Teaching Online Journalism

Video served up any way you want it

Today’s Wallstrip is all about the “fourth-most-trafficked” Web site in the world — Baidu, the Chinese search engine. It’s interesting, informative, highly watchable. Anchor desker Lindsay Campbell starts off with some cuteness a la ex-Rocketboomer Amanda Congdon, but then it’s down to business.

I can imagine developing a habit of watching this kind of video. But I think it’s going to have to be delivered some other way … not requiring me to go to a Web page and open it up. Video online probably needs a jukebox model. I’m talking about something a bit more automated than iTunes video downloads. I’m thinking that when I have time to listen, and kinda watch (in a corner of my computer screen while I’m working), I’d just pop open this video thing and it would go out and get my video feeds and play the new ones for me.

There would be a Skip This button so that if Lindsay was blabbing about something less interesting to me than Baidu, I could zap forward to the next video in my queue.

Ads are a problem, of course, because I would naturally zap them too. But if you don’t allow me to zap, the whole model fails. So I don’t know what to tell you about that. Maybe I would pay for this, if the videos were really, really cheap.

Maybe you could build a jukebox that would charge me after I got to the end of the video. If I zap your video before the end, you don’t get paid. Ha! There’s a real consumer model!

I started thinking along these lines because of a post from Fred Wilson about chunking and tagging and “freeing” video. He pointed out that the folks who make Wallstrip have to manually upload it to each of the distribution platforms they release the video on — Revver, YouTube, Google, Yahoo!, AOL Uncut, vSocial, Veoh and MetaCafe.

This made me think about all the newspapers that are experimenting with video and doing nothing with it except burying it on their own Web sites. You can’t share it, you can’t find it with any kind of Web search (not even on the newspaper’s own Web site!), and often, you can’t even bookmark it.

This probably comes from that “walled garden” approach to online media that newspapers adopted back at the beginning — and are still having trouble letting go of. Video seems to be making it even more obvious that fencing stuff in (on your own little Web site) is not a viable business model in a networked information economy.

Update (Dec. 6): See Wallstrip’s Baidu report here, on Revver.

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Online news home pages compared

Luke Stevens posted 29 screenshots of online news fronts, accompanied by some stats such as how many links are on the page. It’s a really nice quicky comparison of diverse designs. (Thanks, Craig!)

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Mojos of Fort Myers, Florida

What’s happening at one Gannett newspaper today:

Myron, 27, is a reporter for the Fort Myers News-Press and one of its fleet of mobile journalists, or “mojos.” The mojos have high-tech tools — ThinkPads, digital audio recorders, digital still and video cameras — but no desk, no chair, no nameplate, no land line, no office. They spend their time on the road looking for stories, filing several a day for the newspaper’s Web site, and often for the print edition, too. Their guiding principle: A constantly updated stream of intensely local, fresh Web content — regardless of its traditional news value — is key to building online and newspaper readership.

Source: “A Newspaper Chain Sees Its Future, and It’s Online and Hyper-Local,” by Frank Ahrens, The Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2006; Page A01

Some of the issues raised by these “I work in my car” practices were covered in this post about quality vs. quantity in the brave new world of newspaper reporters shooting video for the Web.

I think the News-Press is brave to try this mojo strategy. I just hope that they keep close tabs on the outcomes and adjust the practices as needed to serve their community well. If it seems not to be working well, I hope they make incremental changes to the processes in place — and don’t just say, “Oh, well, that didn’t work either!” — and cancel it.

No matter what you might think about the mojo idea, you ought to consider that cutting it off before they take the time and care to tweak it would be the stupidest move of all.

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Blogging from China (speech wants to be free)

I have little time to follow developments in blogging around the world, but sometimes the world inserts itself into my consciousness and I have to pay attention.

In this case, the penetration came via Rebecca MacKinnon’s blog, where I saw a link to this post by Hong Kong blogger Roland Soong. Gosh, it’s just one of those things that make you sit back and start thinking hard as you read it, and afterward too.

This blog seems like ten thousand data points from Greater China, each illuminating some specific aspect but without any attempt to come up with a grand narrative. On a given day, you might be reading about youth gangs in Hong Kong, fist fights in the Taiwan Parliament, Chinese reporters getting banged on the head or yet another Internet manhunt in China. What is the sense of it? While this might be not be controversial in the sense that these events are reported (being fully documented) to be happening, it is not necessarily a good thing either.

Soong follows this with a quote from a book by Peter Hessler, including this: “They needed context, not trivia; a bunch of scattered facts only confused them.”

Soong’s blog, EastSouthWestNorth (ESWN), is no paragon of Web 2.0 design. It’s barely designed at all — but then, you can imagine how many diverse small and old and slow computers and Internet connections are accessing it, throughout the vast land of China and beyond, perhaps wherever overseas Chinese live too.

Maybe the best a blogger can do is offer the scattered facts — Soong admits: “At this point, I know that I do not have a grand narrative.” But in an article about Soong and other Chinese bloggers, a journalist for Hong Kong-based bc Magazine observes:

Until Roland Soong appeared in a four-page spread in the glossy Next Weekly magazine in December last year, local [Chinese] bloggers got short shrift from the media … bloggers mobilised with a letter-writing campaign to the press, explaining they were serious people contributing worthwhile commentary and analysis — a fact exemplified by Soong, whose ESWN receives a staggering 15,000 visits per day from an international following. With up-to-date translations of important and quirky Chinese stories, Soong, 57, acts simultaneously as journalist, tipster, and gateway to a world not easily accessed by non-Chinese readers.

By the way, Rebecca is looking for concrete examples of how specific blogs appear to have influenced foreign media coverage on specific China-related stories — so if you have any good examples to share, please click over to her blog and give her your tips.

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What the people like (spin free)

Rex Hammock writes a very eclectic blog that I enjoy peeking in on from time to time. Today I discovered Amazon’s UnSpun, thanks to a post from Rex. Actually, I should say: “Curse you, Rex!” I wasted far too much time there, because it was fascinating and fun.

The idea is part of this whole “wisdom of crowds” thing that most people who use the Web a lot already understand. People make recommendations. Other people agree or disagree by voting on the recommendations. The good rises to the top. The bad sinks to the bottom.

In the case of UnSpun, the recommendations show up as intelligently named lists, such as Top Beers and Best Movies of All Time and Favorite Words.

The whole UnSpun system is tied into Amazon’s crazy but amazing Mechanical Turk, where a while ago I also spent far too much time as I teased out its bizarre and magical uses. The most famous example so far of the use of the Mechanical Turk is the Sheep Market, which is explained well and briefly in a blog post by Brady Forrest (thank you, Joe).

As a consumer, I like this stuff a lot because — like my Netflix, TiVo and Amazon.com book recommendations — it helps me find stuff I like that otherwise I might never find out about.

Sort of like the daily newspaper used to do.

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Multimedia: Lives of New Orleans teens after Katrina

I’m very surprised that this story has not received much attention from the online journalism community.

Yearbook 2006

Last January, three journalists went to Louisiana to report on the interrupted lives of seniors who had attended Benjamin Franklin High School. Josh Goldblum (founder of bluecadet interactive, based in Washington, D.C.) and independent photojournalists Josh Cogan and David Lee had made contact with the school principal, Carol Christen, who embraced their project idea.

The project, Yearbook 2006 — produced independently — includes multiple short video clips with each of the students, a map of where each student lived in New Orleans, a map of places to which each student evacuated, and an interesting interactive timeline. It is, in fact, gigantic. But it doesn’t overwhelm the visitor, because it’s organized well.

Each of the 31 students has his or her own page

Each student was interviewed on video

Maps show each student's journey of dislocation and relocation

I got the story via an e-mail exchange in October with Rich Nyman, now the director of business development at bluecadet.

Several things about this package impressed me, but a big one is how they got it done. The team was not affiliated with any news organization; they did get a grant from the Gallup Organization (through contacts made by Lee, according to Nyman).

“The funds received covered about a third of our costs. The remainder of the project was built off of labors of love from the photographers and bluecadet, along with a slew of contractors including video editors and web designers willing to work and very reduced rates in light of the cause,” Nyman wrote.

Map shows where each student lived

Each neighborhood on the map has a profile

Timeline in Yearbook 2006

The team visited New Orleans several times to document key events such as the prom and graduation. “Our goal was to launch the site live at the school on August 29 at 10:17 a.m., the anniversary of Katrina and the time that was frozen on the wall clocks after the storm,” Nyman said.

The journalists met their deadline.

On May 22, 2006, the Benjamin Franklin High School Class of ’06 had their graduation ceremony. In New Orleans.

Class of '06

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Masters of the database, extraordinary journalism

Martin Stabe points us to the Web site for the book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program, by Stephen Grey:

… aside from its intrinsic significance, the story is also probably the premier recent example of computer-assisted reporting in British journalism.

Grey uncovered the fleet of CIA-owned aircraft used for rendition by obtaining huge databases of flight logs from the FAA in America, data collected by plane spotters and provided by an aviation-industry source.

He then used Analyst’s Notebook, a sophisticated (and expensive) piece of software normally used by police and intelligence agencies, to cross-reference the thousands of individual flights with details gleaned from the anecdotes told by the handful of prisoners who had emerged …

This is the sort of skillset that journalists will increasingly need to do extraordianry investigative stories in a society where public records come by the gigabyte on DVDs rather than as a stack of photocopies leaked in a brown envelope.

This kind of journalism has been done by affiliates of IRE for many years (Grey credits the Danish International Center for Analytical Reporting with helping him), but effectively coupling it with the Web and making it accessible to audiences is still rare — that’s why Adrian Holovaty gets so much attention.

Stabe is 100 percent correct — this skill set is desperately needed in journalism today. We make sure every journalism student in our school gets some hands-on training with Excel, but the resistance level is very high. I wonder what we should do to make it clear to the students how important these skills are.

Flight logs studied by Grey are available at his site.

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