Posted tagged ‘#ideaLabHeritage’

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.

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 ipadio.com, 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 Heritage.com 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.

Introducing the Digital Draw: Pick a technology tool, any tool

December 18, 2011

“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.”

That was my goal as a member of the Journal Register Co. ideaLab. I’ve steadily worked toward it and had successes. But, with staff turnover, I’ve found we’re often in catch-up mode. Last week, I thought about what I could I do to encourage reporters to think more multimedia in their daily reporting. The days of just producing a story and maybe a photo to accompany it are over. We have to provide multimedia content, meaning adding hyperlinks to previous related coverage, source material and other content that will round out the piece; and, if applicable, a locator map, timeline, photo slideshow, video, audio component and/or host live chat. We also have to take advantage of social media to source a story, generate leads, share material and interact with our audience.

Earlier this year, I asked my staff to learn a new technology tool related to journalism, teach it to coworkers and add it to the ideaLabHeritage blog. In all, we learned about 17. The problem, however, was my reporters didn’t often think to apply what they had learned to their reporting. So, on Friday, I came up with the Digital Draw, a box containing colorful strips of paper with a multimedia offering written on each piece of paper. Reporter Sean Dalton drew “conduct a live chat,” Amy Bell selected “create a Google map,” David Veselenak chose “live tweet a meeting,” James Dickson had “find a story lead on social media and pursue it,” Krista Gjestland chose “create a podcast” and Ben Baird selected “post to a blog.” To lead by example, all the editors had to grab from the Digital Draw, as well. Tanya Wildt drew “create a Storify,” Erica McClain had “create a timeline” and I drew the same tool as James.

Understanding that the digital tool selected may not always complement something each reporter was working on in a particular week, everyone was given the option to pick an alternative from the list. Every Friday, we will talk about what we did, share our successes and talk about challenges, and then stick our hands back in the Digital Draw box and get excited about the next tool and how we can apply it to our work.

So tell me, how would you.get your staff in the practice of producing more multimedia-enhanced reporting? I am hoping since my reporters have learned these tools, it’s just a matter of getting in the habit of applying them and identifying, for each article produced, which digital tool will enhance the piece, whether it’s a locator map to set the scene of an armed robbery, Storify to capture what the audience was saying on Twitter while the reporter was live Tweeting or a timeline to illustrate a sequence of events that led to a particular outcome reported in an article.