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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 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

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

Lovin’ me some Scribd

August 14, 2010

I was in a panic a few weeks ago to post a sketch on our website of a suspect sought by Milan Police for exposing his private parts to a child. The problem was that the sketch came in pdf format and I didn’t know how to convert it into a jpg, the format I needed to upload it to our website. So, I asked for help from our online support team at the Journal Register Co. headquarters. Leslie Wenzel suggested I visit and use it to get an embed code, instead of converting it to jpg. At the time, I was on deadline and under the gun, and wasn’t very interested in learning something new. I begged for her help and she did it for me, providing the embed code. But she also, wisely I might say, ordered me to sign up for a Scribd account the following Wednesday after deadlines. Out of guilt from having to seek assistance and fear for what Leslie would do if I didn’t, I signed up that Wednesday. And I am glad I did.

Since then, I’ve used Scribd to upload a huge list of 4-H Youth Show exhibitors and winners from Washtenaw County, a sketch and flier of a suspect wanted for an assault, and a news release from police about a traffic advisory for the filming of a public service announcement near Saline.

The items I posted may have otherwise never gotten published, but using Scribd made it a lot easier. I didn’t have to convert, format or edit anything, as those 4-H documents, in particular, are very long and would have taken hours to perfect. And then there’s the space issue. There probably wouldn’t have been enough room in the print product, but space online is infinite. I was able to share the information quickly via Facebook because you can link Scribd to your Facebook account, and I also used the embed code in a brief for our website.

I also used Scribd to entice Facebook fans of the A2 Journal to get the print product by uploading an early page that was already finished in pdf format to tease the Aug. 19 edition. The page, our Second Front, produced by Joe Gray, looks amazing. Anyone who enjoys a beautifully designed page with full color should be interested in seeing more of the newspaper as a result.

Scribd not only provides another avenue for sharing the news and enticing readers with our printed pages, but it offers access to government documents and other information. Check it out and see how it can help you do a better job, reach readers or at least provide an alternative when you’re in a pinch.

A suggestion from Jon Cooper at JRC:
A tip for using Scribd … use their embed function and put the pdf back on your site. Was looking at your FB link to the beer page and noticed the link drives to Scribd.

When we used Scribd at NHR and during BFP we encourage people to use the embed function so you retain the traffic. Linking to Scribd gives Scribd the page views. If you drive folks back to your site(s) then you get the benefit of the page view, the unique visitor and the time spent on site.

If you’re already doing that on other links then please just help spread the word so others do it too.

We want to reap the benefits of all the work our folks do.

See you soon.