Teaching Online Journalism

How NOT to do video

Doug Fisher writes:

Just as the newspaper industry is slowly — only slowly — learning that blogging isn’t blogging just because you use blogging software, it has to learn that video isn’t video (or useful) just because you give a reporter or photographer a camera and show him or her where the start button is.

Brilliant and directly on target.

Doug makes many more good points in his post:

If you are going to blog … and link to an “interactive feature” that you proudly boast about on April 11, try to remember that 16 days later it is not good to have the link come up as a 404 error….Remember that video on the Web is not the same as the video equivalent of dumping your notebook into the camera….

Why does a newspaper that is touting how it is breaking up its stories think that folks on the Web are going to sit and watch 9 minutes of mind-numbing video?

Too long — MUCH too long — that is the problem with most of the linear content on the Web. I mean BOTH video AND text. Long (and complete) is great for backgrounders and original documents, etc. But for heaven’s sake, get a clue about how long real people can sit still without clicking!

You can look at Nielsen//NetRatings data any day and see the answer:

About 47 seconds per page. That’s the average length of time users spend looking at your stuff.

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Reading list for summer 2006

Books I’m thinking about requiring for my fall course, New Media and a Democratic Society:

Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle

We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, by Dan Gillmor

Probably not all three … if you’ve read any of these, please leave a comment. Registration is not required.

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Ugly design and good communication

Another thing that’s hard to fit into a journalism curriculum is graphic design. Often we have design wedged into the editing class, and the person teaching the class is someone who’s far, far more experienced with the AP Stylebook than with use of color and typography.

This post by a semi-anonymous Web designer provides a condensed introduction to many of the debates and truisms about designing for online media (found by way of Digg). He provides some excellent links in his post, so take a look.

First, the tension between designers and usability experts centers on this:

Designers have too much emotional bias towards pretty things.

Can a site be both pretty AND usable? It may depend on your idea of what’s “pretty.” I have had students who think some outrageous color combinations are pretty, when in fact they make the Web page impossible to look at for more than 2 seconds!

Second, usability sometimes requires the addition of elements that would be considered “visual clutter” in print design — such as underlining links, which some Web designers consider quite ugly, so they leave the underline off.

Is this a choice fueled by a desire for being pretty or being usable? Given that the eye of a web user finds underlined links more easily, I’d wager it’s the former.

Third, and best of all, the blogger concludes that what works well in one medium often does not work well at all in another medium.

For beginning Web design students — even those who do have some graphic design skills already — that’s probably the most important lesson to learn.

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Understanding usability

I find it hard to spend enough time on teaching concepts of usability to journalism students. We have so few courses in which they can learn about digital media. This article about dimensions of usability provides a good one-stop starting place.


Effective: Can the users get what they came to get?

If a user cannot actually do the thing he or she set out to do, it probably doesn’t matter whether the experience was short or long, easy or hard.

Efficient: Is it fast (enough) and accurate?

Engaging: Is it pleasant, satisfying, interesting?

Error tolerant: Are error messages, dead ends and freezes avoided? If an error occurs, is it easy to recover and move on? The second is at least as important as the first.

Easy to learn: Can you figure out how to use it without a huge effort? This is also known as transparency.

I’ll never forget a passage in Don Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things (which I read back in 1989) that said if a door handle needs to have “Push” written on one side and “Pull” written on the other, then that door handle has a poor design.

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Thinking about storytelling

Short and sweet: How to tell a great story, by Seth Godin. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. There are informational packages, and then, there are stories. Some stories are linear. Multimedia stories can be linear, but past a certain length, they must be nonlinear.

The question is, how do you construct a nonlinear story? More specifically, how do I teach students to approach the construction of a nonlinear story?

Roy Peter Clark of Poynter wrote:

To create vicarious experiences for readers or viewers, writers transform the famous five W’s and the H. “Who” becomes character. “What” becomes plot. “Where” becomes setting. “When” becomes chronology. “Why” becomes motive. And “How” becomes narrative.

I think that’s the start: Take the traditional elements of reporting and recast them. Then figure out which of those are the keys to the particular story. The characters are often keys. Maybe time (when) is very important in one story, but in another story, place (where) is more important. Photos can be used effectively to show characters and place. Graphics can show chronology. Audio and text in combination reveal plot and motive.

I know I’ll be writing more about this.

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Flash 8 update available

I should have known Macromedia (Adobe) would address the gnarly IE ActiveX problem. The updater can be downloaded from this page. This update is for Flash 8 only. It works as a MM extension (.mxp), so you download it, unzip it, and then launch the Macromedia Extension Manager to easily install it. Just look inside your Macromedia folder (inside Programs or Applications). The Extension Manager is there.

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Mobile and broadband video

Get the straight dope about on-demand video from CNN.com (David Payne), ABC Digital (Bernard Gershon), CBS Stations (Jonathan Leess), NYTimes.com (Vivian Schiller) and Advanced Media Ventures Group (Shelly Palmer) via Cory Bergman blogging live (yesterday) from NAB.

The Lost Remote team has been covering the heck out of the gigundo NAB conference. It’s almost as good as being there!

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