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August 27 2011

21:01

LNR- #Irene - North Carolina coastal area live via USTREAM

North Carolina coastal areas getting pounded by Irene. Below a live USTREAM via hurricanetrack-com. The team behind the website set out their weather station that is reporting live right now from Rodanthe, pretty much the farthest east point along the NC coast.

 

Broadcasting live with Ustream

Hurricane Irene on USTREAM www.ustream.tv/channel/hurricanetrack-com

Live updates via Twitter @hurricanetrack

Continue to read www.hurricanetrack.com

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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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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March 15 2010

17:55

How Mark Luckie Created 'The Digital Journalist's Handbook'

It's an increasingly common story in the news business: Young journalist roars out of graduate school at Berkeley, gets a great job at a magazine in New York, works like mad, gets laid off when the economy tanks, turns to his blog and Twitter to brand himself a rock star in his field, publishes a book packed with the tips, tricks, and tutorials he's been blogging about, then gets a great gig with a non-profit news startup back in California.

Okay, so maybe it's not all that common a career path, but it's the way things have unfolded for Mark Luckie. These days, Mark is a multimedia producer at California Watch -- but you might know him best as the voice behind 10,000 Words. Now he's also the author of The Digital Journalist's Handbook. I recently spoke with him about how he turned his blog into a book.

Mark Luckie

Ryan Sholin: Mark, I've been following you on Twitter and on your blog for some time now, and you make a habit of sharing what seems like all your secrets, from tools to tips to tutorials. When did you decide to wrap all that together in a book, and how did you start gathering all the right pieces up?

Mark Luckie: I decided to start writing a book in the summer of 2009 when I was unemployed and had lots of free time. I spent weeks in the public library reading through old posts from the blog and reading what others had written about online journalism.

RS: How hard was it to make sure everything that landed in the print edition was evergreen?

ML: It was probably the hardest part... weeding out technologies and topics that could possibly be obsolete right after the book was printed. Twitter lists, for example, are a great tool for journalism, but they just debuted and it would be unwise to include them in a book when they're still so new and journalists are still finding ways to use them.

RS: Right, so instead of cataloging apps and widgets that could vanish next week, you took the approach of building what you call "a comprehensive guide to the fundamentals of digital journalism." But it's more than Photoshop and Final Cut tutorials, right? How do you take a common tool and explain the best practices for journalists armed with it?

ML: Absolutely... there's more to digital journalism than photos and video. There's slideshows, databases, maps and more. When I write, I try to break the topic down as simply as possible and try to omit technical jargon that it's easy to get intimidated by. I try to find real world examples that people can look to and say, 'Oh, that's what that is.'

Many professionals who teach online journalism use terms and examples that the beginning journalist isn't familiar with. It's all about making it as simple as possible.

RS: Let's rewind a bit here -- you wrote the book in the summer of 2009 while you were unemployed and had lots of time. What happened before that? When did you pick up multimedia and online journalism as a passion? (Michele McClellan wants to know if it was after spending time at the Knight Digital Media Center at Berkeley.)

ML: I didn't know there was such a thing as multimedia journalism until I attended grad school at UC Berkeley. I had known how to use the tools like video, photo and computer programming, but didn't know I could combine them with my love for journalism.

It was when I started teaching multimedia skills to other journalists through the Knight Digital Media Center that I realized how much I loved the craft and the ability to tell stories using many different media.

(Editor's Note: The Knight Digital Media Center is a sponsor of MediaShift and Idea Lab.)

RS: It seems natural now, of course, that you can move from teaching in person to your blog to your book. Not sure how many people would have seen that coming five or seven years ago. What do you think might be the next platform for journalists like Mark Luckie that want to share their knowledge with their peers?

ML: Good question. I still think there's a platform for blogging, but I'd like to see people take advantage of the various kinds of blogging like video blogging or live blogging.

I'm a big fan of tools like CoverItLive and Ustream that allow anyone to have live, ongoing discussions instead of static, one-way talks.

And that I think is the future for journalism, too.

RS: Speaking of tools, what's your general advice when it comes to free web-based applications vs. full-featured software?

ML: I rarely ever feature software on the blog, not only because there is a lot of sketchy software out there that can do damage to your computer, but also because it's hard to convince people to download, install, and try full-fledged programs.

I love web-based applications because it's an opportunity to try a new tool without investing too much time and effort into it. If you like it, you can keep using it and if not, you can just kinda move on. Also, if you really like a web-based tool you can always upgrade and grab professional software that offers more features.

RS: Do you think of yourself as someone who practices a degree of radical transparency? What secrets are you keeping for your next book?

ML: I think journalists often ask people some of the deepest, probing, and most personal questions they'll ever be asked, yet journalists are notorious for keeping their professional and personal lives under wraps. I don't see the harm in sharing personal information if it helps someone else out. I'm actually a very private person but I know that ultimately what I do share can potentially help someone else having the same kind of issues.

As for the next book, I never try to think too far ahead. When I went to undergrad I had no idea I'd become a journalist, and when I went to grad school I had no idea I'd leave a multimedia journalist. And I certainly had no idea I would ever write a book. So who knows what the future holds?

RS: Let's rephrase that question about the next book, then. What was the last thing you decided to leave out of 'The Digital Journalist's Handbook'?

ML: The one major thing I purposely left out was detailed tutorials for specific programs (they all exist online). Maybe the next step is a '...for Dummies' series of books, but I focused on what aspects of the programs journalists should use ...

But my next project, whatever it is, will definitely be based on the response and feedback from this first book, and whatever journalists' needs are.

RS: Sounds like a great idea. Here's the last question: What's the one tip you'd give to journalists that are still behind when it comes to building their multimedia and online skills?

The Digital Journalist's Handbook

ML: Besides buy the book? ... I'd say don't wait for someone to come around and teach you multimedia skills. If you really want a future in journalism you have to start using online tutorials to start learning some of the programs and then start practicing on your own.

A couple of years ago, there was a huge barrier to learning new technology because of the expense, but nowadays multimedia tools are incredibly inexpensive and the Internet is a free platform where anyone can experiment with various media.

RS: Mark, thanks for taking the time to do this. I hope your book helps out lots of journalists, whether they're freelancers trying to string together gigs into something full-time, or veteran editors looking to learn something new.

ML: Thanks Ryan. I'm excited to see where journalism is headed.

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