Author Archive

Intersect and the social web

April 3rd, 2011 No comments

Yesterday, Washington Post Social Media Producer Katie Rogers talked to Kiplinger Fellows about Intersect, a tool that lets you chart stories at the intersection of time and place.

The Post teamed up with Intersect to collect reports from the Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert rallies on Oct. 30, 2010.

Now, the Post is using it again, this time for Recession Road, a project by Post photographer Michael S. Williamson to show the effects of the recession across America. The post is asking readers across America to submit their photos to a map using Intersect and #RecessionRoad.

Katie said The Post recently launched the project and will begin promoting it shortly. “Visually, it’s a really amazing tool.”


April 3rd, 2011 No comments

We just finished up Day 5 at the Kiplinger Program. Today, Lauren Keane, digital innovations editor for investigative and data projects at The Washington Post talked about DocumentCloud, a web-based service that allows documents to be uploaded, edited and displayed on a website via an embeddable widget. I can think of at least three reasons why this is good for the web.

1) using DocumentCloud adds more context to a story DocumentCloud allows the author to make comments throughout the document(s). In other words, you’re not just linking to a bunch of documents, leaving the reader to find nuggets of useful information. Instead, you’re highlighting portions of the documents that contain useful information and pointing them out to the reader.

2) It’s embeddable You’re not giving a reason for a reader to leave your site.

3) Mobile Put a QR code in the paper that links to a DocumentCloud (Note: I’ve never seen this in action, but it could be cool experiment.)

What do you think about DocumentCloud?

Here are some examples of news organizations that have used DocumentCloud

USA Today: When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?
BY: Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello

The Los Angeles Times’ Data Desk

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis): Ernest Withers Exposed
BY: Marc Perrusquia
Grant Smith, data reporter

Responding to reader criticism on the social web

April 2nd, 2011 No comments

It’s Day 4 of the Kiplinger Fellowship and we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook. But aside from just using them for crowdsourcing, finding sources and story tips, we’re being told to use them as a conversation tool. We hear over and over again that social networks shouldn’t be a used as a broadcast tool or a glorified RSS feed. So true. There are also ways you can use it to help increase transparency.

A couple weeks ago the @seattletimes received a few tweets from followers asking why we cover University of Washington sports more than Washington State University. I’ve seen similar criticism before on Twitter and Facebook. I showed the tweets to our sports editor and asked him to respond. He wrote a great response, which I posted on the Seattle Times Sports Facebook page. I @ replied the three folks who tweeted us just a couple days before. And I tweeted it on the @SeaTimesSports account.

One of our goals is to create conversation and engagement around our content. This is one way to get that conversation going. I hope to come up with new ways to respond to reader criticism and talk to our readers, especially those who make an effort to reach out to us on the social web. This might not be the perfect way, but it’s a step, I think.

How are other news organizations trying to increase transparency?


2011 Kiplinger Fellowship

March 24th, 2011 No comments

In less than one week I’ll be at Ohio State University as a 2011 Kiplinger Fellow.
I’m so excited for this amazing opportunity. The program directors told me during one of my fellowship interviews that they received 598 applications from more than 56 countries. I’m now one of 23 mid-career journalists who will take part in the three-month program, which also happens to be the first social media fellowship for journalists. After we return to our respective newsrooms, we’ll participate in 3 months of follow-up training via webinar.
I’m excited for a few reasons. First, I’m getting the opportunity to leave the newsroom to just LEARN. There’s nothing more satisfying then learning how other journalists put into practice the necessary skills to succeed in using social networking tools in everyday reporting. But the main reason I’m excited is the diversity of the group. We’ve got beat reporters from AP and social media/engagement editors from FRONTLINE and WaPo. Many of the journalists in the program already use social media in their reporting, so I’m eager to learn how they balance it with the pressure of daily deadlines, investigative projects and more.
I’m going to try to blog my way through the week, so stay tuned for updates! I’ll definitely be tweeting, so follow me @sona23 and the #KipCamp hashtag. A shout out to my colleagues at for holding down the social media fort while I’m gone.

Hello, Ohio!

Testing Storify — Michelle Obama rallies for Sen. Patty Murray in Bellevue

October 26th, 2010 No comments

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Health care reform: high-utility infographics

March 20th, 2010 No comments

The big health care vote is Sunday. How many people out there really understand what tomorrow’s vote means for them? If you’ve seen any high-utility, accurate infographics and stories out there that help explain what tomorrow’s vote means for the U.S. health care system and the average person, please share them.

Here are a few —

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CoverItLive, Twitter, and the State of the Union Address

January 24th, 2010 No comments

A couple weeks ago, our Assistant Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley and I talked about ways to increase the online presence of @SeaTimesOpinion, the Twitter account for The Seattle Times’ Opinion section. Of course, establishing dialogue, a unique voice and engaging your audience on your social media space(s) were chief among the list of things to try. But getting started on that route takes an overall shift in mindset. Shepherding your social media accounts takes time and spaces such as Twitter and Facebook only work as strong reporting tools if you spend time managing your account.  When reporters ask how they’re supposed to juggle reporting and using social media, I always tell them that they should find some way to work it into their daily workflow, like responding to e-mails and listening to voicemails. That advice doesn’t always work, however, leaving some journalists unconvinced. The best way is learning by doing. Sometimes it takes an event, project or even breaking news, to show others that social media can be used as a powerful reporting tool that can engage your audience.

I thought the best way for push ourselves off the ground with @SeaTimesOpinion would be to host a live Twitter chat via CoverItLive. Kate had the idea of getting together opinion writers from The Times, the Kansas City Star and a Scripps newspaper in Central Florida as a way to bring in voices from a variety of political backgrounds. The result: 12 Twitter-folk across three states.

The idea of inviting newspapers across the country was to encourage diverse voices and bring in an equally diverse audience. So we got editorial page editors from each of the newspapers along with guest writers from each region. The guest writers include the President-Designate of the Florida Senate and other elected officials at the state and local level. We’ll also have bloggers and freelance writers. En toto, about 4 from each state.

Obama's SOTU Address

During the address, people will have the opportunity to participate via Cover It Live on,, and We’ll be pulling in tweets from our writers and those in the Twittersphere using the hashtag #OPEDSOTU. Our tweeps will be talking amongst themselves, answering questions and responding to other tweeps’ comments about the speech — and politics in general. I’m not sure how much I want to direct the conversation, but I will be throwing in ideas every so often to possibly stimulate discussion.

I’m looking forward to the experiment and am hoping that we get a lot of participating. Be on the lookout for #OPEDSOTU and please … join in on the discussion!

What do you think about this project? Have you tried something similar at your news organization? As always, tips and suggestions are greatly appreciated!

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Learning by doing

January 3rd, 2010 6 comments

I had the rare and exciting opportunity a few weeks ago to attend the maiden flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  I’ve been at The Seattle Times for a little more than a month now, so I wasn’t too familiar with the story and how big of a deal it actually was.  I was told by several colleagues that the newspaper had been preparing for this flight for quite awhile. Essentially, the plan was to go all out on our coverage.

Boeing Dreamliner 787

We had a small pool of reporters and photographers attend the takeoff and landing, but we didn’t have anyone primarily dedicated to tweeting photos and videos. That’s where I came in. For highly-attended events, I’d strongly recommend sparing someone in the newsroom whose job it would be to handle the social media aspect from the field.

I had helped a couple reporters the day before become familiar with tweeting from the field, including taking photos, e-mailing, TwitPic’ng, etc. They both did an awesome job, but I still wanted to make sure they had enough time for reporting. I know what it’s like to have to juggle multiple tasks — reporting for the paper, shooting video, capturing audio, etc. — so I wanted to help alleviate their workload.

Both reporters were equipped with smartphones, which had e-mail and text capabilities. We were all pretty much on our own throughout the day, but had talked earlier about what types of things we wanted to tweet. Everything about the First Flight was uncertain, even up until an hour or so before its scheduled takeoff. The plane was scheduled to depart from Paine Field in Everett, Wa. and land at Boeing in Seattle. Because the weather had been pretty bad that week, Boeing told us that we wouldn’t know whether the flight would happen until the morning of the flight. But we wanted to be prepared, just in case.

I bought a new phone — a HTC MyTouch3G — about 3 days before the event. What a perfect time to test it out, right? Yes … and No. The phone has video capabilities, so I downloaded the Qik app and tested it out in my apartment the night before the flight. I was able to stream live video right to my Qik page really easily. I also tested e-mailing videos to my Gmail account. That also worked flawlessly.

What I didn’t anticipate was how well my phone — and 3G connection — would work amongst thousands of people. And I’m not talking just members of the media, of which there were 252. During takeoff I was amongst a sea of Boeing employees. Whether it was iPhones or camcorders, almost every person had some sort of electronic device in their hand. I stood with the media during the landing and it seemed as if everyone was attempting to livestream the event. Long story short, a couple of my videos didn’t make it to my page. I never figured out why, but it’s possible that the networks were jammed.  Here are a few other things I learned from going MoJo at a major news event:

  • Weather: It was FREEzing the morning of the first flight. It didn’t start raining until 20 minutes after takeoff, so we lucked out by not having to protect our phones. But when you have a touch-screen phone that responds only to warm fingers, typing a tweet — or doing anything, for that matter — could take awhile. I wasn’t wearing my gloves because it became a pain having to take them off every time I wanted to use my phone. Someone had a couple of handwarmers that I ended up sticking in my coat pocket. Not only did those keep my hands warm, but they enabled me to type faster and with more accuracy. The scaffold area for the media was pretty tight at Paine Field (for takeoff) and Boeing (for the landing). There was plenty of standing room, but as you could imagine, everyone was clamoring for an unobstructed view of the plane, which was right along a railing that faced the runway. As a result, Boeing didn’t allow umbrellas on the scaffolds. Yup, no umbrellas. A colleague suggested I put my phone in a Ziploc sandwich bag so as not to ruin the phone. It was a good idea in theory, but it was hard to keep the bag completely dry, especially since I had to take my phone in and out of the bag AND because the bag itself was getting wet and obstructing the lens. I don’t have any solutions to offer for this except to just be aware of the weather and protect your phone and whatever gadgets or equipment you have on you.Handwarmers fit easily inside your pockets
  • Timing: Always prepare for the worst. Period. The first flight was scheduled to last about 3.5 hours. So we allotted enough time to drive to Boeing from Paine Field. The organizers of the First Flight event were hosting a luncheon for the media at Boeing. It was your typical media luncheon room: Plenty of outlets to recharge laptops and enough space to sit down and write stories. We got to Paine Field around 2 p.m. As soon as we set our stuff down, a Boeing spokeswoman told us the plane was about 30 minutes out, essentially, about 2 hours ahead of schedule. The battery on my cell was at around 30 percent. I didn’t have a spare and didn’t have time to recharge. We ended up rushing to a bus which drove us out to the media area where we watched the plane land. So, always prepare for the possibilty that you won’t be able to recharge your batteries. Bring a spare battery, or two, especially if you’re planning to shoot video.
  • Dictate your updates: If you have trouble tweeting or Facebooking from the field, be prepared to dictate your tweets over the phone. Make sure you’ve established a contact person in your newsroom well in advance, in case you have to do this.
  • Backapacks and gear: Fortunately I have a pretty good laptop bag, so I wasn’t too concerned about my laptop getting wet. But my bag was in the rain for a good 2 hours and soaked by the time we left Boeing. Make sure your gear is able to stay protected for however long you plan to stay outside for. A waterproof (um, weatherproof) bag comes in handy here. And make sure it’s secure. I had to set my bag down on the scaffold multiple times and was afraid it was going to get stepped on or pushed around. The padding on the backpack eased a lot of those concerns.
  • Storing key contacts: Make sure you’re all connected in some way or the other. This is pretty much a given, but make sure you have all your colleagues’ contact info stored in your phone in case you need to make a quick phone call. A reporter and I were the first to arrive at Boeing so we frantically made calls to our photogs and videographers to make sure they’d make it to Boeing in time for the landing.

Thoughts? What are some of your MoJo tips?

Boeing 787 Dreamliner lands in Seattle

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Page linking: Guest post by Sarah Arnquist from The New York Times

July 15th, 2009 No comments

New York Times blogs

I asked my good friend and former colleague, Sarah Arnquist, to write a guest post for my blog based on what she’s learning from the social media/blogger/multimedia gurus at the New York Times where she works on the health desk.  Sarah graduated last month with a master’s in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.  She was The Tribune’s healthcare reporter until May 2008.  Before starting graduate school, Sarah traveled to India for two months to volunteer in a hospital in Hyderabad.  Sarah has dedicated most of her professional career as a journalist to advocating for social justice and healthcare reform.

Photo courtesy Sarah Arnquist

On a different note, she has been learning about good blog practices from the new media desk at The Times.  Here she talks about linking in blogs and Web sites:

Link etiquette

Targeting your links to open in new tabs is poor web etiquette, according to the New York Times blogmaster.

When I first heard this, my initial reaction was disagreement.  I prefer to open links in separate tabs.  I’ve also seen people who aren’t so web-savvy, like my parents, get confused when they accidentally click out of a site. Finally, when I ran a site that benefited more the longer users stayed on the site, I didn’t want to send them away.

Jeremy Zilar said it’s rude to control your viewers Internet experience. It took me a minute to digest this, but once I heard his full argument, I came around to agree.

Your job as a Web content producer, Zilar said, is to aggregate good information for viewers but allow them stay in control over their web navigation. If you’ve bothered to add a link, it should be worth seeing. Sending viewers away to good sites is part of your job. If you do it well enough, other sites will send them back to you.

If the viewer wants to open it in a new tab, she can easily do that with a keyboard command. And let’s face it, most Internet users today are savvy enough to get back and forth between sites. I prefer to open links in new tabs as to not navigate away from my primary page or site of interest. But that’s my preference. The joy and utility of the Internet is that people determine what content they want, how they want it and when they want it based on their unique preferences. Who am I to impose my preferences on others?

Sarah poses an interesting question, especially since we’re being taught to open links in a separate page.  What do you think?  How much control should we have over user experience?

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Bringing it all back to the newsroom

July 14th, 2009 No comments

I’m back in SLO after spending six weeks as a Donald W. Reynolds Foundation fellow in the Maynard Multimedia Editing Program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

I learned more in the past six weeks than I would have in six years. Seriously, folks. If you have the opportunity to attend a Maynard program, do it. The workshops were comprehensive and covered several topics related to online and print journalism. We didn’t focus on multimedia but rather ethics, editing and the importance of upholding credibility in both print and online. This training was extremely valuable, especially at a time when newspapers are trying to figure out what’s going to save the industry. While we experiment with new ways of doing things, some of our Maynard instructors stressed the importance of maintaining standards. Yes, it’s such a simple concept, yet it’s one that’s easily overlooked.

At this point, I’m going to have to come up with a way to share what I’ve learned with my co-workers in the newsroom. It won’t be easy, especially since we learned so much during the six weeks. I think the best way to approach it will be to take a skills inventory of willing participants. Who knows what? Who wants to learn more and on which topics?

Here’s a quick list of training modules each Maynard fellow put together as their final presentation:

@stacielee: Editing the package

@scottdolan: HTML for copy editors

@yekoorb: Shooting video, for reporters

@tiffanya_hm: Social media and how to harness its potential, for editors and reporters

@virginiagriffey: Strategies/roadmap/guide for making ethical decisions about stories/photo use. Headline: Secrets for making ethical decisions

@prescwalker: How to approach reporting/writing as a continual process so that reporters post quickly to the Web, knowing that more can be added later.

@dwoods:  How to do news marketing and promotion; letting people know you have great stuff now and still to come.

@henrymlopez: The insiders guide to understanding your web audience through analytics.

@mcopley: Putting “Fault Lines” concepts into practice.

@sona23: The ethics of social media (e.g. friending sources on Facebook).

@mjbakereditor: An SEO strategy: Writing for the Web so your stories will be seen.

@eli_e_nichols Writing value-added cutlines.

@shellylembke: Design for the Web.

@gazetteeditor: How to create a blog that is both informative and entertaining.

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