Posted tagged ‘ideaLab’

Working on a data journalism team reignites spark for reporting

December 17, 2013

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 Media Lab role leads to talk in Milan

September 23, 2013

One of the more enjoyable aspects of my job as director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab is that I get to travel to communities across Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to present information about the media lab and the resources we offer. I call it a media lab roadshow, and I have visited Saline, Chelsea and Dexter in the last few months presenting to chamber of commerce members and at senior centers.

On Sept. 13, I had the honor of returning to Milan, where I had served as editor of The Milan News-Leader from July 2006 to February 2013, while also serving as the managing editor of Heritage Media’s western Washtenaw County publications — seven in all, plus The View in Wayne County — and the website Heritage.com. I had to book it about five months out, but it was worth the wait. More than 30 people attended, and they seemed genuinely interested in the free services the lab has to offer through 21st Century Media, managed by Digital First Media, and partnering with The Milan News-Leader to contribute local news.

Since my intern returned to school last month, it was a little bit more of a challenge to shoot video of my presentation while presenting. I set up a Flip video camera at a table behind me and tried to judge from afar whether I was in the frame, and I was a little off. Still, I created a video of the talk and shared it on the media lab’s YouTube channel.

I also shot a Tout before the presentation started so I could use it as an example during my presentation of social media and new media tools that are available to report in real time.

I fed the Tout into my RebelMouse page, which I incorporated in my presentation and told business owners it was something they should all have, if they are active on social media.

In addition, I took a photo of the members getting their breakfast before my talk and included it in a Tweet before my presentation started, as another way of showcasing the greatness of social media.

There were three or four reporters in the audience, and Joyce Ervin, who is a freelance writer, shared with me this morning the article she wrote for Heritage.com and The Milan News-Leader. It’s only fitting that she shared with me the link to the piece online by posting it on my Facbook page, as part of my talk was about reaching your audience on the platform they feel comfortable with and are using. Joyce knows I am active on Facebook and would see her post there before picking up a print copy.

JoyceFBPost

I received some really nice feedback after the presentation and the real test of my success came just a few hours later after I shared the link to my PowerPoint with those who asked for it. Susan Sheeley, a former elementary school counselor who just started her own counseling practice, Connections Counseling and Consulting, booked an appointment to learn more about using social media to promote her business. She had started a Facebook page, and we added her professional photo and cover photo, as well as a description. I helped her start a Twitter account and linked her Facebook and Twitter. And I also showed her how to create a meme, so she could share inspirational sayings or give advice using a new media tool.

SusanFB

It was fun working with Susan, and getting her started with her first Tweet,

meme and Facebook post promoting her website. I also encouraged her to check out Tout and possibly set up a YouTube channel to dispense some advice, while getting people comfortable with her style and approach as a counselor.

I look forward to helping more people from Milan and beyond who are struggling with social media or new media, and just need a little boost or help to get them going. It’s a bonus when they are as appreciative as Susan in her tweet.

ideaLab goal morphs into job at Journal Register Company Michigan Group

February 19, 2013

MichelleAtBloggingStation

My cubicle at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab.


My cubicle at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab.

When I was named to the Journal Register Company’s ideaLab in summer 2010, I had no idea that the goal I chose would morph into a full-time job, but it has and I am really excited about the fun in store for me.

As managing editor of Heritage Media-West, my ideaLab goal was to “incentive coworkers to learn new technologies and understand the value of digital. Train coworkers to utilize new tools by showcasing the strength and potential of each offering.”

My new job title is director of community engagement and editorial training for Journal Register Company’s Michigan Group. And among my responsibilities is to head up training efforts in video, developing partnerships, pertinent online tools and SEO for all of Michigan.

This is in addition to leading the community engagement team across the state, running the Community Media Lab, which has been renamed the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, as well as directing blogger recruitment and training across the state, working with editors to recruit citizen journalists, developing a regular live chat schedule for all of our websites, and monitoring and training staff in social media usage.

Had this position, which is newly created, been available 2 1/2 years ago, I wouldn’t have even been considered for it. It’s only through my ideaLab training, networking, collaboration and individual efforts have I become versed in everything that is now expected of me in my new role.

In fact, I was so green to the digital world in the summer of 2010 that I didn’t even know how iTunes worked and what an app was for a smartphone. But still upper management saw that I had an enthusiasm, curiosity and passion for moving journalism forward in a digital world. And through regular conference calls with our leader, Jon Cooper, and his team, members of the ideaLab were encouraged to play, experiment and make use of digital tools — from Storify, Dipity and uStream to CoverItLive, GeoCommons and Many Eyes — in our storytelling. We were equipped with a Netbook, smartphone and iPad, and given 10 hours a week to do our own thing. This led to many discoveries for me and a passion for visual storytelling.

Last April, my ideaLab project — which had focused on podcasting and the phonecasting application ipadio.com and culminating with a virtual walking tour of Saline historic sites — changed direction as I launched the Community Media Lab in Ypsilanti, Mich. A month or so later, I put forth a proposal and my lab was among a dozen across the United States approved for funding by Digital First Media, the company that manages JRC and Media News Group, as part of an effort to open media labs throughout our footprint.

I initially set up the lab so that my staff of reporters would work four-hour shifts and I would put in a full day every week, working one-on-one with members of the community interested in becoming community contributors, blogging partners, or simply wanted to become more familiar with social media, digital photography, or wanted to create video or podcasts.

In the last 10 months, we have helped senior citizens and businesses set up Facebook pages, chambers of commerce, nonprofits and political organizations establish a presence on Twitter, and helped create a YouTube account for a local business to showcases its product demonstration videos. We have taught individuals associated with nonprofits and businesses how to write news releases using AP Style, and helped students and local writers set up blogs so they could partner with us at Heritage.com.

We also have hosted a slew of workshops on marketing, social media, editing audio, citizen journalism, the Freedom of Information Act, news writing, photography, video, column writing, Google Drive for collaboration and online safety, and these workshops have been livestreamed via video with a simultaneous live chat with our audience. Workshop leaders have included myself and staff from across our company, as well as professors from Eastern Michigan University, and marketing, public relations and social media experts.

In my new role, we are expanding the lab and hoping to attract participants from across Southeast Michigan. The goal is to provide a learning-based environment, as well as a vehicle for the community to document and chronicle the important events that will shape their history, using our newspapers and websites, if they choose. The lab is a community service and no one is charged for our help or for entrance to a workshop. It’s also open to anyone, with no obligation to contribute to our publications. Someone could walk in and sit down at our blogging station, check email and work on a personal photo slideshow or video, with or without our help, if he or she wanted.

I will be publicizing our efforts on all of our social media accounts, including The Oakland Press, The Macomb Daily, The Morning Sun, Heritage Media, Advisor Source and The Voice newspapers. Our workshops have attracted up to a dozen people at times and a small online audience, but I would like to double or even triple that number as the year progresses.

My hope is to encourage members of each community we cover to get involved in sharing the news, much like they do on social media. I also have a goal of recruiting 100 blogging partners across Michigan.

When I first started as a reporter in 1992 in Dexter, Mich., educators, parents, local business owners, church leaders and volunteers with nonprofits wrote news releases and shared photographs with The Dexter Leader about every facet of the community. This supplemented my local reporting of city government, the schools and police news, as I was the lone reporter for the newspaper. Dexter had an actively engaged community who took pride in their town and wanted to share news about it. We see this today in the communities we cover, but more so on Facebook and Twitter because of the immediacy and convenience factors. My goal is to re-establish these relationships and develop more news-sharing partnerships. Anyone can start a blog, Twitter account or launch a Facebook page, but they won’t have the same reach — online and in print — that we do in our communities.

So, why not take advantage of that? I think the key is letting people know that we want them to think of us when they hear of breaking news or a touching story in their neighborhood or school. We invite you to share your own story or guest column; take a photograph while cleaning up debris after a spring storm; share video of the winning shot in the varsity basketball game; create a Storify compilation of local chatter on Twitter about the mayor’s State of the City address; create a timeline of the community’s 150 years; create a map pinpointing all of the community’s landmarks; or hold a live chat on an issue impacting your community.

Contact me and I’ll walk you through the process, help you learn a digital tool to achieve your goal and connect you with the local editor who will share your contribution. Let’s work together and build community. Message me on Twitter.

Giving back to the Heritage Community Media Lab in Ypsilanti

December 16, 2012

As we end 2012 and I reflect on the successes of my ideaLab project, the Heritage Community Media Lab, what I am most proud of is the relationship we’ve had with a few regulars to our lab and their efforts to give back to us for helping them learn new media skills.

Michelle Rogers, managing editor of Heritage Media West, leads a workshop at the Community Media Lab.

Michelle Rogers, managing editor of Heritage Media West, leads a workshop at the Community Media Lab.

Chris Wechner, director of marketing for The Ultimate Analyst, had this video created and posted on YouTube by someone on his team as a way of giving back to the lab. The video is an amazing promotional tool. Chris has come in for workshops on writing news releases and contributing content in visually interesting ways, and has received individual, one-on-one instruction from several Heritage Media-West staff members working shifts at the Community Media Lab.

I have found Chris to be a strong supporter of the lab who wants to give back just as much as he takes. He has helped promote our workshops with a couple of blog posts. Here’s one post on his partner’s blog, ActiveRain. Chris also wrote a post after attending my workshop on his Michigan Marketer blog.

Bob Cummings, a community blogging partner with Heritage.com, who writes the blog “A Look at Spirituality and Health,” is also a frequent visitor to the Community Media Lab who gives back regularly. Bob has written very supportive email messages about our efforts, and expresses his gratitude for the help he receives when he visits, as well as the value of our workshops.

Joe Baublis, who is an active commenter on our coverage at Heritage.com who has also written guest columns and letters to the editor, attended my workshop, “Contributing Community Content in Visually Interesting Ways,” and created this amazing video posted on YouTube.

I love that all three gentleman have so much enthusiasm for the Community Media Lab that they want to give back and support our efforts. It’s rare to find that, and to have three people with the motivation to do so is incredible to me. And I am so grateful.

While their efforts have been extraordinary to me, the time workshop volunteers have donated to the Community Media Lab has impressed me, as well. Sarah Rigg, a freelance journalist and editor, has taught two workshops and just signed on to teach a third; Eastern Michigan University professors Michael McVey, Carol Schlagheck and Toni S. Jones; Eastern Echo adviser Kevin Devine; social media maven Leslie McGraw; Oakland Press photographer and videographer Doug Bauman; Oakland Press Community Engagement Editor Monica Drake; Arborwiki Editor Edward Vielmetti; Adrian College journalism professor Renee Collins; public relations professional Char Luttrell; and Ypsilanti Courier Editor Krista Gjestland have all led workshops at the lab since our launch earlier this spring. Topics have ranged from editing audio in Audacity, writing news releases, AP Style and Google Docs to Citizen Journalists and FOIA, column and narrative writing, blogging and photography.

We have several workshops set for January and February, and our friend Chris Wechner is teaching a couple. Sign up on our Facebook events page, and come check out the Community Media Lab in Ypsilanti.

A discussion takes place at the Community Media Lab workshop, “Contributing Community Content in Visually Interesting Ways,” Dec. 12, 2012.

A Community Media Lab takes off with much promise

July 11, 2012


Earlier this year, Journal Register Company, parent company of Heritage Media, managed by Digital First Media, solicited proposals from staffers interested in starting a Community Media Lab. I jumped on it right away, with input from my staff, and put together a proposal with a modest $4,100 start-up budget and monthly operating expenses of $290. In May, Steve Buttry, our community engagement and social media director, announced our newsroom, which covers eight communities and is based in Saline, Mich., was one of 12 approved this year for funding.

While it was an honor to be one of the chosen ones, which means we will get new equipment and technology to make it easier, I had actually decided in March that opening a Community Media Lab would be my latest ideaLab project, and the lab unofficially opened in April at 215 W. Michigan Ave. at the SPARK-East building in Ypsilanti. SPARK is a business incubator that agreed to allow us to host our lab in the lobby of the building, where we’ve set up a blogging station and dedicated Mac, donated by the Eastern Michigan University student-run newspaper, The Eastern Echo, for video editing. There is also classroom space for presentations, with a projector and screen.

I have been guilty of not writing more about this endeavor on my ideaLabHeritage blog because I’ve been quite overwhelmed managing the Community Media Lab, while also managing eight weekly newspapers and the website Heritage.com. Not only did I launch a blog on WordPress to write about our work in the lab, but also a Twitter account and Facebook page. Updating those social media accounts regularly, with help from my staff, while also hosting workshops and helping people in the lab, has kept me busy.

In the last several months, we have hosted five workshops, all led by professionals in the communities we serve and promoted using events pages on Facebook, as well as briefs in print. Freelance writer/copy editor Sarah Rigg led our first workshop May 23 with “What is AP style and why should I care about it;” Char Luttrell, who works in public relations at Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan, led “Working with the news media” May 31; Leslie McGraw, a local blogger, presented “Integrating social media into your professional development” June 8; Renee Collins, a journalism professor at Adrian College, led “Column and narrative writing” June 11; and Kristin Judge, a former county commissioner who speaks on Internet safety issues, moderated “Online Safety” June 27. We used CoverItLive to solicit audience feedback on their presentations and most were shared using the Heritage Community Media Lab channel on UStream for live video and then archived. Their presentations, whether Word documents or PowerPoints, were shared with our online audience using an embed code generated through Scribd.com.

We’ve had between two and 10 people attend in person and an online audience of a couple dozen. My goal is to increase participation and engagement.

Upcoming workshops will feature Eastern Michigan University professor Michael McVey, who will teach participants how to edit audio using the free download Audacity July 18; EMU professor Toni S. Jones will present “Creating docs in Goole Docs” Aug. 3; Arborwiki editor Edward Vielmetti will lead a workshop on creating a city wiki Aug. 16; and Carol Schlagheck, a journalism professor at EMU, will present “Citizen Journalists and FOIA” Aug. 30.

The Educational Media and Technology Department at EMU, as well as Schlagheck and her colleagues and Kevin Devine, adviser to The Eastern Echo, have thrown their support behind the Community Media Lab. They’ve all offered to lead workshops and help spread the word about our efforts.

My staff has also supported the effort. We have a journalist or editor at the Community Media Lab between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with everyone on the news staff working three- to seven-hour shifts. While they are there, they either work with individuals who stop by for help in setting up a social media account, edit a video or learn how to write a press release, for example, or they explore new digital storytelling tools or work on their own content for our newspapers and website. Each is asked to post to the Community Media Lab blog after a shift. Some of our efforts have included helping students in Ypsilanti set up blogs, working with nonprofits to establish a presence on social media and helping a local business owner write a press release about an accomplishment. We’re also available to listen to story ideas from local residents or take suggestions on how we can do a better job covering the news in the community.

While I think we’ve accomplished a lot in the last few months, I feel there is so much work left to do. Beyond hosting workshops, training community contributors and offering our services to the public in general, my Community Media Lab proposal called for recruiting student contributors, community bloggers, photographers, podcasters and videographers. I’d like to establish social media teams, interactive media teams and BlogTalk Radio hosts and share the content on our website. My goal is to enrich our community content online and in print by bringing the outside in the newsroom, so to speak.

I’d love to see more community contributions. While I was a reporter and later editor of The Chelsea Standard and The Dexter Leader, from 1992 to 2006, I enjoyed a close relationship with community members who were actively involved in the newspapers. Teachers sent photographs of students with information about school activities, local service clubs and churches submitted press releases about their upcoming events and community dinners, and readers wrote letters to the editor and guest columns sharing their voices with their neighbors.

I think back to before my time as a journalist and editor, when community newspapers would publish a paragraph on who in town had spotted the first robin of spring or which neighbor was visiting family out of state, and I’d like to see our audience share more of themselves like earlier generations did. Understanding our society has changed and is much more tech savvy, I imagine instead of the first robin of spring, we could view a video of a school classroom’s visit to the Detroit Zoo. Instead of reading about someone’s trip to visit family out of town, we could read a blog about a local resident working in a Third World country as part of the Peace Corps. Someone who attended the Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade could upload all of their photos from the parade into Flickr and generate a photo slideshow, or produce a video to share with our readers by just sending us the embed code.

There are so many possibilities for our readers to get involved and contribute, and I am excited to offer the Community Media Lab as a training facility for those who want to contribute, but may not know how or need to learn new skills.

And while sharing your passions with us — whether it’s photography, video, podcasting, creating digital cartoons or writing — may not be your thing, we’re still interested in helping you in the Community Media Lab. It’s a learning environment and we are there to teach and assist you. Heck, maybe you can teach us something or we can explore a new digital tool together. We can all learn something in the Community Media Lab. Stop by and see us or check out one of our workshops online. If you have any ideas of how we can help the community further, whether it’s bringing in specific speakers or sponsoring a photography club, we want to hear from you. Email communitymedialab@heritage.com.

Covering a tornado while thinking digital first

March 23, 2012

ImageMy staff has been tested over the last week and passed with flying colors.

When a tornado struck Dexter, a small town west of Ann Arbor, Mich., March 15, my reporters’ and editors’ digital storytelling skills, community engagement efforts and digital first mindset, which they’ve been building on for the last couple of years, were tested as they covered the devastation, emergency response, community reaction, cleanup and healing as the community pulled together to overcome.

As a group of weekly publications in print, it has been an ongoing challenge to get our audience to realize we’re now a daily online. I think the tragedy of the tornado served as a reminder to readers that they don’t have to wait until Thursday to get their local news, and we were happy to oblige, providing breaking news coverage, from news stories, Storify compilations, photo galleries and videos to Tweets and Facebook posts, and SMS texts to email alerts.

Our coverage started at 5:16 p.m. March 15 as online coordinator David Veselenak sent a SMS text message to readers signed up for alerts that the National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Washtenaw County. This was followed by another text message at 5:42 p.m. that a funnel cloud had been spotted near Dexter. About a half-hour later, I received a phone call from David that he was en route to Dexter as a tornado had struck. I was on my way to the Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner to shoot video of the program and honorees, and my phone battery was just about to die. I asked David if he needed help, and he said he and Dexter Leader Editor Erica McClain were in contact and had it covered.

Still, while eating dinner and hearing from state Rep. Mark Ouimet that the car wash and Laundromat in Dexter were wiped out, I felt that I had to help with the coverage. So, I left and headed for downtown Dexter, filming uprooted trees, debris, traffic backups and police blockades while I found a place to park. I was able to speak to a Michigan State Police trooper directing traffic and then drove to Dexter High School, where a command center had been established, and interviewed the community engagement officer for the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, schools superintendent and village president. Since I didn’t have a way to communicate with David and Erica, I decided to return to our office in Saline at about 9:30 p.m., put together my video and posted it on our website, confident my reporters were taking care of the news story and communicating with our audience via social media. My video loaded just before midnight, I shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and then drove home to charge my phone — and get some sleep. Little did I know at that time all of the efforts my staff had made.

Erica, who had turned on the Radio Reference scanner the night of the tornado for updates, grabbed the now-famous video from YouTube that an Ann Arbor resident shot of the tornado in Hudson Mills Metropark and she aggregated it to our website while staying in communication with David in the field. As David was en route to Dexter, Erica started making calls to dispatch and the fire department to verify information from over the scanner. She pieced together a story, adding information as she heard it and updating our audience on Facebook. With David’s eyewitness accounts, Erica added his byline to the story. Sheriff’s Community Engagement Officer Derrick Jackson released some information in a press release, which reporter Ben Baird added to the story. Erica updated Facebook and the story into the evening as more information was released and she answered readers’ questions on Facebook.
 
Also that night, reporter Amy Bell, who met David at McDonald’s in nearby Chelsea, aggregated content, posted on social media and searched for user-generated videos on YouTube. Reporter Sean Dalton was also in Dexter shooting video, conducting interviews and collecting information, funneling it to Erica over the phone. He checked out the temporary shelter at Mill Creek Middle School and the tornado-ravaged Huron Farms subdivision. Erica kept the scanner on until about midnight concerned about injury or fatality reports, routinely posting on Facebook and adding details. Before going to bed, she changed the headline online to reflect the additional damage Jackson had shared.

The next morning, Sean was up early shooting dozens of photos of the devastation and cleanup efforts for a Flikr photo suite set up by Eric and David to share photos with our sister publications and among staff. Sean covered an emergency council meeting on the tornado Friday and then returned to Joe and Rosie’s Café in downtown Dexter, where he filed his story, photos and two videos. Meanwhile, David filmed a few interviews on his Flip and both Erica and David wrote sidebar stories. They connected with residents who were returning home to survey the damage, and shot photos of the Laundromat and car wash before returning to their command post to start filing stories online. David attended a press conference, which Erica live Tweeted using the @HeritageNews account. David also wrote the story and produced a video from the press conference.

The Oakland Press, a sister publication, sent videographer Aftab Borka to help. Erica showed him and an intern the Huron Farms subdivision and the worst-damaged houses. More residents were in the subdivision at this time, so Aftab was able to shoot a video for the Michigan cluster of Journal Register Company newspapers and WADL-TV, one of our partners. Throughout the day, David shared our news coverage, as it was posted, with our sister publications to also post on their websites and for use in print.
 
On Friday, Amy went back to Dexter and wrote a story about volunteer efforts going on in the community. She also spent some time at Huron Farms subdivision, where she took a number of photos for our website. Sean’s coverage continued over the weekend, as I edited and posted his stories and shared links on social media. Also on Saturday, Ben contacted Dexter businesses and asked how they were helping the community. He first posted a story Saturday and updated it Sunday. In addition, both Ben and copy editor Tonya Wildt aggregated content shared by sister publications.
 
Reporter James Dickson, who wrote the story “Ann Arbor man who filmed Dexter tornado to appear on ‘Good Morning America,’” wrapped up the vast amount of our coverage by taking all of our raw video and some user-generated clips to produce a documentary-style video of the tornado, the aftermath, community response and cleanup.
 
In all, there were about two dozen stories, more than a dozen videos posted and scores of links shared on social media between Thursday night and Monday afternoon. Our text message subscriptions increased slightly and our @HeritageNews Twitter account saw followers increase by about 20 just over the weekend. The @ChelseaDexter account saw 14 new followers. Both accounts saw several dozen retweets over the weekend, as well.
 
By Monday morning, the metrics looked like this:
 
TOTAL PAGE VIEWS: 12,843

TOTAL VIDEO PLAYS: 2,605

TOTAL NEW ‘LIKES’ ON THE DEXTER/CHELSEA FACEBOOK PAGE: 40

All of this effort has paid off as we have heard from scores of readers, near and far, complimenting us on our coverage. The story about the tornado’s destruction in Dexter made the national news, and I think the community newspaper that was looked at for news every Thursday has become known as a source for up-to-the-minute news and information any time of the day.

UMapper: A more advanced way to map trends, weather and other events

May 27, 2011

I was first introduced to UMapper in college, when a friend of mine mentioned it in my advanced online journalism class. I found the mapping capabilities extremely fascinating, and began playing around it.

Fast forward a year later: For my online skill, I chose to teach UMapper to the fine staffers at the Heritage West office. I created a slideshow, going over the basics in how to use UMapper, which I’ve embedded below:

The basic concept of UMapper can be to mark where events are happening, or to map a series of events. It could be used to mark special locations in a story, such as mapping locations of break-ins to show trends, or could be used to pinpoint where all the summer festivals are happening around your coverage area.

It also allows map creators to create a “Geo-dart” game, which can be used to quiz viewers on specific knowledge on the map. Here’s a link to one I created for demonstration purposes that asks where everyone at Heritage West works.

It also allows you to create weather maps (a function I’m not the greatest fan of, I would prefer this method when using weather maps. I haven’t tried it yet, but it sure beats UMapper’s function).

One of the cooler applications was the Twitter map. During our training in Saline, we used the term “Ian Jenkins” to search for on Twitter, the name of the hockey prospect who died earlier this week. When we set the radius over Milan, the town he died in, we could see tweets announcing the time and date of his funeral, as well as the memorial hockey game being played in his honor. It’s a great way to keep up on the buzz over certain terms in your community.

UMapper is a great tool to use for reporting. I constructed a map for area Census data for Washtenaw County, and published that on a Heritage blog. It can be used for all sorts of data aggregation, especially for a company like Heritage that has such a wide geographic base for regional stories.