December 5, 2013
After seeing the promo video of Amazon using a drone to make a delivery, I thought about how a device like that could come in handy for news organizations.
Imagine, for example, there is a terrible fatal accident in the middle of a bridge during rush hour traffic. There’s no way you can get anywhere near it. A helicopter might work if you’re lucky enough to have one, but you still can’t get very close to the action.
Enter the drone reporter. Just punch in the GPS co-ordinates and send it on its way. When it gets close, use a remote control for exact positioning and take pictures. You might even be able to poke a microphone out and interview witnesses.
Worried about bumping into something? Our ideal drone would come with equipment that senses objects nearby and gives them a wide berth.
As it turns out the newly revived American Journalism Review published an article on this topic yesterday. They spoke with University of Nebraska professor Matt Waite.
There’s huge potential for drones to enhance the level of journalism produced in this country, including the ability to collect data during severe weather situations, Waite said in a separate interview with AJR.
Drone reporters could wind up in plenty of places were human reporters fear to tread. To learn more, be sure to check out the Drone Journalism Lab. (Yes, there really is such a thing.)
Image above: A BBC hexacopter.
December 4, 2013
The Vancouver Sun has an amazingly simply way of engaging readers through social media — Instagram photo challenges.
Readers are asked to take pictures and post them to Instagram with a special hashtag. After the deadline, a Sun photographer judges the best and it is published in the newspaper.
The contest costs nothing in infrastructure and very little in time. Since people are constantly posting to Instagram anyway, all they have to do differently is add a hashtag. Professional photographers can easily sort the wheat from the chaff and declare a winner.
December 1, 2013
Poptip is an immensely satisfying method for using Twitter to survey your followers. I tried the free tryout and was impressed with the results. I got lucky, though, because I came up with a good question on my first try.
“Are you using winter tires? Reply with yes or no.”
It’s an easy question to answer. And it was something a lot of people were thinking about at the time as police had started issuing warnings.
I got plenty of replies and Poptip created a nifty graphic to embed in the website. My next question was more complicated and the options were not a simple yes or no. That was a mistake and I got few replies.
I came up with a good idea for a third question — Have you begun Christmas shopping? — but the free trial was over. Getting the paid version requires negotiations involving our publisher so it may be some time before we’re doing more Poptip surveys.
Meanwhile, there is no reason not to do surveys without Poptip. You can ask a question or solicit photos and put them together with Storify. And if you really want a graphic, you can make one with Infogr.am.
Still, I’m hoping we can come with a deal with Poptip.
November 26, 2013
Why do journalists prefer Twitter to Facebook? I’ve asked myself that question a few times, but Ezra Klein has gone a step further and answered it in his blog at The Washington Post.
The reason, I think, is that Twitter is simply more useful for our jobs. For better or worse, it’s where news breaks today. It’s also where a lot of real-time reporting happens.
If you follow the right accounts, your Twitter timeline can be a lot like the wire services — a constant stream of breaking stories. That’s the kind of thing we’re used to, and it’s what we appreciate most about Twitter.
If we had any sense we would be concentrating more on Facebook because it drives 10 times as much traffic as Twitter. But Facebook seems too staid. It’s more like a quiet conversation among friends than the frenzied firehose we get from Twitter.
And while most Twitter users likely only check it out from time to time, we in the business can be quite obsessive about it, never wanting to missing a tweet. By comparison, Facebook is ho-hum.
November 14, 2013
When you use Twitter’s new custom timeline feature, there is a sense of déjà vu if you’ve ever used Storify. You search for tweets, then drag-and-drop them into the timeline.
Before you think about dumping Storify, though, take a deep breath. Twitter’s custom timelines don’t have nearly as many features.
Sam Kirkland sums it up quite nicely at Poynter. Among his observations:
Among the apparent drawbacks: No ability to add text between tweets. Storify embeds can often stand alone as stories with all necessary context included, thanks to in-line comments advancing a narrative.
Where things could get interesting is with the release of an API for developers. This will allow automation in the selection of tweets that could be done in some creative ways. I look forward to seeing some of the innovations.
November 13, 2013
There are a lot of good reasons not to use Twitter’s website, the most obvious one being the big-ass ads now showing up. But often overlooked is the lack of features that have been implemented in apps.
The one I have been learning to appreciate recently is the ability to mute. I use this function occasionally when someone I follow suddenly takes it upon themselves to live tweet in copious detail an event I have no interest in. I can block that account for a few hours in the hope that they will later come to their senses.
I don’t know of any way of doing this on the Twitter website other than going through the hassle of using a third-party service. Some people may be OK with this, but I generally try to avoid it.
For a basic muting feature, you can turn to Tweetdeck. This is an app offered by Twitter itself and is loved by journalists for its ability to follow several streams at once. Of course, the downside is that we may soon be seeing the insertion of ads here as well.
In any case, to use mute in Tweetdeck simply go to Settings and click on the Mute tab. From there you have three options: text content, user and source. When you want to “unmute,” go back to the Settings and revise the list.
Now, you might be wondering about “text content.” This is something I recently discovered when I got fed up with one of the people I follow using a term I won’t mention here because they might find it embarrassing. Let’s just say it’s an abbreviation that grates on my nerves. I typed that word into the Tweetdeck Settings and I no longer receive tweets with that word in it. Yay.
If you want to go even further with muting, you’ll need an app like Tweetbot, which is far and away the best I know of. In addition to the three options mentioned above, it also allows you to mute hashtags, which can be a relief when a subject you don’t care about is trending all over the place. And it also lets you set the duration of a mute. I’ve got my annoying word set to forever, but with Tweetbot there are also the options of one day, one week and one month. Plus, you can mute any mentions that have the keyword in it.
Most impressive is the ability to check matching tweets. Tweetbot tells me, for example, that so far it has muted nine tweets with the annoying word. And if I’m really curious, I can look at a list of them — just in case one of them is actually worth reading.
November 12, 2013
Chad Skelton — Vancouver Sun journalist and Kwantlen college instructor — had some interesting questions for The Tyee and its fundraising ads. Not sure if they were answered.
November 11, 2013
Lauren Hockenson at Giga Om wonders if YouTube is “damaged forever” by its new requirement that people use their real names via Google+ if they want to leave a comment.
The comments system, especially for Youtube, is a tenuous but necessary tool — perhaps this low-key change has in fact irrevocably damaged the ecosystem Youtube has worked so hard to create.
It’s hard to imagine anyone missing the cesspool of comments that passes for an “ecosystem” at YouTube.
November 9, 2013
We put together a package for Remembrance Day that involved interviews with six Kamloops war veterans, who described a moment during when courage overcame fear. Each was interviewed by a different reporter, who also made a recording. Photographers took extra pictures and the vets were encouraged to submit snapshots of their own.
I collected these pictures and recordings then put together an audio slideshow in iMovie that nicely complements the version that appeared in the newspaper. People get to see many more pictures, plus they get to hear the stories in the vets’ own words. I have embedded the audio slideshow below. My only real regret is that we didn’t have more historical photos to better illustrate the time when the events took place. Also, reporters needed reminders to be dead silent while the subject is speaking — in one case there were several mm-hmms and notepad scratchings audible and it had to be done over.
November 1, 2013
The Webster awards, which honour the best in British Columbia journalism, have a section for excellence in digital journalism. This was news to me, but even bigger news was that one of the nominees was a radio station that ran a Twitter townhall — something we’ve done a couple of times in Kamloops without dreaming that it was deserving of an award.
So now we know better.
As it turns out, though, a much more deserving nominee won the award — a data driven exploration of political donations and lobbyists. Just getting the data in the first place took months of negotiation with the B.C. government, and then there was the headache of organizing cryptic spreadsheets so that they made some kind of sense. Congratulations to the Vancouver Sun and Chad Skelton for doing such a great job.
The Sun makes me wince sometimes when I see them wasting data resources on puff pieces such as where the best places are to get candy on Halloween, but the underlying methodology is well worth studying.
The big problem I find with data journalism is finding or creating spreadsheets. The data available is not alway conveniently laid out on a spreadsheet. Or if it is, it’s not in the order it needs to be in. This can create a lot of grunt work just to get to the stage where you can think about plugging it into a visualization tool. It’s frustrating to find a nice table of data only to find out that it’s in the form of a PDF.
Still, even news organizations with few resources should be able to persevere and do some of this type of work. It may take longer and it likely won’t get done as often, but that doesn’t mean it can’t ever get done at all.