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July 25 2012


Presentation: Tools for visual storytelling workshop by @Coneee

During news:rewired – full stream ahead on Friday (13 July), Conrad Quilty-Harper, interactive news editor at the Telegraph, ran a workshop on tools for visual storytelling.

Here is a copy of his presentation:

April 21 2012


Japan tsunami photos highlight human cost, study finds

In the final research panel at ISOJ, Rosellen Downey, Erika Johnson, and Bailey Brewer, University of Missouri, looked at the coverage in photos of the Japanese tsunami.

The study, Through the lens: Visual framing of the Japan tsunami in U.S., British, and Chinese online media, looked at how the Japanese tsunami was reflected in the images of US, British and Chinese media.

The researchers examined at 242 photos, 58 from NPR, 52 from the BBC and 132 from Xinhua. The photos were collected over three days from March 11 to 13,

The study found that two-thirds of the photos had people in them and the majority of people were Japanese.

In photos on the BBC, there were few photos that just had officials. They tended to have a mix of officials and civilians. Xinhua, by comparison, featured mainly civilians

Few photos featured a single individual. Most were of groups.

China had the most visual coverage, due to geographic proximity.

The researchers didn’t find as many officials in the coverage as expected and instead tended to feature civilians and aid workers, highlighting the human dimension of the tragedy.

November 16 2011


In Journalism Class, Think Visceral


"Beyond J-School 2011" is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

This week on MediaShift, we're exploring the moving target that is teaching journalism. Stay tuned as we offer tips, tools and insights on educating tomorrow's journalists.

Every semester I conduct a small experiment with the undergrads in my Journalism in the 21st Century course. On the day devoted to discussing media consumption, they walk into class and I ask for their cell phones. They blink, then laugh, then gape as I collect their phones and pile them in a corner behind me.


They're not allowed to use cell phones during class, so it really shouldn't matter where the handsets are for the next hour and 15 minutes. Yet I can tell with every furtive corner-ward glance (to say nothing of the twitching if one of the phones beeps or buzzes), that students are in serious tech-withdrawal.

The best part is, they can tell too.

Yes, they also study Pew Research Center data chronicling Americans' news habits, and they log their own habits for self-study and comparison. They even read about some of the neuroscience behind the brain's dependence on info gadgets. But my hope is that the in-class experiment is visceral enough to help cement the lesson.

As a college educator in the 21st century, I am always trying to think visceral. We know that students increasingly crave stimulation, surprise and interactivity, but we deliberately push against the current. We think students benefit by being forced to focus on something -- anything -- that isn't byte-sized. We think we are lowering our academic standards if we cater to ever-shrinking attention spans.

In many ways, we are right.

But we're also kidding ourselves if we don't acknowledge the changing needs and habits of our target audience. They might engage enough to pass the class, but I worry about what stays with them once the semester is over. It's worth trying to attach a memorable image or immersive experience to the lessons I would have taught anyway -- just in case.

Here are some things worth trying:

Tune in

Picture 41.png

Thinking visceral usually involves teaching visual. There was a time when this meant composing a PowerPoint presentation. It's graphic. It's colorful. Sometimes it's even animated, if you can figure out how to swoop text around. But today's students are so inured to stimulants that it is simply their version of a chalkboard: two-dimensional, text-heavy and often boring.

You can try spicing up your PowerPoint presentations, or you can try a different visual route altogether.

I have journalism students read scholarly work by sociologist Manual Castells about the shifting powers of communication in what he calls the "Network Society." We then talk in class about the vertical structure of top-down, Industrial Age mass media and the horizontal structure of today's all-access, Information Age media. I could (and I have) used PowerPoint to highlight Castells' main themes. But I have better success illustrating them through a series of short scenes from journalism-related shows and films, culled from YouTube and DVDs.


We start with Charles Foster Kane in his newsroom in "Citizen Kane," then move onto Bob Woodward chasing down a lead in "All the President's Men" (the scene I show is described here), then news staffers gathering for a grim announcement in the last season of HBO's "The Wire." If there's time, I squeeze in a short clip from the 2009 film "State of Play." After each one, I ask students: Is this depicting a vertical communication system, a horizontal system, or some convergence of the two? Who holds the power in this system? What is their pursuit?

Such scenes help crystallize the power shift I am trying to track, and become quick reference points as students process the idea that they have unprecedented power and responsibility in the Network Society.

I try a similar approach when we get to the resurgence of partisan journalism. Students often say they don't understand how the opinionated bluster of a Bill O'Reilly or a Keith Olbermann can draw large audiences. This time, I go for the visceral first by having them watch some video clips for homework. I choose a "straight" news interview with a direct participant in the story, a commentary on the issue by a conservative media figure, and another one by a liberal counterpart. The more bluster the better.

The next day in class, I have students quickly say what they remember from the clips. Almost always, the memories are of the commentators' name-calling or insults. (When I did this once with the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan, only one student recalled the dry but informative CNN interview with the center's own imam, but only to point out anchor Soledad O'Brien's "rude" interruptions.)

In this way, students live the lesson before they study it. When they then read research on higher retention of opinionated versus straight news, they can't question why people gravitate toward an O'Reilly type, because they've done it themselves.

Get out

Teaching visual doesn't just mean bringing multimedia into the classroom. We have the opportunity to bring students into the subject matter because we are studying a living, breathing profession. I can almost hear the jokes about life support or breathing tubes, and I understand. Yes, newspapers are contracting and in some cities shuttering, but the number and variety of media companies have only grown in the digital age. Students have more to study than ever before. Plus, we have two advantages when trying to arrange such field trips: Journalists usually are happy to evangelize to future generations, and they happen to already believe in the concept of transparency.

And in any case, it doesn't have to be limited to media businesses. My students tour The New York Times every semester, but they also see the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. They see grad students, high-tech equipment, and professors whose work they have read for class. It's just the right blend of the familiar and the aspirational.

Own it

If part of your plan is to teach students that they have unprecedented power in today's media world, then let them feel the weight of that power.

Many journalism graduate schools are doing a great job of incorporating business education and entrepreneurship into their programs. Why not give undergrads an early taste? Have students formulate business plans for their own media companies, then pitch their ideas as if their classmates are investors. With the Knight News Challenge and other start-up funding out there, you never know what kind of initiative this will spark in students.

For more advanced students, why not have them cultivate a real product? Using a San Francisco State University course as a model, I have students create a WordPress blog on a topic of their choosing, then spend the semester posting text, photos, audio, video, mapping and other digital content to their site. They must market their blogs through social media, and track their success through web analytics. They are free to continue or disable the blogs after the semester is over, but at least they have a practice run at managing their own journalistic content.

Again, these ideas are meant to supplement, not replace, the lesson plans of any journalism or media course. I don't want my students to simply pass my class. I want them to think differently about the way they produce and consume media in their own lives. If that means pushing more visceral experiments and experiences into the class calendar, it's worth it.

Alexa Capeloto is a journalism professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/City University of New York. She earned her master's degree at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, and spent 10 years as a metro reporter and editor at the Detroit Free Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune before transitioning into academia.


"Beyond J-School 2011" is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

Get the weekly Journalism Education Roundup email from MediaShift

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September 21 2010


How to create a wordpress magazine theme using Twenty Ten – Part 1

This is part one of a short series outlining how to tweak a wordpress template to get some magazine style functionality.

I’m in the process of updating installations of wordpress for our students to use. In one sense it’s a stop gap measure as we are in the process of commissioning a more “industrial strength” system for them. But even with a new system in place I think we will still leave some courses the option of going the wordpress route. The magazine students for example, love the flexibility (and low level of tech) that design templates offer. It doesn’t seem to have done them any harm in terms of nominations.

When it comes to design, finding a wordpress template you like is half the battle, there are thousands out there. As more people use wordpress to get publications online, magazine style templates have become a popular search and a big growth area for premium template developers.

It’s tempting to pay for a template you like – nothing wrong with that. But it’s not as complicated as you think to get something up and running, out of the box, with very little tinkering. Especially if you build on existing templates. So I thought it would be useful to look at how easy it would be modify the standard Twentyten theme in to something with some magazine functionality.

Hacking around like this is how I learnt a lot of stuff about wordpress and it’s also a way to get your feet wet with a programming language. In this case PHP

To play along with this you’ll need:

  • Your own installation of the latest version of the wordpress.org software (as I write this it’s 3.0.1). Sorry wordpress.com won’t do.If you have webspace and your thinking of adding wordpress you could do worse than check out the wordpress codex entry on installing wordpress. Some hosts will offer automated installation of wordpress – very useful.
  • A text editor. Even word will do.

That’s it.

The design

The adapted Twenty Ten Theme

This is a screenshot of what we are going to end up with. It has a front page that has a featured post at the top and sections underneath for each category. You’ll also notice that I’ve tinkered around with the header to remove the big image. OK, it’s not going to win any design awards but this is more about exploring the concepts.

Normally you’d plan this kind of thing on paper first. You’d also work on the code in a development environment. An installation of WordPress that only runs on your machine, not the web.

If you’re feeling really brave you can set one up. Here are few resources

I’m going to assume that we dive straight in and edit the template live! I know, bad, bad, bad. All I’m going to say is do so at your own risk.

A word on programming and PHP

WordPress is written in a programming language called PHP.  This isn’t a programming tutorial (I’m not going to explain the basics of programming), but there are a couple of important things to know.

Spotting PHP

You may already be familiar with HTML. You can spot it in the raw code for a webpage because it is contained in pointy – brackets.


Anything here will appear as a heading two


In a similar way, you can spot PHP in the raw code for a webpage because it is always between  <?php …. ?>. Here’s an example:



But if you look at the source for this webpage in your browser you will only see HTML. Why don’t we see the PHP?

PHP is a server side language. That means the webserver looks at the page and processes any PHP it finds before it sends you the page. When we use PHP as part of wordpress themes we are using it to generate HTML.


When programmers write code they will always look for ways to avoid repetitive jobs. Rather than write the same code every time, they write a function. This is a set of instructions that can be called when needed.  The example of PHP above is a function:



Whenever we want to show the title of post we call the function the_title() and the server runs the code needed to get all the right information. The semi-colon is also important. Here’s another example:



This time it’s a function to show a thumbnail for a post. But there is also some content in the brackets. This is a parameter or extra information that the function might need. When the server runs the function to get the post thumbnail it tells the function it wants the thumbnail sized thumbnail. I know, sounds like repetition. We could also say:



That says ‘get the thumbnail but make it medium sized’. In case you were interested, the thumbnail and medium sizes are defined in the media settings of your blog. But more on that later.

There are hundreds of these functions in wordpress. Some are specific to templates, like the examples above, but others do the heavy lifting of making the blog work. We’ll be scratching the surface of the template functions here but I thought it was worth a little intro.

So we are going to be looking at a little PHP to call some functions to help us modify the TwentyTen template. Hopefully, now, that might statement might make a bit more sense.

How wordpress themes work.

You can get a really good overview of the way themes work from the wordpress codex and plenty of other websites around. A google search for wordpress theme tutorials should give you plenty of options. But let’s break it down in to a few simple ideas.

A wordpress theme is split in to parts:

  • the content you want in a structured form
  • instructions on the way you want it to look.

This information is held in a number of different files.  These are stored in a folder, one for each theme, in the WP_content/themes folder of your wordpress installation. The more complex the theme, the more files there tend to be.

In a basic theme, for example, you will have a file called single.php. That’s the content and structure part. This is a mixture of HTML and PHP. But the way it looks, the colour and style of text, position on the page etc is controlled by a file called style.css. This is a cascading style sheet file.

The Twentyten theme we are going to edit, has 18 content and structure files and four style sheet files. We wont be using all of these for this tutorial. We are only interested in two.

  • Main Index Template (index.php)
  • Stylesheet (style.css)

Accessing template files

There are several ways we can get at these files:

Any of those will do. But I’m going to work through on the assumption you are using the built in editor.

First thing to do is check you have the TwentyTen theme activated by going to Appearance >Themes. It should show Twenty Ten as the current theme. Then click through to the editor panel (Appearance > Editor).

The Theme editor

You’ll see a list of the 18 template files down the right-hand side and an editor window. By default this displays the Visual Editor Stylesheet (editor-style.css). All  you need to do is find and click Main Index Template or Stylesheet on the right to load up the files we will be working with.

Permission to edit.

When you look at the bottom of the editor window you may see a warning: – You need to make this file writeable before you can save your changes

You need to set the permissions on the theme folder!

This could be the biggest stumbling block of the process. But if you are serious about having a go at theme development, even tweaking like this, it’s worth getting your head round.

To remove the error message you need to set the permissions for the Twenty Ten folder to be 666.

Does that make no sense? You could try:

If you set the permissions correctly, the message should be replaced by a big Update File button.

You're ready to start editing!

Some final preparation

From this point I’m going to assume that you have a working installation of wordpress up and running. But before we experiment with the theme we need to have some content to work with. So if your blog doesn’t have posts yet you need to add a few posts to work with. You could do this manually using the lipsum.com, a lorem-ipsum generator and some liberal cut and paste for content. There are also a number of random content generator plugins available. For this exercise I used demo data creator.

We will also need to create some categories and assign the posts across the categories. I’ve used the following for this demo:

  • News
  • Sport
  • Featured Story

Once you have done that we are ready for Part 2 tomorrow, where we will start to edit the front page to get that magazine look.

As always, feedback and suggestions always welcome

September 18 2010


What I read today…

August 03 2010


NetTuesday Notes in Words and Pictures: A Guest Blog Post from Melbourne Organizer Jasmin Tragas

Jasmin HeadshotToday we hosted our second NetTuesday event in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and decided to do things a little differently. I spread some large sheets of scrap paper out on the table and bunched together some textas and crayons in a jar. The atmosphere was informal, and everyone was encouraged to participate whilst sipping lattes and munching on muffins, although I ended up visually facilitating the session (people are afraid that they can't draw!) based on the discussion. The idea was to capture some ideas, experiences and general conversation about ways people are making a difference.

read more

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