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April 02 2011

19:31

Lessons on how to engage with audiences

Jim Brady, former editor of TBD.com and WashingtonPost.com, set the tone for a professional panel on engaging the audience at #ISOJ by saying they were going to stick to time and leave plenty of time for questions.

First up was Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of VG Multimedia, Norway. He started by stating that he tells his journalists to spend a minimum of 10% of time interacting and engaging with readers.

Three-quarters of Norwegians visited the site in February, with 87% coming to the homepage, compared to only 4% from Google.

VG’s approach has been to figure out how we can help the readers help each other.

Hansen highlighted how last year during the travel disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano, a developer created a quick and dirty site to help people help each other get home.

In return, readers sent in stories and pictures about their journey home.

VG also has a tool that lets a selecte group of readers correct typos.  5,000 readers applied to correct typos and 400 were selected to fix typos on the site. 17,000 typos were reported last year, said Hansen.

Another example cited by Hansen was the paper’s response to the disaster in Japan.  VG set up a paper with a live feed of Japanese TV, but also updates from journalists and from readers.

He also showed how during the swine flu, VG created a wiki site inviting users to let others know where they could get a flu shoot.

Hansen said the paper had progressed from a monologue to dialogue. But today, there is another viral layer which taps into social media.

He said VG wanted to be something in the middle between traditional journalism and social media.

Washington Post’s approach to Twitter

Amanda Zamora, social media and engagement editor, The Washington Post, described her job as taking the “earmuff off this sleeping giant.”

She talked about how reporters are using social platforms such as Twitter as a newsgathering tool.

“We’ve learnt a lot from Twitter,” she said, for example by using the hashtag to actively frame the conversation.

She outlined the approach as call, response, reward.

The sign of success is if you issue a call, you get a response, said Zamora, not the number of followers. People who take part are rewarded by bring that content back into the Washpost site.

The paper uses Google forms as a way for people to send in what they know on specific stories, for example on power outages in DC.

One of the ways the Post is experimenting is using Intersect, which can blend accounts from both journalists and readers.

 

 

03:38

Timelines in journalism: A closer look

You’re not going to create one every week, but a timeline is a useful — and helpful — type of information graphic, and fairly common in journalism. When teaching students about timelines, here are some ideas to consider and discuss:

Chronology or timeline?

Sometimes a timeline is not a timeline, according to Len de Groot, a longtime graphics journalist. A timeline shows actual spans of time, with proportional measurements for decades, years, days or hours, depending on the total time involved. “The space between events should be as important [as] or more important than the events themselves,” he says. A chronology, on the other hand, shows the momentum of a series of events. It might be more effective if presented as a list, or as an illustrated slideshow.

Here’s an excellent chronology about Operation Odyssey Dawn on Libya, from El País:

Cronología: Operación Amanecer de la Odisea sobre Libia

Not what we think of when we imagine a timeline, is it? But it’s quite well suited to telling the story of recent events in Libya, and it is being updated day by day. (Navigate days via the two arrows at upper left.)

The Wall Street Journal has published a multi-line timeline covering recent events in Arab countries (below). Selecting any day loads a region map and summary of events for that day in an area above the timeline. I like the way this compact layout shows us at a glance where activities have occurred, and when. This is a very successful timeline graphic tailored closely to the story.

WSJ: Middle East Turmoil

Here are some questions we can ask before we sketch our timeline ideas:

  1. Is this a story about hours, days, years or decades?
  2. Should equal periods of time be represented with equal space? (Example: 100 pixels equals one year.)
  3. Are parallel time periods required? (Example: While this was happening in India, this was happening in China.)
  4. Does it make sense to combine the timeline with a map or a line graph?
  5. Should photos or other images be added to the timeline to help tell the story?
  6. How much text is necessary to make the story understandable — and satisfying?

A “timeline” that does not represent time proportionally to space — but which works well, I think, because it is straightforward and clear, is this one by graphic designer Sean Carton:

Sean Carton: Social Media Timeline

Design questions

Most timeline graphics present time in horizontal lines, with the oldest events to the left and more recent ones progressing to the right (I suppose we would do it right-to-left if we were Arab or Chinese). A notable and very recent exception is the Guardian’s brilliant (and vertical) Arab spring: An interactive timeline of Middle East protests (blogged about by Tracy Boyer last week).

Guardian.co.uk: Arab Spring timeline graphic

I think it’s useful to think about Len de Groot’s distinction between timelines and chronologies when admiring this graphic: Is this really a “timeline”? I don’t think so — has there ever been a better illustration of the momentum of events? No need to quibble over the words, though, when the execution is so effective.

Here are some questions we can ask as we examine our sketches of our timeline ideas:

  1. Will people like it?
  2. Is it helpful, easy to understand?
  3. Is it confusing?
  4. Hard to use?
  5. Does it add something that text alone would not convey?
  6. Does the graphic need to be a timeline — or would a regular slideshow (or map, or whatever) be equally effective?

One of the more successful interactive timelines is 10 years old — every time I revisit this package about Winston Churchill, I am amazed all over again at how well it works. Note in particular the double timeline at the bottom: The upper bar is Churchill’s life, and the lower bar shows concurrent world events.

Library of Congress: Churchill and the Great Republic

The Template Trap

Sometimes I think we fall into a “one size fits all” trap with templates or tools. You have a template or a tool, and you re-use it for various stories. But is that always the right decision? Does expediency sometimes defeat the goal of clear communication?

WSJ: Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster

I think the Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster timeline (above) is much more successful than the Biggest Volcanic Eruptions (below), which skimps on details about the eruptions. Both are from The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ: Biggest Volcanic Eruptions

Likewise, CNN’s Trapped Chilean Miners timeline (below) is better suited to its timeline interface than the recent Egyptian Protests timeline, which uses the same interface.

CNN: Trapped Chilean Miners

Timeline tools

TimelineSetter is a new, free tool from the great folks at Pro Publica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization. It’s not available for mass consumption just yet (“We have some more code generalization and fixes we need to do before it’s ready to open source, but we plan to do so as soon as we can,” they said on March 22), but it might be useful in lots of different situations. Below is a timeline created with this tool.

Pro Publica: How One Blast Affected Five Soldiers

The functionality and the design are similar to the timeline template The New York Times has been using for some time; for a recent example, see Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011 (below). I found the checkbox options to be distracting and unnecessary.

New York Times: Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Other free timeline tools were described (and linked) in a post by Alex Gamela in May 2010. Dipity and SIMILE are fairly well known; others are less so, but it’s worthwhile to check out the different visual approaches to presenting information in this way.

Which of these tools produces the best result for the story you want to tell?

Do not create an interactive timeline just because it’s cool. Use interactivity to make the information more clear.

Two older timelines that are worth a look:

03:38

Timelines in journalism: A closer look

You’re not going to create one every week, but a timeline is a useful — and helpful — type of information graphic, and fairly common in journalism. When teaching students about timelines, here are some ideas to consider and discuss:

Chronology or timeline?

Sometimes a timeline is not a timeline, according to Len de Groot, a longtime graphics journalist. A timeline shows actual spans of time, with proportional measurements for decades, years, days or hours, depending on the total time involved. “The space between events should be as important [as] or more important than the events themselves,” he says. A chronology, on the other hand, shows the momentum of a series of events. It might be more effective if presented as a list, or as an illustrated slideshow.

Here’s an excellent chronology about Operation Odyssey Dawn on Libya, from El País:

Cronología: Operación Amanecer de la Odisea sobre Libia

Not what we think of when we imagine a timeline, is it? But it’s quite well suited to telling the story of recent events in Libya, and it is being updated day by day. (Navigate days via the two arrows at upper left.)

The Wall Street Journal has published a multi-line timeline covering recent events in Arab countries (below). Selecting any day loads a region map and summary of events for that day in an area above the timeline. I like the way this compact layout shows us at a glance where activities have occurred, and when. This is a very successful timeline graphic tailored closely to the story.

WSJ: Middle East Turmoil

Here are some questions we can ask before we sketch our timeline ideas:

  1. Is this a story about hours, days, years or decades?
  2. Should equal periods of time be represented with equal space? (Example: 100 pixels equals one year.)
  3. Are parallel time periods required? (Example: While this was happening in India, this was happening in China.)
  4. Does it make sense to combine the timeline with a map or a line graph?
  5. Should photos or other images be added to the timeline to help tell the story?
  6. How much text is necessary to make the story understandable — and satisfying?

A “timeline” that does not represent time proportionally to space — but which works well, I think, because it is straightforward and clear, is this one by graphic designer Sean Carton:

Sean Carton: Social Media Timeline

Design questions

Most timeline graphics present time in horizontal lines, with the oldest events to the left and more recent ones progressing to the right (I suppose we would do it right-to-left if we were Arab or Chinese). A notable and very recent exception is the Guardian’s brilliant (and vertical) Arab spring: An interactive timeline of Middle East protests (blogged about by Tracy Boyer last week).

Guardian.co.uk: Arab Spring timeline graphic

I think it’s useful to think about Len de Groot’s distinction between timelines and chronologies when admiring this graphic: Is this really a “timeline”? I don’t think so — has there ever been a better illustration of the momentum of events? No need to quibble over the words, though, when the execution is so effective.

Here are some questions we can ask as we examine our sketches of our timeline ideas:

  1. Will people like it?
  2. Is it helpful, easy to understand?
  3. Is it confusing?
  4. Hard to use?
  5. Does it add something that text alone would not convey?
  6. Does the graphic need to be a timeline — or would a regular slideshow (or map, or whatever) be equally effective?

One of the more successful interactive timelines is 10 years old — every time I revisit this package about Winston Churchill, I am amazed all over again at how well it works. Note in particular the double timeline at the bottom: The upper bar is Churchill’s life, and the lower bar shows concurrent world events.

Library of Congress: Churchill and the Great Republic

The Template Trap

Sometimes I think we fall into a “one size fits all” trap with templates or tools. You have a template or a tool, and you re-use it for various stories. But is that always the right decision? Does expediency sometimes defeat the goal of clear communication?

WSJ: Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster

I think the Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster timeline (above) is much more successful than the Biggest Volcanic Eruptions (below), which skimps on details about the eruptions. Both are from The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ: Biggest Volcanic Eruptions

Likewise, CNN’s Trapped Chilean Miners timeline (below) is better suited to its timeline interface than the recent Egyptian Protests timeline, which uses the same interface.

CNN: Trapped Chilean Miners

Timeline tools

TimelineSetter is a new, free tool from the great folks at Pro Publica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization. It’s not available for mass consumption just yet (“We have some more code generalization and fixes we need to do before it’s ready to open source, but we plan to do so as soon as we can,” they said on March 22), but it might be useful in lots of different situations. Below is a timeline created with this tool.

Pro Publica: How One Blast Affected Five Soldiers

The functionality and the design are similar to the timeline template The New York Times has been using for some time; for a recent example, see Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011 (below). I found the checkbox options to be distracting and unnecessary.

New York Times: Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Other free timeline tools were described (and linked) in a post by Alex Gamela in May 2010. Dipity and SIMILE are fairly well known; others are less so, but it’s worthwhile to check out the different visual approaches to presenting information in this way.

Which of these tools produces the best result for the story you want to tell?

Do not create an interactive timeline just because it’s cool. Use interactivity to make the information more clear.

Two older timelines that are worth a look:

April 01 2011

15:29

Lessons on newspaper paywalls from Mexico

In the session on paywalls at the ISOJ, Jorge Meléndez, vice president for new media, Grupo Reforma (Mexico), explained how the newspapers have had paywalls since 2002.

The newspaper sites were free for the first two years. But they realised there was a very small online advertising market so the group just did it. Part of this involved an active strategy to convert newspaper subscribers online.

The impact of the paywall was a 35% drop in traffic. But Meléndez said they stopped minor circulation declines.

Access to all of the the news sites is free for newspaper subscribers. The prince for an online subscription is 80% of a newspaper subscription, as a way of encouraging readers to take the newspaper.

Meléndez explained there is some free content, such as the main page and emailed links.

The group provides apps for free, at least for now, said Meléndez. It has an “aggressive” app strategy, with dozens of apps for different topics.

Meléndez said broadsheet circulation is holding steady and tabloids have grown by 5% over last 8 years. Advertising and classifieds have also grown.

The group has 300,000 newspaper subscribers for all papers. 50,000 are only online subscribers. In terms of traffic, the sites have six million unique visitors, with an average of eight pages per user.

Meléndez said they learnt that people do not read instructions. Online, people just expect to click. So use action verbs and clear instructions, with as few words as possible, he urged.

The reasons behind the success of paywalls is local content, argued Meléndez. And the sites have more local content than in the newspaper. “Local is very important for us,” he said.

But when it came to today, he said the situation with paywalls was more difficult than in 2002. People are used to free, there is more competition and newspaper metrics are “so bad.”

February 10 2011

05:23

Advice from Canada’s promising young journalists

Figuring out how and whether you want to get into journalism can be a challenge for students as they embark on their college education.

We had several questions around this topic in the first-year undergraduate course at UBC in new media and journalism that I teach with my colleague Candis Callison.

In particular, students wanted to know about promising, emerging journalists in Canada who they could look to as role models.

Our TA, UBC j-student Fabiola Carletti, took it upon herself to get in touch with a bunch of new journalists and publish their advice online.

The site is a treasure trove of gems, from take every opportunity to being relentless to living an interesting life.

Please take a look at So, you want to be a journalist?, recommend it to students or let us know who we should add.

February 01 2011

14:16

Web literacy: Should be required

A student calls me on the phone. “Professor McAdams, I wonder if you could help me. I’ve never taken a class with you, but …”

“Yes, what can I do for you?” I reply.

“I bought my own website, but I’m not sure how to get my Web pages there.”

From past experience, I know what I need to ask now.

“Did you buy Web hosting, or did you only buy a domain name?”

The answer is usually unsure, but after some more questions, we usually establish that the student bought a domain name and NOT hosting. The student did not know the difference. The student assumed that the latter comes with the former.

This has happened at least three times in the past year.

So I resolved to write a simple blog post, with some helpful links, that I can send to these students in the future. And I can make it required reading in my own classes. Here it is:

Web hosting and domain names, at Journalists’ Toolkit.

At about 500 words, it’s not too taxing.

14:16

Web literacy: Should be required

A student calls me on the phone. “Professor McAdams, I wonder if you could help me. I’ve never taken a class with you, but …”

“Yes, what can I do for you?” I reply.

“I bought my own website, but I’m not sure how to get my Web pages there.”

From past experience, I know what I need to ask now.

“Did you buy Web hosting, or did you only buy a domain name?”

The answer is usually unsure, but after some more questions, we usually establish that the student bought a domain name and NOT hosting. The student did not know the difference. The student assumed that the latter comes with the former.

This has happened at least three times in the past year.

So I resolved to write a simple blog post, with some helpful links, that I can send to these students in the future. And I can make it required reading in my own classes. Here it is:

Web hosting and domain names, at Journalists’ Toolkit.

At about 500 words, it’s not too taxing.

January 28 2011

20:19

January 13 2011

14:49

HTML and CSS Resources for Teaching

Every year around this time, I update the resources I use in teaching my advanced online design class. I know there are a million lists like these online. I try to keep mine short, simple and current.

Also, I’m not teaching programmers or graphic design majors. My students are journalists.

If you’ve found any resources, websites or handouts useful in teaching online design, please let me know.

14:49

HTML and CSS Resources for Teaching

Every year around this time, I update the resources I use in teaching my advanced online design class. I know there are a million lists like these online. I try to keep mine short, simple and current.

Also, I’m not teaching programmers or graphic design majors. My students are journalists.

If you’ve found any resources, websites or handouts useful in teaching online design, please let me know.

January 11 2011

15:30

Teaching HTML and CSS to journalism students

I’ve been looking at the open-source course materials for Web Design 1, from the WaSP InterACT curriculum project. I think these materials can easily be adapted for use in a journalism curriculum.

The idea is to acquaint our students with the building blocks of the Web they use every day. For students who want to work in presentation (that is, design), there’s more to be learned after this little taste. But for the average journalism student, this course covers what they should be familiar with so that they can work comfortably in a CMS that needs the occasional tweak or fix (as all CMSs do).

The assignments in the WaSP course are quite reasonable and practical. Detailed grading rubrics are provided.

Really, I wish this were a standard course in all U.S. high schools. It concerns me that our students spend hours every day using a medium that is open and easy for producing original work — but they use it merely as consumers.

15:30

Teaching HTML and CSS to journalism students

I’ve been looking at the open-source course materials for Web Design 1, from the WaSP InterACT curriculum project. I think these materials can easily be adapted for use in a journalism curriculum.

The idea is to acquaint our students with the building blocks of the Web they use every day. For students who want to work in presentation (that is, design), there’s more to be learned after this little taste. But for the average journalism student, this course covers what they should be familiar with so that they can work comfortably in a CMS that needs the occasional tweak or fix (as all CMSs do).

The assignments in the WaSP course are quite reasonable and practical. Detailed grading rubrics are provided.

Really, I wish this were a standard course in all U.S. high schools. It concerns me that our students spend hours every day using a medium that is open and easy for producing original work — but they use it merely as consumers.

December 08 2010

16:26

November 30 2010

01:47

Nitpicking some myths about digital journalism

Andy Boyle wrote a response to Mark S. Luckie’s blog post 5 myths about digital journalism, and because I left a comment on Mark’s post, Andy called me out on Twitter. Now, I know Mark a little and Andy not at all (except via his tweets), but I think they are both bright and sincere young journalists, and I’m not taking sides here. I just feel like adding my two cents (especially since Andy won’t let me alone, and I say that affectionately).

Myth No. 1 (from Mark): A journalist must know everything. Why it’s a myth: In big(ger) newsrooms they have teams of highly skilled people who will be doing a good job at what a mere jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none would do in a mediocre way. Why Mark is wrong (from Andy): At his first newsroom job, Andy had to “record video/audio, shoot photos (iPhone/point and shoot), help others with database-related issues” and write/rewrite stories for print.

But Andy agrees with Mark that you (and he) don’t need to be a master of everything. I would like to invoke the “computer jesus” phrase here (just because I love it so much). I read Mark as saying that too many people think you have to be computer jesus to get a job in journalism today, and that’s an exaggeration. However, you can’t be just a writer, or a reporter/writer, and Mark certainly knows that and wasn’t saying you could. From what editors and hiring managers tell me, Andy’s experience is typical and normal in a legacy-print newsroom today.

So I’m going to say Myth No. 1 is a myth, AND journalists MUST be multi-skilled and versatile today. (But not computer jesus.)

Myth No. 2 is that social media will save journalism. Andy responds that no single thing will save journalism. There is no disagreement here. Everyone agrees that social media is a necessary and important part of journalism now (but it’s not going to save journalism, at least not by itself).

Myth No. 3 is the one that apparently bugs Andy the most: “Journalists must have database development skills.” Andy says this is not a myth; journalists DO NEED database development skills. Or does he? Well, no. Andy says:

I don’t think it’s out of the question to have every reporter know the basics of using Excel. It’s like telling a reporter, “I don’t want you to know how to file public records requests because we have people who are trained to do that.” No. Lame. The more people who start to understand how even rudimentary databases work, the better stories they can do. The better they can contribute to web projects. The more ideas they can bring to the table.

I think Andy (who does have database development skills) would agree with me when I assert that knowing the basics of using Excel is not equivalent to having “database development skills.” I agree 100 percent that every reporter — EVERY REPORTER, excluding no one! — should be able to use Excel to calculate and to clean data. So the myth here is that you have to become some kind of database guru — that is a myth.

Maybe Andy is concerned that some weak-minded would-be journalist will read Mark’s Myth No. 3 and think it means we can all be math morons. I hope not.

When Andy says, “The more people who start to understand how even rudimentary databases work, the better stories they can do,” I stand with him. I think Mark does too (although I don’t presume to speak for Mark). Maybe it would be better if Mark had just written that journalists don’t need to be computer jesus, and left it at that.

Myth No. 4 (from Mark): “Comments suck/ Comments are essential for democracy.” Andy says he doesn’t understand what Mark’s argument is. I do, because I’ve been hired by numerous newspapers (and state newspaper associations) to present training sessions about how to blog, and in those workshops, reporters and editors always insist on having a really long discussion about comments. Mostly they take the position that comments are evil, and why should we have them at all?

Frankly, I have met very few newspaper journalists who believe comments are good for giving the public a voice — but then, I’m in the room with the ones who came to training session about how to blog. Again, I agree with Mark because comments can often cause headaches (see Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies), but a blog without comments can hardly be called a blog. So if you’re going to have blogs, you’ve got to find a livable solution for dealing with comments. For people who’ve grown up on the Internet (like Andy, like Mark), I think this is a no-brainer. But then, I would suggest that Andy has not been in the room when those other guys are going on and on and on about how comments are good for nothing (and I wish I hadn’t been there either, because it just makes me despair to hear them).

Myth No. 5: “There are no journalism jobs.” Mark points out that the old jobs may be gone, or damned hard to find, but the myth is a myth because there ARE jobs in journalism, albeit new jobs that require “technical skills or experience (whether it’s blogging, multimedia, CAR, social media, etc.).” It’s the last bit that got Andy riled up, because he sees it as a contradiction to Myth No. 1. I disagree. The key word in Myth No. 1 is “everything.” The new jobs do not require the journalist to know “everything.”

I’d like to step out and mention something that’s commonly discussed with or asked of me because of that book I wrote back in 2004, the one about Flash journalism — meaning journalism that’s presented via an interface (or a wrapper) created with Adobe’s Flash application.

The way this comes up in conversations with journalists (and students) varies a bit. Sometimes they ask, “Should I learn Flash?” and sometimes they say, “I don’t want to” or “I want to learn Flash.” Some journalists prefer to say something like what Andy wrote:

… I don’t think it’s necessary that people need to know Flash — and in all actuality I think it’s a waste of time to learn (thus my never learning it) …

This doesn’t bother or offend me. There’s almost no one in journalism I would urge to learn Flash, with the huge exception of graphic reporters (or infografistas, as they are so marvelously called in Spanish). Flash is used in wonderful ways to make journalism visual and interactive — notably by The New York Times, but not only there.

So am I contradicting myself? Am I saying no one should learn Flash? Or am I saying journalists should learn it? Or some journalists? And which ones would they be?

All I’m going to say is that, for the time being, Flash is the best way to design and deliver certain Web-based interactive features — and particularly data-intensive ones. So somebody somewhere in the news organization needs to be really, really good at Flash and ActionScript 3.

Most journalists should not spend even one second thinking about Flash. But those who become really, really good at it might find themselves getting one of those new kinds of jobs (Myth No. 5). And they won’t have to know everything (Myth No. 1) — maybe they won’t know how to shoot and edit video at all, for example, and that will not matter. And they might not be database developers (Myth No. 3), although they must be able to work with the database gurus, because the Flash expert is the bridge between them and the designers. They can’t be math morons.

As for comments and social media — the Flash experts probably don’t need to go there. But someone has to, because comments and social media are essential to journalism today — just like databases and those who develop them; just like multi-skilled reporters who can shoot video and edit audio and write rings around the average citizen.

And that’s no myth.

November 28 2010

17:28

Online video, audiences, sharing: Putting it all together

I thought about titling this post “Another stupid way news sites waste time and effort by failing to understand the Web and how people use it,” but I thought maybe that was far too broad, since it covers so many things.

This post is really about how journalism organizations could use video intelligently:

  1. Embedding
  2. Linking
  3. Sharing
  4. Full screen
  5. Downloads
  6. Engagement
  7. Promote other pages and stories

I spend a lot of time speaking (and thinking) about online video — both journalism video and the broader YouTube varieties. When we think about how people use online video — and by “people” I mean mostly North Americans in the college and university student age group — we absolutely must consider sharing.

How young people find out about videos (and — let’s face it — a large portion of all news and information) is because one or more of their friends posted a link on Facebook, or shared it in some other way that brought it to their attention.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to conclude that it’s very important to make it very easy to share the videos that you produce.

The video embedded above (from the Toronto Star) won an award at this year’s Online News Association annual conference, and I really love the way it tells the story in a manner that can grab the attention of almost anyone — even if you have no particular interest in Africa or in windmills.

Embedding: I had to install an extra plug-in to embed that video here (and on a free WordPress.com blog, I would not be able to embed it). That’s one consideration — if a video is on YouTube or Vimeo, it can be easily embedded almost anywhere, in any kind of blog, and on Facebook. Make it easy for people to embed your video in WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and anywhere.

Linking: From the embedded video above, you can’t view the original. There’s no link. That’s one consideration about linking, and here’s another — the video is like an appetizer to a bigger, more detailed story. That’s often true of online journalism videos, and often there is a fuller treatment in a text story, or even a big package of related features. But how will anyone ever find those other pieces? Even at the Toronto Star’s website, this video does not appear on the same Web page with the text story! (Yes, there is a link. But it’s asking people to click and wait, and that’s not necessary.)

Sharing: These cute little buttons make sharing on Twitter, Facebook, etc., simple — this is essential.

Lots of journalism sites are missing the boat on sharing. Earlier today I watched this video from GlobalPost: On Location: Cairo – Egypt’s pre-election crackdown (excellent work by UF grad Jon Jensen). On the stand-alone video page, it has NO options for embedding and NO options for sharing. (Note: Some GlobalPost stories have been “Liked” more than 1,000 times via Facebook.)

I had to make a screen capture from the video and upload it and link it to provide you the incentive you see above (an image that will take you to the video), and most people just are not going to do that much work to share your videos.

Journalism videos SHOULD be embedded and SHOULD be shared, but they need to LINK BACK to the journalism, to the original. The video is a promo for the rest of the story. The video is a tease, an entry point to MORE. The video should BRING people TO your site.

Does this mean online videos should not include pre-roll advertising? Maybe.

Full screen: From what I’ve seen, young people always make a video full screen if it’s possible to do it. Some videos look great full screen, and many do not. Of course, there are bandwidth constraints, etc. I’m just saying we should consider how the videos look when blown up to a width of 1200 pixels — or larger.

Downloads: If I could download the windmill video and keep it on my iPhone, I would show it to people. Too bad — the Toronto Star does not allow me to download it. If more journalism organizations treated video as (downloadable) podcasts, they might get a lot more leverage out of the video work.

Engagement: The windmill video above has some non-standard enhancements to the storytelling, and I think they work fantastically well to grab and hold the viewer’s attention. Usually I feel uncomfortable about using music in a journalistic video — I’m concerned that it takes away from the journalism, the credibility, the realism. In this case, however, I just love the music because it really does enhance the story. (Too many videos use bland music loops that add nothing.)

Most people are quick to click away from a video if it fails to engage them — 20 percent of viewers will quit a video in the first 10 seconds (source; from analyst firm Visible Measures). To me that says the crucial characteristic of every video is a strong opening. Grab people immediately; guarantee that they are going to see something interesting.

The windmill video is not too long (3 min. 10 sec.). It does not try to tell us everything. That’s why we have the text story.

Video as promo: Increasing page views

Online video is immensely popular, especially with younger Internet users, and its popularity is still increasing. That’s the reason to think about it more, and figure out effective ways to use it to bring good stories to people’s attention.

Consider the two videos linked here: The story about William and the windmills can be bringing viewers to the Toronto Star for years (because it’s not tied to any breaking news), but it ought to be linked better — not only to the Star’s text story but also to other sites and pages (inside the Star and outside) — about NGOs and Africa and Malawi and the 2007 TED Talk that introduced William Kamkwamba to the world and the book and the blog. A video with long legs is worth extra time and effort — in production AND in promotion. (Educators: Show your students the TED video and the Toronto Star video and discuss storytelling!)

The GlobalPost video about current elections, on the other hand, has a short shelf life — nevertheless, it could be linked to a zillion other stories related to Egypt and the region. The BBC has always been my exemplar for this kind of cross-linking (and self-promotion); see this example: Egypt holds parliamentary poll (two insets within the story: Related Stories and Parliamentary Vote). Why doesn’t GlobalPost have links like those on its video page? Why squander that opportunity?

If you’re not familiar with GlobalPost, read this from Nieman Journalism Lab (November 2010).

14:38

Online video, links, and people: Putting it all together

I spend a lot of time speaking (and thinking) about online video — both journalism video and the broader YouTube varieties. When we think about how people use online video — and by “people” I mean mostly North Americans in the college and university student age group — we have to consider sharing.

How young people find out about videos (and — let’s face it — a large portion of all news and information) is because one or more of their friends posted a link on Facebook, or shared it in some other way that brought it to their attention.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to conclude that it’s very important to make it very easy to share the videos that you produce.

William and the Windmill

Blah blah.

November 07 2010

13:05

Advice for journalism educators in Africa

While I was attending the annual Online News Association conference a week ago, one of several great panels I sat in on was titled “From Earthquakes to Coups: Tools for Crisis Reporting.” I’ve been interested in crisis mapping and other crowdsourced efforts during disasters ever since I learned how valuable these were after the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year.

After the panel I managed to grab two of the panelists in the hallway for quick interviews. First up, Rob Baker of Ushahidi:

Next, Mark Frohardt of Internews:

I missed my chance to talk with Robert Soden, a senior GIS developer at Development Seed, who gave an inspiring presentation about OpenStreetMap.

It’s interesting to think of the ways that crowdsourced information linked to maps could be used in conjunction with reporting stories. Any community problem such as bad roads could be documented via text messages from members of the public.

October 18 2010

18:18

Best advice for Soundslides

I was asking around recently, among my friends at other j-schools who teach photojournalism. Yes, they are still teaching Soundslides. The No. 1 reason is almost unanimous: It’s a great transition from making stills to making video. I think it also helps — a lot — with teaching storytelling.

Right now I’m in the midst of a four-week module where I teach green young journalism students to tell a story with Soundslides. Fortunately, they’ve just finished four weeks of gathering and editing audio. Unfortunately, most of them have no experience with photojournalism.

Gathering Audio. Part 2: A Practical Guide. Brian Storm and Jim Seida wrote this guide years ago, and I think it’s still the best. I was just re-reading it earlier today, and man, it rocks. It’s 4,000 words, or about 10 pages single-spaced, and I would bet most of my students don’t take the time to read it — even though I assign it every semester. What a pity. It’s like gold.

So I’m blogging it here in case you’ve never read it. Or maybe you read it a long time ago and forgot how great it is.

Which should I work on first, pictures or sound?

That depends. If there’s sound that I think might be gone in a few minutes, I’ll probably break out my MiniDisc and start recording. If the light is perfect but fading, I’ll most likely make pictures first.

There’s no right way to do it, and there’s always a tradeoff. You have to accept the fact that when you are recording, you’ll miss some great images and when you are shooting you’ll miss some wonderful sound. I’ve tried doing both at once, it doesn’t work very well. Getting good sound takes just as much skill, energy and focus as getting good pictures; it’s tough to do both things at the same time.

– Meredith Birkett, Special Projects Multimedia Producer, MSNBC.com

That’s just a taste. Ha, we don’t use MiniDiscs any more (thank God!), but all the advice still fits. There’s lots more, just as good as that bit.

October 14 2010

15:32

Journalism education: Irrelevant, or lacking context?

Journalism students around the world seem to be very similar. Many of them say this:

Personally, I enrolled in a journalism course because I wanted to get into magazines or newspaper column writing — less hard news, more conversational.

That comes from a June 2010 column at MediaShift, written by Australian j-school grad Tammi Ireland. Probably two-thirds of our students at the University of Florida could have written the same thing.

Before you start wringing your hands and sighing about the type of students in journalism programs today, I have a confession to make.

That was me. Thirty years ago I was a student at Penn State, majoring in journalism, and I could not have cared less about politics, hard news, or the public interest. I thought being the editor of the arts and culture section of a big-city newspaper would be a nice job. I hated every second of my public affairs reporting class.

In hindsight, I have felt enormous gratitude for every D I got in my first media writing course, every cruel red comment my professors scrawled in the margins of that rough newsprint paper we typed on with our IBM Selectric typewriters, and every deadly boring school board and city council meeting I sat through, struggling to stay awake.

I learned how to conduct long and short interviews, take rapid and accurate notes, and write on deadline. I learned a lot about media law, the First Amendment, journalism ethics, and accuracy. I’ve been grateful ever since.

Then as now, however, the context was missing. I had no clue that what I was learning would be of value to me in my career, because all my professors were focused on an old-school model of hard news and daily newspaper journalism — which I deemed wholly irrelevant to me.

Back to Tammi Ireland:

During my studies, the possibility of working for online outlets was never even brought up. Instead, students were vaguely told something along the lines of, “Media is changing and you’ll need to know how to shoot and edit videos, write scripts and stories, and layout a page.” What about learning how to utilize social media to find sources to interview? Or learning to write for online? We also could have used a few hints as to the online publications that may want to hire us, how to lay out an online page, or how to edit photos for online use. Looking back, many things were glossed over that really shouldn’t have been.

Here’s what’s sad: If she learned how to write hard news and how to write strong headlines, she HAS learned to write for online. She doesn’t know it because she had no context in her journalism courses at school. If she learned “a bit about InDesign and how to lay out a simple news page” (as she said she did), it’s not that far a stretch to lay out an online page. But she doesn’t realize that.

Amid all the journalism students around the world complaining that no one taught them how to use this or that specific software program, Ireland makes a more pertinent complaint:

I wish more emphasis had been put on all types of media. There was definitely room for it in terms of the course schedule. We did one class where we looked at the Asian online media (mostly China’s), but the relevance of that to Australian’s own online news community was not driven home.

And for all the journalism educators who complain that they cannot teach any new tools and software because they don’t know how to use those tools and software — what is your excuse for not putting context into your teaching? Are you oblivious to the Internet, online news and information, social media, and smartphones? Are you unaware of how journalism skills are used in all kinds of media and all kinds of jobs?

I’m not letting the students off the hook, though. What is wrong with young people who think that the only way to learn anything is to sit in a room with someone talking to them?

I recently met a U.S. TV news student who had gone on a study abroad program for several months in an Asian country. When I asked her about the video she had shot there, she said: “I didn’t have a video camera.”

That makes me want to despair.

September 21 2010

14:12

Teaching Twitter to students

This semester I took a course I have been teaching for 10 years and moved it to a WordPress.com blog. The students and I still meet in person once a week to discuss ideas, but otherwise, everything is on the blog.

Each student was required to start his or her own WordPress.com blog, and all their assignments are submitted as posts on their blogs.

This week’s assignment centered on Twitter, and I’m very happy with the results! My intention was to give the students an experience of using Twitter that would introduce them to new people and new sources of information and show them one of the most significant ways that Twitter is different from Facebook.

If you want to see the students’ reactions and reports about their experience, their blogs are linked in the sidebar of the course blog. Just follow the link to the assignment (above). This week only you can see a link to their Twitter posts (because of the way I set up the RSS feed) — but by Friday those links will start to be replaced by links to their next assignment.

If you’re interested in using WordPress.com in this manner for a course, leave a comment here — I’d be happy to answer any questions!

(Note: This course happens to be for graduate students, and it’s not a skills class, so I’m not teaching them how to be journalists.)

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