February 3, 2013
A smartphone full of apps opens all kinds of opportunities for journalists. Here are a couple:
You can easily take a bunch of pictures and upload them to Flickr as you go. The pictures go into a queue so you don’t have to worry about waiting for one to upload before you move on to the next.
Once you’ve got a good selection, you can go to the newsroom and head for the Flickr website. Pick your pictures and put them in a set. Display them as a slideshow, copy the embed code, and place it on your website.
Voilà! The event is hardly over and already you’ve got it covered with pictures.
Sometime words and sounds are all you need. How about a one-minute, heartfelt statement? How about the distant boom of avalanche control?
You can capture these moments by tapping the record button in the SoundCloud app. Tap the save button and it’s uploaded.
As with Flickr, you can later get the embed code and place it on your website.
Boom! The echoes have barely died down and already you’ve got audio.
(Just one caveat, though — you can’t do any editing on the SoundCloud site, so try to get it right the first time or you’ll have to fire up a program like Audacity.)
January 31, 2013
Despite the predictions of some grumps, journalists have been taking to six-second Vine videos like ducks to water. And I think I know why.
For the past few years, we — especially in the newspaper business — have been pressured to make videos to go on our websites. We’ve been told that people love videos, and that if we want the paper to survive (along with our jobs), we’d better learn how to use a camcorder.
I have yet to see evidence that visitors to news sites have any special love for videos — other than fires or other mayhem. And yet there are newspapers out there putting the screws to their reporters to create a video for every, single boring story they write.
Many are balking at the idea. They don’t have the time, the inclination or the know-how to produce a half-decent video. They know in their hearts they can’t possibly compete with TV.
But then along comes Vine. Now this is video-making anyone — even the most reluctant journalist — can understand. Just point your smartphone, touch the screen, and you’re done in no time. If you want to be creative, touch the screen multiple times before your six seconds are up.
It also makes more sense from a news point of view. A quick video that automatically posts to Twitter is a darn fine way to capture the moment when there is breaking news.
I predict journalists will soon be posting Vine videos just as often as they now post snapshots of events they’re covering. It’s video that was made for the Internet, and you won’t see anything like it on TV.
January 26, 2013
Twitter has introduced an app called Vine that makes it easy to share six-second videos — so what’s not to love?
The first thing that came to mind for me was a reporter at the scene of a house fire. A video, even only six seconds, of flames shooting through the roof would be dramatic. What a great way to put people instantly at the scene.
That scenario has not yet come to pass for me, but I did have an inspiration at a recent press conference announcing that our city had won the bid for a major sports tournament. Standing beside the podium were four teenage girls in their uniforms, all members of a curling team. One of them had a big flag, and was waving it back and forth.
She stopped, but I signalled for her to start again and got six seconds with Vine on my iPhone. It wasn’t much, but it helped capture some of the excitement at an event that was otherwise just a bunch of officials taking turns at the microphone.
By the way, another new Twitter feature makes it much easier to embed a tweet in your blog. Just click on More, then Embed Tweet.
As for Vine, I’ll be looking for more opportunities to tweet videos. Like anything else, the more you practise, the better you get.
January 20, 2013
It’s a weirdly good feeling to be able to walk out of the newsroom with nothing but an iPhone in my pocket to cover an event. It doesn’t always work out that way, but often it does.
For example, I hear about a car crash on the scanner. I can just stand up, walk out to the parking lot, hop in my car and go.
While walking to the car, I can tap the scanner app, turn it up full blast, and listen for updates.
Once I’m at the scene I can take pictures and put them on Twitter along with a description. I can also email a picture to the newsroom so I can later put it on the website.
A tap of the Voice Memos app allows me to record interviews of witnesses that I can use to bang out a brief.
Of course, I can also phone the newsroom and talk to editors about what is going on if it turns out to be something that needs more coverage.
In a pinch, the iPhone also takes pretty good video. I do prefer a camcorder, though. The picture and and zoom quality are just so much better.
Check out this article at Poynter for more smart ways to use a smartphone:
January 12, 2013
Staff at newspapers with websites typically think of the comments as a nuisance. There are a lot of anonymous people out there with anger management issues, and each and every one of their comments has to be dealt with one way or another.
Still, we shouldn’t let this stop us from using our commenting systems in innovative ways. After all, the software used to run these systems is quite powerful. Surely, there is more that can be done other than bolt them onto the end of stories.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with three ideas stolen from other venues:
Ask Me Anything
At Reddit, anyone can introduce themselves and invite people to ask them anything. Sometimes they set limits, sometimes it’s a free-for-all. Everyone knows about Barack Obama’s foray during the U.S. election campaign, but there have been many other interesting ones. For example, a man living on a First Nations reserve in Canada invited readers to ask questions, and I have to say I was impressed with the genuine seeking of knowledge about his life.
Reddit, of course, is a forum. But Ask Me Anything could be adapted into a commenting system as well. For example, someone in the community with an interesting job — maybe a nurse or a firefighter or an artist — could be introduced through a short article, then invite questions in the comments. They could be kept anonymous to protect their privacy. Another possibility might be local politicians inviting the public to ask them about a particular topic.
Lounge and Thunderdome
PZ Myers has a blog called Pharyngula where he regularly opens up threads for people to talk about any subject they want. He introduces them with a short article and sets the rules. For the Lounge, kind words only are allowed and moderation is tight. For Thunderdome, anything goes and moderation is loose. These are great ways to mix things up. I can see newspaper editors balking at Thunderdome because it would be sure to get out of hand, and even loose moderation could suck up their time. But the Lounge might make for a welcome relief and perhaps even encourage kinds words in other threads.
Are there other ways to be innovative with comments? We really need to think about how they can be used to our advantage.
January 6, 2013
MediaShift has a list of the most (caution: buzzword ahead) disruptive news apps of 2012.
These apps represent improvements in bulk aggregation, the evolution of the app ecosystem that has produced “companion” apps, as well as some potentially disruptive concepts.
Of the 10, I’m most in love with Zite. Along with Tweetbot and Reeder, it is one of my main sources of news. Zite aggregrates news from subjects and sources that you choose, then learns from your reading habits to bring more of what you like. It’s almost scary the way Zite gives you what you want before you know you want it.
A similar app that I intend to give a try is called News360. At first glance, it seems quite similar in both concept and design to Zite. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
Also on the list is Prismatic. I’ve been using this app on and off for several months, but I’ve never really been able to warm up to it. The app seems awkward compared with Zite — almost as if it isn’t all the confident about constitutes a good story.
Summly suffers from the same flaw. Sure, you can create whatever category you want, but the quality of the content is not always good. For example, the top story in the Journalism category (as I write this) is “Student newspaper earns top journalism award for Hunterdon Central High School”. And it goes downhill from there.
Apps like Summly and Prismatic will either catch up with the competition or die off. Still, it’s good to see developers out there trying to outdo one another for the attention of news junkies.
Of the other six items on the MediaShift list, only Circa counts as a true news app in my mind. This one has real-live editors compiling stories in bite-sized pieces. You can tag the ones you want to keep up to date with. It seems a bit old-fashioned to have editors choose your stories, but you might like it if you find yourself overwhelmed by the chaos of news sources.
December 28, 2012
We know that mass killers — the ones who shoot a bunch of people before turning the gun on themselves — do it because they want to go out in a blaze of glory.
Disturbed people see the attention that mass murderers get: names and pictures are in the media for weeks, months, even years on end. Those who go on a murderous rampage make a name for themselves. They become part of our history and culture. Disturbed people see this and want a piece of the action. So they kill, too.
We in the media have to stop giving them what they want. Let’s make a deal among ourselves.
First, no pictures of any kind. No one needs know what the killer looked like. And, as time passes, no one will care.
Second, limit using the killer’s name as much as possible. We don’t need to write drawn-out biographies or soul-searching features about what drove him to it. If compelled to write something along these lines, keep it general — don’t mention names.
These creeps want to force their anonymous sickness on the rest of us, but we don’t have to let them. Time after time, we play into their hands. It has to stop. We need to admit some responsibility and do our part.
December 22, 2012
I predict 2013 will be the year that news publishers say No to animations of trucks driving around on their websites in the hope that they might help a local dealership sell a car or two.
It will be the year when they say, “Enough with the humiliation!”
It’s humiliating to the institution of journalism, which has been reduced to the lowest grade of shilling imaginable. It’s humiliating to readers who are forced to look at this crap. And it’s humiliating to the advertisers themselves, because it makes them despised by potential customers.
In 2013, publishers will say, “Thank you for your support, Advertisers, but your services are no longer required.”
Advertisers will find this a liberating experience, because they never truly felt welcome in the first place.
Publishers will be able to say goodbye to advertisers because they will have built up engagement with their readers through transparency, authenticity, and participation. And these readers will happily respond by paying for memberships and premium services.
Other revenue will come from sponsors who genuinely support the site and who will pay for the privilege of having their brand exposed on it.
OK, so maybe this is more a fantasy than a prediction. But I truly do believe that scrounging around for ad dollars on the Internet is foolish and unproductive. It might not happen in 2013, but the sooner publishers wake up to this reality the better.
We need to get rid of ads so we can create websites that we — and our readers — are proud of.
If you’re interested in more predictions, check this out: Nieman Journalism Lab asked “the smartest people we know” to come up with prognostications for 2013. The result is a thought-provoking collection that you really must read.
December 15, 2012
Al Tompkins has done journalists a service by attempting to place school shootings in the U.S. into perspective. I once attended a class led by Tompkins at the Poynter Institute and would describe him as a no-bullshit kind of guy — an advocate of clear thinking.
In his article for Poynter, he asserts that American schools are safe and presents statistics to back this up. They show that school crime has fallen dramatically in recent years, which does indeed help to counter some of the hysteria.
But there was one figure from an NPR report that I can’t get out of my mind: “By 2010, the latest figures available, those numbers had decreased to two homicides and four violent crimes per 1,000 students.”
That means one out of 500 students in the United States was murdered in 2010. It means that in a high school with 500 students, you could expect that one of them would be killed during the school year.
But say you live in a safe neighbourhood, where students are never killed. That means other schools have to pick up the slack, and have two or three students killed in a year. It’s shocking.
I have no idea how many students there are in the U.S., but let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s 50 million — although in a country of 311 million you would expect it to be higher. That would mean 100,000 students were killed in 2010. It’s beyond shocking.
I suppose there is hope in the fact that this number has been decreasing and that we may one day see it drift down to zero, but I don’t see this as a reason for complacency. The no-bullshit solutions are blindingly obvious — restrictions on gun ownership and improved access to health care. Cut the crap and just do it.
December 9, 2012
Some people think paywalls for newspaper websites are a good idea. Some people don’t. But here’s something I’ve noticed — the people who hate them most are bloggers.
Why would that be?
Let’s have a look at the structure of a typical blog post, including this one. It’s made up of opinions based on articles that other people have written. In this case, my opinion is based on observations I’ve made about other people’s blog posts. But in many cases, a blog post is based on articles with original research in them.
For example, one of these posts might start with an introduction to a topic, then use a blockquote from an article about that topic. This is then followed by the blogger’s opinion of it. I have nothing against this format. I’ve used it myself and I especially enjoy reading blog posts that bring insight to a subject this way.
But let’s face it, the articles that bloggers quote from are often written by people who had to do research. And by research, I don’t mean doing Google searches.
The writers of these articles had to make phone calls and interview people who know what they’re talking about. Interviews like this often involve long distance charges, and at the very least suck up a lot of time. Plus, a well-researched article should have at minimum two or three interviews to ensure a good range of perspectives.
But even that may not be enough.
Good research often means going to the person’s office or home for the interview. Or you might have to go to a meeting or an event. That adds the expense of transportation and even more hours of time.
Time and money, time and money. These are things bloggers have precious little of. They don’t make much money from their work and what little they do make comes from blogging frequently. You can’t post if you’re tied up with talking to people and driving around town.
So, yes, it makes sense to let someone else do the legwork, then add your own commentary. But wait a minute — what if those articles you want to quote are behind a paywall? That’s an expense that a blogger trying to eke out a living doesn’t need. They’ll post a plethora of reasons for why they’re opposed to paywalls, but the fact that it hits them in the wallet never seems to come up.
Many of them are savvy enough to find ways around paywalls, but they usually (in an effort to maintain credibility) provide a link to the source article. Will people want to follow these links knowing that they could count toward their allotment at a metered site? Will bloggers want to use workaround links, knowing this makes them look shady?
Yes, the clouds of obscurity so often part and let in the light of veracity when you follow the money.