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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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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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S-M-A-C-K!

July 14th, 2009 No comments

Mark Hiland, senior director of digital operations for The Arizona Republic, held a session today on video storytelling.

I’ve learned a lot in the last year about how to shoot online video, but Mark had some great tips that should be used as guiding principles for shooting an interview:

S: Setting/quiet location

M: Microphone (keep it about four inches away from your subject)

A: Audio levels

C: Composition (have something in the foreground of your frame)

K: Keep monitoring audio levels. Wear headphones!

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Networking at tweetups: Guest post by Joe Ruiz of KSAT.com

July 11th, 2009 1 comment

Joe Ruiz, Web editor, KSAT.com

I asked my good friend and industry colleague Joe Ruiz to write a guest post about the benefits of attending local tweetups.  Joe and I were Chips Quinn Scholars in May 2006.  Joe is the nightside editor for KSAT.com in San Antonio, Texas.  Since joining KSAT, Joe has been instrumental in bolstering the station’s presence on Twitter.  He has attended several tweetups in the San Antonio area and has co-hosted a series of workshops on how social media can be used in the newsroom.


One of the greatest benefits of attending tweetups, be they general or industry-specific, are the connections its possible to create based on common interests.I was asked to write this guest post based on a tweet I wrote while involved in an argument about industry-specific tweetups and their usefulness.

  • The fact is, I can cite many new personal/professional relationships that have started b/c of local tweetups, despite industry-specific.

Personally, I’ve been introduced to work colleagues who have since become friends. As a Web editor, I don’t make it out of the newsroom at all. I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to know who your competition is, but despite different paychecks, it pays to have some common ground with which to come back. Professionally, I’ve met people who have helped us develop our social media presence in our newsroom with compliments and complaints. We’ve used the same connections to generate story ideas and find new sources for others. I would even count some of the people I’ve met via various tweetups as friends.

After a chance meeting with another presenter for a tweetup of sorts (the Social Media Breakfast of San Antonio), I co-founded a lunch tweetup group based primarily around media, public relations and business professionals, but the lessons and discussions have been for a general audience. In San Antonio, Texas, there’s a handful of standard tweetups (drinks, mingling, etc.) as well as those that offer some sort of lesson. At the San Antonio Media/PR/Business Lunch Tweetups (affectionately known as #SAMPRB), we’ve had such topics as the best tools for using Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools and are planning our next meeting around legal issues surrounding social media and policies in newsrooms, businesses and other places.

You can’t be afraid to give tweetups a try. They’re generally similar to any other social gathering, except this one will likely have a hashtag and people typing away on their phones more. You’ll meet some great people and some not-so-great, you’ll be pitched story ideas, you’ll find overly-confident people and you’ll find the jerks (hell, sometimes that’s me), but you will gain some benefit, even if it’s just meeting another person on any given evening.

One of the best social media-focused newsrooms around is the Austin American-Statesman. They’ve integrated Twitter and other social media tools into their reporting, they’re blogging and they’ve even hosted their own tweetups. I like to cite the Statesman as one of the best around because they’ve been willing to try new ideas and they produce some of the best content while establishing themselves online in a community widely-recognized as one of the most technologically adept cities in the nation. You don’t have to go all out and host tweetups with your organization’s branding, but if you and your newsroom are comfortable with setting one up, it could help establish your presence online and open your content up to an audience who consumes its information in a different form.

The Austin American Statesman on Twitter

Joe Ruiz (@joeruiz on Twitter) is the nightside Web editor for KSAT.com in San Antonio, Texas. He is one of the new media track leaders for the upcoming National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and will serve as an instructor for conference classes on Twitter, livestreaming video for news coverage and other courses.

Surveying the Web landscape: How we read online

July 11th, 2009 No comments

I keep hearing about how it’s important to brand your newspaper, it’s Web site and your personal image.  I’ve also heard that content is key, but that organization is equally as important.  Those were some of the topics covered by Amy Eisman, director of writing programs at American University in Washington D.C.

Amy Eisman (Photo credit: American University)

Eisman oversees all Writing for Mass Communication classes, according to AU’s Web site.  She teaches reporting, editing and writing for convergent media and created an online course called Media @ the Millenium, which explores the business, technology and audience on journalism.   She was an editor with Gannett for 17 years starting as a cover story editor for USA TODAY, according to her AU biography.

We spent a couple days discussing the Web landscape and how newspaper staffs are being forced to rethink their competition, especially in a converged media landscape.  For example, my newspaper’s competition isn’t just television, but radio, alternative weeklies, blogs, and other publications that offer news.

Eisman pointed out some key points about readers of online news:

  1. Readers are “task-oriented” online
  2. Content counts
  3. Readers don’t mind scrolling if there is desired information down the page
  4. “Hello” and “Please” are non-useful words (Avoid things like “please click here.”  You want to guide your user, but keep in mind a simple interface.) As an aside, “please click here” is poor SEO practice.
  5. The little things are the big things. Pay attention to detail (cutlines, images, design, usability, etc.)

For those who want to learn more about these topics, Eisman suggested the following reading list:

  1. What Would Google Do? (By Jeff Jarvis)
  2. The Long Tail (By Chris Anderson)
  3. Here Comes Everybody (By Clay Shirky)
  4. The Wikipedia Revolution (By Andrew Lih)
  5. We the Media (By Dan Gillmor)

Eisman pointed out a series of expecations newspaper Web site producers should strive to accomplish and that it’s our responsibility to prioritize these expectations:

  1. More visual, more video, better presentation
  2. Search Engine Optimization is key (SEO)
  3. Aggregation is expected (we as online producers and organizers are the “guides”)
  4. Social networking is NOT a fad. Own your brand.
  5. User-generated content is key.  Be a part of the conversation. Build on comments, forums, user blogs.
  6. Frequent updates (breaking news updates)

She also touched on the importance of transparency between online producers and reporters.  Reporters should know about site metrics, comments and conversations swirling around their stories.  That information could help them determine whether to do a follow up and give them overall guidance on what stories to pursue.

So, is your news organization transparent with its readers or do you have some work to do?

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Flash for journalists: Part II

July 11th, 2009 No comments

flashiconI’ll never forget the first time I opened Flash. It was about a year ago at a multimedia workshop in North Carolina. For whatever reason I thought it wouldn’t be that difficult to learn. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

It’s a great tool for designers and online storytellers, but the learning curve is incredibly steep. After taking a gander at it once, I felt compelled to learn how to make a multimedia project. So I spent a couple weeks teaching myself how to program in Action Script to create dialog boxes and markers on a Google map. It took forever learning how to code every single detail of a simple dialog box. ActionScript has to be on of the hardest programming languages out there. I, along with a couple of our instructors at the Maynard program, would not recommend learning Flash because of its steep learning curve.

I felt like it was worth learning so that I could at least understand how it’s used and what it’s used for. I also learned how it’s not really worth it to use Flash to create a multimedia project unless you’re anticipating a high ROI. At a time when newsrooms are struggling to do more with less, it’s always good to keep in mind the time it takes to complete a project.

Ask yourself “can I achieve the same goals by telling my story another way?”

Ever since I attended the Knight Digital Media Center’s Multimedia Training for Journalists in June 2008, I’ve only been able to produce three Flash applications for The Tribune. I’m trying to get into the habit of creating at least one a month so that I don’t forget how to use it and to show other reporters that there are ways to use multimedia to enhance their print stories.

Flash is a good tool to use to create interactive graphics. But there are drawbacks, including its inability to be recognized by search engines. And you can’t track hits, unless you find a way to embed, let’s say, Omniture code into it. So is it really worth it to try to teach journalists Flash? It has its pros and cons, but for the most part, it’s good to at least have a working knowledge of it. I would not recommend dedicating training sessions geared only towards Flash. And these days it’s really easy to find great tutorials and programs that will help you achieve your Flash-based storytelling goals.

Here is a list of some great, easy-to-use Flash applications that will come in handy for any journalist. I encourage you to visit these Web sites and play around with the different tools each has to offer. The best thing about most of these programs is that they’re user-friendly and for the most part, do not require a lot of ActionScript coding (except for AFComponents). I’ve posted this list before, so sorry for the repeat content. If you have a favorite Flash component site, feel free to post a comment.

1) Knight Digital Media Center’s training pages

Check out their tutorial pages on Flash, audio, video, photography and web design. They even provide downloadable templates which you can use to create your Flash projects. Best of all — it’s FREE!

2) Flash Den

FlasDen isn’t really tailored toward the average journalist, but it’s a great site to check out what you can do in Flash. I’ve come up with quite a few ideas for multimedia projects based off the components I’ve seen on this site.

3) SproutBuilder

SproutBuilder is an excellent program for making customizable widgets for your web page. You can even integrate audio, video, web polls, and other content to your Sprout widget. I’d suggest browsing through the “Recently Built Sprouts” section to get an idea of what you can do with SproutBuilder.

4) UMapper

This program allows you to create embeddable Flash maps for free. If you create a Google map in Flash you’ll have to use Action Script to program the points, dialogue boxes, and the ability to add links, video, and audio. UMapper does that for you and then generates embeddable code. You’ll have to tinker with the KML code and Google API keys (I think) but its doable. Check out some of the maps that have already been created and shared on UMapper. There are a bunch of big newspapers already using this program. I’ve had great success with it. Trust me, you won’t want to program your own map (I once spent five hours writing ActionScript to perfect a small Google map. I’ll never do that again!)

5) Advanced Flash Components

I’ve only used once component off this site, but it seems to have great little video players and cool components for interactive maps (I used the component GMap which is free.) Their customer service will also help you figure out how to work with KML code. They’re great at responding to e-mails.

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Training module: Implementing a social media ethics policy

July 8th, 2009 No comments

Handout: Social media ethics policies of some major newspapers

Handout: Game: Find the social media mistakes

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