Teaching Online Journalism

Reporters shooting video redux

Howard Owens provides detailed answers to some questions I posed earlier about print reporters and video, and about non-TV journalism Web sites, in general, and their use of video. The questions stemmed from another post here that received a lot of diverse comments.

I’ve known Howard for many years, almost entirely through Listservs about online journalism. I don’t always agree with him, but I do respect his opinion. Unlike many of the people I have known in the past 13 years who work in or around online journalism, Howard does get it. And he loves it. He lives in it. So even when I disagree with him, I tend to remember what he says.

A couple of points with which I fully concur:

… sound quality is more important than picture quality. … Quality has a lot more to do with training and talent than the equipment. … Most video can stand some editing, if by that you mean cutting out some extraneous stuff, such as the reporter’s questions …

One thing I’ve been telling people in my newsrooms for three years — some day quality is going to be much more important than it is today, so I want you to get better.

He makes a good point about re-schooling the site visitors:

People aren’t used to going to a newspaper Web site to get video. We are giving them something new, so we need to help them get used to it. If you’re only posting one video project every three or four days (about the time it takes to produce a full-blown, in-depth video production), you are not putting enough video in front of your visitors to get them used to the idea that they can expect video from your site.

Plenty more over at Howard’s blog, and it’s worth your time.

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Barrett v. Rosenthal

Yes, “those who use the Internet to publish information” surely should enjoy “broad immunity against defamation liability” even when they publish information “that originated from another source.” Doug Fisher has a summary, quotes, buzz, links and more. I salute the California Supreme Court for a decision that upholds the First Amendment rights of citizens.

Update (Nov. 22): Michelle Malkin, an A-list blogger, thinks the court’s decision is bad. Why? Because (some) bloggers have been asking to be treated the same as journalists. So if journalists working for gigundo multimillion-dollar organizations with eighty bazillion editors checking their work can’t have this same protection, then bloggers should not have it either. In the name of equality, of course. Talk about a chilling effect.

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Behind the design at NY Times online

Interested in online news design? Then read this article about the design team at nytimes.com.

Khoi Vinh, the nytimes.com design director, shared his insights about learning to work together as a team to design a great online news experience:

“By and large, everyone at the Times wants the same thing: to continue to provide the best journalism anywhere, and to make it as useful and relevant to people as possible.” For his team specifically, their sub-vision is, “deliver the news in as useful a manner as possible,” and, “deliver the news with a maximum of elegance using a minimum of ornamentation.”

Khoi goes on to explain how they judge everything by those standards.

Vinh also discussed the transition last April to a “basically ninety-five percent table-free site” — which, in my opinion, is a move that’s long overdue for most other newspaper Web sites. I myself resisted CSS as long as I could (because I was frustrated by browser rendering inconsistencies), but there came a point — about four years ago — when resistence to CSS had become a bad and pigheaded act, counter-productive to usable Web design.

The author of the article, Garrett Dimon, writes:

At times, the creative professionals need to scale back their ideas or quality to meet deadlines. On the flip side, management needs to respect and trust their team’s advice that sometimes quality is more important than the deadline. In my experience, there are very few deadlines or resource plans that are truly inflexible, and just as few projects that couldn’t stand to launch sooner and perform some cleanup after the fact.

The point here is that reducing quality and re-evaluating deadlines are both fair options. Sometimes, the former is the correct choice, and other times it will be the latter.

How many times have you seen something rushed to print — or to air — or to the Web — because of a wholly arbitrary deadline? This is one of the most crazy-making things about journalism. Yes, there is such a thing as presstime, and cost overruns are almost always best avoided. And there are real breaking-news stories that cannot wait. But there are many, many stories that are pushed forward by a completely artificial sense of deadline urgency — and sometimes we get bad garbage as a result.

At the same time, I have been in the newsroom when some perfectionist nut-case is still fiddling with his weekly column 30 minutes after deadline, and you just want to scream: “Hit the Send button, for crying out loud! It’s not friggin’ War and Peace!” The same thing can happen with video editing, a slideshow, or a photo package.

An even more interesting observation is that the design team needs to work to avoid “specialization bias” — that is, a situation in which the technology people think a technology solution is required to fix any problem, but the design people think a design solution is required.

Khoi does his best to build a team as “specialists each with a generalist’s open-mindedness to getting the job done,” and management respects the team’s professional opinions enough to provide the right amount of time and resources to do things properly.

On any team, that kind of respect and trust isn’t innate. It’s earned and nurtured the same way as any other relationship. It takes time, sharing, listening, and compromise. For example, in meetings or at every opportunity, team members can take the time to explain the why. That is, team members, particularly across disciplines, should make an effort to explain not only what they’re working on, but why. Khoi does this with his team through weekly meetings, but taking the time to more thoroughly communicate decisions can happen anytime.

If you have never read Khoi Vinh’s design blog, Subtraction, you ought to take a look at it.

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The fate of small towns — multimedia story

Nice, nice, super nice! The San Jose Mercury News tells a meta-story about nice towns all over America (turning into crowded suburbs with bad traffic) via this finely edited and packaged multimedia story about Hollister, California.

Richard Koci Hernandez did the Flash. Jim Gensheimer did the visuals and audio. Geri Migielicz did the photo editing. Sweet work, guys! That is a lovely interface and a fine way to explain the story.

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HotJobs, Yahoo, another desperate grab at nothing

Aggregating your content into a big bundle does not build audience. It just makes another big mess that the users can’t navigate efficiently.

Giving away your local news. Oh, yeah, brilliant. The only unique thing you’re got, and you’re going to hand it over to people who know how to exploit it — and also cut you out of the equation.

Monster.com and CareerBuilder already have huge brand recognition. Sure, why not try to compete there?

Did partnering with TV stations bring any tangible benefits to any newspaper? Tell me — it will be the first I’ve heard of it.

Seven newspaper companies, wandering lost in the woods, walk into the gingerbread house. There will be a big pot boiling on the hearth very soon.

paidContent has the story — 176 papers in 38 states are in this deal.

Update (12:56 p.m.): The New York Times has added to the story. A telling snippet:

They see the announcement as the most ambitious collective effort by the industry to deal with the Internet since the New Century Network of a decade ago.

That effort to form a network of newspaper Web sites and sell online ads spanned nine companies, including The New York Times Company, The Times Mirror Company, The Gannett Company and Knight-Ridder.

The New Century Network collapsed in 1998, less than three years after formation. At the time, competition from the Internet had not developed as quickly as feared, and the companies went their separate ways.

There’s sooo much one could write about that … maybe it’s better left to the individual reader to ponder, to mull over. Please recall that Craigslist was founded in 1995.

Update (Nov. 22): Jonathan Weber of New West wrote:

The newspapers, led by Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group, are effectively punting on the opportunity to establish themselves as the dominant local source for online news, information, and advertising services. Since they are already the dominant players in the offline world, to essentially agree to go halves with Yahoo in markets they once owned is a striking admission of weakness.

I think he is absolutely right — and he wrote it well too.

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Interactive exercise for journalism students

At the Vancouver Film School, students in the Digital Design program will “create an interactive journalism Flash project”:

This project begins by selecting a newspaper article that you want to make more meaningful to a target audience. Next, you’ll use the skills introduced to you in the User Experience and Interface Design courses to come up with a concept statement and storyboard. … Your design is meant to seduce the reader to click on the piece, to inform and educate your reader with more than content, but also with engaging interactivity that completes the experience. By offering your reader a greater sense of knowledge about the subject of the piece, your project will demonstrate that you have the ability to not only communicate through design, but also to captivate and educate an audience. [Source]

How cool is that? If only the same person also had training in journalism …

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Get me video — now!

Newsrooms that want a bunch of quick-and-dirty video from the street should check out the heap of information in this post from dailywireless.org (found via Unmediated).

It covers one-click video unloads from mobile phones, thanks to ShoZu; the $129 Pure Digital Point & Shoot Camcorder discussed here last week (available at your local Target store); and a whole library’s worth of links to related blog posts and articles.

This topic harks back to the day last month when a Fox News reporter used a Treo PDA phone to transmit live video:

Scott Wilder, a cameraman for the network, had been about 20 blocks away on another assignment when the [New York plane] crash occurred. Wilder ran uptown and reported live from the scene using a Palm Treo smart phone that uses the existing mobile network to transmit video to the Fox News control room. From there, Fox News sent it out live on TV to supplement other video being shot by local traffic helicopters.

Wilder’s work represents one of the first instances of a network using video captured via mobile phone camera live on the air. Fox News has experimented with the practice several times in recent weeks with CometVision, software designed by Ohio-based Comet Video Technologies.

Comet Video Technologies provides various services for portable video transmission.

If you really want a trashy cheap video camera, look here.

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