Teaching Online Journalism

Changes at the Orlando Sentinel

Following its announcements of staffing cuts at the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, the Tribune Co. continues to make plans for the future. From the memo to the Orlando Sentinel newsroom:

  • We must grow audience rapidly on the Web. That means changing the way we work. It means gaining new skills and creating new beats. It means becoming a multimedia, 24/7 news operation. It means creating new databases and managing user-generated content.
  • We must keep the newspaper strong. That means a sharper emphasis on watchdog journalism, consumer journalism, unique local coverage, personally useful news, innovative storytelling and provocative commentary. We must focus relentlessly on what readers perceive as valuable – not on our preconceptions or traditions.
  • We must each take ownership of our work. Every staff member needs to take personal responsibility for making the newspaper and web site a success. Individual creativity, commitment and energetic action will be rewarded. The flatter management structure will require more self-discipline, initiative and self-management.

Complete memo at Online News Squared.

And to put all this into perspective, I recommend Matt Waite’s post about controlling your own destiny: Stop waiting for them to save you. Matt’s not an “online guy” per se, but he’s one of those can-do journalists who is absolutely not sitting around waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall.

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Database about local school discipline

Here’s a nice local, local, local package that would grab the attention of parents in your circulation area (if you made your own version, that is):

Who Gets Suspended?

This package about public school suspensions, from the Northwest Florida Daily News (a 38,000-circ. daily located between Pensacola and Panama City on the beautiful Florida panhandle) might look like Flash to you — but it’s not!

It’s all JavaScript and CSS, with a database back-end. Sweet! The database was built from scratch in MySQL for this project by Daily News programmer Matt Minix. The data were gathered by education reporter Rachel Kyler. I got all this from online editor Isaac Sabetai, who feels pretty proud of what they accomplished. I don’t blame him.

The About This Project page explains how the newspaper used public records to create this interesting database. The complete project is here.

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How to Handle a Multi-Part Package

At The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida:

Special Report – September 11

Special Report - September 11

Lucas Grindley makes all the right points about why it makes sense for this newspaper to invest these resources in this story. Venice, Florida, is less than 20 miles south on the Tamiami Trail from Sarasota — Venice, where three of the terrorist pilots learned to fly. And the elementary school where George W. Bush first heard about the attacks? It’s in Sarasota.

What I’d like to point out, though, is how journalist Melissa Worden and colleagues organized this package. It is one of the best examples in recent years of an online journalism package that’s NOT a warehouse jam-packed with too much stuff. It’s a package that makes the most out of the online medium. What’s more, it did not take a Flash rocket scientist to figure this out.

Here’s what the package provides, in a single-screen, no-scrolling experience:

  1. An enticing 10-second intro (no need to skip it; it’s short!).
  2. Five clearly labeled sections that, by virtue of intelligent text, make you want to click in.
  3. Similar excellent labeling for sub-sections within the five main sections.
  4. Flash video and Soundslides audio slideshows that play seamlessly within the package (no pop-ups or fly-outs!).
  5. Good integration of maps that really help tell the story.
  6. Legible text, short paragraphs, and clear, straightforward writing. One of the most admirable things about this package: It really communicates well.
  7. Click-ability: When you look at this package, be mindful of how it’s so easy to click — a lot. You quickly come to trust the package not to do anything unexpected. You don’t feel lost or confused. So, you feel comfortable clicking on anything and everything, because you see how easy it will be to get back to where you were.

Combine all that with the high-quality content, which is really and truly local AND of interest to people in the Sarasota area.

This is exactly the type of Flash journalism package that SOMEONE in your newsroom should know how to produce. It honestly would not take a year to learn how to do this. If a journalist had a copy of Flash 8 Professional, some time to learn and experiment, and no one breathing down her neck and forcing her to churn out stupid stuff 10 hours a day, five days a week, she could figure out how to get this kind of package into your workflow.

I’m not saying a Flash beginner should attempt this — that would lead to great frustration! But it’s also not something you would need to hire Terra Incognita to do. It’s waaay simpler than that!

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Flash Tutorials for the Complete Beginner

After more hours than I’m willing to count, I’ve produced three 10-Minute Flash Tutorials aimed at journalists, photojournalists, students, and … whomever!

I debated whether to start with something more advanced, but in the end, I decided to try these because I thought I could make them as short as 10 minutes. Well, each one is less than 11 minutes, so — close enough!

These tutorials definitely start at zero. If you’ve never even opened Flash before, please try them.

I’m very, very eager to hear whether anyone likes them!

These are the first narrated “screencasts” or screen videos I have made. I’ve tested them on three different computers, and they seem to run well as long as there’s a broadband connection. So please take a look if you are one of those people who says, “I want to learn Flash!” — but you never have enough time. Surely you can spare 10 minutes?

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Good online journalism design work

SNDies award winners have been highlighted in a news posting at the SND Web site. Although the annual awards in the past have been decided in the late summer or early fall, for some unknown reason we now have “early SNDies.” Huh?

But in any case, these are interesting and varied examples of online journalism design and presentation. I had not previously see the Philadelphia 2006 homicides graphic — it’s a real winner! (Very effective interactivity.)

And if you have not seen Light Beneath the Streets, then have a look. Compare it with the excellent minute-by-minute graphic of the Virginia Tech shootings, which uses the same template. This is a good method for packaging this kind of work. It won’t work for every package, but you can see how versatile it is if you compare these two examples.

SND is the Society for News Design.

And hey, unlike the silly EPpy people, the SNDies people actually provide LINKS to the work! (Angela Grant has supplied us with links to many of the EPpy nominees.)

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Survey results: What my readers said

A week ago, I posted a Wufoo survey here, and 173 of you were kind enough to complete it (108 said they are journalists). Thank you!

You can see the results in graphic format. It’s not the most user-friendly format I’ve ever seen, and it’s only the raw data, so it includes everyone who answered. I have downloaded all the data as a CSV file and will analyze it properly after I finish grading (yes, our semester ended Wednesday).

To see the questions I asked, look here.

Reading Habits

I asked: How does this blog fit into your other blog reading?

I asked: Have you seen this blog before today?

There were four other answers, each with lower totals.

Preferred Content

I asked: You want to see more posts about … (tick only 3)

(This is one of the questions where doing a proper data analysis will yield more useful results; I can sort for regular readers, journalists only, etc.)

I asked: What type of post do you like MOST?

I asked: What type of post do you like LEAST?

So, this is all pretty interesting to me (I don’t know about you). As I said, these are just the raw data, but it does make me think I should adjust some of my practices with this blog!

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Information Graphics Workshop and Conference

June 3 through 5 at Michigan State. Take advantage of discounted registration until May 4. Details here. Check out the video interview with Nigel Holmes. Organized by Karl Gude.

No Flash and no animation, but there will be 3-D.

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