Posted tagged ‘reporting’

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!

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.

Attorney speaks on ‘New Rules for the Digital Media Age’ at MPA convention

January 28, 2012

Note: These are live notes from a workshop at the Michigan Press Association convention. Follow the live Tweet stream at #mpa2012.

Michigan Press Association general counsel Robin Luce Herrmann led a discussion Jan. 28 with her team of attorneys at the 2012 Michigan Press Association convention about latest Michigan media law matters. Topics included “How to protect your Internet assets.”

Media in the digital age

Terms of use and privacy policies
Need rules for people accessing and using your digital products. How will you manage posts that you may allow, copyright issues, editing and removing posts.

Report Abuse buttons: Used to manage content. Allows people to alert us to potential problems on website.

Terms of Use posted on website. This is a contract between media and user. You tell them what they can and can’t do. You want to protect your intellectual property, copyright.

Using social media for newsgathering: Many reporters now look to social media to gather news. We use it to find out what’s going on in the communities and world around us. How can a reporter use that for a news story or can he/she use it and what are the risks. If a Facebook page is public, with no privacy settings, then, according to Facebook’s terms of use, you are allowing everyone to access and use that information and associate it with you. When using social media for newsgathering, keep these things in mind: What does that site say in its terms of use; you don’t want to violate the policy if take something from the site. Facebook’s terms of use are straight forward, but Twitter’s less so. Attorney suggested consult with MPA attorney when you want to use something from social media website. Make sure you’re not violating terms of use. Even so, the site won’t provide “absolute protection” to you if someone complains.

You should treat information collected on social media sites the same way you would if someone came in and handed it to you in person. You verify the person who gave it to you is a reliable source and has the right to give you the information, and whatever they give you, you independently verify.

You have to be careful of confidential sources as there are degrees of protection. Keep in mind that smartphones are good newsgathering tools, but they could harm your confidential source because they can track where you have been, and that info could be subpenaed. If trying to keep a source confidential, you may want to leave your smartphone back in the newsroom and just take notes.

A lot of law enforcement agencies have outdated policies and that can come into play if videoing at a scene of a crime and they see it as interfering with an investigation. Our most concern is to be able to get the story and then educate police on the issue if they overstep bounds and try to restrict us in doing our jobs.

Michigan is a one-party consent state, so we can record phone calls as long as the other party agrees.

Anonymous posters: Some publications are using Facebook to police posters because there are some protections. If you allow anonymous posters, you have to be upfront with your terms of use and whether you would out them if it came down to it or you thought it was newsworthy. Everyone has some degree of protection for its anonymous posters.

In a lot of jurisdictions across the country, there have been some tests developed. We have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. In order to reveal an anonymous poster, you have to notify the poster, tell that poster. Court has to review the complaint first, before considering whether to reveal anonymous poster. Media’s terms of use may require you to post on the anonymous poster’s behalf.

Intellectual property
Intellectual property involves domain names like your website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, Twitter handle and copyright. Question of copyrights. Who owns the photo and can I use this? If it’s a work-for-hire and copyright is transferred. It’s a question of fair use. Fair use determines whether we can use it. Fair use is whether in advances discussion. A mechanical process involved, forces of nature and a machine can’t be copyrighted.

Stock photos and Google images: Images taken from the web can be risky to use. If you Google, sometimes you’ll pull up database images and you can’t necessarily use those images.

Can’t trump access to public records under copyright. Law enforcement, for instance, can’t copyright photos from crime scene if you get your hands on it and publish it.

Domains and social media handles: Domain names registered on first-come, first-served basis. If you have a trademark, you may be able to take your domain name from someone else if someone else got it first.

Facebook and Twitter have detailed terms of use policies and you can get your name back if someone else owns a social media account using your company’s name. If employee opens social media account, do you have an agreement with employee who created it to get it back if they leave your employment? Non-competition agreements protect newspapers when sales people with connections to customers placing advertising leave your employment. Urged protect property (social media) accounts. Need to specify whether you can use your social media accounts and blogs after the employee leaves employment. If want control, though, the paper could be held responsible for posts.

Posting gone wild: Defamation and Devaluing Your Image
Online comment section: In print, any third-party content can be vetted. However, online comment section, there’s no review and it’s automatically posted. This raises questions of liability, if it’s defamatory content. If you’re a web host, you are generally not responsible. But if you’re a content provider, then you’re responsible.

You have to be careful what you do with respect to what is posted under the Communications Decency Act. It’s OK to remove for relevance, you can edit, but can’t insert defamatory materials; if you remove content and change message and it becomes defamatory.

You can be held liable for republishing third-party content into your own larger posting. A website owner who incorporated a third-party email is an example.

If an employee uses social media to make favorable comments about a service or product of his employer and does not disclose his employee relationship. If you’re a reporter and retweet a story, are you endorsing that information and if doing it under a newspaper account, is the newspaper endorsing? You have to be careful.

Publishers may be liable if give employees tools and encouraged to Tweet. Social media is becoming inseparable with some job functions.

You should have a social media policy.

Workplace issues
Concerns: Employee productivity and blending of work and personal lives
Pluses of social media: Marketing and business development, recruiting tool, knowledge gathering tool and increases communication among employees

When looking to hire people, if you look at their social media you may find out things you aren’t supposed to learn in hiring process, such as health issues, political affiliations, religious background, etc. If you make those attempts and the potential employee finds out they may assume you discriminated against them. Google has a policy not to Google information about a potential employee, because you can’t use that information in making your decision.

Social media at work: Employers allowed to monitor employees’ Internet use at work; no expectation of privacy; company policy may give privacy rights. There are still potential issues an employer could be exposed to information regarding protected classes or the information gathered could be misused.

Live blogging from the Michigan Press Association conference

January 27, 2012

Note: This is a live blog post and notes from the Michigan Press Association convention. Follow live tweets at #mpa2012.
Heritage Media reporter James Dickson asks question of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

It has been about six years, but I am finally back. And a lot has changed in the industry since I last attended the Michigan Press Association’s annual convention in Grand Rapids. I am ready to learn some new techniques to apply to my craft, and I’ve brought two colleagues along for the ride. Heritage Media-West reporter James Dickson and copy editor Tanya Wildt are with me after making the 138-mile trek from Ann Arbor at 5:30 this morning.

Our first session, hosted at the spectacular Amway Grand Hotel, is “The Shape of Things to Come,” and the presenters are current and former college newspaper editors, and the talks is being moderated by Joe Grimm, professor at Michigan State University, who was introduced by Ken Winter, North Central Michigan College and Michigan State University Journalism School instructor, consultant and Petoskey News-Review editor and publisher. Listen to the talk here.

Do you think of print or digital when you think of a job in journalism? This was the first question posed to the student panel. Kelsey Schnell says, “Yes, I will work online,” notes they’re talking about eventually ending print edition of student newspaper. “Ideally, I’d like to stay in print, but I guess I will go where the job takes me,” says Mike Martinez.

How and where do you get your news? The second questioned posed to the panel: Mostly online, phone, through news apps; Twitter and picking and choosing what’s interesting.

Poll: How did you find out Michael Jackson died. Many heard on television, from radio, Twitter, Facebook and print. Make sure to fact check Twitter reports.

Important to uphold standards of journalism. Example, how it was tweeted that former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno died before he had.

Student editor suggests write a 200-word preview with a photo and put it online, and response from audience will tell you whether to write a followup and produce video, possibly write a column. Let the audience help steer your efforts. Don’t waste time on a story about something no one or very few care about.

It’s important to know your readers, market and demographics. Serve both print and online readers, and cross promote everything.

Question from the audience: When is the last time you used a phone (to do an interview)? “It’s still old-school journalism in this new realm,” Kate Jacobson says, stating she prefers phone or in-person interview over email. Don’t let people hide behind technology and craft carefully-considered answers. Journalists want authenticity.

Advice for smaller or private colleges: Work in social media if you have fewer resources. “It’s free, so it’s not hard, and just brand yourself,” said Jacobson. If it’s a commuter campus, report and Tweet on local road conditions. This will help drive traffic, bring in an audience that you can share other news with. “Don’t worry about the size (of your audience; it’s about the activity (and engagement).”

Jacobson: MSU State News seeing a shift to online advertising and it’s “pumping serious gas in our car.” Print is down to six pages because print advertising is down. Subscriptions help a little bit.

What alerts do you have out there to get the news, Grimm asked. “Hard news matters.” More students interested in writing features. News aggregators like Gawker, Google and Yahoo have good news alerts, pulling from a variety of websites. Gawker has clever writers who aggregate content.

Most news originates from websites. In the new world, students were asked, “What will people pay for?” Students “don’t like paying for stuff.” Students willing to pay for some news content if it’s exclusive content and just what they want. One student pays for ESPN sports. He pays for small-town news because it’s not as shared on social media and those subscriptions are reasonably priced. Long-format writing, one student pays for. Has had a subscription to Esquire since he was 15.

Some college newspapers hoping to monetize Twitter stream by putting ads in feeds.

Thoughts on local community journalism. How do we build community and conversation like our local newspapers have done. Students say great thing about social media is community can share content, comment on content on social media. This builds community and conversation.

One student’s parents didn’t renew subscription because the newspaper isn’t “fun” to read anymore because it got so whittled down as advertising support dropped off and pages were cut, limiting local news coverage.

The session concluded with: “We’ve got to write something good before we tell someone to read about it.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder answers question of Eastern Echo reporter at Michigan Press Association convention.

Reporters using technology for journalism

January 2, 2012

A few weeks ago, I introduced the Digital Draw, a box in the newsroom containing colorful strips of paper with various technology tools listed to produce journalism. Every Friday, my staff draws from the box and has a week to incorporate one of the suggestions in their work such as crowdsource a story from Twitter, create a Storify or timeline using Dipity, live Tweet a meeting or produce a photo slideshow using user-generated photos.

We’ve had success with this effort, and I wanted to share with readers some of our work and seek feedback on what else we could be doing or exploring.

Cops and courts reporter Ben Baird selected create a Google map to incorporate in his reporting. He applied it to a story he wrote on a series of retail thefts in Saline. A week earlier, he picked “post to a blog,” and did so, writing about a ridealong with a sheriff’s deputy and incorporated a video.

Chelsea/Dexter copy editor Erica McClain chose “create a Storify,” and covered the arrival of University of Michigan football players in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, based on chatter on Twitter.

Online Coordinator David Veselenak also drew “create a Storify,” and did so on the topic “Washtenaw County preps for New Year’s Eve,” compiling Tweets from area residents talking about their plans. He also had “live Tweet a meeting.”

Manchester/Ypsilanti copy editor Tanya Wildt picked “find a story on social media and pursue it,” and found the perfect topic as our publication’s agriculture reporter and Washtenaw County Farm Bureau’s 2011 Ag Communicator of the Year, “Michigan places 10th in USDA’s winter farmers market list.”

General assignment reporter Krista Gjestland drew “create a podcast,” and interviewed a gap year student in Ghana using ipadio.com for a phonecast.

The first week, I drew “create a sound slideshow,” creating a photo slideshow and incorporating the voices of residents weighing in on cuts proposed to the Humane Society of Huron Valley and the second week I picked “create a photo slideshow using user-generated photos,” using photos submitted by the Milan Public Library depicting their holiday activities.

County government and entertainment reporter Sean Dalton selected “hold a live chat” and “crowdsource photos for a slideshow.” He’s still working on both, but says he has sent out Tweets asking for participation. In the meantime, he crowdsourced a story on Twitter.

Education reporter James David Dickson had “find a story lead on social media and pursue it” writing about a children’s author offering to design a new University of Michigan mascot. He also found a lead on Twitter about Lake Superior State University’s banished word list. Next up for him is “crowdsource photos for a slideshow.”

City government, health and environment reporter Amy Bell selected “create a Google map” to complement a story and “crowdsource a story using social media,” which she did after seeing The Bling Thing in Saline bragging on Facebook about its holiday sales.

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.