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July 07 2011

18:12

KOMU-TV Puts Google+ Hangout Video Chat on the Air

As a reporter and anchor for KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbia, Mo., and the broadcast lab for the Missouri School of Journalism, I already chat with viewers via Facebook and Twitter on our "Livestream" behind-the-scenes webcam mounted on the news set. Now, KOMU has added yet another delightful distraction to the other side of the set. It's turned me into one distracted driver.

Google Hangout is Google+'s video chat feature, and it's a shiny red sports car for an interactive anchor.

Squirrel!

Google+ Distraction

Let me explain the allure of this distraction.

Hangout is similar to a group Skype chat for up to 10 people. On Monday, we believe we were the first station to use this video feature to interact with our TV viewers during a live newscast. We posted notice of our "Hangout" on our Google+ profile and invited people inside and outside our "Circles" to join in. The result gave viewers around the world not only the opportunity to see what happens behind the scenes of a live newscast, but for the first time, it also gave us anchors the chance to see our viewers beyond their profile pic. 

We followed up Wednesday night with what we believe to be the first Google+ Hangout on air. Viewers from all over the world got the chance to wave to people in mid-Missouri as we took a live screenshot of our video chat screen. (Watch the video here.)

sarahhill.jpg

On Livestream, I can only see a still profile picture of who's chatting with me during the newscast. In Google Hangout, I can see the viewers in real time: his sunburn, the baby she's holding, the psychedelic curtains hanging in their living room. No more chatting with profile pics or typing emoticons in chat. Anchors -- and the audience -- can now see our viewers' smiles!  

On Sept. 12, KOMU News will launch an interactive newscast "U_News @ 4" that will further explore this real-time conversation going on between anchors and viewers during the newscast. We're excited about the role Google Hangout could play in better connecting with our viewers, especially during severe weather and breaking news.

Jen Lee Reeves, the station's interactive director, put it this way: "KOMU's goal has always been to reach out to our market and truly connect. The Google Hangouts allow that in a way we've never been able to do before. Not only are we writing and speaking, we get to see instant reactions and feedback. It's just one more way for us to really show our news consumers that we are in this together."

Changing lanes

No longer is the studio camera an anchor's sole focus during a newscast. Now, there's a lot of typing and talking to viewers even during a 10-second sound bite. The talented people who keep KOMU on this interactive road are changing lanes and embracing this new kind of "talking head." With two netbooks, two phones and two tablets on set, all with different viewer conversations going on them, our floor director is starting to add a snap to our "standbys" to get our attention. Producers are learning they have to talk in our earpieces like bingo callers and repeat instructions loudly and slowly.  

Drop, B-17.

Drop. B 17.  

Bingo!

With so many interesting roads for interactive anchors to explore, the good news is they all lead to closer connections with our viewers. I'm still learning how to talk and drive and not end up as roadkill on camera.   

After a couple test drives, I see Google Hangout as another opportunity for us talking heads to take our hands off of 10 and 2.

Squirrel!

How to Improve Hangouts

Here are some items that would make Google Hangout an even better extension of our newscast.

1. Allow more than 10 viewers in the Hangout. 

2. Make the Hangout screen a 16×9 friendly format so that its dimensions look proper when we take it live on-air.

3. Provide captioning when audio is muted. We have to mute the Hangout audio during our newscast so as not to interfere with our microphones. We can see Hangout viewers but not hear them. It would be great if there was a captioning or Google translate function that would pop up when you mute the audio so that anchors could still read what the viewer is saying.

4. Provide the opportunity to join a Hangout even if you don't have a Google+ profile.

5. Allow recording of the Hangout so that after the session ends, the creator can save it as a video file that can be shared on other social networking sites and blogs.

6. Enable some kind of private messaging in chat. We get frequent story tips in newscast chat. Why? Viewers like to say in front of a bunch of people that they've got a hot news tip. But they often don't want to provide the background details of the City Hall extortionist in a public chat room. 

Sarah Hill is an anchor and reporter on KOMU in Columbia, Mo. You can Hangout with Sarah weekdays during the 5 pm (Central Time) newscast here. Not on Google+ yet? You can also check out KOMU's behind-the-scenes webcam and chat with us here during the news. 
 

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March 29 2011

16:00

Video: Robert Scoble on How to Build a Career in Media

I don't know about you, but when I want to find out about the newest tech stuff, I read blogs and their related Twitter feeds. As a newspaper journalist, it puzzles me that somehow those blogs, with their limited resources and short history, manage to beat the mainstream media.

Take, for example, uber-blogger Robert Scoble. When Flipboard's servers went down around the time of its launch, some said it was because of a positive review on his blog, Scobleizer. Scoble currently works for hosting company Rackspace as a kind of online media ambassador, but he's also a media brand of his own.

So, when I met him a few weeks ago at the Lift conference in Geneva, Switzerland, I wanted to talk to him about how bloggers can outsmart mainstream media, and what this means for aspiring journalists, among other things.

Need for Entrepreneurial Skills

During our conversation, which is captured in the below video, Scoble made five key points about breaking into media and building a brand:

  1. Getting a job at a newspaper or television station is very hard these days. Consider other options.
  2. Focus on a niche and think about timing. The ideal niche serves a dispersed community of people who are just as enthusiastic about something as you are. The fact that they are dispersed and "just a niche" means mass media it probably neglecting them. For example, one of Scoble's friends started a blog about Facebook -- nothing but Facebook. He did this at a time when Facebook was not particularly popular (timing!), and his popularity grew along with that of Facebook. Now he runs other blogs as well.
  3. Get access to something other people don't have access to. This could be possible because of contacts you've cultivated, and special knowledge you acquire via research and reporting.
  4. Be entrepreneurial and produce multimedia coverage: Video, audio, and pictures tell a more complete story.
  5. Get to understand how Google, Twitter, and Facebook work in order to learn how distribution works.

Scoble said journalism departments don't focus enough on equipping students with entrepreneurial skills. In his view, this is because mainstream journalists have traditionally relied upon other people in their organization to find an audience and handle distribution.

"In this new world you need to do a lot of that hard work yourself," Scoble said.

This hard work has its advantages. By taking control of distribution you cut out the middle men and are able to control your content. By working on attracting an audience, you have the opportunity to build a stronger connection. Distribution is today less of an issue -- the hard thing is getting people to pay attention to what you're doing.

"That's the fun thing," Scoble said.

No matter what you end up doing -- whether you start your own website or company or work to push innovation at an established organization -- you'll need to develop a deep understanding of what it means to be a new media entrepreneur, according to Scoble.

Here's my video chat with Scoble:

******

What do you think? Is Scoble correct about the skills needed by today's journalists? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Elisabeth.

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January 19 2011

16:40

In Search of Meaningful 'Social Media Optimization' (SMO)

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

In my previous post I explained how easy it is these days to integrate social streams into articles by using services such as Storify. Since that article appeared, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Xavier Damman, the co-founder of Storify.

Echoing what is an increasingly common refrain, Damman told me that everybody is a reporter now. Which means it's the responsibility of journalists to find the best content and turn it into a story, adding context and making sense of it all. You can watch our discussion in the below video:

Damman has a strong focus on "social media optimization" (SMO). I must admit that the acronym SMO sends shivers down my spine. It reminds me of search engine optimization (SEO), which in itself is a good and logical thing. Unfortunately, it has led to countless "SEO experts" who have infested Twitter.

As author Bruce Sterling said recently in an interview at The WELL:

There was a halcyon period there where people seemed lost in the info overload and the search machines were full of limpid lucidity. But we may be approaching a period where the machines will feed you an infinite amount of cunningly engineered gibberish and you have to climb to the mountaintop and talk to some human greybeard in order to have any idea what's going on.

There are those who say that the perfection of SEO leads to the increasing uselessness of Google. That's true, but then I found myself sitting with Damman as he advocated social media optimization. He said that social media, rather than Google, are increasingly responsible for the the traffic referrals to blogs and other websites. SMO is all about facilitating the sharing of content. In Storify, when you use a tweet, you're prompted to inform the sender of that tweet that you used her content. The idea is maybe that person will retweet that notice so her followers will get the news your story is out there.

I can live with that, because it just seems a straightforward way to say thank you and maybe to start a conversation.

In Search of SMO

Screen shot 2011-01-11 at 9.51.12 AM.png

In an effort to gather more about this new discipline, I looked up "social media optimization" on the young but increasingly popular Q&A site Quora. I stumbled upon this question: "What is social media optimization and how do you leverage it?" Benjamin Gauthey, who works in digital marketing at Microsoft, replied and said he published a how-to article about the topic. I must admit his reply made me hesitate because it was phrased in evil SEO language: "This post will focus on learning Social Media Optimization, to acquire eyeballs to your websites and increase conversations about your brand."

In fact, his post is pretty good. Gauthey starts with a very sound principle: "Forget about money for now and focus on common interests."

He recommends: Releasing information, producing charticles and infographics, using social media bookmarking, offering widgets, providing sharing options, immersing yourself in social networks and discussions, and not forgetting about RSS feeds and badges and reward systems. I recommend reading his post, as he offers plenty of advice.

All of this sounds very sensible; and yet, I sympathize with what Sterling said in the above quote. It's so easy to get this stuff very wrong. I don't believe in "increasing conversations about brands." I hardly see any such conversations on social media, except between SEO and marketing people who end up talking in social media echo chambers.

Forget About Brands

I don't really think people want to discuss the brand of my newspaper. They want to discuss the news, and eventually they want to discuss how we cover the news. They also want to discuss things with other readers and citizens, and eventually the regular participants also want to talk about ways to improve the site's moderation and/or discussion features and practices.

I also don't believe brands create communities. The communities are already there, and we, the media, have to find ways to serve them by covering news, curating reports and facilitating conversations.

So what does this mean for SMO and the tools Gauthey recommends?

Before using those tools, engage in lots of conversation with community members. Have a good look at what they do and don't do.

This may make some social media aficionados cringe, but many online communities are filled with people who are not on Twitter. They may be on Facebook, but perhaps they only use it for their friends and family, and not for brands or news reading. RSS feeds are another tool whose use varied widely.

Does this mean we should forget about these tools? No -- but use them wisely. In the community my newspaper is involved with, Twitter is not a very popular network. But using Storify to curate and embed tweets seems to be highly appreciated.

Curating and Connecting

I'm convinced curating and connecting are of paramount importance for today's media.

Curating means eliminating noise, checking facts and enhancing the quality of information, and providing context so that news stories take on meaning for your community.

Connecting means facilitating conversations. For some communities, it will be enough to launch a hashtag on Twitter and organize discussions there. For others, it means embedding social streams and discussions in a more familiar context. Storify is one way to do this. For example, StockTwits does this for its community of investors by integrating Twitter on its site and providing categories and contextual information.

In order to be successful with this, you must make sure you become a true member of the community you work for. I do realize there is this journalist ethos of being separate and detached, but what we actually want are journalists doing their jobs in a fair and balanced way. If we expect them to contextualize news that matters, they need to be intimately aware of what drives their community.

For each and every tool or strategy, ask yourself how it will serve the community and how you could adapt it in such a way that it becomes meaningful to the community.

In fact, this is part of what I learned from Rohit Bhargava, who launched the SMO concept with his August 2006 blog post suggesting 5 Rules of SMO. As is explained in Wikipedia, his thinking evolved and in August 2010 he suggested 5 New Rules of SMO. Bhargava wrote:

The core change I would make is to add and focus on a word that I think truly describes the social web today in a way that few people really grasped four years ago: sharing.

Instead of saying "reward inbound links" he now focuses on rewarding engagement:

Today the real currency is around conversation or engagement. While there are a million definitions for "engagement" ranging from comments and discussion to posting or sharing content -- this is the behavior that matters most in the social web and the one that we should all focus on rewarding when it happens.

There's a crucial point to take into account when we talk about communities and communicative action, something which the German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas discussed at length: the importance of the claims to moral rightness, ethical goodness or authenticity, personal sincerity, and aesthetic value (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

In other and considerably less philosophical words: don't play games when you try to incite community engagement. There are no tricks for optimizing social media. In our case it boils down to being the best journalists we can be. In these times, that means connecting, curating, and providing great tools to facilitate conversations.

Roland Legrand is in charge of new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Elisabeth.

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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December 03 2010

18:35

How Storify Helps Integrate Social Streams Into Articles

Curation seems to be the big buzz word in journalism and online content these days. It's also an area that's generating a lot of product innovations. New services such as Keepstream, Storify, Storyful and Qrait are jumping into the space, aiming to offer new tools to help people curate web and social media content.

Curation is a way for journalists and bloggers to help the public make sense of the overwhelming amount of information out there by carefully selecting the interesting bits and pieces and by providing context. In this new information environment, the thinking goes, we need fellow humans to make sense and filter for us.

For me, curation is part of the all-important process of telling stories and connecting people around these stories. Storytelling is about involving people, finding out new information and providing context so people can find out why that particular story is meaningful to them.

Storify

Storify is one of the new curation tools I've been using to tell stories and organize conversations. To gain access you still need an invite code, which you can find in various places on the web such as in this TechCrunch post or on Mashable.

Here's a short video introduction to the tool:

Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.

In this post I'll focus on why Storify is an interesting new tool for media sites and blogs.

For background, in the above mentioned Mashable post you'll find some use cases (and the home page of Storify has some interesting examples). On Zombie Journalism, Mandy Jenkins offered ten ways journalists (and bloggers, of course) can use Storify: Gathering reactions on breaking news; combining past content with newer information and social streams; showing your own quests on Twitter, Facebook etc.; or organizing your own live tweets from a conference.

Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words also identified several ways that journalists are using the tool.

I recently used it on the financial blog of my newspaper for a post about U.S. GDP statistics that included some lively comments from economics professor Nouriel Roubini being pessimistic about growth prospects. I also used Storify from a post that collected some initial reactions on the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing. (MediaShift's Craig Silverman used it to collect the notable tweets of a Canadian politician.)

Five Reasons to Use Storify

From my readings and experiments with Storify, I've come up with five reasons why you should use it:

  1. It helps you to discover stories on social media. While using Storify to look for reactions to the GDP statistics, I came accross the rather vigorous discussion of professor Roubini's predictions. That became part of my story.
  2. It's graphically appealing for readers and it's easy to use for content creators. Basically, you use Storify to search for content on various social media services and the web, and then drag and drop them and then rearrange it, adding text in between items to create a story. Readers see a clean, interesting presentation of your story, and you can also track traffic to your Storify story.
  3. It makes your work transparent. Your community gets to view the raw material you used to write your story. Storify also makes it very easy to notify the people who created the individual tweets, pictures and status updates that you've curated. This makes it easy to them to react to what you've done.
  4. Even though it presents the raw material, it also enables you to filter out the noise, such as retweets and other distracting elements.
  5. Last but not least, Storify enables you to integrate things such as Twitter into an environment that is more familiar to your community members: Your own blog or website. It works with what you already have.

Things to Think About

Screen shot 2010-12-03 at 12.05.37 PM.pngNow that you know a few reasons for using Storify, here are things to think about before you do so:

  1. A Storify presentation can be confusing, especially for readers who are less familiar with social media. Make sure you offer a bit of background about what they're looking at, especially if Storify is new to your website. I also found that keeping things in chronological or reverse chronological order helped our readers better understand what they were looking at. Finally, be careful about how much you're mixing YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr with blogs and your own text. Don't try to tell too many stories in too many ways in a single Storify story.
  2. Providing context. The neat thing about Storify is that it allows you to insert your own text in between the curated items. But it's also sometimes a good idea to start with a classical long form blog post or written intro above your Storify story, and then embed the Storify below. Often times, just inserting Storify into a blog post isn't enough to help people understand the context of what they're reading.
  3. Beware of the unknown. Storify is still in private beta and more and better features are being added. However, we don't know if the company/product will succeed, so I wonder what happens to all of my Stofiy stories if it shuts down? What if the company decides to integrate ads in a way that's not acceptable for you or your media company? I asked (on Twitter of course) Storify whether it's possible to export one's stories, and the good people at the company said you one can export stories using their API." Just append .json to the story URL and you're good to go!

The Future

I think Storify has the potential to become a very interesting platform. While services such as Seesmic make it easy to monitor social streams from many different services, they don't provide a very easy and straightforward way to combine all that stuff into stories. I look forward to seeing how Storify will develop its service (for instance, on tablets).

*****
What are your experiences with Storify or similar services? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife, Liesbeth.

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September 14 2010

20:29

Social Media Helps Drive Traffic, Engagement at NewsHour

When the PBS NewsHour relaunched both on-air and
online in December, a new homepage was unveiled, a news blog was born and a new
correspondent joined the team. But another big change unfolded behind the
scenes as well: The addition of a social media desk assistant (myself) dedicated to
fostering an online community and better distributing PBS NewsHour content
digitally. In just a few months, the PBS NewsHour has pushed social media sites
into the top 10 referrers to our website, and they will eventually leave organic search results on Bing and Yahoo in the dust.


Beyond the numbers is a shift in newsroom attitudes toward social media. When I first arrived, Twitter was only tolerated as an online trend. It has since expanded into something that most of our on-air correspondents -- Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, Margaret Warner, Hari Sreenivasan, David Chalian, among others -- and many behind-the-scenes staff use on a regular basis. They gather information, track breaking news, crowdsource questions and share details that couldn't quite make it into the broadcast's in-depth analysis of the day's happenings. 

   

Twitter

Breaking News

By focusing on breaking news that suits our audience, we've covered subjects that have become a "Trending Topics" on Twitter several times. While the short-term value is a spike in traffic for our content on the subject, the longer-term value is exposure to new audiences. We retain on
average 150-200 new followers during each event (in addition to our usual addition of about 250 to 300 followers on weekdays). While the return on investment remains lower than that of Facebook, the exposure -- and the immediate clickthroughs -- do bring in new unique visitors. We are working to determine precisely how many visitors we are retaining.

Last week, another oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Given that one of our major traffic drivers for the past four months has been BP's Horizon oil
disaster
, we immediately tweeted the news, credited to @ap. That tweet was retweeted at least 155 times over the course of the day, including more than 100 within the first hour. The followup article, which was posted within 45 minutes of the news and updated throughout the day, received 541 clickthroughs on its aggregate bit.ly link and, per that site, was retweeted more than 100 times. It also generated at least 39 comments on Facebook. According to our Google Analytics, the page was viewed 1504 times with 233 referrals from Twitter compared to only seven hits from Google News. The
biggest referrer? Facebook, with 270 hits.

facebook_referrals_versus_yahoo!,_bing (2).png 



Why it matters: In addition to exposure to new audiences, it gives us a demonstrable way of measuring the return on investment for our web content that, in turn can shape the way we structure our emerging, web-conscious newsroom, and the bridge between our traditional broadcast practices and the "early adopter" status online that some of our team members maintain. 



Features Designed for Social Media


By comparison, consider a piece that was designed for the web and meant to spread rapidly online. Our arts team, @NewsHourArtBeat, interviewed musician Andrew Bird, whose fan base is largely online-oriented. Bird himself retweeted the link, as did 97 other Twitter entities. The story (published Sept. 2) has seen more than 8,000 individual page views on an otherwise slow weekend
for web traffic. A throw from the broadcast on Monday night, plus a well-timed tweet during the show added another 55 clicks to the main bit.ly link. 


Why it matters: We're pushing content before an audience that is aware of -- but not involved with -- our brand, while maintaining the editorial standards that have supported the show over the past 34 years. While web traffic is never the whole reason we do a
piece -- we've come to recognize that content needs an impetus to spread, and to matter to our viewers, new and old.
 

Social Media Use for Reporting

In addition to the shift toward pushing content into the social media space, we're also drawing on social media as a source by pulling content into our pieces and using Twitter especially to gain insight into events and places that we can't physically cover. As Sreenivasan has said, Twitter has become an "immersive sonar" of sorts, enabling us to monitor multiple sources and streams of information simultaneously.

While it is more work to verify sources, it's easier to see trends, directions and questions around a topic that readers and consumers are likely going to want answers to. This enables us to reach and expand our audience more effectively over the long-term. 



#Blagojevich


Across the newsroom, PBS NewsHour reporters and correspondents -- including Sreenivasan -- had Tweetdeck and HootSuite running in the background awaiting news of a verdict in the former Illinois governor's corruption trial.

As news broke of Blagojevich's conviction on one count, it was precariously near air time. Twitter beat out the AP for reporting facts from the scene, which we could then cross-check against primary sources. It also helped us uncover live-streams from Chicago media that the newsroom watched until our own broadcast went live.



#Prop8



As news of the Proposition 8 verdict broke in California, the newsroom turned to Twitter, sourcing a copy of the judge's verdict before the court's official document was posted on PACER. We supplied it to our on-air team before the broadcast, informing their discussion of the subject as much as possible, in addition to republishing it via DocumentCloud on our own website.



Engagement on Facebook



We've come to depend on -- and ask questions of -- our ever-faithful Facebook audience. When I started engaging the community on our page, we had about 5,000 fans and an RSS feed was used to add content to the page. Today, we have more than 15,000 fans and, according to Facebook's Insights toolset, we have in excess of 5,000 active users on the page every day, and an average of about 50 new "likes" per day.

According to those same statistics, about 13,000 of our fans were active on our page in the past month. On Sept. 3, for example, 15 minutes before our regular political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks were due into the studio, I posted to our Facebook page a request for topics for the online-only segment they tape every week. Within 10 minutes, I had several substantive questions. The video of Brooks, Shields and Sreenivasan answering those questions (and two more from Twitter) was posted later that evening, and we have since thanked each of the contributors personally for sharing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Now that social media has an established presence at the PBS NewsHour, we're examining how we can further embrace it both as a way to push our content -- via targeted advertising and search engine optimization, etc. -- and to pull people in by encouraging correspondents and staff members to use social media as a resource for stories, ideas and audience development.

So far, we've started to run Facebook advertising campaigns with incredibly small budgets ($10 to 15 per day) and very high returns (between .05-.078 percent conversion). Combined with a recent PBS
Facebook push, we've seen a jump from 14,900 fans (on a Friday) to 15,448 (on the following Wednesday). We spent, on average, $.63 per new fan. This represents a turning point. We will continue our organic efforts -- consistent posting, integrating other fan pages' into our content shares, targeted distribution, etc. -- in addition to our new paid endeavor.


Our ultimate goal is to maintain our incredibly high (87 percent) interaction rate as we grow our fan page to 30,000 fans and beyond. Ultimately, we expect Facebook's utility to keep up with market trends -- and rival the ROI of Google search in our quest for relevant, engaged users. 

Outside of the numbers that prove our success, our users' appreciation of our efforts has become something that we look for and appreciate as a team.

Our brand, one of the oldest and most respected in television, has morphed from a group that had an erratic and undefined presence on the Internet to one that has become a place to test new ideas and reach into new parts of the media space, in addition to being a hub of the traditional in-depth reporting and analysis.

What do you think of our efforts at NewsHour? How do you think they could be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments.

@KateGardiner (kategardiner.com)
is the PBS NewsHour's first-ever social media desk assistant and a
recent graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of
Journalism. She frequently consults on social media development for
media companies.


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August 17 2010

18:25

10 Ways to Make Video a More Interactive Experience

I love my iPad. One of the reasons I love it is that it's a great device for watching video. Some mainstream media integrate video very nicely into their iPad applications. However, it seems that all this slickness comes at a price: The conversation with the people formerly known as the audience is often non-existent. It seems that the potentially-messy-but-genuine conversation with
the community is being shifted to Facebook and Twitter.

flipboard.jpg

The iPad (and similar products) is potentially a disruptive device, empowering people to publish not just blog posts or status updates but also their own books and magazines, as the example of Flipboard (left) demonstrates. There is a danger, however, that traditional media won't understand this and will revert to its old ways by producing slick end products that broadcast without actually engaging in a conversation.

You can see this tendency at work online in the videos produced by newspapers. Yes, you can (often) embed their videos, share them on Twitter and Facebook and via email. But often you can't participate in a discussion about the video. Sometimes you can't even leave a comment. Too little effort is being made to evaluate and integrate interactive and community aspects into video.

For example, have a look at the impressive video production on WSJ.com. The videos are well done, but the integration of community interactivity is underwhelming. We're struggling with this at my own newspaper as well, but we're in the process of applying some of the solutions I suggest below.

10 Suggestions

In order to help media organizations do a better job of making video interactive, here are 10 suggestions for integrating video into a wider discussion with the community.

  1. Enable people to leave comments on a video. What I often see on YouTube, however, is that the producer or uploader of the videos do not participate in the discussion. The same rules apply here as for text articles: If you don't respond to comments, there is a risk that people will consider the comments to be akin to graffiti on a blank wall, and not participate.
  2. When interviewing colleagues or experts in a video, provide a back-channel so the audience can chat along and add to the discussion. For example, Livestream.com and Ustream.tv offer a chat and social stream next to the live video. Ustream also does this rather well in its iPhone App.
  3. It's also possible to integrate video into a text-chat module, such as the previously discussed CoverItLive. A word of caution: Most people are not good at being a talking head on video while simultaneously chatting -- it tends to give clumsy and boring results. So let the live video host focus on her job.
  4. The same rules apply as for a regular chat session: It helps to have a fixed schedule for conversational sessions, and to provide an introductory article or post to provide context and discussion material, thus enabling people to ask questions in advance and to prepare for the discussion.
  5. You can invite community members to have a video conversation by using their webcams to appear directly on camera. I've done some experiments with Seesmic video and will note that some psychological and technical barriers stand in the way of doing this well. Which means we need more experimentation.
  6. Especially when it comes to local news coverage, it could be interesting to invite your community members to contribute their own videos. In my previous post about immersive journalism, I mentioned Stroome as an interesting platform for collaborative video editing.
  7. You can easily build a virtual studio in Second Life and invite guests to participate in a live discussion with an audience of avatars/community members. Second Life enables you to combine audio (for host and guests) and chat (for the audience/community members), and a video stream all in one. You can do this for guests who would be hard to convince to come in person to your newsroom for a live discussion. To see this in action, have a look at the Metanomics show. You can find other related practices in the aforementioned immersive journalism post and the comments on that post.
  8. Do not underestimate the importance of text. It could be interesting to have three live streams: 1) The live video stream of an interview; 2) the chat channel; and 3) a live blog. The live blog enables people who missed the live event to quickly find out what the chat was about. During the event it helps those who are hearing impaired, or who are in office settings and can't watch the video.
  9. A very simple but effective technique is to announce a video interview in advance and to ask the community for input in terms of questions or topics for discussion. This seems very straightforward, but it's mindboggling how reluctant journalists are to ask the community for input.
  10. Along the same lines, there are many ways to ask for help when preparing for a video interview: You could use a wiki, a collaborative mindmap, or let people vote for the best questions. But in my opinion the good old blog post does a great job because it's conversational and not technologically intimidating. Just explain what your intentions are for the interview, what the context is (as you would do for your newsroom colleagues), and ask people to react. A follow-up in the video or in a separate blog post would be nice. Be sure to mention which community questions made it into the interview -- and make sure you tell your guest when a question comes directly from the community.

Those are my ideas. Please share your own suggestions for turning video into a community experience below in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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May 25 2010

20:39

PBS NewsHour Collaborations Require Buy-In from the Top

Collaboration is one of the public broadcasting buzzwords of the moment. The new PBS NewsHour is a national news organization that is trying to figure out how collaboration works.

Collaboration was one of the bullet points when we announced the changes to the program. As with the staff reorganization, which I wrote about in my previous post on MediaShift, our collaboration efforts are moving along but still have a ways to go.

There are barriers between organizations within the public broadcasting system that we need to continue to break down before real editorial collaboration becomes a part of our natural process.

For us, it will take time and it's harder to do when HD video feeds are involved, since that requires a high level of quality. But it's not impossible. It requires creating open communication channels between partners and connecting them with the right people internally who can listen and follow through.

Driving Collaboration From the Top

The plans and intentions for each broadcast are more visible now that I sit in the middle of the newsroom. I'm happy to report that after years of thinking I was one of the only people around who cared about local stations, the new PBS NewsHour is shifting how our producers think about working with our friends in the public broadcasting system.

photo_bio_winslow.jpg

It's much easier to move mountains when you have buy-in from the top. And that is what I think we have now, starting with Jim Lehrer who is a big fan of the stations. This is reinforced with support from Linda Winslow, our executive director, and Simon Marks, our associate executive producer.

"The NewsHour recognizes that collaborations with like-minded journalists are a good way to both enrich our content and extend our reach across many different platforms," Winslow told me. "Most successful collaborations require constant attention and hard work, but the rewards are potentially immense. As news organizations strive to find new ways to engage an audience, partnering with people and organizations who are dedicated to reporting stories fairly, accurately and in some detail is, we believe, one way to ensure the survival of serious news coverage of both domestic and international developments."

Sample Initiatives

Here are some examples of how the PBS NewsHour is looking to other public broadcasters for collaboration:

I'm sure you'd get mixed responses if you asked the different parties how well these collaborations worked. That's part of the learning process. Expectations need to be set from the start, relationships need to be built slowly, and the conversation should continue after the report is posted.

Changing Roles

My job has changed, too. Since our redesign, one of my main jobs is keeping stations informed of our editorial plans, and making sure the best reporting by other producers or stations makes it onto our home page.

People who tried to partner with us in the past may find a different organization this time around, whether it's working together on a widget or co-producing a series of reports. In terms of collaborations, we're still not all the way there, much like the way PBS NewsHour's complete reorganization still has some kinks to work out.

Fellow public broadcasting collaboration veteran Amanda Hirsch, the project manager for the recently ended EconomyStory project, summed up some of the collaboration projects from the past in her own MediaShift post.

She's right on many points. I also think it takes a significant amount of internal pressure within an organization to make working with other organizations a priority. And unlike in her post, our online department is no longer in the ghetto. (My first post talked about the creek we had to cross to talk face to face with a broadcast colleague.) I now have a sunny newsroom office, and we're working hard to bring collaboration to our now-merged PBS NewsHour.

Anna Shoup is the local/national editor for PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She coordinates with local stations to develop collaborative editorial projects, such as Patchwork Nation, a partnership to cover the economy in different types of places. She also helps out with daily news updates, multimedia stories, and social media projects.

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March 12 2010

00:12

9 Tools to Help Live-Stream Your Newsroom

"We'd like to write blog posts, but don't have time."

That's the oft-heard lament in newsrooms. More and more traditional journalists recognize the benefits of blogging and social media, but many just can't figure out how to add them to their existing workload.

I have a solution that seems to work in our newsroom. When faced with this issue, I recommend colleagues do everything they usually do, such as have brainstorming sessions, take part in editorial meetings, do research and collect web links -- except now they should do it publicly.

So now, for example, brainstorming can be done with a wiki-like tool, and notes from a meeting or background research can become a blog post. Instead of saving bookmarks as private "favorites" in a web browser, you can publish them as social bookmarks. Ideas and discussions can be expressed as blog posts or as status updates on social networks.

I call this approach "live-streaming the newsroom." It was the subject of a three-day workshop I recently gave in Moscow. I was brought there by two Russian media NGOs: Eurasia-Media, the media training department of the New Eurasia Foundation, and the Foundation for Independent Radio Broadcasting (FNR).

Below is an overview of the tools we used and discussed during the workshop. We also put them into use to cover the "end of the line" of several Moscow subway lines (an approach that was inspired by a project by The New York Times).

Tools for (Almost) Instantaneous Blogging

  • Mindmaps In preparing the project, I published a MindMeister mindmap that charted out various social media tools. The map was published as an open wiki, and, as a result, people have added useful information. My colleague and co-organizer Charles Maynes at FNR also translated some key nodes into Russian. For the Moscow subway project, we made yet another mindmap.
  • Posterous/Tumblr Between classic blogging and micro-blogging services such as Twitter, there are new possibilities that allow for rapid blogging in short or long formats that also incorporate multimedia. We used "Posterous"http://www.Posterous.com, though we also could have used Tumblr. These platforms enable bloggers to post using email. Simply attach pictures, audio files or a link to YouTube, and Posterous integrates it all into a post. Here's how we used it on our workshop blog, newsroomru.
  • RSS Reader While preparing the workshop -- and during the workshop -- I used Google Reader as a feed reader and Diigo as social bookmark platform. I like the fact that Diigo enables you to create public or private groups. Have a look at the MixedRealities group.
  • Twitter During the event, I commented on the workshop using Twitter. I used the hashtags #newsroom and #newsroomru.
  • Photo/Video Sharing Flickr is extremely useful for various reasons: You can select the appropriate Creative Commons license for re-publishing pictures, and publishing pictures on Flickr can also attract new visitors to your site or blog. For video, we used YouTube. We shot using semi-professional videocameras as well as the Flip video camera, which enables fast and easy recording, editing and publishing.
  • Audio Sharing Are your colleagues still hesitant to write their own blog posts? Talk to them and record your conversation using AudioBoo (using either a laptop or an iPhone), and publish the result instantaneously via Posterous.
  • Chats Why not discuss coverage, or even the preparation of coverage, in a moderated chat session? We tried out CoverItLive on the workshop blog (on Posterous) and it worked perfectly. Within the CoverItLive interface, you can integrate streaming video (I showed Ustream), Twitter feeds and Twitter lists.
  • Twitter I think it's essential to recontextualize services like Twitter. For example, try curating with Twitter by using lists. Posterous can also be recontextualized by easily integrating into some of the major blogging platforms. Diigo, Twitter, Flickr etc can also be aggregated in a FriendFeed stream, which one can embed easily on a site or blog. No scripting knowledge required...
  • Community We also thought about how to keep in contact after the workshop ends and the participating journalists go home. Then there's the larger question of how to set up a platform for your media community. We used Ning to create the newsroomru group. Maybe we'll also use Second Life for synchronous immersive encounters in the future. (I also briefly demonstrated Second Life, which recently made it much easier to integrate web content.)

Mindset

All the above mentioned tools only become game changers in the newsroom if journalists stop thinking that they should only publish a nearly perfect, finished product. Newsgathering is an ongoing process. It's great to publish perfectly crafted articles, videos and audio -- but this should not stop us from streaming the production process.

It will, of course, be difficult to do this for some investigative work; but I think many projects can benefit from bringing your community into the brainstorming phase. It hardly takes any time at all.

Most of the things a journalist does to cover his or her beat can be live-streamed using the above mentioned tools, among many others. The value is that the audience will give you helpful suggestions, and practicing transparency will lead to increased credibility.

*****

How do you integrate social media into the workflow of the newsroom? Which other tools would you use? And don't forget that you can still add to our social media mindmap wiki!

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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January 20 2010

00:11

How to Use Meta-Stories to Engage the Newsroom, Community

How do we create a community? This question is frequently asked by editors as well as by marketing managers and other business people. More and more, I don't think you can create communities.

Communities already exist. You can try and offer them a news service or a platform that the community finds useful and engaging, but forget trying to control that community or shape it to meet the needs of your media company. The community calls the shots, not you or your company.

In December, I attended the LeWeb conference in Paris. I was impressed by Chris Pirillo, who told us that people who view communities as "tools" are tools themselves. Control is an illusion. (In fact, during his passionate presentation, Pirillo said "control is bullshit.")

With that in mind, I'd like to suggest a simple way to make your newsroom or website do a better job of connecting with the community you serve: writing meta-stories.

Meta-stories are stories about what's happening on your website, and about what happens in the newsroom. They're a great way to engage the community.

Tell a Story From Forums, Comments

We allow people to post comments directly to our newspaper's website, but we intervene and moderate whenever the debate gets personal or off-topic. This is a story in itself. I have started writing a daily story about the comments on our site and in our discussion forums. I've been amazed by the hidden gems of insight I've found. It really is a story in itself to examine how people react when a story breaks, and how the discussion evolves.

It's also important to have a forum where people can come together and interact. This is a way for them to help tell a meta-story. Using CoveritLive, I hold chat sessions each weekday (for between 30 and 60 minutes) with or without a special guest. (We're a financial newspaper, so mostly we chat about what happened with the markets.) This synchronous contact with our community builds trust. Beyond that, often people make very useful suggestions, like "why don't you publish that investment guide each quarter instead of only once a year, we really like and need it." Or they suggest interesting new angles for news stories.

Allow the Community to Listen In

My next way to create a meta-story is very simple: I talk to my colleagues. I ask them what they're up to, and what their thoughts are about ongoing stories. I just jot down a list of topics and ideas and post them on our financial blog. This becomes a story about what's going on inside the newsroom as we prepare our reporting.

Go Where Your Community Is

Once I've written my meta-stories, I share them on Facebook and Twitter in order to try and reach an even broader group of interested people. But even though I use Facebook and Twitter, I suggest focusing on the places where the community tends to focus its presence and attention.

For our paper, we generate the most debate and comments on our website, rather than on Facebook or Twitter. Our audience is interested in finance and economics, which means they have an interest in innovation and technology. But they're not geeks and aren't necessarily tech savvy, meaning that only a minority of them actively use Twitter.

Even though I'm personally inclined to spend lots of time on Twitter, I force myself to hang out more on our site. Maybe it's not the latest in social media technology, but it's where our community hangs out.

They Actually Like It

At first I was afraid that community members would complain about my comment meta-stories: 'Why did you mention his comment and not mine?' It didn't happen. People actually told me they appreciated the effort, even if they weren't the one being featured. I also get the impression some of them have started writing carefully worded comments in order to be included in the comments story.

As for my colleagues, my fear was they would object to being quoted when they are in the early stages of their reporting. It seems, however, they have no objections at all. They actually seem to appreciate the fact that their work is being noted and updated, and all they have to do is to speak to me or to jot down what they're up to -- much like status updates, in fact. It gives the editorial work a stream-like, real-time web urgency.

Keep Things Simple

So forget about complicated community-building strategies. Meet the existing community you want to serve, talk to them, talk to your colleagues, write down the whole process, and put it out there for everyone to read. (This approach works equally well for those who work with sound or video.)

Then combine that with a synchronous session (such as chat) and have real-time interactions. You'll be surprised how much your community will teach you -- not only about the news, but about what you do.

*****

I'd love to hear about your suggestions and thoughts about using meta-stories! Please share then in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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December 07 2009

18:55

Why Young Journalists in Big Newsrooms Are Risk Averse

I'm going to tell you a secret about my newsroom.

The 20-somethings there are indeed fast to pick up new technology such as social networking, RSS and the use of Flip cameras. They are also wonderful colleagues, as well as dedicated and intensely engaged journalists. Of course, that's not the secret. What is surprising is that our youngest colleagues are by no means revolutionaries. They're not the ones looking to adopt or push disruptive innovations or invent new formats. That's largely done by people who are well into their 30s or older.

Opportunity Cost

This has puzzled and, I admit, occasionally irritated me. Fortunately, I gained some insight into this issue a few weeks ago while attending the Metanomics show in Second Life. It is hosted by professor Robert Bloomfield and he interviewed blogger, author and economics Professor Tyler Cowen.

Both men are media innovators. At the end of the show, Bloomfield talked about exploration, and he outlined the concept of "opportunity cost," which refers to the cost of the alternatives you aren't pursuing. Here's a bit of what he said:

Rough economic times like these are excellent for exploration. Some of you are unemployed. More of you are probably underemployed. It may sound counter-intuitive, but now is a time for exploration, because your opportunity costs are low.

There is a second meaning to the age of exploration. The very young -- by which I mean the 20-somethings -- are filled with energy, ambition and creativity. But exploration is very expensive for them, because they get so much value from the pursuit of traditional credentials, like degrees from George Mason or Cornell. But if you are listening to this, you are probably in the 35 to 60 range. Many of you could be devoting far more of your time exploring new opportunities -- again, the opportunity costs are lower for you.

I think the concept of opportunity cost can help explain why the young journalists in our newsroom seem to be more risk adverse. Contrast this reality with the persona of the young Internet entrepreneur today. They are celebrated for upending convention. Either they succeed and are applauded, or they fail, which is considered normal in the world of entrepreneurs and startups.

But the 20-somethings entering the newsroom of established media organizations seem to be a different breed. They are also entering a very different workplace environment than the one faced by young entrepreneurs. Within a large newsroom, the expectation and requirement is that young journalists work to acquire the skills and emulate the behaviors displayed by the older leaders within that environment. They are required to integrate, rather than upend convention.

If young journalists choose to revolt against convention, they will likely be rejected by the group. This means isolation within the workplace, or outright dismissal. Pushing the limits of the organization can result in a very real cost for younger journalists. It's high risk, with potentially few rewards.

Common Good

Professor Bloomfield also spoke of another concept that relates to this issue: social good. Here's what he said:

Finally, let me emphasize that exploration is a delight and a privilege that not everyone can pursue...but it is also your duty. Exploration is a social good. Explore to the extent your opportunity costs allow. We're counting on you to help pull us out of troubled times, and give us new ways when we get to the other side.

This means that older generations in the newsroom -- those of us who have been professional journalists for quite some time and have less to lose -- have a special responsibility. We have to explore, to innovate, to take risks. This is beneficial for society, and also for the 20-somethings who want to join us in exploration, but can be hamstrung by existing conventions.

*****

What about your experience? Does the "opportunity cost" theory make sense when it comes to your newsroom or media company? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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November 30 2009

16:55

Merging Online and Broadcast Cultures to Reinvent 'NewsHour'

This is the first of a series of posts by Anna Shoup, the local/national editor for the program that will soon be renamed "PBS NewsHour." She will provide an insider's look at how the broadcast is changing, including the recent merging of its broadcast and online teams.

The "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" is re-incarnating itself as the "PBS NewsHour" on December 7. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes details involved in creating the new program, and chief among them is a complete reorganization of our editorial teams to create a merged newsroom for online and broadcast.

I've worked here for more than four years as part of a smart, and often experimental, online news team. Since 1995, the NewsHour's website has tread a path familiar to other legacy news organizations in that it was growing, yet often separate from the central news operation. The online team would write, edit, produce, blog and post our own reports. Not many of us knew the details of how the broadcast team put the program together every night. And, as I have since learned, the broadcast folks were just as confused by what web staffers did to make the site work.

I've had people ask me where I learned HTML (I know very little), if I can scan something and make a PDF (yes, but so can most people), and why we can't get their video up faster (it's not magic, it takes time). In the end, we were all committed to the core mission of serious journalism that is the hallmark of the "NewsHour." This reorganization is trying to bring these teams together.

Bridging Divides

We've worked to bridge physical and psychological divides. The "NewsHour" teams are in two buildings, and the online newsroom was tucked in a corner where people tended to stash chairs that didn't match and archive beta tapes. We literally had to cross a creek to get to the building where they tape the program. We called the rest of the staff "non-liners," and we had a slogan for our somewhat hidden newsroom: "Big Room, Big Ideas."


Soon after we received our company reorganization charts, it became clear that the old online team was going to have to break up. I was convinced that this meant the end of our scrappy, "make it up, but make it good" creative team. In a way, it was. Our reorganizers successfully ripped up a hub of multimedia reporters, designers and editors and planted many of us in the center of the broadcast newsroom. Most of the reporter-producers that were formerly online staffers are now in a reporter's bullpen. Our online art director now sits next to the broadcast's graphics team. We're now part of one team.

Different Tools, Different Languages

So Step One is complete in that we're sitting next to each other. But our cultures are still different. This is true in the way we communicate, and the way we approach the day's stories. Broadcast uses a newsroom communication tool called iNews to instant message and share scripts; onliners use Gchat and share story ideas via Google Docs. They ask: "talk or tape?" We ask: "audio, text, video, photos, slideshows, an interactive, or all of the above?"

In my case, I've been traveling the country with a broadcast team for our Patchwork Nation reporting project, and shooting footage that I'll use for online-only videos. On my first day in the new newsroom, I tried to book a guest. Tried, but failed. The second week, I tried to get footage I shot in the field onto the program and again I failed. It's going to take time. Luckily, some of my colleagues have had more success, and this is a result of everyone working together.

simon marks.jpg

Our associate executive producer, Simon Marks, promised there would be "cross-pollination" between digital reporter-producers and broadcast reporter-producers. There's already evidence of that becoming reality, with ideas now being shared over cubicle walls instead of across a creek.

This reorganization is enabling us to better serve our viewers and readers. We can now live encode an interview and get excerpts online within a couple of hours. Improving our speed is a big priority. To give you an idea of how far we've come, during the primaries the online team was once sent a cassette tape of an audio interview with then-candidate Barack Obama. We had to find a way to turn that into online content.

My co-worker and Global Health Watch reporter-producer Talea Miller has been traveling the world with an integrated reporting team. She reports to a senior producer while other people, including website editors, are also asking her to produce content.

"Because our unit already worked together closely, the reorganization has not changed that dynamic much, but we are now integrated into the foreign affairs beat so we can better coordinate all our international efforts," she said. "As with any transition, that has meant trying to feel out what our new roles are, and [learning] how to balance new and existing responsibilities, which can be a struggle at times."

(Re)Training the Teams

Now that we've cross-pollinated teams, we're all getting trained on the relevant technology. For example, the broadcast team uses Avid for video editing, while the online group favors Final Cut Pro. We now have four Final Cut suites in our newsroom and we've launched intensive training for onliners and broadcasters. I recently received an email inviting me to a breakfast session to learn how to produce a broadcast segment for the program. We plan to have people learn the different skills, figure out who's the best at what, and work from there.

This process is all to set up for the real work, which comes when we launch the new website on December 3 and the new program on Dec. 7. In my next post, I hope to share more about the broadcast, and offer reactions from my new friends in broadcast.

Anna Shoup is the local/national editor for PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She coordinates with local stations to develop collaborative editorial projects, such as Patchwork Nation, a partnership to cover the economy in different types of places. She also helps out with daily news updates, multimedia stories, and social media projects.

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