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August 14 2012

22:14

OpenCourt wins another legal challenge to online streaming in the courtroom

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has again ruled in favor of allowing OpenCourt to continue broadcasting online.

Since May 2011, OpenCourt — a judicial transparency project (and Knight News Challenge winner) that provides videostreams of court cases — has been broadcasting from Quincy District Court, offering online viewers a look at things like arraignments, traffic infractions, and drug cases. Last month, a local district attorney sued the court hosting OpenCourt to halt plans to begin streaming jury trials from the Quincy courthouse. In today’s ruling, the judge in that lawsuit said OpenCourt should be allowed to go forward and must be subject to the same rules that govern other news media, writing: “There is no reason to single OpenCourt out and impose on it a variety of restrictions that do not apply to other media organizations.”

This is not the first time the project faced a legal threat aimed at stopping the streaming. In March, the Supreme Judicial Court reinforced OpenCourt’s right to broadcast after the state sued to stop the project from recording and archiving court cases.

“There is a presumption that Massachusetts courts are open to media access and this ruling today clarified OpenCourt’s contention all along it should not be singled out as anything different from any other broadcast media,” said John Davidow, executive producer of OpenCourt and executive editor of new media at WBUR, the Boston public radio station where OpenCourt is a project. Davidow said he’s pleased with the ruling because it not only strengthens OpenCourt’s position but also furthers the project’s goals of transparency. “This isn’t about OpenCourt,” Davidow said. “This is really about the public’s access to what goes on in their courtrooms.”

In July, OpenCourt was scheduled to begin broadcasting jury trials in Quincy. Norfolk County DA Michael Morrissey sued the Quincy District Court justices, arguing that OpenCourt needed concrete guidelines from a special judiciary committee for broadcasting within the court that would protect victims, witnesses, and minors.

Davidow said Tuesday’s ruling would allow OpenCourt to move forward with plans to stream those cases from courtroom A at Quincy District Court. Davidow said the cameras and other preparations were set for recording in the jury room prior to the lawsuit — meaning OpenCourt will be ready to livestream once jury cases are scheduled. Davidow said streaming jury trials is important because those are the cases most of the public is familiar with. “The public, outside perspective of the court is trials,” Davidow said. “It’s the essence of what the public thinks takes place in courthouses across the commonwealth.”

In denying Morissey’s request, Justice Margot Botsford said the project can operate under preliminary guidelines that were put in place as a result of the decision in the earlier OpenCourt case. In that case, Commonwealth v. Barnes, the court said a special committee must create guidelines for OpenCourt to broadcast and archive court cases. In June, a preliminary set of guidelines for OpenCourt was released by the Quincy District Court. The final rules from the judiciary media committee are expected to be drafted by October.

In a statement, Morrissey said his office may seek to stop OpenCourt from recording on a case-by-case basis in order to protect victims and witnesses. From the statement:

The judiciary media committee is currently meeting and presumably working on the guidelines that this injunction asked the court to wait for before adding a second session to the live streaming. We hope that committee will expedite that process, and that the rules will provide appropriate protections so that violations of victim privacy, as occurred so many times in the Barnes case, do not occur.

November 09 2010

22:02

Inside the NewsHour's Multi-Platform Election Night Bedlam

Elections test how much information a news organization can process and then quickly and accurately share it with an audience. They're also a good time for news organizations to take stock of how far they've come since the last one, and to try the latest journalistic tools (or gimmicks).

Four years ago, YouTube was nascent and Facebook had finally opened up to everyone. By 2008, Twitter was taking off and web video was becoming more commonplace. This year, as Poynter noted, the iPad and live-streaming proved to be the 2010 election's focal points for journalism innovation, but the technology and implementation obviously have a ways to go.

At the PBS NewsHour, we'd already had plenty of time to experiment with the tools we implemented this Election Day, and things went rather well as a result. Below is a look at the different strategies and technologies we used in our election coverage last week, along with some observations about what did and didn't work.

Live-Stream at Center of Vote 2010 Plans

As was the case two years ago when the NewsHour's web and broadcast staffs were mostly separate operations, planning for 2010 Election Day coverage began months ago at the unified and rebranded PBS NewsHour.

Over the past year, the Haitian earthquake, the Foot Hood massacre and the Gulf oil spill taught staffers to operate in a more platform-neutral manner: Information is gathered and triaged to see what works best for web and broadcast audiences, and sometimes both. Vote 2010, however, was the first planned news event to truly test how our staff could concurrently serve our audiences on TV, mobile devices and on the web, as this video outlined:

We had a monumental TV task ahead this year because we were taping broadcasts at our regular time (6 p.m. ET) and adding 7 and 9 p.m. "turnarounds" for other time zones. As in past years, we opted to host a late-night election special to be fed to PBS stations. This year, the NewsHour started taping at 10 p.m., feeding the first hour exclusively to a livestream, then continuing at 11 p.m. both as a livestream and feed to stations.

We also put more effort than ever before into spreading the word about our free live-stream. As part of pre-election social media and PR outreach, we spent a few hundred bucks to sponsor an ONA DC Meetup to kick off the sold-out Online News Assocation conference. We publicized there and to our PBS colleagues that we were giving away our high-quality election night livestream.

Thanks to a combination of outreach to established partners and cold-calling other media and bloggers that might want an election video presence, we increased the reach of the NewsHour's live-stream by having it hosted elsewhere including local PBS stations, the Sunlight Foundation, AARP, Breitbart and Huffington Post.

We also hosted a map with live AP election data on our site and combined it with our map-centric Patchwork Nation collaboration. We used CoveritLive to power a live-blog of results, analysis and reports from the field. Extra, the NewsHour's site for students and teachers, solicited opinion pieces from students in Colorado, Wisconsin and Florida on topics ranging from why they back specific candidates, why young people should care about voting and whether young voters are informed enough to cast a ballot.

Collaboration via Google Docs

Thankfully, many of the tools we experimented with to cover the 2008 election -- Google Docs, Twitter, Facebook -- have since matured as newsroom resources. Except for a few momentary hiccups, Twitter was as stable as we could have hoped on Election Day.

newshour at desk.jpg

Two years ago, Google Docs had a clunkier feel. If two people were in the same document, both would have to click save repeatedly to quickly see updates added by the other. But upgrades have since fulfilled some of the instantaneous collaborative promise (and hype) of the now-crested Google Wave.

On election night, more than a dozen NewsHour staffers worked in the same text document in real-time -- filing reports from the field and transcribing quotes from NewsHour analysts and notable guests on other networks. In a different spreadsheet, staff kept track of which races were called by other news organizations and when. We also used the embedded chat feature in Google Docs to communicate while editing and adding information.

Unlike two years ago, I could copyedit a report still being typed by my colleague, Mike Melia, several miles away at the Democrats' election HQ in Washington. We worked out ways of communicating within the document in order to speed up the process. For example, when he typed a pound sign (#), that signaled the paragraph was ready and I immediately pasted it into CoveritLive.

The instant that major races were called by one of our senior producers, reporter-producer Terence Burlij alerted our control room via headset then added a Congressional balance of power update to our liveblog.

In-House Innovations

Our graphics department and development team cranked out numerous innovations to serve the election demands of the website and and our five hours of breaking news broadcasts. As Creative Director Travis Daub put it:

Katie Kleinman and Vanessa Dennis crunched the AP data and built a truly innovative system that dynamically generates a graphic for every race on the ticket. Thanks to their efforts, we were able to call up any race with accurate data in a matter of seconds. I venture to bet that we were the only network last night with an election graphics system running in Google Chrome.

Those same graphics of more than 450 candidates and races were available in a matter of seconds for use on the web, but we opted not to use them since the vote tallies changed so quickly.

Traffic Numbers

Creating a valuable-yet-free live-stream and quickly posting concession and victory speeches onto our YouTube channel, live-blog and Facebook appears to have paid off in terms of traffic.

newshour facebook.jpg

Thanks to our partners at Ustream, who helped us stream 516 years' worth of oil spill footage earlier this year, we were able to attract a sizable audience for our special election live-stream, in large part due to them posting a giant promotion on their home page for a full day. Our election live-stream garnered more than 250,000 views, more than 141,000 of which were unique.

We also notified our 73,000 iPhone app users of our special coverage plans, and more than 8,300 used the app to view our election coverage and/or live-stream. Our app download traffic tripled on Election Day, and pushed us to the brink of 100,000 app users.

As for Facebook, we were blown away by the breaking news engagement we got. It has us reconsidering that strategy to post more breaking news content for our Facebook audience. A separate two-day effort targeting NewsHour ads on Facebook pages of specific political campaigns grew our fans about 7.3 percent in that short period.

What We Learned

So what were the major takeaways from this latest election season?

  • Earlier, Wider Promotions -- Our social media and promotions teams landed our elections coverage some great placements and media mentions this year. In 2012, we'll start our outreach to potential partners and local stations even earlier, and do more promotion on-air, online and on mobile devices and with whatever new tools or services crop up between now and then.
  • Be All Things to All Visitors -- Every person who visits our site seeks a different mixture of information. Some want the latest election returns, some want smart analysis of what's transpiring and some want to watch the NewsHour broadcast or victory and concession speeches. We'll continue to feature all of that, but we'll improve how quickly they can find the specific information they want.
  • Practice Makes Perfect -- Just when you think the staff's last pre-election live-blog rehearsal has perfected your workflow, one tiny detail proves you ever-so-wrong on the big night. The last two things I did on election night before heading home was click "end event" on CoveritLive then check the home page. Turns out, by ending the event -- instead of leaving it on hiatus as we'd done in practice runs -- transformed what had been a reverse-chronological live-blog into a chronological one. At 3 a.m., we suddenly had news from 5:45 p.m. at the top of our homepage. I got Art Director Vanessa Dennis out of bed, but neither of us could find a quick-fix solution. We disabled the live-blog home page feed and I reworked some live-blog content into a short blog post summing up the night's biggest developments that could hold until our politics team posted the Morning Line dispatch a few hour later. Lesson learned.

The tone was mostly upbeat at our election coverage post-mortem meeting. We then realized the Iowa caucuses are just 14 months away -- so election planning will be front and center once again very soon.

Dave Gustafson is the PBS NewsHour's online news and planning editor. He mostly edits copy and multimedia content for The Rundown news blog and homepage, but his jack-of-all-trades duties also involve partnerships, SEO, social media, widgets, livestreaming, freebies and event planning.

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March 23 2010

16:11

#ds10: Blinked.tv – the emphasis is on live video and audio

Last week technology firm Blinked.TV demoed its mobile phone app for livestreaming audio and video to delegates at the Digital Storytelling conference (#ds10).

[Disclaimer: Blinked.TV was a sponsor of Journalism.co.uk's news:rewired conference in January]

The app, which will soon be available for iPhone users, lest you record and stream audio and video, and send text updates. Users can create channels archiving this multimedia content and different permissions, which can be embedded in their sites. Users can also switch between broadcast, audio and text modes without losing connection to a server during the stream, said co-founder Andrew Cadman.

The problem that digital journalists have is constantly swapping between applications to do multimedia work. Switching between applications is time lost.

The app’s interface is illustrated in this roughly-shot video below:

According to founder Andrew Cadman the app allows for “digital storytelling with a single broadcast” – an important part of this is the metadata attached to each piece of material. By itself a broadcast won’t tell a story, said Cadman, but with captions and location data attached to it, it can. The app also allows for multiple users to contribute to the same channel from different handsets and locations.

Providing high-quality livestreaming is the company’s ultimate aim – current 95 per cent of content uploaded via the Blinked.TV site is streamed live, said Cadman. Blinked.TV will also be trialled by a big UK media group in the next few months and is looking a charging larger companies for use of its embedded channels or charging on a bandwidth use basis.

Competition

As part of the Digital Storytelling event, Blinked.TV is running a competition offering prizes of £350 for the best individual and best team broadcast produced using the application. The deadline for entries, which will be judged by Blinked and digital journalism collaborative not on the wires, who organised the event, is 3 May.

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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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