Posted tagged ‘#JRCidealab’

PhotoPeach not quite ripe

August 4, 2011

The value of photographs for our readers is indisputably not in question — particularly with small weekly publications that serve an almost “blog-like” function for parents who always love to see little Johnny or Jane in print, exponentially so if high school athletics are a factor.

What is in question is how to deliver this visual content.

For the purposes of this post I’ve taken a look at PhotoPeach, an online software tool with embeddable functionality useful for links in stories on our newspaper websites and blogs. Essentially what it does is build a photo slideshow that allows the creator to mix the photo roster however they wish with further customization options including text, sound and even quizzes.

San Francisco-based Nota Inc. describes it as such: “PhotoPeach helps you share your memories in a new way by moving your photos like a video with your choice of background music, captions on each photo, fun effects, and more” or “Living slideshows,” as they more concisely put it.

So we’ve established that readers want photos and PhotoPeach wants to do that for us, but is this fruit fresh?

The answer, sadly, is not really.

While PhotoPeach very promptly uploaded 130 photos from my camera’s memory card to its website and allowed me to very easily strip out duplicate photos and organized my photo album, past that point the service becomes very restricted unless you pay $3 per month to license it from Nola Inc. Until a license is purchased a slideshow can only exhibit 30 photos and only paying members can download or otherwise make much use of a PhotoPeach slideshow.

Much worse is the fact that PhotoPeach implements a dramatic slow zoom in “transition effect” that is slightly off center that occurs with each photo in a slideshow created by free users. While it wasn’t too distracting from the content of my Civil War reenactment photos that were used for my trial, the effect would look silly when applied to crime scene photos, shots of a house fire or even pictures from a public meeting. And the only way to unlock the full range of transitions is by paying $3 per month, which at the number of staffers Heritage West has, would be between $45-50 per month.

The tool seems more suited for teachers’ use in the classroom or for family photo albums. The program can import all of your photos from Facebook and Picasa, but our story images are held on our website server, not those programs.

The attached slideshow will take you through the steps of signing up, creating your profile, uploading your first album and some of the rudimentary functionality of creating a slideshow afforded to a PhotoPeach free user. It really is a simple program that even a child could use. Sadly the base slideshows themselves could only be appreciated by a child or his/her relatives if said child is in some of the pictures.

If that sounds good, go wild with it. The free version is quite fun for personal use. In the meantime Capzules and the ability to create slideshows on the backend of are more suitable and cost effective.

Here’s the PowerPoint walkthrough:

A Twitter Newswire

August 3, 2011

As a member of the Journal Register Company’s ideaLab (#JRCideaLab), I’ve been tasked with establishing a Twitter newswire in my newsroom. The idea is to have reporters create lists within their individual professional Twitter accounts or, as I did, establish an account (@ElectionFollow) dedicated to following local political candidates and active party members and political watchers, with the goal of generating story leads from their tweets. I’ve asked my followers to use #mielection in their story lead tweets to make it easier, but I can’t depend on them to do that, so I’ll have to continue to look at their individual tweets.

The thought is that there are many untapped sources and stories in cyberspace, and reporters should start paying attention on social media to what the audience is interested in — what’s relevant to them — and utilizing the audience as sources, experts or for their story leads. While the plan is to start off small with stories focused on the upcoming general election in the weeks leading up to the election, the goal is to establish a thriving and robust Twitter (or social media) newswire, where reporters regularly turn to for potential stories, producing at least one a week.

I introduced the idea to staff about a month ago and our online coordinator/reporter, David Veselenak was asked to be the first to set up the lists on his account and generate a story. He has produced one, so far, but has had a difficult time writing a story each week from it. While I established @ElectionFollow Twitter account to “lead by example,” I suspect the enthusiasm for this project is not at the level I would like to see. I will continue pushing it at our editorial meetings and begin to hold staff accountable for results. In the meantine, it would be helpful if the audience encouraged the effort via Facebook, Twitter and email. If you like the idea, tweet it or post on our local reporters’ personal Facebook pages or our newspaper fan pages.

Often, I think, reporters get in a habit of doing their jobs a particular way and aren’t open to new ideas — or maybe curious but not motivated to actually pursue them — especially if they think their current approach works good enough. But, in my opinion, they need to get out of their comfort zones and start innovating, experimenting with new technology and utilizing all of these new opportunities, such as social media, to produce more crowd-sourced, multimedia journalism.

A reporter can find some interesting news tips on Facebook if they’re following local residents, officials, and community leaders and stakeholders. For example, in my Facebook news stream Monday, I saw a post from Saline City Councilman David Rhoads: “One of the softening units at Saline’s water treatment plant is out of commission for repairs. The less water we can use, the closer the water will be to the normal softness, until the unit can be repaired.” Six comments followed, and I emailed the comment stream to Saline reporter Kevin Doby. The next morning, he fleshed out the story and posted it online.

This example is exactly what JRC wants to see more of in our newsrooms. The challenge is getting everyone to embrace it. Hopefully, through this post and more opportunities to come, they will see the value and get their own newswires up and running.


July 11, 2011

Recently, I gave a presentation to my fellow co-workers regarding, a website that creates timelines that can also incorporate photos. I used a presentation created by Kelly Metz, who works at one of our sister publications in Lorain, Ohio. The presentation can be found at her blog.


July 8, 2011

Submitted by Austen Smith

Recently, I made a presentation to fellow staff about, a social media driven timeline tool that allows users to post and share images, video, audio and much more. When you upload files under your own account, those files are quickly coordinated into individual “Moments,” and all of those moments make up your entire Capzle. See below to read through my presentation:




What can you use the application for? is a social networking site that allows users to tell a story using pictures, video clips, audio tracks and text. Users are given the ability to place this media, called “moments”, together chronologically in a timeline. The result is called a “capzle”. Any of the moments can be viewed individually, or all of the moments can be viewed in progression. Users can share their capzles or individual moments with their friends by sending an email link or by inviting them to join the site. The site has the usual social networking features of being able to search and view user’s profiles and to send messages between users. Users have a My Stuff tab on the navigation bar which allows them to view their friends, messages, capzles, profile, favorite capzles and favorite moments. The Create tab on the navigation bar gives users access to the capzle creation applet used by the site. This applet allows users to easily add a title, description, and tags to their capzles. Users then add their media moments individually and choose the background colors and theme to be used with the capzle. Users can also add an audio track to be played in the background as their capzle is viewed. The capzle creation applet is very well designed and easy to use.



–          Users can attach audio/background music and video clips to their moments

–          Users can share their entire Capzle timeline or the individual moments

–          A number of different files can be uploaded into each individual moment such as images, videos, MP3s, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files

–          More social networking features like being able to invite friends through e-mail and searching for users on the site and messaging

–          More design usage, users can choose different background colors and themes for their timelines

–          All in all, Capzles seems to be more multi-media friendly than Dipity




  1. Log in screen
  2. Create new Capzle: Add title and description, you can make the title any color you want
  3. Tags and categories: There are many tags, categories and sub-categories that you can attach to your Capzle that will help people browse through the site. Here I chose Babies and Kids.
  4. Add Content: Here is where the rubber meets the road for Capzles as this is where you can upload your files which includes images, videos, MP3s, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files. All of the files can be set into the que at once and you need only hit the upload button once. The site will automatically take each file and create individual moments which make up your Capzle.  I uploaded close to 30 mb of data here and it took about 10-12 minutes, and that included a 20 second video. Other options for your moments are to add a “Stack” of files, meaning multiple files that can be scrolled through in one moment, and you can also submit blog entries.
  5. Add title/description to “Moments:” After your content is uploaded, you can go through each file, or “Moment,” and put a title, description and tag. And in each Moment, there are options to add a date/time, mapping info, technical information (about the device used to produce the file) and the option to set the privacy level. Your files can be made public, friends only or private which Is pretty self explanatory.
  6. At this point, the basic Capzle is done for the most part and now you have several options to jazz it up with background design and music. They have many different patterns you can choose from for your design and even a function that allows you to create your own. Background music can be uploaded as MP3 from your computer.

HootSuite as a tool for digital journalists

May 23, 2011

If it’s one thing every journalist needs nowadays, it’s more time — or at the very least, something that works as a time-saver.

In my past month with HootSuite, a social media dashboard, I have found just that.

Typically, when I upload content to our website it’s at the end of the day, which, on some nights, can be an ungodly hour. At this point, before I had HootSuite in my pocket, I would write myself a note to remind myself to post links to these stories throughout the next day.

HootSuite has changed all of that. Now I upload content, grab the links for those stories and schedule them all on HootSuite as I upload. So not only am I taking care of all my online duties at once, but I’m also scheduling everything to post throughout the day, the next day or even the day after that. This increases visibility to our publications by not bombing the page all at once. It can gracefully slip into someone’s news feed as they read.

And while on its face, it might not seem like a time saver, it really has become one for me because now my workday is much more streamlined. I don’t have that nagging feeling about social media in the back of my mind anymore. HootSuite has taken care of that.

[Click here to read my tutorial about how to use HootSuite for scheduling social media posts and using its free analytics feature.]

First 30-day ideaLab project completed

May 5, 2011

For my first 30-day ideaLab-JRC project, I have partnered with local retirement communities and senior centers to gather oral histories from area senior citizens using’s iPhone “record and publish” application in person and recorded phone conversations using ipadio’s three-way calling and recording capability.

Topics have included conversations on faith and spirituality, living with someone with Alzheimer’s disease, motherhood, genealogy, immigration, fleeing one’s country of origin during the war, raising children in the 1960s and 1970s, and local politics.

My goal was to train volunteers in the community to record the interviews and provide the photos, so staff only has to grab embed codes and receive photos, and then upload to our website under a “Podcast” drop-down menu. This, however, has been a huge challenge. So far, I have two volunteers working with me in Saline, but I would like to have more. My editor in Chelsea and Dexter has done two, and is looking for volunteers. My editors in Manchester, Ypsilanti and Belleville will be making contacts with senior communities soon to launch the project in those communities in the next couple of weeks, also building a volunteer base.

I have spent every Wednesday for the last four weeks at Brecon Village retirement community or the Saline Area Senior Center interviewing at least two residents each week, with 14 recorded. My volunteers have done an additional three and my Chelsea/Dexter editor has done two. The profiles include photographs of our subjects.

My 14-day goal was to get the same process going in Chelsea and Dexter with help from copy editor Erica McClain. This has been achieved, but at a slower rate than I anticipated.

At 21 days, I had planned to implement this in Milan. I have conducted one interview there, and have had volunteers supply me with names of potential subjects. I still need to round up volunteers to conduct interviews so I am not doing it all.

At 21 to 28 days, I was to set up a volunteer orientation session in Saline, Milan, Dexter and Chelsea to train community volunteers. I have found that my two volunteers have been able to learn it on their own. However, I have created a presentation that I can use for training purposes and it’s posted here on my ideaLab-Heritage blog on WordPress.

My longer-term goal was to implement this project in Ann Arbor, Manchester, Ypsilanti and Belleville. These editors have assured me that they plan to do so in the next couple of weeks.

I have utilized our ideaLab iPhone for this project to record the interviews and shoot the photos. I’ve used DropBox to move the photos from my phone to laptop computer. I have managed the activity on my ipadio account, where I’ve gotten the embed code to post the podcasts on

Metrics: The project has generated 6,250 listens. One podcast, shared with a sister publication near Philadelphia, helped drive a lot more traffic than most, with that podcast generating 1,279 listens. The average audio recording generates 250 listens. Most vary from 630 to 65. They have been promoted on our website, Facebook, Twitter and this blog.

I have trained 10 staff members on and Google Voice, the technology I picked from the ideaLab tool list, and posted my presentation on collecting audio to enhance storytelling on my ideaLabHeritage blog. I have also solicited a list of more staff to train at a sister publication, The News-Herald in Southgate, and plan to set up training soon.

What’s next: My next 30-day project will be to learn how to create photo slideshows with audio, Google maps, and my tool to learn will be Kaywa QR Code, so readers can scan the code in print to be taken to the slideshow online. The goal is to have the audience provide the photos and text from Memorial Day activities in our communities.

My presentation on Google Voice and incorporating audio

April 24, 2011

As part of my ideaLab charge, I chose to learn about Google Voice and teach it. I also have been working on incorporating more audio using the website to record phone or in-person interviews. Here’s the presentation I’ve developed to train fellow reporters. I will be training my own staff Thursday and will make arrangements to train reporters at The News-Herald and the Press & Guide in Dearborn in the coming weeks.