Teaching Online Journalism

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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Interactive news graphic: Minimum wage

Did Chris Strimbu — longtime interactive news designer — leave the Los Angeles Times? That appears to be the case from this very well-designed graphic online at Yahoo! News:

Minimum Wages Worldwide

Lovers of factoids will enjoy this graphic a lot. As someone pointed out on the ONA Listserv, though, there isn’t a heck of a lot of context here. For example, what does your minimum wage buy you — in terms of food or housing in the country in question?

Amy Webb likes it and gives her reasons.

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SXSW finalists are online now

The SXSW Web award finalists have been posted. I have never had the chance to go to this huge festival of music, film, video and interactive design in Austin, Texas, but someday … !

Well, it is just plain dangerous to start looking at such lists of award-nominated Web sites. The very first one on the list is CDX, an interactive video-based game (built in Flash) from the BBC equivalent of the U.S.’s History Channel. I was sucked into the game immediately and had to tear myself away to get some work done! (Yes, even though it’s Saturday.)

The opening premise is that a young British man has been injured in a motorcycle crash. He has amnesia, so you and he are both trying to piece his life together one bit at a time. An ancient Roman dagger is involved (you’ll learn that very quickly), and there is a distinct and very enjoyable tie-in to history throughout.

Two cool things I discovered in the short time I spent exploring:

(1) The game includes a comprehensive encyclopedia of ancient Roman history — this takes rather too long to load each time you take it off the bookshelf, but I love the concept. Of course, the prop of using a book within a game is reminiscent of Myst — and many other computer games.

(2) The self-contained Flash game links out to a Typepad blog where you can find additional clues. The login is sophie_bakewell and the password is the name of a river that Caesar famously crossed. Maybe they should have linked the encyclopedia outside the game too, for the sake of efficiency. Usually I am annoyed when a link takes me outside a Flash package, but with this Typepad blog, I really liked it. It made the game seem more real, because you get the clue to go to the blog in an e-mail you read on our hero’s laptop. So you click the link in the e-mail, and naturally it takes you to a real Web site. Neat.

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