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Archive for the 'Multimedia' Category

Completing my collection of Clinton campaign coverage

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Today I got to cover the last of the Clintons. This one is the one that really matters, at least for now. Hillary Clinton was here in town. She spoke for about an hour in Riehle Plaza in downtown Lafayette.

Hillary Clinton talks about jobs in downtown Lafayette, Ind., on April 30, 2008.

Previously, as you’ll recall, I wrote about our coverage of Bill Clinton when he visited a local high school.

In the intermediate, as Indiana has become a Democratic political battleground (no seriously, someone pinch me because I never thought I’d see that happen when I took this job), we’ve also hosted Chelsea Clinton.

(Barack Obama came too, but he came the day I went home for my mother’s birthday. I told her that was how much I loved her that I gave up the chance to cover a potential future president to spend time with her. She told me I should have stayed. Ungrateful. Er proud? Several others have also stumped for Obama, but other than covering his economic policy advisers in a Q&A discussion, I haven’t been assigned to any of those. — Rumor mill is telling me that Obama may be back this week, so perhaps I’ll get my chance before next Tuesday?)

Well, I got my chance today to cover a potential future president (no I’m not taking sides here, I’m just saying, regardless of which side of the partisan isle or which Democrat you support, they’re all potential until one of them folds or loses for good). My assignment to cover Hillary Clinton was the same as bill: fast and frequent updates online preceding and during the event.

With Bill Clinton, it was our first attempt at live blogging. I’d say it was a success, but it was imperfect.

Since then, when I covered Chelsea, I couldn’t send as many live updates because of the set-up. I offered a few updates before, as it started and immediately after. It was a much smaller event, so not worth blowing out of the water like the others. I was also tasked that day with writing the A1 package about that event, unlike with Bill & Hillary, where my main role was simply keep the content fresh and help if other reporters need it.

At Obama, we threw the kitchen sink again. They sent live updates, but I was on vacation and wasn’t paying attention so I’m not sure how frequent or what they consisted of in terms of writing. They also tested live video streaming for the first time that night and it was, er, less than successful.

Tonight, again, I was tasked with the live updates (the time stamped ones in the middle of the page). And tonight, we had live video playing on the homepage. (We were actually working with a local high school student to do the live video. A great example of working with the talents of your citizens!) Throw in a video package and a photo gallery plus three other reporters — and Clinton got the kitchen sink as well.

More as an aside to the “real” journalism, but I also updated twitter throughout. I’m looking at Twitter in that case as more stream of consciousness and scene setting. The meat and potatoes of the speech was definitely going (quickly!) into jconline.

I noted last time that pressure for quick turnaround hampered my creativity and that nearly ever update began “Clinton discussed.” I’m proud to report not a single update tonight began with those words. In fact, because I was self-conscious about it, only four of the 16 updates I sent began with any form of “Clinton said…”

I tried to make it more engaging by not starting everything the same way. I also spent more time writing through some of the items rather than try to get everything verbatim. I’m not a court reporter in this case, I’m still a journalist. And a reporter’s job is to help readers make sense of not simply transcribe an event. I had a few typos, but overall, I’d still put this in the win category.

I think this is the type of thing you get better at as you do it more. I hope. I still felt a bit overwhelmed trying to get it all processed and written so quickly. It was fun, but I mean, literally it was non-stop for an hour. And that was all after I’d come in and reported and written the local page centerpiece this afternoon — plus already written several updates at the scene.

While I don’t anticipate any political powerhouses will be visiting the Hoosier state beyond next Tuesday’s primary election, I do think the groundwork we’ve laid during this campaign is vital.

We were training our own reporters and photographers to create this online content. That is definitely important. We know now what works and doesn’t, and we know what we are capable of when it comes to this type of coverage for other things down the line.

Perhaps even more important than training our staff, we were training our readers to expect it and to look to us for it. At points more than 250 people were watching jconline’s live video. I don’t know how many stopped by our live updates, but I suspect it drew at least some. I know I gained a few twitter followers during the event.

Long post short: Another win for the future of journalism. Another awesome adventure in reporting.

Are you wired? Do you want to be?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

I’m not sure how many of my readers are not already part of the Wired Journalists group Ryan Sholin (et al) has launched. But if you’re not, you should be. Here’s his post introducing it on his blog.

Basically, the premise works off of Howard Owens’ challenge to non-wired journalists to, well, get wired. I blogged about it last month.

Here’s part of the group’s mission statement:

WiredJournalists.com was created with self-motivated, eager-to-learn reporters, editors, executives, students and faculty in mind.

Our goal is to help journalists who have few resources on hand other than their own desire to make a difference and help journalism grow into its new 21st Century role.

You don’t need the best equipment, the biggest budget or even management support to accomplish worthy goals. The only requirement is a willingness to learn and a mind open to new ways of thinking about journalism.

We are here to help each other learn basic skills and learn how new technology and new societal expectations for media are changing journalism.

This is something I can, and am, getting behind. It’s incredibly important that journalists — my superiors, my contemporaries and my future successors, those kids already coming up behind me — understand how this stuff works and how it can work to make them better at their job and at reaching their audience.

So join us.

Don’t dismiss good journalists who don’t ‘get’ online just yet

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

There’s been an awful lot of discussion of late, at least on the blogs I read, about whether you can — or should — teach journalists to be online journalists.

In one corner, we have those saying it can’t be done and shouldn’t. In the other, they contend it can and should be attempted at least. (And on and on. Read the comments on the posts, which are as enlightening as the posts themselves.)

Where do I stand? I’m torn. Though I find myself aligning with the cans and shoulds.

On one hand, I am the go-getter, I-want-to-know-more-faster type. On the other, I still see a role for the reluctant journalist. I’m also an optimist. I think you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, as long as they aren’t afraid to come out and play (even if it takes a shove to get them out there in the first place.)

Personally, just about everything I know about computers was learned by tinkering around. I taught myself HTML, CSS and everything that follows. I learned how layers work in Photoshop and how to edit audio with audacity without taking a formal class. I spent hours with my legs crossed and MacBook on my lap trying to figure out the movie editing functions the first time I used the software. The list goes on.

When I wanted to know, I sought out the answers or solutions. The very first tag of HTML I learned was the font tag because I wanted to make my comments stand out in the then HTML-based chat room (yeah that tells you how old-school I am). Then, I learned to put up images with my chats. Then I learned about links. Then, I learned about things like body and title and how to take all those other tags I learned and work them together into a .html site. Later on, I learned about tables and frames (yes, God help me, but I was the freaking QUEEN of frames). Eventually, I stumbled on CSS. The rest is well, history.

There are three things to note about my informal education in Web design/new media:

  1. I taught myself everything through a little bit of searching and a lot of guess and check/trial and error.

  2. Each thing I learned built upon things I had previously taught myself.
  3. I taught myself on a need to know basis.

That last item is the most important, though many would contend the first is. When I wanted to know how to make my chat stand out, I asked around and then looked up the font tags. When frames were all the rage (and they once were, trust me I was there), I actually used the AOL homepage creator to build a site with frames and then analyzed the code to figure out how it worked and changed so I could build my own from scratch. And later, when I wanted to know how to add layers so I could provide absolute positioning on my layouts and abandon frames? I spent weeks designing the perfect site and then figuring out how to get CSS to cooperate as it was supposed to (this was before most browsers were CSS friendly).

Everything I learned was because I reached a level where I wanted to try something new that I didn’t know how to do before, but that I knew was possible because I had seen or heard of other people doing it.

I think the same thing can be applied to journalism, especially online journalism. You look at other awesome packages or blogs or micro-sites or whatever it is you want to do and you see how they are doing it, what you like and what you don’t. This leads you down the road to your own possibilities. The thought process follows something like this:

They did it.
So that means it’s possible to do. Right?
I wonder if it would work here.
How did they do it?
Is that the best way or is anyone else doing it differently?
What is the best method to achieve what we want?
Well, that didn’t work.
OK, that’s better.
Still needs tweaked, but let’s go with it.
That wasn’t so hard.
Holy s— it worked.
What else can we do with this?

In short, I think what it comes down to is the same thing that makes a good journalist: You have to be curious and You have to be brave enough to follow that curiosity.

On one hand, you have to have that inner “I want to try that” instinct, which makes you want to spend time analyzing video clips to see what works and what doesn’t, what left you in awe and what made you yawn. You have to be willing to take time to interact with different flash packages to understand how they work (or why they don’t) as a user before you ever sit down to compile your own. It’s like the writer who proclaims he isn’t a reader. It’s a waste of time. How can you be good at something when your exposure to the best of it is limited? I think you need something to aspire to and something to rise above. If that makes sense.

On the other hand, you have to have the courage to try and fail. This is the part that I think holds back many of those “dinosaurs.” When you’ve been doing something the same way for so long, it’s scary to be a beginner. You also have more to lose. If I, one year out of college, take on a new job or task and realize “This blows” I have less to lose than if I’d wagered my whole career on taking that chance. If that also makes sense.

I have so much yet to learn about all of these things. I’m not waiting for training, but I wouldn’t pass any up that was offered. I’m just waiting for an opportunity to teach myself.

I am very much a part of the Web culture. Nobody taught it to me, I’m just innately interested. But I know some damn good journalists who aren’t. They’ll come around, or I think, likely self-select themselves out when they realize they aren’t swimming in the same direction. I really don’t think they need to be forced out by my generation. I think we need them now more than ever to rein us in and show us what good journalism is. And we can repay them by teaching them about blogs and twitter and del.ico.us and YouTube and RSS feeds and everything that will one day be obsolete.

Do I think everyone is going to be as motivated as I am? Absolutely not. But their motivation might be different. Maybe they’re really hungry to dig into crime statistics or to tear through the city budget looking for extravagance? Maybe they’re a photojournalist or reporter honestly looking to report on the human condition and just tell the story of this time and place. I think those things are just as important as being willing to sit for hours trying to figure out why your video isn’t encoding properly or how to narrow down an hour long talk into a two-minute podcast. Should we likewise say to all these aspiring online journalists who would rather die than cover City Council that we have no room for you in our news organization? No. There is a place and a need for both sets. They can complement and learn from each other. And to some extent, as with my covering the education beat, they can even be one in the same. Someday, they all may be. We’re not there yet. I think that’s OK.

There is and will always be a place in this business for those journalists who have a desire to find and tell good stories. As demands on journalists grow, in fact, they will be the only ones for whom there is room.

But just because some of them aren’t the ones chomping at the bits to delve into new media doesn’t mean you should dismiss them as a lost cause. At least offer them the chance to prove you wrong. I’m not an advocate of forcing anything down someone’s throat. But reluctance or fear are not good enough reasons for a good journalist to be turned away. Hell, I’ve been afraid of and reluctant to do more stories than I’d like to admit. And each time I got over my fear. Each time, I became a little more confident, a little more comfortable. Should I have been fired because I wasn’t comfortable writing about a child molester? Should my boss have reassigned me when I didn’t know what to look for at my first bank robbery? The amazing thing about journalism, the thing that probably more than anything attracted me to this field, is every day is a learning experience. Why is online journalism any different? Sometimes the only way to learn is to jump in, and sometimes it takes a shove to get you to try something you end up loving. You never know if you give up on even trying.

10 steps to become a wired journalist

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

If you haven’t yet stumbled on Howard Owens’ post about how “non-wired” journalists can get wired in ’08, do so now. A very succinct list of reasonable objectives ANYONE can accomplish.

A brief synopsis of what you’ll need: a camera (with video); an SMS-enabled cell phone (do they make ones that aren’t?); a twitter, Flickr, YouTube, del.icio.us, MySpace, Facebook, digg, etc. account; a passion that you can stand to read about, write about and that won’t interfere with your beat/day job; the ability to use Google to look up unfamiliar terms like RSS and mashup. Oh yeah, and an open mind.

NYTimes News Quiz Facebook app is a keeper

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

I have added several — and deleted many more — applications to my Facebook page over the past several months.

That page has grown progressively more crowded as I gave in to the temptation to designate my top friends, adorn my profile with “bumper stickers” and LOLcats, push my twitter updates to my status and even hand out and receive superlatives for my friends.

But my favorite news media application is something I stumbled on this week: The New York Times News Quiz

NYTimes News Quiz facebook app

As you can see, I’m doing well among my friends but have a ways to go among other players. I’m not disappointed or anything, the way I can figure the rankings work more by favoring recent performance and performance over time. I’ve only taken two quizzes so far. I scored 4/5 on one and 5/5 on the other. So I’m doing decent.

I can’t take a screen shot of the actual quiz because sadly — and I mean that as I wanted to take one today — there are none on weekends. But basically, it’s five questions about details of events in the news.

It’s made me realize I actually do pay more attention than I think I do. I just don’t have time to pay as much attention to events on a national and especially international scale as I would like. Ironically, when I was in college and we had news quizzes, I always hated them. I always did well (many of my j-school grades have that fact to thank for the extra boost). But I never felt prepared, I guess, then as now, apparently I absorbed much more than I realized.

Anyway, why do I like this application over others I’ve tried? It has some key components that in my eyes make the news quiz a winner:

  1. Interactivity — I come back every day to take the quiz. Every day it is different. It is not a “use once and look at how pretty it is” application, a la the Washington Post Compass, which was really fun to take but didn’t serve much point after that.
  2. Competition — It’s no fun to just play against myself, I want to know how my friends do and how smart I am compared to them and to other players.
  3. Content accessibility — I suck at all those movie and TV quizzes because I don’t watch TV and have missed many of the movie classics and many recent movies by choice. The news, however, is something that only relies on me having paid attention at all within the past 24 hours. If I did that, I can score decent. If not, I can come back tomorrow and take another stab.
  4. Recommendations — You can’t see it on my screen shot, but every day they recommend five Times stories to read as tips for the next quiz. I like that they’re encouraging people to read the news, even as a means of competition. It goes back to point two and three. I can beat the other players, and if I didn’t today, I can with little effort tomorrow. Over time, that little effort will pay off. Plus, there’s an even better payoff than besting my friends: I’ll be a more informed citizen. And isn’t that the point of the media anyway?

Maybe a computer reading the news isn’t the best idea

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

I noticed something I never have when reading a story at the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun today. There was an audio icon and click to listen in the corner of the story.

I know Springfield has been experimenting with editors doing daily headlines via video. So I thought, maybe they’re having reporters read their stories. That’s strange but kind of cool.

It is the story, read aloud, which you download or listen to. But it wasn’t the reporter, it was a computer. And it was kind of creepy.

When we got our very first Windows computer, I was about 10. And there was this program that would read your text in whatever computer voice you chose. It would try to have the right inflection, but mostly it was just humorous and in some instances creepy. It amused my friends and I plenty as we crank called other friends. (Come on, this was middle school! And soundboards hadn’t been invented yet.)

That is kind of how I felt listening to the story. It was very creepy to me, and disjointed. It stumbled over words and slowed down the flow when it came to numbers and dates.

This service is apparently offered by Newsworthy Audio, which offers its services to other newspapers as well. I couldn’t find a list, but Springfield’s sister paper the Dayton Daily News has the same icon on its stories. Not sure if all Cox papers do or if it’s an Ohio thing, but it’s on some stories at Cox’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, including this one, which I will use as an example here.


Schools plant gardens to sprout healthy eaters

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

On the kind of sunny, clear fall afternoon that torments children cooped up in classrooms, a group of fifth-graders is living every kid’s dream.

They’re roaming around a courtyard, soaking up the sun and talking with friends. And their teacher couldn’t be happier. As first one, then another runs up to her with an assignment, Marsha Cherichel checks their work and urges them to plug away at the solution.

The right answer to this math word problem, which involves multiplication, division and decimals, means more than just getting a check mark on a paper. It means within a few weeks, the students will harvest radishes from the garden they’re designing, getting their first taste of one of the hottest trends in hands-on education.

School gardens are enjoying a revival energized by the local food movement and concern over childhood obesity. Growing fruits and vegetables, the thinking goes, will teach science, math, even literature — and, garden organizers hope, a lifetime of healthier eating habits.

… (you get the idea)

I thought, maybe a straight news story would be better. But after jumping over some annoying registration walls, I found one and clicked the audio link and was disappointed to find it’s almost as bad.

I think it’s a good idea in theory, to be able to listen to the newspaper instead of having to sit down and actively read it. Busy lifestyles and all. But as a writer, I cringe at the idea of my words being mangled and interpreted by a computer reading it the way the stories I clicked on were. I’d rather not, thank you. I just don’t see how a reader, or in this case listener, could stand more than 10 seconds of listening. It was painful.

I don’t know if there will ever be a replacement for a real human reading, at least not without a lot of hand-holding and tweaking by audio engineers. Whether it’s audio books or audio stories (or broadcast even), I find it hard to believe these on-the-fly computer-generated audio stories could gain any kind of traction or regular listeners. Perhaps after a while you are able to parse it out and listen beyond the horrible and annoying pronunciation to the stories themselves. I just don’t see how. And again, if I could reiterate, as a writer AND reader, I cringed while listening to these.

J&C Multimedia: Purdue in Space

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

The J&C’s graphics designer has been really impressing me of late with his quick pick-up of Flash projects.

This week there’s a series running about Purdue in Space ramping up to the official dedication of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

I was impressed by the clean presentation in this flash project about the different astronauts to come out of Purdue.

Flash presentation, Purdue astronauts

As you can see, it’s very clean. The red arrows scroll between the astronauts, or you can close out the window and pick and choose the ones you are interested in.

I think that’s a very effective presentation, probably the most effective way it could have been presented online. Good job, guys!

Now if we only did a better job promoting it online…