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Teaching Online Journalism

City-wide wireless Internet

Shouldn’t every city have this?

Anyone with a laptop computer equipped for wireless access will be able to connect to the Internet from virtually anywhere in the city with the purchase of a $21-per-month account. The wireless connection will be free in two dozen designated zones …

EarthLink also will provide discounted accounts of $9.95 per month to 2,700 low-income city residents…. the city hopes to find interested residents by partnering with community agencies that already work with low-income residents.

The city council of Alexandria, Virginia, approved a proposal to allow EarthLink to “construct and maintain the network at no cost to the city.” The plan is expected to win final approval later this month.

Building the network will be relatively easy: About 500 devices the size of breadboxes will be installed, mostly on street lights, but also on traffic signals, poles and roofs.

“They’re very unobtrusive,” [Craig T. Fifer, Alexandria's e-government manager] said. “Most people won’t even notice the construction.”

EarthLink is hoping to recover its $2.7 million capital investment and to make money by selling accounts.

This sounds fantastic to me, but I have to wonder if the city has any protection against EarthLink hiking up the prices as soon as the residents of Alexandria get comfortable with their city-wide wireless access.

That’s what happened with cable television in the U.S. — monopoly service providers, grossly inflated pricing, no public access channels, and finally, lousy service.

Source: “No Wires, No Plugs: Just Access by WiFi,” by Jerry Markon, The Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2006, p. VA03

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Do you have a camera?

David Pogue looks at 11 slim digital cameras priced under $300 (The New York Times, Dec. 7).

Every one of them can shoot video at 640 x 480 — and all but two can do it at 30 frames per second.

Note that only two of the cameras (Canon and Sony) have an optical viewfinder. Believe me, you DO WANT THIS. That big beautiful LCD that you drool over in Best Buy will wash out in bright sunlight.

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Convert Soundslides to video

Joe Weiss has added video conversion to Soundslides (Mac version only for now).

The Soundslides video plug-in converts your audio slide show to various video formats with the help of the free Quicktime Player on Macs. The plug-in is not included with the Soundslides application, and is purchased as a separate item.

The price for the plug-in is $19.95 (buy it). Don’t begrudge Joe the money: “The plug-in represents a lot of work, and I understand that such functionality is not needed by the entire user base of Soundslides.” (More info and links here and here.)

I couldn’t imagine why you would want to do this until yesterday when one of my students explained it to me. His team’s final project profiled a local hip-hop band. The band liked the Soundslides about them so much, they want to put it on their MySpace page. Well, video. And then, there’s YouTube, etc.

So even though the file will be larger, the images smaller, the quality lower — still, we must consider the distribution channels that people use.

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Doom and gloom for photojournalism?

A slideshow from Yahoo! News — In the Wake of the Coup — is wholly composed of photos from Flickr. It is designed and produced by Chris Strimbu (Yahoo! News multimedia producer) using an audio report from Dan Caspersz, who is described as a Briton living in Bangkok. The Flickr photographers are credited in small type at the upper left corner of their pictures.

If you use Flickr’s Advanced Search page, you can opt to search only for photos for which the Flickr user has granted permission. You can “find content to use commercially” or “find content to modify, adapt, or build upon.” I teach students to use these options when they want to illustrate their blog posts — it’s a fair and legal way to get free photos.

But is it reliable journalism?

Dan Gillmor wrote a thoughtful and valuable post claiming that “the ability to make a living at” professional photojournalism “will crumble soon.” He makes the point that:

… there was once a fairly healthy community of portrait painters. When photography came along, a lot of them had to find other work; or at least their ranks were not refilled when they retired. Professional portrait photographers, similarly, are less in demand today than a generation ago. But portraits have survived — and thrived.

As a longtime student of new media, I have read a lot about “the death of painting” (a la Rodchenko) which was supposedly brought on by the invention and spread of photography. Yes, once upon a time, photography was the new medium!

Reports of the death of painting, however, were an exaggeration. Painting did not die, but it was certainly transformed. You might think of the work of Jackson Pollack and react with distaste and displeasure (if abstraction offends you, that is); you might also think of Picasso, De Chirico, Magritte, or Cézanne. I’m not attempting an art lesson but rather advancing the idea that change is not bad, and what might seem to be a death in one person’s view might be a rebirth in someone else’s eyes.

I’m not ready to acknowledge the death of photojournalism — but I am scanning the horizon for signs of its new forms.

Update: Don’t you hate it when people rip off your post?

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Really good stories (for your reading pleasure)

Gangrey.com is a blog that points you to well-written stories that just happen to have appeared in newspapers. Yes, newspapers.

Ben Montgomery produces the blog. I read about him here. He says “gangrey” is a play on gangrene. Okay. And the depressing subtitle of his blog is “Prolonging the slow death of newspapers.” But don’t let that fool you.

Writers will be heartened, even inspired, by reading the stories he links to. Put Gangrey.com in your RSS reader today.

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Favorite audio editing software

With so many reporters and photojournalists gathering audio today, what software do they use when it comes time to edit? Mac users have GarageBand, of course (part of iLife). What other audio tools are you Mac lovers using?

Everyone can use Audacity (100 percent free) — it works on Windows, Mac OS and Linux; You can convert just about any audio file to MP3 by opening it in Audacity and then Save in the MP3 format. To do so, you must download and install the (free) LAME MP3 encoder (instructions are here), which works with Audacity. There are several tutorials for Audacity.

Windows only: Adobe Audition (list $350; download a free trial version) has evolved from Cool Edit Pro, and it’s a robust, feature-rich program. I can teach the basics of using Audition in about 15 minutes, but I’ve only used about 10 percent of the program’s capabilities. It has an awesome multitrack interface.

Windows and Mac: Pro Tools from DigiDesign (a division of Avid) gets rave reviews from serious audio geeks, but I have to confess, their product line totally confuses me. Pro Tools 7.3 runs on the Intel Macs.

Windows only: Sound Forge (list $300) and Sound Forge Audio Studio (list $70) from Sony (formerly from Sonic Foundry). I have Sound Forge Audio Studio at home; it’s very easy to use, but it does not do true multitrack editing. I’ve never used the full-blown Sound Forge, so I can’t compare it with Audition — but it appears to be very similar.

I’m eager to hear what you use, whether you like it, and why. Please post a comment if you are editing audio.

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You Witness News — who witness?

I took some time tonight to look at You Witness News, the Yahoo! + Reuters site that everyone has already mentioned. The write-up I liked best was Mathew Ingram’s — Ingram covers technology for The Globe and Mail, based in Toronto, and I really should link to him more often because his blogs are good. In this case, he focuses on the issue of paying these so-called citizen journalists. The whole idea is kind of wanky, because if you start paying them … well, then they become stringers, don’t they? Or at the very least, freelancers.

So, at You Witness News, two big buttons invited me to Submit Photo or Submit Video. I clicked the photo button and was asked to sign into Yahoo! No problem — I have a Yahoo! account. Then I was asked to connect my Flickr account to You Witness News. Hm, that made me a little uncomfortable, because I have LOTS of photos on Flickr, and I surely do not want to give them to You Witness News.

You Witness News from Yahoo! News would like permission to show you your private photos, let you add, edit and delete photo metadata, and let you upload photos, also known as read and write permissions.

That’s where I quit. I’m not giving You Witness News any permissions on my Flickr photos.

I went back to the beginning and tried Submit Video. Here I found a direct upload form. They will take any video that is

… less than 100MB and in wmv, asf, qt, mov, mpg, or avi format. Videos without audio will not be processed.

You must agree to the terms of service, including:

… The Service provides functionality that allows Yahoo! users over the age of 13 who have a valid Yahoo! ID (“You”) to upload content including text, images, media content and any other content (“Your Content”) to be hosted by Yahoo! and to be indexed and crawled by Yahoo!’s Search and Multimedia Search technology and otherwise used by Yahoo! for public display on any property within Yahoo!’s network of properties and on Yahoo!’s syndicated third party sites, and for the public posting, viewing and sharing of Your Content with others….

By submitting Your Content, You agree:

… that You have the written consent, release, and/or permission of each and every identifiable individual person in Your Content to use such person’s name or likeness for use of Your Content by Yahoo! in the manner contemplated in these Additional Terms….

You retain ownership to Your Content that You submit for inclusion into the Service. However, by submitting Your Content to Yahoo!, You hereby grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sublicensable and transferable rights and licenses:

… to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, remix, excerpt, adapt, prepare derivative works and compilations of, publicly perform and publicly display Your Content on the Service or on any Yahoo! property, including in connection with any distribution or syndication arrangement thereof with third parties or third-party sites, in any media format or medium and through any media channels …

Nothing surprising there. But in reading this, I had to wonder about the whole idea of submitting news content to this type of system. I can see that if I have shot the next Rodney King video, then I might have a compelling reason to upload that video. But then, why wouldn’t I take it to the nearest network affiliate? Or post it on YouTube?

In short, I’m just pondering the whole idea of motivation. If I thought I could get paid — there’s one kind of motivation. If I thought I would get some degree of fame or respect — well, that’s another motivation. But these videos have nothing more than a little credit line — the shooter’s first and last name. No link. No e-mail. Nada.

I’m all for philanthropy and commons-based production. Selfless generosity is great. It gives you good karma. But I’m just mystified as to why someone would choose this for showing off their video or photos.

And by the way, the video will not play in Firefox 1.5 on Windows XP. I had to open IE to view it. That won’t happen again! (I guess Yahoo! never got the memo about Flash video.)

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