Posted tagged ‘Heritage Newspapers’

A reporter using the iPad

January 3, 2011

Note: Another post by contributor Jodie Mason.

I was definitely one of those people who snubbed the idea of the iPad at first. The idea of spending $500 on a device that can’t print like a laptop or take photos like my phone seemed insane to me.

But after spending about two weeks with the iPad, I can honestly say that is no longer the case.
First off, the start-up time can’t be beat. Unlike my laptop, which seems to get slower by the day, I can be online in seconds, checking my e-mail or using the various applications.

One thing in particular that I enjoyed about the iPad was the large screen. I am an owner of the Evo 4G, and with its 4-inch screen, it was an improvement from my previous phone. But I still have issues reading downloaded attachments and checking to see if my photos looked good.

With the iPad, I can see everything on a large screen, and it’s much easier to type on the larger keypad. I am still getting comfortable with typing on a touch screen, but I found that turning it sideways helped.

I look forward to the opportunity to use applications like CoverItLive to live-blog events and discover other applications that will allow me the opportunity to appeal to a wider readership.

Overall, the iPad is a welcomed tool for my work.

Google Voice and Experimentation

November 28, 2010

November has been a month of exploration and experimentation, but not as productive in terms of learning and teaching as past months in the ideaLab.

I don’t know if I can say attending a talk and book signing by former Newsweek Bureau Chief, AP correspondent and CNN reporter Tony Collings can be part of my official ideaLab endeavors, but I’ll say it was because he did share some insights about how the industry has changed for the good and bad. His talk at the University of Michigan’s Hatcher Graduate Library was interesting and insightful. I’ve embedded a couple of video clips.

I’ve also uploaded three podcasts from a cemetery tour in Milan in October, and our web department added a drop-down menu under the “News” category for podcasts. Every time I add a podcast, I include the label “podcast” in tags, so it will live there, on the website, permanently. We will continue to populate the category as we embark on our podcasting project in cooperation with the Saline Area Historical Society, as mentioned in a previous ideaLabHeritage post. Here’s the link to the podcasts.

Also this month, and to be honest, it’s something I just started exploring this morning, is Google Voice. If you haven’t checked out its capabilities yet, I suggest you do. It has potential, but I am still working out the bugs. My idea was to create a drop-down category on our website called Community Voices, and then posting a question or topic to discuss each month. For December — if I can work out the bugs — I’d like the category to be Holiday Messages. The idea is to have readers call my Google Voice number, state their name and share their holiday message. Google will translate that into a text file that can be shared online.

Sounds great, right? Some newspapers have a speak-out column in which they encourage readers to leave voicemail messages, instead of writing a letter to the editor, and then print those. This could serve the same purpose and provide an automatic transcript. However, the translation to text is not very good. For example, I read the following, word for word, over my phone after calling the Google Voice number that I set up:

Heritage Newspapers is putting together a Community Voices project. Every month, we will ask members of the community to call a Google Voice number and leave a recording on a particular topic or discussion point. The first category will be Holiday Wishes. Call 734-531-8774 and leave a holiday message for the community. This could be a season’s greeting, a statement of what you’re most grateful for this year or your wish for the new year. The messages will be shared on our website for everyone to hear. We will add a new category each month. So, check back on our website to view the category and then call 734-531-8774 to share your thoughts on the topic at hand. Our hope is to share the many voices that make a community and bring the community together on a particular topic.

The translation from Google was:
Hearage newspapers as putting together a community voices project. Every Month. We will ask members of the 288 to call it google voice number to leave a recording on a particular topic of discussion. The first category will be holiday wishes, call (734) 531-8774 and leave a holiday message for the community. This could be a seasons greeting. A statement of what you are most grateful for this year, or your wish for the new year. The message is will be shared on our website for everyone to here. We were adding new category each month. So check back on our website to view the category and then. Call (734) 531-8774 To share your thoughts on the topic at hand. Our hope is to share the many voices that make each me and bring that you need any together on a particular topic.

I was also hoping that Google Voice could provide a mp3 file of the voicemail message and we could share those files online as the responses. I still need to read up on it, but I don’t think that capability exists. If you know of another way of achieving this goal, please let me know.
https://clients4.google.com/voice/embed/webCallButton

Using the Echo Smartpen a time saver

November 4, 2010

Due to technical problems, reporter Jodie Mason has asked me to post this on her behalf.

By Jodie Mason, A2 Journal

In the beginning of October, I was given the Echo Smartpen, a pen device that contains a microphone, speaker and time display. Once the cap is removed, the pen is turned on with a small button at the top. After that, you hit the “record” button at the bottom of a binder filled with electronic paper and you’re recording, both on the paper and voice.

After you’ve hit “stop,” you simply tap the paper and the recording syncs with the writing on the paper. The pen also includes software that can be easily downloaded to the computer. This software adds the voice recording to the computer where it can be saved and edited, as well as digitally transfers all writing to the screen.

Goal: When I received the Echo Smartpen to test out, I was curious to get started. My first thought was also a worry: How is an omni-directional microphone on a tiny little pen going to pick up only what I need.

Training: The learning curve with the Smartpen was very short. Once I changed the settings to left-handed, it required only removing the cap from the pen and hitting record. I found that as I went on, I could reduce background noise by pointing the microphone where I needed. Only once did I have to physically shield the mic from surrounding noise.

Resources: Everything is included, no additional resources are needed. Simply plug the pen into the computer with the included USB attachment and the software downloads automatically.

Obstacles: The Echo Smartpen is best used when during an interview or at a panel discussion. I found it difficult to use at City Council meetings due to the nature of the space, voices carry echo and there’s usually a lot of scuffling. Also, if you’re heavy-handed at writing, you can sometimes hear the sound the pen on the paper.

The Echo Smartpen

Accomplishment: The Echo Smartpen has become a necessary tool in my reporting arsenal. It completely eliminates the need for a hand-held voice recorder, and since it comes with its own computer software, the ease of loading the information to the computer and therefore into the article makes this one of the best tools I have ever used.

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 audacity.sourceforge.net. 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 audacity.sourceforge.net, 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.

Shooting video on the iPhone

September 13, 2010

I’ve had my iPhone, one of my ideaLab tools, for a week or so and I’ve shot my first video on it and uploaded it to our website. It was a little more complicated than I thought and it took some counsel from my friend and Mac user Debbie Michaels, as well as Heritage Newspapers’ online editor, Jason Alley.

Shooting the video was easy. I then purchased iMovie from the iTunes store and downloaded it. Next, I edited the video on the iPhone and then exported it. The problem was I didn’t know where it exported to. Debbie helped me find it under “Photos” on my phone. I then tried to e-mail it to myself so I could convert it to the size needed for our website, but the file was too big. That’s where Jason came in to save the day. He recommended I use transferbigfiles.com. I tried doing it from the iPhone by going to the website, but that didn’t work because when I tried to select file, nothing would happen. It took me a few minutes to figure out I needed to download the app. Thank goodness it was a freebie. So, I did that, set up an account and then retrieved the file from my laptop so I could convert it and put it online.

I hope this helps anyone else who may be experimenting with video.

ideaLab Report

September 3, 2010

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 ipadio.com 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.

Rewards come to those who innovate

August 20, 2010


I had the pleasure on Thursday of rewarding one of our employees with Heritage Newspapers’ STAR Award. I nominated him, in particular, for his efforts to introduce ipadio, which allows reporters to record audio using their telephones and incorporate it in their stories online. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I encourage you to visit the ipadio website.

Here’s what I read during the presentation by Publisher Jim Williams at our office in Saline.

Daniel Lai, copy editor for The Chelsea Standard and The Dexter Leader, has been awarded Heritage Newspapers’ STAR Award for his dedication to the communities he serves and for taking the initiative to explore new technology to help the newspapers better serve readers. Daniel discovered ipadio, which allows reporters to broadcast from a phone to the Internet. He has incorporated these “phlogs” in news stories, complementing his reporting along with videos, and developed a teaser to promote the audio interviews in print. He plans to train all of the staff at Heritage Newspapers’ Western Region group in use of the technology.

Daniel’s hard work paid off for him last December when he was promoted to his current position, in charge of two newspapers in the Heritage group, after serving as an editor of The Manchester Enterprise for 2 1/2 years. He has continued to show his strong commitment to the newspapers by not only editing all of the content for both publications, paginating pages, uploading the web content, blogging and promoting the newspapers on social media sites, but also covering council meetings, writing features and shooting local video, along with posting phlogs.

There’s no doubt Daniel’s use of technology, which included covering President Obama’s speech at the University of Michigan graduation earlier this year, in which he tweeted throughout the event and maintained a mobile blog, will continue to set an example for the entire company and provide inspiration as the company moves forward with its digital first philosophy.

There’s also video.

By the way, Daniel got a $100 gift card and a plaque.