Managing all the stuff contributed by the public

In a widespread breaking-news situation such as the recent fires in California, a lot of news organizations would like the public to send in photos, video and reports from the ground. A post at the Veeker blog describes how the Veeker platform made it easy for KNSD-TV (NBC San Diego) to manage 1,704 viewer-contributed pictures and videos (as of midday Oct. 24):

  • 1,324 (78% of the total) were e-mailed pictures
  • 363 (21% of the total) were pictures sent directly from mobile phones
  • 11 (less than 1 percent) were video sent from phones
  • 6 (less than 1 percent) were videos via e-mail

What’s more interesting is an analysis of six factors that made it all possible. Two of these are essentially “Veeker is great,” but I found it an interesting read nevertheless. And remember, we’re talking about a TV news Web site here!

KNSD has put 37 of the photos into a slideshow. Each one includes the photographer’s name (upper right corner). The captions leave a lot to be desired, and they’re not geo-tagged.

I sort of prefer a search-generated Flickr slideshow, myself. I find it irresistible to search Flickr for every large-scale breaking news event.

(Link via Read/Write Web.)

Breaking news graphics: A comparison of fire maps

Xaquin Gonzalez Veira compared online news organizations’ maps of the California fires last week. Gonzalez, the assistant art director at Newsweek who is responsible for the magazine’s online interactive graphics, writes his blog in Spanish, so I have taken the liberty of translating and paraphrasing his post: California en llamas (California in flames).

Gonzalez had experience with massive fires like these from last year, when he was still at El Mundo, the Spanish newspaper known as one of the great powerhouses of news graphics. “Almost a million people evacuated and about 1,000 square kilometers burned,” he wrote, with a link to Galicia en llamas from

On Monday [Oct. 22], all the online mapping tools relative to the fires were either down or functioning horribly badly. I waited to download some data at night …

With the 2006 Galicia graphic in mind, Gonzalez knew the sources to go to and had a clear idea, more or less from the beginning, of how to structure the graphic.

Newsweek map of October 2007 fires

The resulting online graphic uses satellite photos, population density, photos of the fires on the ground, and an interactive calculator to show the distance from one fire to another, or the distance from Los Angeles (this is very cool — look for it in the upper right corner of the map).

Indeed, unprecedented for a weekly — Newsweek, we posted it a few hours before the NYT: those who truly appreciate the work of Steve Duenes’s team know that feeling.

Gonzalez praised The New York Times’s fire graphic — “as always, excellent” — which shows the extent of the fires and their evolution over seven days, with the ability to zoom in on individual fires.

As I found out at the ONA conference in Toronto, I am not the only one who says, “I hate them,” when they publish some jewel. used a map from Microsoft Virtual Earth. Rollover boxes provide a lot of detail about each fire, some with photos.

The Los Angeles Times used Google Maps for one of its many maps (some are static; others use the slideshow template).

USA Today points to the USDA Forest Service map, Gonazalez wrote — I liked their own map very much, and I think it might be the most complete coverage of the story, if not the most detailed (perhaps).

Ay! The APIs: “However good and bad, they still had to be done,” or, “How easy it is to use Google Maps …”

I appreciate Gonzalez lifting the curtain and giving us a glimpse inside his world.

There is no shelf. (There is no Page One.)

Think about it.

I love this video.

5 things to tell the students

How much time did you spend online yesterday and today? (Pause.) Compare that with how much time you spent reading a newspaper or a magazine.

Last night I spoke to about 40 journalism students at a meeting of the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. My mission: To alert them to the role of online in their future career. (Your answer to the two questions might differ from theirs, but it was obvious from their facial expressions that the question makes sense to them.)

Why would you think you will have a career writing — only writing — for a newspaper, when you know what the habits of your peers are?

I’m not saying you won’t work for a newspaper, but the current students are telling us that they hear this at the campus journalism job fairs: What are your online skills? What is your URL? Where are your links?

The magazine people are in the same boat — the students just don’t realize it yet!

So here’s what I told them:

  1. You don’t have to be a programmer. But you need to have more than one skill. Another way to say that is, You need to have more than only print skills.
  2. If you have not taken any online skills courses at all, and spring is your final semester, and the intro online course conflicts with one of your required courses that you waited until now to take — sign up for the online course, and delay your graduation. Do you want to graduate? Or do you want a job?
  3. You can go home tonight and learn to make a Web page. For heaven’s sake, there are only 10 tags to learn. Learn HTML and CSS here. Free.
  4. You should not even be thinking about Flash if you never made a Soundslides. Download Soundslides here. Free demo version. See what kind of story you can tell.
  5. Every journalist can learn to gather and edit audio for online. Start here. You probably already have a digital recorder. Buy an external microphone. Download Audacity. Get busy.

This collection of tools, tutorials and tips will also come in handy: Journalists’ Toolkit.

Look at great online journalism work — here and here. Look often. Recognize the growing importance of video (like this one) in the newspaper newsrooms. Do you know how to shoot video? Do you know how to edit video? Realize that one person does NOT need to possess EVERY skill — look at the credits (top right) on this package from the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.

Update (11:25 p.m.): See what a bunch of newspaper editors say about journalism jobs and what new hires need to know.

Video on the cheap

I’ve seen a couple of references recently to the Flip video camera ($119 – $149) from Pure Digital. Mark Hamilton (Notes from a Teacher) has written a couple of posts about this — he owns a Flip camera: (1) Point-and-shoot video: A review; (2) A Little Flip.

Flip video camera, $119

But if you see good-sounding video (Burma rally, for example) on his site — that was not shot with the Flip. Mark now has a Canon HV20, and in response to an e-mail from me, he e-mailed me this about the Burma rally video:

I used the external mic on the HV20 and did a bit of audio boosting on a couple of the clips. I always cover myself at events by keeping my digital voice recorder (Zoom H4) running as a back-up, but I’m fairly impressed by the built-in mic on the HV20.

Mark sent this example (video shot by his students) as a demonstration of Flip video quality. Or lack thereof.

More about the fires …

at Clicked — a blog from that’s about breaking news online.

Clicked offers a wide-ranging look at who is covering the fires, and how they’re doing it.

Update (10:32 a.m.): USA Today has two very cool fire features online — a continually updated fire map, and an explanatory graphic that shows how that map is evolving over time. The latter is great instructional material for multimedia journalists.

The embedding of the “Wildfire Primer” (button at top, far right) is very nice. USA Today understands that it’s lousy UI to make package elements fly out into new windows. Hooray!

Covering a murder trial in Kansas

Someone shot a county sheriff to death on a January morning in 2005 while he was serving a warrant. Almost three years later, a capital murder trial is under way in Eureka, Kansas, a town about an hour’s drive from Wichita. Wichita Eagle court reporter Ron Sylvester sits in the courtroom daily, recording the details provided by witnesses on the stand and uploading them “live” to the newspaper’s Web site.

A methamphetamine lab in a ramshackle country house. A town with about 2,600 residents. Gunshots. A 23-year-old suspect. The scourge of meth addiction in the heartland of America.

The Wichita Eagle is hampered by the inflexible online templates inherited from Real Cities, a misguided Web strategy foisted upon the Knight Ridder newspapers. Making the best of what they’ve got, Web diva Katie Lohrenz senior Web producer Jeff Butts set up an index page for all the trial coverage, with a nice short URL: (the defendant is Scott Cheever). There’s an RSS feed for trial coverage, good clear audio of key testimony, and some dramatic courtroom photographs. Headlines are informative and to the point. The organization is simple, straightforward. And there are 49 pages of tributes to the sheriff who died.

In an e-mail, Ron told me some folks in the newsroom are saying his live reports are “not like a real story.” But Nick Jungman, the Eagle’s senior interactive editor, is standing up for innovation. Bravo! It may seem like a small step, compared with flashy efforts from larger newspapers — but by publishing straight to the Web, the Eagle is walking confidently toward the future.

I just hope they are promoting the online updates (and the exact URL) on Page One every morning.