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January 07 2011

16:45

Learning How to Teach Multimedia Journalism







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

Doing multimedia journalism and teaching it are two very different things. The past semester marked my first as an adjunct professor. It was probably the best thing I could have done for my own education.

At KPBS, I've produced online news content using audio, video, photography, slideshows, visualizations, social and interactive media. So when I was offered the opportunity to teach a multimedia journalism course at a local university, I jumped right in. After all, I had already led a number of training workshops. This is going to be easy, right? Yeah, right.

Teaching vs. Training

In the fall of 2010, Point Loma Nazarene University added a new upper-level course, Multimedia Journalism (WRI 430), as a requirement for its Journalism and Broadcast Journalism majors. I was brought on to teach the class the summer before it would begin. During my interview with the school's journalism faculty, I was asked two questions that changed how I would approach the class:

"You have some experience doing multimedia training, but what do you see as the difference between 'training' and 'teaching'?"

"Your suggested curriculum has a lot of technology listed here, but where does that fit into storytelling?"

In my haste to outline how I would train students in multimedia, I focused more on learning the tools. Of course, the purpose is always storytelling. And my role wasn't merely to train them to use tools (workshop style) -- I needed to teach them how to become multimedia storytellers.

Learning Never Ends

Software is temporary; new tools and never-ending feature upgrades require constant learning. I've learned my share of dead programs (anyone else remember Authorware?). But regardless of the tools we use, there are core principles underlying how we communicate through different media. I needed to help students adapt to -- and thrive in -- the change they would inevitably witness during their careers.

So how exactly do you teach someone how to learn? Throw them in the deep end. I had to almost force myself not to teach them how to use the software in order to let them to find the answers for themselves. "Ask Google" and "the Help menu is your friend" were mantras of the class. I did give brief introductions to point them in the right direction, but then I let them sort out the details.

Getting Started

Final Cut ProNew to the school's facilities, I toured the lab to confirm what programs were installed before planning assignments. Final Cut Pro, check. Photoshop, check. Those are key programs, but multimedia projects often require lots of extra apps to get things done (Audacity, SoundSlides, MPEGStreamClip, CyberDuck, etc.). Unfortunately, as is common in academic labs, software requests needed to have been submitted several months in advance; it was too late for me to get anything added. This was a blessing in disguise because limitations can inspire creativity. It also gave me a chance to apply a concept KPBS will be experimenting with in 2011: Using Final Cut as the single program for doing radio, video and audio slideshows.

In preparing the curriculum, I bookmarked syllabi, blog posts and assignments other professors had generously published online. This gave me a general framework, but ultimately couldn't give me everything I needed. My course would fit within the structure of a specific school's curriculum. I put together a schedule, ordering the assignments to build on each other:

  1. Podcast on multimedia journalism: Use clips from Multimedia Standards, write and record voiceover.
  2. Storytelling through audio: Allow the subject's voice to tell the story without a narrator. Use sound to create a scene.
  3. Storytelling through a still image: Use one image with caption to illustrate a story.
  4. Storytelling through a photo series: Create a narrative through a combination of wide, medium, and close-up perspectives.
  5. Storytelling through audio slideshow: Combine concept of audio story with narrative series of photos.
  6. Storytelling in video: Show action in a series of edited clips to accompany a story.
  7. Storytelling through data visualization: Use spreadsheet to graph data, optimized for clear interpretation.
  8. Storytelling through maps: Make location-based information useful through an interactive map.

Present and Critique

My class was small enough to use an approach you would see in a studio art class. I gave a brief lecture on a topic and then gave an assignment. By next class they needed to have work to present. During class, students talked about each other's work and critiqued what did and didn't work. By the next class, they needed to have integrated that feedback and have published their final work.

This process of seeing work before and after also made for an effective grading practice. It was a clear gauge of effort to see if they incorporated changes. I also wanted them to have the experience of taking feedback, and more importantly, to learn how to give analytical criticism in a productive and professional way.

In addition to these projects, I required weekly social media updates: Share a story on Google Reader, bookmark a link on Delicious, and post to Twitter. I've spent enough time helping reporters integrate Twitter into their process to be determined not to let my students get by without dominating these elements. Yahoo's announcement about wanting to sell Delicious underscores the need to focus on the concept rather than the app itself: Track sources, save links and share updates throughout the process. As a sign of success, students are maintaining their updates even after the semester ended.

Putting It Into Practice

KPBS Story IllustrationWe were fortunate to have an election during the fall semester, so I took the class downtown on election night. They live tweeted, posted photos of candidates and supporters to Flickr, and published pie charts of election results using Google Spreadsheets. KPBS used the charts online and two students had their photos selected for stories. Students gained practical experience and broader exposure by collaborating with the local public media outlet.

By the end of the semester, we were able to have robust discussions about which medium would be most effective for a particular story. And that, in a nutshell, is where successful multimedia stories begin.

Teaching as a professional adjunct clarified the distinction between a training workshop and a university course. Workshops are great for quick skill building, but they don't compare to four months of constant practice, feedback and growth with a mentor challenging you along the way.

Nathan Gibbs teaches multimedia journalism as an adjunct instructor for Point Loma Nazarene University and the SDSU Digital and Social Media Collaborative. Gibbs oversees multimedia content as web producer for KPBS, the PBS and NPR affiliate in San Diego. He played a key role in the station's groundbreaking use of social media during the 2007 Southern California wildfires and continues to drive interactive strategy. Gibbs is on Twitter as @nathangibbs and runs Modern Journalist, a blog for journalists exploring multimedia.







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

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October 22 2010

15:00

How a Fish Story Inspired Collaborative Video Platform Stroome

Like birds, most fish have something to say, especially when it comes to mating calls. You can read it about in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago for the New York Times' Science Times. But what does a talking fish sound like? Look like? In fact, it was exactly those questions that led to the creation of Stroome.

Rush to Produce video for the Times

The decision to publish the fish story happened in a hurry. On a Thursday afternoon, I received a phone call from one of my editors letting me know the piece would be running the following Tuesday. I had already decided that I wanted to create an accompanying web video but this was an unexpected hustle. I would have to have both the story and the video full edited and delivered by Monday evening.

I quickly called Cornell University's PR department. They agreed to film the aptly named professor Andrew H. Bass as soon as he was available on the next afternoon and send the footage overnight. However, they only had access to a video camera that shot pro DV sized tape. This meant that not only was I going to lose more than a day waiting for the shots but I would also have to hire a local video house here in Los Angeles to transfer the interview into a mini DV format which I could edit with my own equipment.

A similar scenario unfolded with professor Joseph Luczkovich from East Carolina University. He had a friend shoot him using a digital camera while I conducted the interview over the phone and while I received the file within hours, it was formatted for a PC and I had to find a way to convert it for my Mac. Since I had no time to find friendly shareware, I had to pay for a program that I only used once.

Thankfully, when the audio files of fish grunting, humming and jack-hammering came in, they were easy to incorporate.

By the end of the weekend, I had a cut ready to send to the New York Times for their approval. I began to upload the file, but in the middle of the transfer the connection dropped. As I did not have authority to alter any file on the New York Times' computer system, I had to start the file transfer all over again. This happened with several versions as the deadline approached in New York. A kind editor stayed late that Monday night to make sure the file had landed in the system properly and to drop it into the web version of the story.

noisy fish grab.jpg

On Tuesday, when the story ran, everyone's efforts paid off. The piece, What's Making that Awful Racket? Surprisingly, It May be Fish, raced up the popularity charts. I refreshed my browser every few minutes until I could victoriously watch it land on the "Top Ten Most Emailed List."

I am certain that images and audio certainly contributed to that result. However, the process to bring it all together made it clear to me that the production flow was profoundly flawed for collaboration and sharing.

Emergence of Stroome

Out of this confusion arose the phoenix we now call Stroome. The site was developed to solve the problems I encountered working on the fish story. Today, instead of files and tapes being sent from one location to another silo, everyone involved would simply join the "NY Times Fish" group that I would have created on Stroome. Each individual with content - video, audio or photographs - would then upload to that group. Using that material, I would have been able to edit the first version for the New York Times to instantaneously view. If any editor saw the need for a change, she would just click on "Copy and Remix" to make the changes or add any necessary comments. All of this would have been kept private to the group until the story was ready to be pushed across the web.

There is a multitude of other ways to use Stroome. Anyone can create a group -- public or private -- and share and remix content with friends, colleagues or like-minded Stroome members. Shared video can be shot at the same place or from across the globe. Stories can focus on a single narrative or take multiple directions. I hope many uses will also be found for it which I cannot conceive. Kind of like the inconceivable idea of talking fish. Except it's true. Fish do talk. You can even get a ringtone for your mobile phone. Check it out.

October 07 2010

08:12

October Net2 Think Tank: Creating Awesome Video

Video is a great medium to inform and inspire our audiences to action. And, in the last few years the barriers to entry have become far lower than ever before. Today, affordable video capability and basic editing software are widely available - and easy to use. How can organizations and enterprises best use video, though? This month's Net2 Think Tank is asking for your tips and tools for creating effective videos. From choosing the hardware to promoting the finished product, we want to hear from you. Share your tools, tactics, and best practices with the NetSquared Community today!

read more

August 23 2010

09:40

Why every independent news site should have a YouTube channel

John Hillman is editor of PC Site and head of publishing and projects at Net Media Planet.

With video in the ascendancy many independent online publishers and bloggers are beginning to feel that offering video content is a necessity rather than a nice optional extra. Yet creating editing and hosting a video can be an expensive and time consuming business that isn’t always easy to get right.

However, building a YouTube channel to sit alongside your indie website, whether it’s a blog, online magazine or hyperlocal, is much easier than many people would think. You can build the channel out to look exactly like your existing site, and with some good content and clever use of title tags you could find yourself attracting lots of new readers that may never have found you otherwise.

The figures speak for themselves. People searching for videos on YouTube make up a staggering 25 per cent of all of Google’s search volumes; it stands to reason therefore that anyone serious about increasing their readership should be tapping this rich source of traffic. When you also consider that Google now automatically displays a selection of YouTube videos in its search results, the opportunity for drawing new readers to your site should be obvious

As an independent online publisher we’ve found that YouTube has a lot to offer, providing us with a platform on which to publish unique video content, increasing our readership levels and helping us build our reputation as a quality online technology site.

Video equipment

Fortunately online video is valued more for its content than its production value, so while big news organisations may spend thousands on AV equipment, any indie publisher can get going with tools as basic as a Flip video camera and an open source video editing programme. This amounts to a total cost of around £150.

At PC-Site we use Flip video cameras all the time. They are cheap, small and fully optimized for the internet. This lets you get on with making basic videos without having to worry about such unfathomable tech conundrums as codecs fighting each other on the timeline.

When it comes to editing software there are lots of open source options out there, but Camtasia Studio works exceptionally well as both a movie editor and for creating screencasts. It costs about £220, which is excellent value for money. It also lets you automatically upload directly to your YouTube channel once you’ve finished the production process, saving you time. Alternatively we use TubeMogul to upload our videos as it enables us to do it across multiple sites, such as YouTube, HowCast and Vimeo simultaneously.

Branding your YouTube channel

This is a very important part of the process. It takes surprisingly little to give both your videos and your YouTube channel a quick makeover so that they reflect your blog or website.

Using Adobe Fireworks, for example, you can quickly mock up a little logo, if you have one, which will sit nicely in the corner of your screen during playback. Those of you with Adobe Illustrator skills can even create an ident to give your videos that real ‘TV Channel’ look. All of these things require a bit of extra effort but they really make a big difference to the finished product.

Your YouTube channel itself can also be branded by uploading a suitable background image that fits with your blog or website, and by going through the YouTube registration process you will be able to choose how the URL ends, also giving you that extra brand uniformity.

Once you’ve customised your videos and YouTube channel you can use the ‘sharing’ button to automatically syndicate your videos through your various online social networks, and you can embed your videos on your blog or website. You can also link your YouTube channel directly with your blog using the ‘blog setup’ button, this way your videos will post straight to your website from YouTube.

Getting it all up and running does take a small investment from you in terms of time, problem solving and creative thought, but the benefits that come from it are well worth the effort. One of our videos got nearly 30,000 views in a couple of months, all from just a cheap video camera a free video editing platform and the benefits of YouTube’s vast army of viewers. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

More from John Hillman on Journalism.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @johnjhillmanSimilar Posts:



August 20 2010

17:27

Stroome Helps Journalists Collaborate via Online Video Remixing

This post was co-authored by Nonny de la Peña

Stroome, a winner of the 2010 Knight News Challenge grant, fosters a social network that allows journalists to collaborate together by sharing content and stories that can be edited right in a browser and then pushed across the web.

Prototyped at USC Annenberg's pioneering Online Program on Online Communities in the fall of 2008, the idea was strikingly simple: Create a place where journalists can efficiently work together to create a culture that offers accurate, contextual news in real-time.

The result was Stroome, an online video editing platform crossed with a social network that allows you to upload, edit, and share thousands of clips from different users. In short, the perfect toolset for journalists aspiring to retool in the digital age. Learn more in the below video:

Knight News Challenge: Stroome from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Why Stroome? Why Now?

Anyone who has tried to work on a video project in which the stakeholders are in geographic locations knows the problems inherent in online collaboration. File transfer slows down the process; there are breakdowns in communication; the flow of critical information is often lost in the mix.

Stroome breaks that technological and communication bottleneck by offering revision histories and intuitive, collaborative editing tools that allow individuals and groups work together for the good of the whole to foster a supportive culture that can quickly produce accurate news stories.

Stroome not only enables the next generation of digital journalists to upload and edit content right in the browser but, more importantly, allows stakeholders in disparate locations to create a community around that content -- from small groups to national news outlets.

Stroome Dashboard_081610.jpg

Whether it's a small group of journalists working to get out a story quickly, or a community remixing pieces to reflect their points of view, Stroome focuses on visual journalism as a participatory process. Our unique browser-based platform allows you to upload, edit, and share thousands of clips from different users in real-time. Then you can push your projects out across the web to the major social media sites or share them on Stroome with other users so that they can open and edit your clips, too.

But the real breakthrough is that by publishing content quickly and allowing diverse geographic communities to communicate, we believe Stroome will rejuvenate the relationship between a news organization and its audience by radically increasing responsiveness with an inexpensive, agile online solution.

But don't count out the satellite trucks just yet. We fervently believe participatory video is the future of visual storytelling on the web, and we are devoted to trying to use the technology to support the idea that content creation can be a communal experience instead of merely a tool for passive viewing. But we also recognize that what we are asking will require a significant shift in thinking.

The Future of News is Digital

For us, that shift begins today. Over the next few weeks, our team will be working with local news outlets to set up a series of beta experiments in which the Stroome platform will be implemented in the field and in the classroom. So if you have a unique case study you'd like to test, email us info@stroome.com.

July 16 2010

15:00

No, seriously: What the Old Spice ads can teach us about news’ future

BrandFlakesforBreakfast might have put it best: “…If you live in a cave, you need to be aware of the fact that Old Spice owned the internet yesterday.”

Indeed. How the brand did that owning is fascinating (and, if you haven’t seen it already, ReadWriteWeb’s detailed description of that process is well worth the read); essentially, Old Spice’s ad agency spent the entire day yesterday curating the real-time web, writing and producing videos based on that curation, and posting them to YouTube — where, again, the real-time web could do its thing. It was, as Josh pointed out, the advertising world’s answer to the Demand Media model of content creation: research, churn, rinse, repeat.

And — here’s where Old Spice parts ways with Demand Media — pretty much everyone seems to love it. (As one web metrics firm noted, “We took a look at some of the most explosive viral videos we’ve measured, including Bush dodging Iraqi shoes, Obama giving his electoral victory speech, and Susan Boyle, and found that in the first 24 hours, Old Spice Responses outpaces all of them.”) And it’s a popularity that seems to bridge the culture. The Atlantic wondered whether the campaign augurs the future of online video, while Reddit posted an open letter declaring, “Ok, you won us all over Mr. Old Spice Man. On reddit…our demographic is notoriously difficult to crack. And hell, you cracked it well, on our home turf which we patrol carefully, and we liked it.” Online denizens from Alyssa “big on Twitter” Milano to 4chan — yes, that 4chan — have also apparently hopped onto Mr. Old Spice Man’s horse.

So (putting aside the fact that we now live in a world where the members of 4chan and Alyssa Milano have only one degree of separation between them, and thus that End Times approach) we have to wonder: What might the Internet-owning power of the towel-clad spokesman hint about, yes, the future of news?

There’s the obvious, of course: the fact that the ads are personalized. That their content is created for, and curated from, the conversational tumult of the web — “audience engagement,” personified. Literally. The videos are, in that sense, a direct assault on top-down, author’s-artistic-vision-driven, mass media broadcast sensibilities.

But they’re an assault on mass media in another way, as well. The real hook of the videos isn’t the OSM’s awesomely burly baritone, or the whimsy of his monologues (the scepter! the bubbles! the fish!), or the postfeminist irony of his Rugged Manliness, or any of that. It’s the fact that we’re seeing all those things play out dynamically, serially, in (semi-)real-time. And: in video. Video that, though laughable in production quality when compared to most of its made-for-TV counterparts, is literally laughable in a way that most of those counterparts simply are not. The ads are weird and wonderful and hilarious. And the made-for-YouTube gag is part of the joke; the poor production value, relatively speaking, is part of the point.

In other words: The process of the videos, here, matters as much as the product. (Sound familiar?)

So, then, here’s the news angle. We often, in our focus on content (the news itself) and context (the newsgathering project, engagement with users, etc.), forget the more superficial side of things: the presentation framework of news content as its own component of journalism’s trajectory. The question of production value — essentially, to what extent do consumers care about high-quality production in the presentation of their news? — is still very much an open one in online journalism, and one that probably doesn’t get enough attention when we think about what the news will become as we adapt it to the digital world. That’s particularly so for video. Any given MediaStorm video, say, with its expertise and artistry, is likely going to be superior, aesthetically, to any given YouTube video. The question, though, is how much better. And whether, for cash- and time- and staff- and generally resource-strapped news organizations, the value added by finesse justifies the investment in it.

The Old Spice videos are a particularly instructive case, since, for journalistic purposes, they essentially lack content; they’re marketing messages, not news. Measured against the high-production-value ads on TV, they allow for a nice little side-by-side comparison of audience reception. And judging by the campaign’s expansive popularity, audiences not only don’t seem to mind that the ads are relatively low in quality; they actually seem to like that they are. The straight-to-YouTube thing is not just a means to virality, or an implied little irony; it’s also part of a broader shift: low(-ish) production value as a ratification of, rather than a threat to, the content in contains. When it comes to news video, slickness can be a drawback; in an increasingly UGC-driven world, it’s video that’s grainy (and bumpy, and poorly framed, and generally amateurish) that tends to imply authenticity. As we move, in our news, from vertical structures to horizontal, our expectations about images themselves are moving along with us.

Does that mean that news organizations should abandon high-quality video production, if they’re already engaged in it? Or that their sites should eschew lush data visualizations or artistic photography? No, certainly not. But it does mean that we should be cognizant of production value as an independent factor in journalism — one that can and should be open to moderation and experimentation, either for better or, when warranted, worse. Quality content tends to speak for itself; the Old Spice ads, with their churned-out, on-the-fly, Flipcam-y feeling, are reminders that consumers recognize that better than anyone. Not all journalism needs to be slick or sharp or beautiful; some of it might actually benefit from a little messiness. And from, yes, a little spice.

June 17 2010

17:30

Knight News Challenge: Meet Stroome, the collaborative FlickrWikiGoogleDoc for video

Stroome began, like so many cool things do, with talking fish. Nonny de la Peña, a veteran journalist, had written a story for The New York Times outlining the sonic mating calls of fish (more specifically: “fish barks, chatter, groans, drones and cries”), and wanted to include video of the noisy-fish phenomenon along with her text.

This involved: getting the physical video from scientists at Cornell, waiting for the video to be FedExed to her, trying to edit the video on the Times’ system, and dealing with PC-to-Mac conversion issues — a process, all in all, that took a bunch of patience and several days to complete. Years, in WebJourno Time.

Wouldn’t it be great, de la Peña thought, if there were an easy way to store, edit, and share videos? Enter Stroome, the platform that de la Peña and her colleague Tom Grasty created to simplify the notoriously labor-intensive editing-and-sharing process. Named for the Dutch word “stromen” (“to move freely”) — and taking a cue from Google and Twitter and other quirkily-named phenoms — the platform “works like iMovie, allows for shared editing like Wikipedia, and stores content like Flickr,” Grasty told me. With Stroome, users get an “aggregated, rights-cleared, user-generated clip pool.”

One big selling point: Users can upload video and then collaborate on editing and remixing that video, all within the web browser. (“It’s the concept of being able to upload any piece of content from your phone, your webcam, your hard drive,” Grasty says.) Editing that used to be a matter of back-and-forth — one user editing, then sending the remixed product to other users for their edits — can, on Stroome, be done wiki-style: Think Google Docs for video. As Grasty, who has a background in film production, puts it: “It enables you to give your notes by literally doing your notes.”

This is Stroome’s second attempt at a Knight award. They applied last year, and got to the top-50 stage, but not beyond. But — and here’s a lesson for any would-be News Challenge grantees — they reapplied this year. (They were encouraged to do that, in particular, by Stroome’s win of the audience-choice award at last year’s “6 in 60” contest at ONA — a “great validation,” Grasty says, from “just squarely the group of people” they’d want to target as users.) Now, the team is the recipient of $200,000 to develop and distribute Stroome. But: “we look at it as one year,” Grasty says, “because we really want to deliver.”

In other words, as de la Peña and Grasty put it as they introduced Stroome at the Knight conference: “We hope this is a go-to global solution, and we think it’s starting today.”

June 16 2010

18:30

Announcing the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners: Visuals are hot, and businesses are big winners

They started out last year as a crowded field of hopefuls from around the world, each dreaming of a chance to perform under the big lights. Over months, their numbers dwindled as the level of competition rose; each successive round brought new disappointment to those eliminated and new hope to those left in the running. And now, whittled down to an elite few, they’re ready for the global stage.

Okay, I’m giving myself a yellow card: So maybe the World Cup isn’t the perfect metaphor for the Knight News Challenge. But the News Challenge is the closest thing the future-of-news space has to a World Cup, and while this year’s 12 winners — just announced at MIT — won’t be forced to battle each other for global supremacy, they do represent the top of a sizable pyramid of applicants — nearly 2,500 in all. You can judge for yourself which ones are Brazil and Germany and which are New Zealand and North Korea.

I’ve got information on all the winners below, but first a few observations:

Visuals seem to be this year’s theme: lots of projects about things like mapping, data visualization, video editing, and games inspired by editorial cartoons. Just one winner focuses on the business-model end of the equation (Windy Citizen’s real-time ads).

— This year’s new grants total $2.74 million. That’s up from last year’s total of $1.96 million, but still down substantially from the really big checks Knight was writing in the first two years of the News Challenge ($11.7 million in 2007, $5.5 million in 2008). The number of grantees is also up a bit from 2009 but well below earlier years (26 in 2007, 16 in 2008, 9 in 2009, 12 this year).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Knight’s overall commitment has decreased over time. Many of its grants are distributed over multiple years, so some of those early commitments are still being in force.

— Despite extending this cycle’s application deadline in part to encourage more international applicants, the winners are quite domestic — 11 American winners out of 12. In 2008, there were six international winners, and last year there were two projects that, while technically based in the U.S., were internationally focused — Ushahidi and Mobile Media Toolkit. (You could argue that this year’s One-Eight should count as international, since it’s about covering Afghanistan, but through collaboration with the U.S. military. And while Tilemapping will focus on Washington, D.C., a version of its software was used after the Haiti earthquake.)

That said, the deadline extension was also about reaching out for other kinds of diversity, and that happened in at least one way: Knight reports that nearly half of this year’s winners are private companies, up from 15 percent in 2009. That’s despite Knight’s elimination of a separate category for commercial applicants last cycle.

Below are all the winners — congratulations to one and all, and my sympathies to the thousands eliminated along the way. In the coming days, we’ll have profiles of all of the winners and their projects. In the meantime, for context, you can also read all we wrote about last year’s News Challenge and what we’ve written so far about this cycle.

CityTracking

The winner: Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design

The amount: $400,000

The pitch: “To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful.”

The Cartoonist

The winner: Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz

The amount: $378,000

The pitch: “To engage readers in the news, this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games — the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don’t have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.”

Local Wiki

The winner: Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov of DavisWiki.org

The amount: $350,000

The pitch: “Based on the successful DavisWiki.org in Davis, Calif., this project will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn and share their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects.”

WindyCitizen’s Real Time Ads

The winner: Brad Flora of WindyCitizen.com

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “As a way to help online startups become sustainable, this project will develop an improved software interface to help sites create and sell what are known as real-time ads. These ads are designed to be engaging as they constantly change showing the latest message or post from the advertisers Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. Challenge winner Brad Flora helped pioneer the idea on his Chicago news site, WindyCitizen.com.”

GoMap Riga

The winner: Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the Web and place it automatically on the map. Residents will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities.”

Order in the Court 2.0

The winner: John Davidow of WBUR

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and ’80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a Wi-Fi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the Web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms.”

Porch Forum

The winner: Michael Wood-Lewis of Front Porch Forum

The amount: $220,000

The pitch: “To help residents connect with others and their community, this grant will help rebuild and enhance a successful community news site, expand it to more towns and release the software so other organizations, anywhere can use it. The Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement. The site, currently serving 25 Vermont towns, will expand to 250.”

One-Eight

The winner: Teru Kuwayama

The amount: $202,000

The pitch: “Broadening the perspectives that surround U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves. The troops, recently authorized to use social media while deployed, and their families will be key audiences for the online journal steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback. The approach will directly serve the stakeholders and inform the wider public by bringing in on-the-ground views on military issues and the execution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Stroome

The winner: USC Annenberg’s Nonny de la Peña and Tom Grasty

The amount: $200,000

The pitch: “To simplify the production of news video, Stroome will create a virtual video-editing studio. There, correspondents, editors and producers will be able to upload and share content, edit and remix with friends and colleagues — all without using expensive satellite truck technology. The site will launch as eyewitness video — often captured by mobile phones or webcams — is becoming a key component of news coverage, generating demand for supporting tools.”

CitySeed

The winner: Arizona State’s Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell

The amount: $90,000

The pitch: “To inform and engage communities, CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the ’seed’ of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to geotag the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.”

StoryMarket

The winner: Jake Shapiro of PRX

The amount: $75,000

The pitch: “Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.”

Tilemapping

The winner: Eric Gundersen of Development Seed

The amount: $74,000

The pitch: “To inspire residents to learn about local issues, Tilemapping will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.”

June 07 2010

19:26

Apple’s impact: What Steve Jobs’ WWDC announcements mean for the news industry’s mobile strategy

Apple CEO Steve Jobs just stepped off the stage in San Francisco at this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference. His announcements focused squarely on the new iPhone 4, about which you’ll find no shortage of information at Apple’s site and elsewhere online.

But what do Apple’s announcements mean for the news industry, which increasingly looks to mobile product — Apple’s in particular — as a new delivery mechanism and (fingers crossed) a revenue driver? Here are five takeaways from Jobs’ keynote that will have an impact on news organizations.

Apple’s spate of satire- and morals-related rejections of apps rejected from the App Store appear to be a pretty low priority for the company.

Apple’s come under a lot of criticism from developers for how it manages its App Store, the major platform for reaching iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad owners. An Apple rejection can mean the investment of building an app is rendered worthless, and it’s not always clear why, precisely, an app is being rejected.

Here’s what Jobs had to say about the App Store approval process, paraphrasing from gdgt’s liveblog of the event:

We get about 15k apps submitted every week. They come in up to 30 different languages. Guess what: 95% of the apps submitted are approved within 7 days. What about the 5% that aren’t? Why don’t we approve them? Let me give you the three top reasons.

The number one reason: it doesn’t function as advertised. It doesn’t do what the developer says it does, so we tell the developer to change the app or the description.

The second reason: the developer uses private APIs. … If we upgrade the OS and the app breaks, we won’t have a happy customer.

And the third most frequent reason: they crash. If you were in our shoes, you’d be rejecting apps for the exact same reasons.

I just wanted to give you the facts — sometimes when you read some of these articles, you may think other stuff is going on.

Maybe number four was “violates Apple’s sense of morality,” and number five was “makes fun of powerful people.” But we don’t know that, because Jobs didn’t mention either. News orgs are fine with the technical guidelines he outlined, but App Store rejections based on rude editorial cartoons or an artfully bare nipple are harder for them to take.

Apple still has not done the obvious: state clearly what is allowed and what is not in terms of morals and satire. Not doing so, of course, maximizes Apple’s power because it can decide on a case-by-case basis. But it also means that content producers can’t have any confidence in the system, and open platforms like Android will have increasing appeal.

Apple’s become a big player in the ebook space very quickly — and that’s a space news orgs want to be in.

In the two months since the iPad launched — and with it Apple’s new ebook platform, iBooks — Apple has taken over a remarkable 22 percent of the ebook market. (That’s based on data from five of the six major publishing companies; the sixth, Random House, isn’t on the iPad.)

In one sentence, Jobs revealed more hard data about ebook sales than Amazon has in 2.5 years of the Kindle. (I exaggerate, but only slightly. Amazon still hasn’t unveiled any hard numbers on Kindle device or ebook sales. Maybe this will prompt them.)

Those Apple ebook sales are based on the 2 million iPads sold, which are the only Apple devices that have iBooks. But iBooks is coming to the iPhone and iPod touch later this month — around the same time Jobs said the 100 millionth iPhone OS device will be sold. In other words, iBooks’ momentum is about to get punched up.

I continue to maintain that ebooks are a huge potential opportunity for news organizations. Ebooks favor timeliness and quick turnarounds in a way that traditional print books can’t, and the digital format means that expectations for length are tossed aside. There’s not much of a print business model for a 50-page printed prose book — but there absolutely can be one for a 50-page ebook. And people feel comfortable paying for ebooks, much more so than for anything labeled “news.” A growing ebooks market with dueling distribution systems (Amazon and Apple) fighting over content is a good thing for news organizations.

Better mobile screen quality could be a push away from print.

The new iPhone 4 features four times the pixels of its predecessor in the same space, which Jobs promises creates images and text far crisper than ever before. The images on display at the demo looked really impressive. And while the iPhone appears to be in the lead now, undoubtedly its competition will catch up soon enough.

Pro: A better screen means more people will find using mobile devices more pleasant. That could lead to more use of news orgs’ apps and websites on them.

Con: A better screen limits the salience of one of print’s best selling points: higher visual quality. Jobs said 300 dpi is the limit for what the human eye can typically detect. Past iPhones have been at 162 dpi. The new iPhone 4 is 326 dpi — a level Jobs says is indistinguishable from print. (“Text looks like you’ve seen it in a fine printed book, unlike you’ve ever seen in an electronic display,” Jobs said, paraphrasing.) We’ll see about that, but newspapers and magazines are still a lot more effective monetizing print publications than digital ones, so devaluing one of print’s best qualities probably won’t help.

The “mobile” part of mobile video will increasingly mean editing, not just shooting.

Jobs unveiled a version of iMovie for the iPhone; a version for the iPad can’t be too far off, even though the iPad (currently) lacks a camera. There have been editing apps for video on the iPhone and other platforms before, but iMovie looked both powerful and relatively simply. Reporters in the field getting iPhone video will find it easier than ever to do their own edit before shipping it back to headquarters. I wouldn’t want to be Flip right now; the reasons to have a Flip in addition to a smartphone seem fewer now.

Even before launching, iAd is proving to be a big gorilla in the mobile display advertising space.

I’ve written about iAd before. It’s Apple’s new immersive, interactive advertising platform being offered up to iPhone developers to put into their apps. Today Jobs showed off a sample iAd, and the crowd seemed to like it.

But the most stunning datapoint was Jobs’ claim that iAd would take in 48 percent of the U.S. mobile display advertising business in the second half of 2010. Remarkable if true, although it’s derived from some questionable math (dividing Apple’s hard-dollar sales numbers into a JP Morgan estimate from the start of the year — see page 46 of that document for the origin). And mobile display advertising is only a small slice of overall mobile advertising — in the same report, SMS advertising is a $3.2 billion business and mobile search advertising is another $321 million.

But in any event, it’s a sign that Apple is here as a big player in yet another market. For large news organizations that could afford to do their own mobile ad sales, Apple’s probably a competitor. For smaller ones that would have a tough time breaking into the mobile ad game, getting 60 percent of iAd revenues — the share Apple is promising — might not be such a bad deal.

April 04 2010

05:24

Video at newspapers needs to improve

I was disappointed after this year’s NPPA Best of Photojournalism Multimedia Contest results were posted . In the News Video category, I won an honorable mention. Great! That’s until I realized  my video was the only award given in the category. What gives? This is the second year in a row I’ve placed in this News Video category. Last year I received a 2nd place, , but no third was given.  This troubles  me. Not because I didn’t place higher, but because the judges didn’t see a video that reached a high enough level of excellence to place.

During an online chat on the Poynter Institute’s website, I asked the judges:

“Why didn’t you award first through third in news video?”

The Response:

1:27 theresa: @colin – this was a real struggle for us. Many were full of technical errors and ignored the basic principles of photojournalism. We saw lots of evidence of urgency, however we really couldn’t award anything that had technical or fundamental errors.

I stewed about this for a time. Then after helping judge the NPPA’s Monthly Multimedia Contest last week, I began to understand the BOP judge’s dilemma.

Bottom line: Video at newspapers needs to improve. Dramatically.

The problems I continually see:

Storytelling

Many still photographers have not transitioned their storytelling skills effectively to video. Editing a video story is different from editing still photos for a newspaper picture story. With video, you have to master the fundamentals of sequencing and audio before you can tell an effective story in video. Too many still photojournalists have dipped their toes in the video world with limited training and it shows.

Bland Videos

Many newspaper-produced video stories are boring. The best stories have surprises sprinkled throughout the timeline, which helps keep the viewer engaged. This is mature storytelling that most newspaper video producers have failed to master.

Structure

A great video story is one that pulls you in from the opening sequence and never let’s go of your attention until it fades out at the end. Weak video jars you out of the moment, whether it’s from a technical issue like distorted audio, or from a narrative that fails to captivate the viewer. So many things can go wrong with a video story. Understanding these pitfalls is the first step to avoiding them.

Editing

You can have great raw video, but fail miserably in the edit. Pacing, narration, use of transitions, sequencing, layering and mixing audio all have to come together like a well–oiled orchestra to make a  video story work. Fail at anyone of these and your house of cards comes a tumblin’ down.

Journalism

Lots of newspaper-produced video is weak in basic journalism. Many videos I’ve watched have only one person as the subject. How many print news stories would get past an editor with only one source?

Narration

For the longest time I told myself that I didn’t want my videos to be like TV. I worked hard at telling a story by using only the subjects as my narrative spine. What you risk, doing it this way, is a story that rambles along and is not defined until long after the viewer has hit the back button. Get past the idea that narration is a bad thing. Good scripting moves a story along and serves as an objective voice for facts.

Collaboration

So you say you hate the sound of your voice and you don’t feel comfortable writing a script. Then get out into your newsroom and find a writer with a great voice and collaborate. I like to voice my own videos, but I also know my limitations. Some of my best work has been when I’ve worked with a reporter on a video story. I shoot and edit the story; he or she scripts and does the voiceover. We play to each other strengths. The final product, in the end, is better than if I tried to do it all myself.

Solutions?

When I started this blog, I wrote a post called “Can’t we all just get along?.” The crux of that post : TV news shooters have done video storytelling decades longer than us newbie’s in the newspaper biz, and we can learn a lot from their successes. If you are lucky enough to go to a TV video workshop, you’ll get the fundamentals drilled into your head–Shoot wide, medium tight, super tight. Shoot action, then reaction. Get that camera on sticks! Use a wireless mic. Gather natural sound. What’s your opener? Closer? And, for Christ sake, white balance your video!

These are the just the basics of video news production. Yet many newspaper video producers are still unaware of these fundamentals.

If you can, my advise is enroll in a video production workshop like the Platypus, or the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop that is coming in May. Until you know what you are doing wrong you can’t improve your video storytelling.


January 21 2010

18:14

Mastering Multimedia useful tips roundup


Many of may old posts that deal with tips about how to do video storytelling and audio slideshows get linked on a lot of blogs used by college professors who teach digital media classes. Most of these posts are buried amongst my pontifications about the changes facing the newspaper industry. So for anyone interested,  here is a roundup of my best multimedia suggestions and useful tip posts in one place…

How to make your audio slideshows better

Great audio starts in the field

How best to approach a video story

Sequencing: The foundation of video storytelling

How to make your video editing easier

Get creative with your video camera

Opening your video: How not to lose viewers

Random Final Cut tip: Lower thirds titles

What we can learn from TV new shooters

January 13 2010

17:35

January 05 2010

09:24

November 04 2009

15:04

How a blog, a camera, and a court are feeding journalism’s long tail

When people talk about the long tail, they often focus on consumer goods, where the infinite shelf space at a company like Amazon or Netflix allows a huge variety of products to be sold. But the same concept can apply to news, where cheap servers make it possible for hyper-targeted coverage — the stuff that only appeals to a few hundred people — to live online with few concerns about space or scarcity. Toss in search engines and dead-simple publishing tools and you’ve got a bounty of easy-to-find, niche-friendly content.

Whether intended or not, Ron Sylvester is stocking the long tail. The veteran crime and courts reporter for The Wichita Eagle uses his blog What the Judge Ate for Breakfast to publish two-minute videos that dive into the intricacies of a courthouse. They’re fascinating clips, touching on everything from the role of prosecutors, to odd defendant behavior, to the less glamorous responsibilities judges assume. These glimpses into the life of a court are classic examples of long tail content: the type of stuff that would never see the light of day on traditional platforms.

It makes sense that something like this would come from Sylvester. He was one of the first beat reporters to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, tweeting updates from the courtroom. The positive response to the Twitter coverage encouraged him, and he started looking at different techniques for covering his beat. “There’s so much human drama in the courthouse,” he said. “I’m trying to find ways to expand the coverage and use multimedia to do that.”

What the Judge Ate for Breakfast (the name comes from a quote attributed to Jerome Frank) launched in early 2008 as an ancillary outlet to Sylvester’s court coverage. It initially featured interesting asides and courtroom miscellany, all delivered as regular text-based blog posts. Sylvester started mulling bigger ideas about a year into the site, and his growing interest in video dovetailed serendipitously. “I was kind of jealous of TV,” Sylvester said. “I wished people could actually hear some of this testimony and see the expressions instead of me describing it to them.”

With the help of colleagues in the Eagle’s photography and web departments, Sylvester cobbled together equipment and started learning. The first video in the series — which runs under the title “Common Law” — appeared in July, and he’s now posting a minimum of one new clip per week.

Juggling platforms and coverage

What the Judge Ate for Breakfast is part of The Wichita Eagle’s website, Kansas.com, but it isn’t Sylvester’s full-time gig. He juggles platforms, producing coverage for print, web, Twitter and the Common Law series. When journalism schools teach “multimedia journalism,” Sylvester is the kind of reporter they’ve got in mind.

The essential skill of multimedia reporting, Sylvester told me, is knowing how to match content, medium, and audience. Twitter requires brevity. Long-form print and web demand context. Blog posts, particularly those driven by video, need to be short and engaging.

That’s why you won’t find Common Law videos in Sylvester’s traditional coverage. The point is to offer something different for the audience and appropriate for the medium. Take a look at one of Sylvester’s favorite clips as an example: it’s a piece that follows sheriff’s deputy Dioane Gates as he unexpectedly arrests someone he knows. This is one of those slice-of-life tangents that typically gets cut when space is limited and a deadline looms. Recognizing that this is a story and then finding a place for it is where a skilled multimedia reporter shines. Otherwise, you’d never see this stuff.

A look inside the tool box

The role Sylvester plays varies with the subject matter. Big cases require a team, so for something like the upcoming trial of Scott Roeder, Sylvester tweets from the courtroom and provides print and web copy, while one photographer manages pool photos and a second grabs video from the TV feed and sends it to the website.

Sylvester handles all the coverage for smaller trials and hearings. His equipment needs can shift from case to case, so he rolls around a briefcase that holds a Canon HV20 camcorder, a Sennheiser EW100 wireless microphone, a MacBook Pro with Final Cut Express, and a collection of wires and A/V accessories. The jumble of gear occasionally raises eyebrows at the courthouse’s x-ray machine. (It also summons memories of a certain senator’s previous career.)

Posting new Common Law videos is a simple process: Sylvester uploads clips to VMIX, a video encoding service used by McClatchy papers, and then he adds video embed code to a new blog entry. The hardest part is the editing, which can take up to two hours. “It’s like writing a story,” Sylvester said. “You’ve got to try to get it down to two minutes, but capture the essence of what’s going on.”

Watch a few videos and you’ll see that Sylvester weaves in B-roll shots (e.g. a judge listening to an attorney). Sylvester only has one camera, so a “listening judge” clip may come from earlier or later in the hearing. That’s not a huge issue since most Common Law clips revolve around a concept rather than strict coverage, but Sylvester does limit B-roll footage to shots from the same hearing.

How Sylvester gets in

Kansas allows cameras in the courtroom at the judge’s discretion, so Sylvester coordinates his weekly coverage needs in advance. Whipping out a video rig isn’t a surprise most judges would welcome.

Access is made easier because Common Law clips almost always revolve around a de facto “cast”: public defender Lacy Gilmour, prosecutor Marc Bennett, sheriff’s deputies David Rank and the previously-mentioned Dioane Gates, and Judge David Kaufman, whom Sylvester has known since before he wore a robe.

Sylvester credits his 30-plus years in journalism and nearly 10 years on the court beat as keys to greasing the skids. “They’re letting me into places and through doors that normally we wouldn’t go [through],” he said. “You have to have trust in order to do that.”

Forget the numbers

Sylvester declined to share website stats, citing corporate policy. You can get a rough sense of traffic to Kansas.com’s blog section here, and Sylvester did note a gap between his regular coverage, which is often among the most popular stories on Kansas.com, and the limited gravitational pull of What the Judge Ate for Breakfast. That’s the big problem with the long tail of content: small audiences lead to tiny metrics, and those are tough to swallow even when you can rationalize the results.

Sylvester, who knows the humbling sting of web traffic, has a solution: when it comes to beat reporting, forget the numbers. “I’m like everybody else, I like to look at the numbers every once in a while,” he said. “But on this one I’ve stopped. I want to concentrate on producing good content, because I really do believe that as more people get their information on the Internet, I think that good content is going to win out.”

That’s not to say Sylvester disregards all forms of measurement. He just places more importance on the feedback he gets from readers and courthouse staff. “This blog is an extension of the beat,” he said. “This may not get huge numbers, but the people I deal with everyday like it, and it’s building credibility.”

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