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Teaching Online Journalism

This is about LinkedIn

I just want to go on the record as saying that I am optimistic about LinkedIn. I’m busy and I’m over 40 and I have a blog — I do not have time for MySpace and Facebook. I don’t care one bit about them. People ask me all the time to be their “friend” in Facebook, and I usually just ignore them forever.

LinkedIn is different for me. Here is my profile. It’s a professional thing.

I have decided not to link to people I do not know personally. I’m being very, very choosy about whom I link with. So don’t be offended if I decline to link with you.

I have also decided not to link with students until after they get a job. If they go into journalism, of course I would like to stay in touch.

If you want to know more about LinkedIn, Guy Kawasaki wrote about 10 ways to use it to your advantage. Journalist and educator Sree Sreenivasan wrote (at the Poynter site) about how he uses it. A computer programmer named Jeff Atwood wrote about why he thinks it sucks.

I disagree with Atwood. The biggest benefit I see is that through LinkedIn it’s really easy to find everyone’s e-mail address and current job, because each one of us updates our own profile. If you are linked to me, you can find my best e-mail address right now. If you’re not linked to me, you can’t see my e-mail address in LinkedIn.

Recently I have been inviting professionals to be panelists at a conference. I have been on LinkedIn constantly, scouring the contact lists of all my own contacts. That’s what convinced me to write this post. LinkedIn has been a great asset in this.

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Who has time for video?

“How do you find time to look at all this stuff?” People often ask me that question.

The answer is twofold: It’s my job. And: Really, I don’t have the time. Other things suffer because I don’t allocate my time as well as I should.

This leads me to a comment about video and podcasts and all that linear-based media we are getting online today.

Who in the world has time for all this?

I happened across a post on this same subject from Tom Abate, who writes MiniMediaGuy — an often interesting blog about local and community-focused journalism. First he describes a panel of four newspaper journalists who have been shooting video and producing multimedia for some time at the Ventura County Star. He attended the panel in person, at the University of California, Berkeley.

Then Abate mentions that Berkeley generously archived Webcasts (video) of all the panels at the conference. Wow! This is great, isn’t it? Here’s what Abate wrote:

… the truth is that, having missed the original lectures, I may never consume the information. It’s just not pleasurable to spend 50 minutes viewing a webcast.

He had the same reaction later when he started to listen to some podcasts highlighted in a Poynter article by Amy Gahran. The content of the podcasts was stuff he really wanted to know, but listening is just so inefficient.

It takes too long.

This brings me to onBeing, a gorgeous new video project from washingtonpost.com (for which Rob Curley is getting accolades from all over). The project made its debut a week ago (Feb. 7), and lovers of multimedia journalism were immediately impressed. I’ve seen probably a dozen blog posts about it since then.

Last night about 7 p.m., I finally had time to check it out.

Well, I certainly am impressed, like everyone else. It’s compelling, it’s interesting, it’s beautiful in both design and execution. I’d like to see more hooting and hollering about Jenn Crandall, the videographer, because she is the person who captured these intimate interviews with regular people. That’s what makes this so special, you know. If the content of the videos were crap, all that sexy interface would not matter one iota.

But back to the time issue.

There’s a brand-new video at onBeing today, an interview with a woman who plays football. I have it playing in the background, while I’m writing this. I’m listening while I write. I don’t have time to watch right now.

I watch YouTube. My students watch YouTube. But when I need to answer a question, verify a fact, get solid information — I do not have TIME to wait for a video to play — even for 2 minutes. I can scan at least three Web pages in 2 minutes, maybe four, processing thousands of words in a high-speed quest for answers.

I do watch a lot of video online. But we’ve got to keep some perspective on this.

The Post’s onBeing is a really good use of video in part because the subject matter is right. You’re going to watch one of these when you want to relax a little, be entertained, and maybe learn something new — but you’re not sure what that might be. Like striking up a conversation with someone at a bus stop. You don’t expect to get a big benefit out of it, a key nugget of life-changing information. You’re just passing the time in a pleasant way.

Passing the time vs. managing your time.

There are big differences between these two uses of time – which is precious to everyone. Some content is going to be very well suited to video — but other content will be better when it’s delivered in other, more appropriate formats. We’ve got to have open discussions about when video is a good choice and when it is not.

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When multimedia is worth doing

My friends Nora Paul and Laura Ruel have posted a good article at OJR: Multimedia storytelling: When is it worth it?

They summarize the first study conducted by DiSEL (the Digital Story Effects Lab) from a few years back. In the study, they looked at two versions of a BBC story package about the effects of recreational drugs on a person. One version was “dynamic” (it is animated and has some interactivity); the other was static, just HTML.

They concluded that interactive presentations work best if these are your goals:

  • Users will spend more time with the presentation;
  • Users will describe the experience as “enjoyable”;
  • Users will recall more of the information;
  • Users will recall your brand;
  • Users will feel entertained.

Nora and Laura also discuss some related findings from Poynter’s Eyetrack III.

I have often argued that when graduate students conduct a study of online journalism stories or packages, testing for recall (that is, how much the user remembered afterward) is kind of odd — considering that we are looking at journalism. It’s a convenient measure for use in a research study. But do journalists sit around and say, “Hm, do you think people will remember this story tomorrow? No? Then let’s not run it.” Do readers talk about the story at work the next day because they are able to recite facts from the story? No. So I’m not wild about findings related to recall.

I am, however, intrigued by the finding that people spent more time with the (more) interactive story.

What I’d also like to see more research about: Understanding. This is MUCH harder to measure than recall, but it’s so much more important for journalism.

Take, for example, the studies that have found that a large percentage of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with Al Qaeda. It would be very interesting to give a set of research subjects an interactive “learn about Al Qaeda” package and a static package with the same subject matter. You would have to pre-test them to discover their current thoughts on the matter, of course. After the two groups were exposed to the two versions, I would like to know whether there is any difference between the two groups in their understanding of the truth in this news story.

If people who saw the interactive version were more likely to understand what is real and what is not, then we would have a very meaningful result for further study.

I also would like to see some tests on what people choose if they have options for both multimedia and a static text. How much time do they spend on each one?

I have heard anecdotal evidence from several journalists that when an animated graphic is promoted on the home page beside a headline (which links to the text story), the graphic will get more than twice as many pageviews as the text story.

I think this really deserves further study.

(Melissa Worden also commented about this article. So did Danny Sanchez and Angela Grant.)

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Slideshow tutorials for multiple apps

In an online video tutorial, Richard Hernandez introduces you to how to use three online photo-presentation programs: SimpleViewer (free!), MonoSlideShow ($20 U.S.), and SWF ‘n Slide Pro ($65 U.S.).

Last month Richard treated us to a tutorial about the ubiquitous (and beloved) Soundslides ($40 U.S.), and then another tutorial about how to build “chaptered” Soundslides.

Thanks, Richard! When will you give us one about SlideShowPro ($25 U.S.)?

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Missed the vision, ignored the visionaries

You never know what you’ll find while Googling.

Currently, web publications are largely translations of traditional media. Little original content is produced, and changes are seldom made. In some cases, feature articles are created, possibly utilising multimedia. These “webortages” are still mostly based on linear story telling, which is typical for existing media. The “translation” concept is also used by many radio stations, which provide more or less the same audio stream both to web and broadcast listeners. Some features, such as background information on the news stories or personal home pages of radio personalities, may be included. Archived stories may also be available to those listeners who have missed their favourite show. Due to limited bandwidth, the amount of video content is small in present web publications. Fast web connections allowing the transmission of near-TV quality video pose a challenge to journalism to integrate text and video content.

That was published in 1999.

A team of researchers in Finland developed a prototype that looks so like the Web of today, you might be surprised.

The trial system was tested by 62 end-users in households in the Helsinki area. They were 7-70 years of age…. The users were mostly very experienced users of computers and the Internet. They had very little or no anxiety towards new technology.

There were several evaluation methods: forms on screen, interviews, log files and tracking eye movement while using IMU…. Personalization and integration were evaluated on the assumption that they add to the usefulness of the system. There were a total of 42 interviews before and during the trial, both on the phone and personally. 29 different users were interviewed in all….

The users’ opinion of the main interface was that it was simple and easy to use (Figure 12). The simplicity was due to the fact that the main controls and headlines were logically placed and visible at all times while browsing through articles….

Has the journalism field just been spinning its wheels for the past eight years?

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‘Convergence’ is dead

Buzz words come and go, and it’s high time to nail the coffin lid on this one.

As I’m following things these days, it seems that the model now — for newspaper companies, at least — is “to heck with the electronic media, we’ll just create our own video and audio.” I don’t follow the TV news end of things closely enough to judge how quickly they’re moving in this direction, but I would guess that if they’re not, they’d better get started.

The tools are inexpensive enough that there’s little substantial barrier to entry. The questions revolve around the best ways to tell the story, manage your time resources, and monetize the results.

That’s from Bryan Murley, who pondered this during a visit to Nebraska to conduct training for college journalists and their advisers.

Everybody got all jazzed up back in 2000 when the Tampa Tribune merged with the local TV station and built a Space Age kind of command post (“Houston, can you read me?”) in the center of their newsroom.

There are lots of sweaty palms in this Tampa newsroom, where the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV, Channel 8, and their online sites have decided to converge. That convergence took place in March, when all three moved in under one glass roof. This $40 million temple to convergence was built by Media General, a Richmond, Virginia, based company that owns all three outlets. Dubbed the “Newscenter,” the newspaper, broadcast, and online operations are on separate floors, connected by a central atrium. The nerve center is this super desk, where a staffer from each operation sits along with a multimedia editor to bring it all together. They share information and, most importantly, reporters. (Source: PBS NewsHour, July 17, 2000)

I look at the Tampa Web site from time to time, and frankly, it leaves a lot to be desired. You may disagree, but to me, judging the Web site of a news organization is the only practical way to evaluate that news organization today. If the Web site is poor, like Tampa’s, then the news organization is in trouble.

Now the buzz is all about Gannett’s “Information Centers” and mobile journalists who shoot video, file copy 24-7 online, and live in their cars. Oh, I meant work in their cars.

Change is good — change is imperative. I’m all for change.

What I’m against is a lemming-like rush to do something to which you can apply the latest buzz word so that you seem to be adapting and evolving.

A buzz word this year is transformation. That’s very good — that’s about big changes, really significant changes that make a difference. A real difference. Not just a surface difference.

Of course, that’s what everyone said about “convergence” too.

Many people, maybe most people, tend to get fenced in by what they think is possible. We don’t have money for this (now). We don’t have enough people to do that. We don’t know how to write that code or build that thing. We don’t have enough time.

So we just won’t do it.

What we need to look for is a can-do attitude. In Malaysia they say “Boleh!” — “Can!” You can see that positive force at The Roanoke Times, at the San Jose Mercury News, at the Naples Daily News, and even at the NBC Nightly News.

Buzz words come and go. When they go out of date, they sound stale and even foolish. But a good practice — a change for the better — never seems foolish in hindsight. A change for the better makes people’s lives better. Not worse. A change that seeks to improve journalism — not merely follow a trend — is a change worth doing. A change worth standing up for and shouting “Boleh!”

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MVPs for January

Most visited posts on this blog from Jan. 1 through Jan. 31, according to Google Analytics:

  1. Getting (and keeping) a job in journalism
  2. Journalism stories: A multimedia approach (Part 1)
  3. Tutorial: An MP3 audio player for any Web page
  4. Flash video tutorial
  5. Getting their video on, in New Jersey
  6. An idea for training multimedia journalists

See past MVP lists for this blog.

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