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Teaching Online Journalism

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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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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