then converted from .wav files to mp3 using audacity editing software. I will finish the project by embedding the mp3 files and photos in a story and uploading it to our website using our content management system, which allows one to embed mp3s under the “media” section, where photos are uploaded.

Eastern Michigan University professor Michael McVey helps reporter Jodie Mason edit audio for a podcast.

With that training under our belts, November will see us move on to a more complicated but socially and historically significant project as McVey and I work with the Saline Area Historical Society to record the histories of 10 local historic sites and share the stories behind them. I will shoot current-day photos and the historical society will give us older photos to use as part of a slide show to accompany the audio. My goal is to have this project completed no later than spring. I’d like to have a drop-down menu on our website or a button that can be clicked on, where the podcasts can live forever. After Saline, I’d like to add 10 historically significant sites in Milan, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Belleville, which are all part of our coverage area, collected by the reporters covering each community.

Here’s my official ideaLab report for October:

Goal: The goal of this month’s project was to explore podcasting and incorporate it into our news gathering tool belt. I’d like to see our reporters either use audio recording equipment or the ideaLab iPhone to gather audio to incorporate with their news stories online, just as they would gather video or photos to accompany their articles. Podcasting can also stand on its own or may be incorporated in a photo slide show.

Allies: My ally on this project, hands down, was professor Michael McVey. He has been very generous with his time, meeting me several times at a coffee shop to go over the details and logistics, and helping to brainstorm the entire project. To learn more about podcasting, check out his podcast on podcasting called “The Considerate Podcast,” which can be downloaded from iTunesU. He also offers tips on the College of Education’s website.

Obstacles: Obstacles would be resources. We don’t have any audio recording equipment, but we do have the ideaLab iPhone until next summer. I plan to explore the possibility of purchasing at least one digital recorder for staff to use.

Training Needed: We had our initial training with McVey and can do some follow up with him, if necessary, but the audacity software appears to be easy to figure out and you can download a manual.

Resources Needed: Resources needed would be a quality audio recorder with a microphone and head set with microphone for editing.

Accomplishments: The accomplishment is the training we received and using viable audio that we can incorporate online. The podcasting project from the graveyard tour, once I get in posted online, will be a nice accomplishment, with the crown jewel being a historic walking tour podcast series that we create for each community.

What you’ve taught: With the help of professor Michael McVey, we’ve taught reporters how to edit audio and convert it into mp3 files for upload on our website to accompany articles or photo slide shows.

What you’ve learned: I’ve learned how to gather audio on a recorder and the iPhone, edit it using free software from, and upload it to our website.

Metrics: We won’t have metrics until I get the audio online and see what the response is from readers. Of course, we will promote it on social networking sites and in print.

Narrative: My narrative is above.

Sharing local history through podcasts

September 21, 2010

A chat at a local coffeehouse last week with one of my volunteers working on ideaLab Heritage has netted an exciting project that can be incorporated into my ideaLab participation with the Journal Register Co.

Since my goal is to get technology in the hands of staff and have them incorporate the latest and greatest tools available in their reporting, this project fits nicely.

Michael McVey, a Saline resident and assistant professor in the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University, and I were chatting and I knew he produced podcasts, so I asked him about them.

Initially, I wondered if there was any value in having one of my reporters read individual stories for a podcast we could make available on our website so people could listen to the news rather than reading it. I thought they could click on the daily headlines and opt to click on a podcast report rather than read the story online. This thought was inspired by my daily workouts at Liberty Athletic Club in Ann Arbor, where I see a handful of people trying to read the newspaper while running the treadmill or exercising on the stationary bikes.

McVey, however, said he didn’t think it would catch on based on his own experience, but maybe we could try something else. That’s when we came up with the idea of historic walking tours of the Saline and Milan communities. The idea is to feature a historic building or deceased mover and shaker every week or two, with two- to three-minute-long stories shared by a member of the local historical society.

We would build on our podcasts over the years and end up with a wonderful archive of each community’s history featured in a drop-down menu on our home page.

If this catches on and enough interest is generated, my staff and I could tackle all eight communities that we cover.

I still have a lot to learn about podcasts, as I know nothing at this point, but McVey said we could incorporate photos and video. He sent me some links to his work, as well as a link to a podcast on podcasting, and we talked a little about equipment, which is really just a good microphone.

We also talked about getting all of the stakeholders involved, from training staff to engaging the historical societies and local libraries.

We hope to start this project in October and Milan has offered a great opportunity. The historical society will be leading a tour of Marble Park Cemetery with a talk on deceased prominent residents at dusk Oct. 20.

My next move is to reach out to both historical societies, check out McVey’s podcast on podcasting and look into buying a microphone. My next meeting with him is Sept. 30, so I’ll update you on my progress at that time.

In the meantime, I welcome your comments and input. Do you have any experience with podcasting?