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Archive for the 'Ideas' Category

QOTD: The future does not fit in the containers of the past

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

“The future does not fit in the containers of the past.”
— Rishad Tobaccowala

I came across this quote recently, and it seemed to make a lot of sense in the context of journalism. So I wanted to pass it on to my readers. I see its meaning similar to one of my other favorite quotes, which I posted awhile back:

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
— Eric Hoffer

Reporter tip: Keep your cell phone number, use Google Voice to get a local one

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I briefly mentioned in my post on Saturday that I use Google Voice as a cell phone number for local sources to call. I realized I’ve never written about this great tip for reporters who’ve moved far from home but don’t want to give up their old phone numbers. I use it sort of like a forwarding e-mail address or a redirected domain.

Step 1: Get an invite.

I joined Google Voice in July 2009. I got my invite from Google a few weeks after after signing up on Google’s site. Users have a small number of invites also. So look around.

Step 2: Pick a new, local number.

I was able to scan through a catalog of numbers in Lafayette’s 765 area code. You can even search for words or, as I ended up doing, sequences of numbers. I picked 729 and chose the first option where those were the last three digits. My birthday is July 29, so it’s insignificant to anyone else but it was cool to me that I had some say in the number, so I wanted to take advantage of it.

Step 3: Forward calls to your real number.

You can forward calls to pretty much any number. I chose to send it to my cell phone, which has an Akron, Ohio, 330 area code. You can even send your calls to multiple phones to be answered on the first to pick up. I opted not to do this because at my office, we pick up other peoples’ ringing phone when they’re out of the office and take a message. But if you have your own office or other people don’t answer your desk phone, that may be an option for you.

Step 4: Customize your experience, preferences, etc.

You’ll want to set up your voicemail box at a minimum. But also look around at the preferences (e.g. do you want it to answer immediately, answer and give you a menu, etc.) and set those that work for you. For example, I set it up so my voicemails and SMS texts are e-mailed to me. This way it doesn’t use my phone’s texting plan and it transcribes my voicemail, so I don’t have to listen to them immediately or sometimes at all. (Note: Sometimes the transcription is humorously bad. Usually, I can at least tell who it is, though, and always I can go in and listen if needed.)

Step 5: Start disseminating your new number.

You could send it out as a mass note to your local sources. Or just start giving it out instead of your old number. You don’t need to explain Google Voice to anyone. Just start telling them, as I did, if you want to reach me on my cell phone call 765-xxx-x729. Eventually, they’ll start calling that. In addition to all the cool points above, the nice thing here is people no longer have to call an out-of-area-code number. It’s local, and local for those landline-lovers (and businesses with landlines) means the call is free.

Bonus: Get the Google Voice app.

Or at the least check out the nice mobile site. The app allows you to make calls that show up from your Google Voice number, without having to dial into Google Voice. With the Android app, it actually asks me at the start of every call whether I want to call from Google Voice or not. It also stores all those other messages in one place (though I’ve found it’s somewhat overkill to have e-mails of your sms/voicemails if you have the app).

The other cool thing about this service is if you move to another news organization in another community in the future, you can change your Google Voice number. It’s $10, but honestly, $10 seems a reasonable price to pay to keep your contacts, settings, etc. all tied together but front a new number.

So anyway, there are lots of other ways to use Google Voice, but this is how I use it. Any one else have some tips I missed?

Why I’m going to give Google Buzz time

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

While I’ve been busy covering millions of dollars in budget cuts this week, otherwise known as doing my day job, the Internet has been abuzz itself, over Google Buzz. (Apologies for the pun.)

I haven’t had time to thoroughly check it out, but most of the posts from my network so far have gone something like this: “I am so uninterested in Google Buzz. I ALREADY HAVE TWITTER.” (That was my friend Kate’s buzz, which spurred a conversation that in turn has spurred this blog post.)

One of our mutual friends, Ben, replied to Kate’s post questioning the purpose of “making a crappy version of something that already exists.”

That is a valid point, but only to an extent. And I think it overlooks something that is fundamental not only on the Internet but in the world, at least the capitalistic system that governs most of the world we live in. That is, if you weren’t constantly improving on something that’s already been invented, then we’d all still be riding around in Model T’s. We’d have no cell phones. We’d have no iPhone or any iPhone competitors. That isn’t to say all these inventions were crappy revisions (obviously they weren’t), but it probably depends who you ask and on which features you measure.

And to bring it back more precisely to the Internet, as I did in my reply to Ben:

Ben by your same logic, however, the world wouldn’t have Facebook. Think about it, there was already MySpace for connecting with your friends. Or continue that logic to pre-MySpace… we’d all still be stuck on Friendster. Also, they’d never have invented GMail, because Yahoo and Microsoft beat them to the free Web mail game.

I don’t think this is a crappy version of Twitter. I don’t think Buzz is a game changer, not yet. But it has potential to do things that other social networks don’t, with the added benefit that it’s built into much of your existing network. Give it some time to grow. Everything is always hyped up or shouted down when first introduced. I still don’t “get” Google Wave. It’s stupid to me. But I’m testing it to see what it becomes. I did the same with Twitter and Facebook, which I stuck with, and plenty of other things that I didn’t.

I am probably much more early adopter than the majority of Web users. That’s why I was on Twitter 2.5 years before my company started seriously talking about social media (i.e. now). That’s why I’ve at least tested the waters of everything from FriendFeed to Tumblr to Four Square to Google Wave to Yelp to … a multitude of other lesser known sites. I don’t use those sites on a regular basis, but I have a presence there and know how they work and why they don’t work for me.

Part of being on the Internet, especially in an industry like media where the Internet and its tools are so vital, is learning to evolve with it. You can’t evolve if you dismiss every new potential tool as stupid because it does something some other product already does in a different (or even similar) way. If it’s a worthwhile tool, people will migrate toward it (e.g. MySpace to Facebook exodus) or the other tool will evolve itself to better compete (e.g. Yahoo Mail today is better than it was before GMail, though still not as good in my opinion).

So, yes, I think the buzz about Buzz is a bit much until we see how useful it actually proves to be. (Sorry that’s the second pun!) And yes, there are some valid concerns:

  • Do I really want my e-mail network to suddenly become my social network, particularly when there’s danger that my social circle and work circle don’t — and shouldn’t — overlap?
  • Do I want my flooded inbox gushing with trivial status updates from that collective network? (I already fixed this.)
  • Given my limited time in a day, how many social networks can I realistically engage in meaningfully? Does the world really need Buzz, or are we all stretched enough on existing sites?
  • How much of my online life am I truly willing to cede to Google, as it moves increasingly toward becoming Googlezon?

But I’m going to be playing around with it and at least giving it a spin to see if it really is worthy. Right now, I’ve already identified several things I like and several I don’t. But I could say just as much of any Web site, including Twitter and Facebook. So my verdict for now is it has potential. And that alone means it’s worth serious consideration.

Indy Star’s ‘info stream’ like friendfeed for its reporters

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I just came across an interesting feature that I think is new, or at least new to me, on the Indy Star site.

Scanning the education section of the site, I noticed under the refers to education reporter Andy Gammill’s blog and twitter there was a new link: “Andy’s info stream.” I think it’s new because I look at this page almost daily (Indy is the largest paper in the state and the J&C’s sister paper), and I have never noticed it before.

This is what I found when I clicked the link:
indystar reporter info stream

Pretty cool if you’re interested in what the reporter is writing, reading, working on, blogging about, twittering about, etc.

I tried to find similar pages for other reporters on the site, but I didn’t see any even for other blogging & twittering reporters, like their politics columnist Matthew Tully. A quick Google search turned up a page for racing reporter Curt Cavin and music reporter David Lindquist. Lindquist’s list even includes recently played tracks from last.fm, which seems like a neat addition for his beat.

Other papers have pages set up about the reporter, with links to recent bylines, etc. But this is the first I’ve come across that compiles essentially everything that reporter is already doing and puts it together on one page. You can even subscribe to that reporter’s info stream. It reminds me a lot of friendfeed, where the reporters could pick what they want added (i.e. their blog, twitter, bookmarks, music, etc.). Except it’s sleeker and it’s hosted on the news organization’s site.

As a reader, I find this information fascinating. At least for Andy’s stream because he covers the same topic as me and often writes about things I’m also writing about. I already subscribe to his blog and follow him on Twitter, but for readers who don’t want the hassle of subscribing and belonging to tons of services or who just want a clean interface to quickly see what the local reporter is doing, this could be a cool tool. And once the widget (as this appears to be) is set up, it’s not like it takes a lot of work to keep fresh. The reporter is already producing the content to go there daily.

On the other hand, I can see how some reporters would be apprehensive about a feature like this. Most print reporters I know (columnists excluded) didn’t get into this business to be a personality, which is what this feature kind of creates. And even if all the feed pulls in is information you’re already posting, I could see their unease at their online life being aggregated like this for every reader. However, because I think the news train is headed in the opposite direction of such reporters — who are also the hold outs refusing to see the utility of blogging and twittering or trying such tools for their beats — I don’t feel bad for them.

In my case, all this information is already out there. It’s already mostly streamed on friendfeed, Facebook and Twitter. So I think this feature is pretty cool. It will be even cooler when they get a list of all the reporters posted. It also would be great if you could pick which of those reporters streams you wanted to have all appear in one mega info stream (like the people you follow on Twitter — I could pick the education and politics people but leave the sports folks behind), or if you could see what everyone at the Star is saying/reading/blogging all in one time line (like the public time line on Twitter). It might be pretty telling about the organization en masse.

A few tips on outlining stories

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

For most daily stories, the time it would take me to outline the article isn’t worth it. I can write about a crash, a fire, a school board meeting without really thinking through the direction I want to head: Start with what happened, and it gets less important from there.

But I also write a lot of daily enterprise. When I’m working on these stories, I’ve found having a direction saves me time. It’s worth the five minutes to outline a story if it saves me 20 minutes of trying to just get started. The usefulness of outlining stories is almost directly related to the length of time I’ve been reporting and how much information I’ve gathered.

Sometimes, a story just comes to me and flows without much effort. Other times, I’ve reported so much I’m overwhelmed by everything I’ve gathered. Deciding what to include, or not include, and what I need to do more research on, and then, how to arrange all of that information can put me at a deadlock, as I was on Friday, when I was writing two A1 stories for the weekend papers and had been working on one for an hour but had just two paragraphs written.

I’ve talked to my editor before about this, and he suggested the way he writes is to do each chunk as he reports it. That’s a great idea. I’ve tried it — with limited success. I know some reporters have to have the perfect lede before they write the second paragraph. I can write a bad lede just to get me started and come back when the first draft is done. My problem is I need to be able to see where it’s going before I start writing. I need to have everything reported and ready to be compiled. That’s why outlining a story works for me.

On Friday, in an effort to get the stories written, did just that. I posted a picture of my “outline” on Twitter. Kate Martin commented on it, which made me realize, this might be a method worth sharing with the wider community.

story outline

I don’t know if I originally saw this outlining method somewhere or invented it out of necessity (or genius?). But I do know, it’s effective. Here’s how it works:

  1. Gather all the story notes. I flip to the pages in my notebook(s) if they’re written or print the document off the computer if they’re typed or transcribed.

  2. Highlight the facts you want to include. I also highlight and star the quotes I like. I use different color highlighters for each person/source to make it easy to identify quickly who is speaking and where the info came from.
  3. Write each of those ideas/facts/quotes on a Post-it. I don’t write the whole thing out just the general point and who said it/where it came from so I know where to quickly find it in my notes. (Remember, those are color coded.) You also could probably just as easily do this on the computer, in a Google Notebook like program. But I find taking a break from staring at the screen helps me process the information better. Note: I cut up a regular size Post-it into about four flags each to be less wasteful. I’m actually not wasting office supplies anyway. I usually buy my own Post-it notes because I don’t like the plain-vanilla yellow in that shot.
  4. Group related topics/information/quotes together. I usually do this on my desk, or if your desk isn’t cleared enough, a sheet of paper works well. Usually at this stage, I can eliminate duplicate or tangential information pretty quickly: I can tell the areas I have the most information on and those I don’t have enough. If I don’t have enough and it’s important, I know it’s time to do some follow-up reporting.
  5. Within the group, arrange the information. This is what my boss does when he writes chunks. You’re just putting the information together in a logical sequence, and again cutting things that don’t fit or need to be there.
  6. Arrange the groups. At this point, I pull out the anecdote or fact I want to lead with and/or those I want to end the story with. (In my example above, I had just written a place-holder “Lead ???” at first because I didn’t know yet how to start.) Then, I put each group down in a sequence that makes sense for the direction of the story.
  7. Re-arrange the groups or the facts within the group. I add back in anything I took out that feels like it’s missing. Or I take out anything that feels unnecessary. This is the entire point of using Post-its, which you can quickly and easily reconfigure.
  8. Write. Organizing the story was the hard part, so once I have that figured out, I can just write through by filling out the full quotes and facts I abbreviated on my Post-it notes.
  9. Read and rewrite. Once the story is written, I go back through at least once more. Read it, proof it, clean it up, double check the names and numbers, clarify anything that needs more explanation.
  10. File the story. And move on to the inevitable next story.

After I outlined my story Friday, I finished writing all 23 inches in 20 minutes.

Do you have any suggestions to improve my method? Or better tips to try to improve organization/writing? Let me know. I’m definitely game for suggestions to make me write better and more efficiently.

Kent State’s case study in converged student media

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

One of my old professors Fred Endres, who teaches online journalism at Kent State, sent me a link to a package he produced about the student media operation today. More specifically, it’s about Kent State’s “marriage” of print and broadcast media into one newsroom and one Web site.

Sadly, as I’ve lamented before, I missed this convergence by a semester. I was part of the initial student media discussions, but graduated just as things were getting good. But I’ve been back to visit several times, and while it’s not nearly as homely and cozy to me as the former Daily Kent Stater digs were, it seemed pretty streamlined. And the technology was top-notch. I can’t even get Excel on my machine at work (OK, so actually after two years I’ve finally managed that … any day now), but these kids have everything from the Office suite to Final Cut Pro at their disposal.

I was never there to see the new combined news team react to breaking news, but I can imagine it was the same as it was for the Stater alone: A flurry of activity and a dash of figuring it out as you went along. These days, however, there’s an added discussion beyond who will write the story for online and then tomorrow’s paper. Who is going to shoot it, both still and video — perhaps at the same time — and ready the script for Black Squirrel Radio and TV2 to broadcast?

Anyway, check out the link Fred sent me to thekentnewsroom.com. It’s an interesting, and entertaining, look at how the marriage happened — and some of the stumbles along the way.

On developing the multi-media mindset:
Students from the newspaper staff talk more to students from the television station. And both talk to the small Web staff. On some days, those conversations lead to creative and productive cooperation and content. On other days, the students may say hello to each other. There is no consistency to the mindset yet. After three semesters in the newsroom, it’s pretty clear that the multimedia mindset is BE-set by some lingering turf issues, lack of trained bodies, too-busy schedules and indifference.

We sometimes wonder whether the move to real convergence can be led and maintained by busy students who spend a year or two in student media and then graduate or move on to other interests. It’s like having speed bumps in the newsroom. Energy spurt — screeching halt — progress — slow down. It’s frustrating for students, advisers and faculty. Consistency and continuity may be issues that confront every university attempting convergence where students truly run the newsroom, as they do at Kent State.

We do remain optimistic about developing the mindset, however. More importantly, so do the students.

An interesting case study for anyone considering a converged, collaborative or shared newsroom. (There’s even tips and lessons learned.) Or, since there’s so much debate on what journalism schools are or aren’t, should or shouldn’t, be teaching, anyone interested in seeing one school that is trying something new.

Good advice: Become invaluable. Network like mad.

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Suzanne Yada has suggested some pretty solid advice for student journalists, but it really applies to all journalists. She has two resolutions for the coming year that we can all benefit from: become invaluable and network like mad.

The first bit of advice is the harder, and the second the most logical.

Being invaluable

I work hard. I learned that from my mother, who is the hardest working person I’ve ever met. In fact, she works too hard. My resolution this year isn’t to work harder but smarter.

Another lesson mom told me once is that nobody is irreplaceable in their job. When you take a job reporting, chances are you’re replacing someone else who left, probably to replace someone else at their new job. And when you leave, someone new will come in and pick up where you left off. The paper will still get printed, the news broadcast, the Web site updated. That’s how it works. Maybe they care more about something you cared less about, or they form bonds with sources you hardly tapped. Everyone brings their own style to a job or beat, but there’s not a job out there that only one person is fit to do.

This is where Suzanne’s advice comes in. You may be replaceable, and, especially young journalists entering the business today, you may come in to replace someone who had superior skills or talent. But you can make yourself invaluable. YOU set the bar to compare those who held the job before you and will after. YOU define how the job should be and can be done. And you do it by, as my mother taught me long ago, busting your ass.

Suzanne has some really great, specific advice on how to do that: write and produce multimedia like crazy, meet deadlines, ask tough questions and dig for better stories, always be ethical, put yourself out there, talk to your professors (or bosses) about more than your homework (assignments)… and more. Read the full list and explanation on how to make it happen.

Network like mad

I used to think networking was stupid. If I worked hard (see above), that should be good enough to break in and keep me in. Well guess what? It’s not. I learned this, fortunately, early. Almost by definition journalism IS about who you know, whether it’s sources who can tip you off to stories or other journalists who can tell you about opportunities or share experiences.

To be honest, my network is probably one of the biggest things I got out of attending journalism school. Sure my clips and experience in student media were pretty valuable in landing an internship and job, and my editing and designing chops were largely honed on class assignments. But what I’ve found has helped me more than anything since I left college has been who I know. The kids I worked at the student paper with are now spread from coast to coast. Some are working in online, some in PR, some in magazines, some in newspapers like me, and some even in my own newsroom — jobs they landed because they knew someone to tip them off and get them noticed.

Beyond my real-life network, this blog and my online activities have helped me extend my professional network beyond even the coasts of the U.S. or its borders. Add in Twitter and Wired Journalists, among others, and I feel comfortable that someone in my network could answer or point me toward an answer for just about any dilemma or question I could come up with, journalistic or otherwise. And likewise, what makes a network work is that I jump in the conversation when I can help or offer advice myself.

In both cases, I know where they are and they me. We’ve swapped tips, debated concepts and talked about ways to tackle stories. I’m a better journalist for having this collective knowledge a phone call, e-mail, IM or tweet away.

As in her first post, Suzanne provides some specific examples of how you can build your network. Her first is probably the most important: Get your name in front of people and build your brand (this includes registering a domain). But she offers other solid ideas, ranging from follow up on everything to pass out business cards. Definitely read the full list and her suggestions.

Work ahead

I wish I could say I’ve nailed every item on either of those two lists. I haven’t. That’s why they’re called resolutions. Even if I’m not a New Year’s resolution kind of person, I concede that to grow you need objectives. If you don’t have some to work toward this year, borrow some of Suzanne’s.

As I wrote about last week, this year I’m going to focus on being a better writer and better storyteller, which will include dabbling in a different medium or two. And I’m going to work on my consistency and the usefulness of this blog as it and my career continue to evolve.