Mindy McAdams: reports vs. stories

“There are stories right under our noses everywhere we go. There’s no need to go to “an event” to find a story. I don’t mean deep analysis, but rather a spark, a nugget, a neat little twist.”

Mindy McAdams, journalism professor and expert on online journalism, explains that “a lot of journalism is merely reports,” in her article “Is your story actually a story.

Listing the five w’s and the h generates information that we can use to mold our stories, yes. The problem is that journalism novices all too often compile the information into writing, but do not delve deeper into their subject. Mindy McAdams says, “the issue is that when I ask students to go out and find a story, that is fresh, that has something new or provacative or engaging to offer– they come back with a report.”

After reading the article, I began to wonder if I could even truly define or explain what a real story would be. After reading her comment, “I’m thinking of the ability to walk down the street, or go to the shopping mall or the center of campus and spot something in which you can discover something fresh,” I thought I had finally figured it out. If I wanted to write a story, not a report, I could go to a store in the mall and try to find out when the store was founded, what its mission is, and how it is affecting the community.

If I collected all that information, I could write a story that Mindy McAdams is talking about right? Wrong. I would still just be collecting the five W’s and the H. How can a young journalist learn to find the stories that Mindy McAdams speaks of, and how do we even define the differences between stories and reports?

Perhaps McAdams is holding students to too high a standard and her reader Chris Machniak is right, “what we can’t forget with students is it takes longer than a single class or even a bachelor’s degree to really become an expert or professional in news writing or reporting.”

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Add comment Posted in  Individual Tech Blog Items  Tagged:  , , , March 10, 2011

Digital marketing 101

Quality content published in some significant quantity, and engineered to be easily found in search engines is a recipe for a successful digital publishing business.

Throughout the course of my blog, you have learned how tweet, how to use photography, how to vlog, and how to maintain your comments area. The last thing you need to know to be fully prepared for the real world of blogging is how to market yourself.

The one phrase you need to remember as you strive for efficiency and marketability in your blog is search engine optimization. This phenomenon is the process of writing your articles in a way that will be easily recognized by search engine spiders who search the Internet for new websites or information.

According to Briggs, “content is king” for SEO because the better the content you have in an article, the more likely a robot or spider will be to pick it up for indexing. “Linking is queen” because if other websites recognize that you have linked to them, they may return the favor, increasing your authority with search engines.

Along with content and linking, there are also several other ways to increase your “Google cred.”  The first way is to use clear title tags because search engines look at headlines before anything else. The second way is to use HTML meta tags, or tags that provide information about an article, even though a viewer cannot see that information.

After you get your blog up and running and begin acquiring an audience through search engines, you will likely want to know how your website is doing.

The following is a list of the bakers dozen, or items that you should be regularly tracking so you have an idea of how well your website or blog is performing.

  1. Total news stories per day
  2. News stories by topic or section
  3. Total blog posts per day
  4. Blog posts by specific blog
  5. Slideshows per week
  6. Video stories per week
  7. Podcasts or other audio stories
  8. News updates
  9. Breaking news e-mail alerts
  10. SMS or other mobile news alerts
  11. E-mail newsletters that are not sent automatically
  12. Twitter, Facebook or other social network posts
  13. User-generated content

Along with the bakers dozen, you should also track the big three of web traffic: pageviews, visits and unique visitors compared, and engagement and referrers. These things are more difficult for an individual to track, but never fear, there is plenty of software out there that can track these things for you. One of the most popular websites for web analyzation is Google Analytics, a free program offered by none other than Google.

Once you see how your website is performing, you will be able to make goals and adjust your current business plan. As Briggs so eloquently puts it, “track. Measure. Adapt. It’s the way the Web works.”

Add comment Posted in  Briggs "Journalism Next" Chapter Reviews  Tagged:  , , , March 9, 2011

Soldier Transition Project

For my online journalism course with Professor Steve Klein, I am required to create a multimedia project with several other classmates. We are able to chose our topics and choose our teams, keeping in mind stories that work well over multiple media outlets and keeping in mind the need for multiple skill sets.

Several weeks in to the semester, one of my classmates gave a presentation about her project idea. She hoped to follow army soldiers as they transitioned from a life of war in Iraq and Afghanistan to a civilian life at George Mason University. If the project went as planned, she explained, it could potentially be featured on the ACAP, or Army Career and Alumni Program, website.

Intrigued by the idea, and excited about the potential benefits coming from the project, I decided to join Tony’s “Soldier Transition Project,” as we have now come to call it. My other teammates include Brandi, Jen, Ethan and Aisha.

Together, we hope to create a sleek website that involves multiple pages. One tab off of our main page, will include the actual stories that our team writers have worked on. This page will also likely involve slide shows of a particular soldier, and his or her actual interview. Another part of the website will include resources that future soldiers can use to help them transition in to college life.

My main part of the project will be the social media page. On this page I hope to integrate an RSS feed from ACAP and other soldier resources. I also hope to have a feed that will feature useful tweets for our audience. These tweets will likely involve the G.I. Bill. If I get approval from our subjects, I also hope to connect with them through Facebook and feature some of their statuses that will capture how emotional the war and the transition has been.

Over spring break I plan to gather up sources, and get information on our interviewees so I can see about my plans for Facebook. As the project goes on, I will update this post so you all can keep up with our progress up to the finished project!

Add comment Posted in  Individual Tech Blog Items  Tagged:  , , , , March 9, 2011

Audience comments: the good the bad and the ugly

“Being social with users is easier than ever before, and the more a social a journalist is with people, the more sourcrs a journalist can mine.”

There is no denying that comments on news articles are a vital part of reporting today. Comments allow for a new way to connect with “the people formally known as the audience” and for fluid conversation.

When we allow readers to critique our articles we are providing for more transparent journalism. Message boards are beneficial to us as journalists because our audiences are able to give us direct information and footage of news, that we can then synthesize into well-organized news stories. The amount of information we can gather when we consider that “online readers post nearly 50,000 comments a month, more than one a minute, 24/7” is almost inconceivable.

According to Patrick Thorton of Beatblogging, “it’s important (for us) to keep in mind that our communities know more than we do. When we remember that, it’s easy to understand why having conversations with the knowledgable users can lead to better reporting.”

“User comments on news sites, while vital to interactive storytelling in the digital age, often read like scribblings on a bathroom stall: anonymous, offensive and full of hate,” says Stephanie Goldberg in her CNN article “news sites reining in nasty user comments.”

In our nation, which places such high value on free speech, restraint on comments has repeatedly been ruled unconstitutional. We, as journalists, do have options that will allow us to keep our conversations as civilized and friendly as possible.

One of the most common ways to do so allows users to flag other comments as inappropriate. We, as site operators, are not legally required to delete the flagged comments but they simply give us a heads up that we should take a look at a certain comment.

A second way of keeping message boards clean, is allowing users to use Facebook Connect. Not only is this method convenient to the users, because they are not required to make a new account for every website they visit, it is convenient for us as well. Users who post under Facebook Connect are who they say they are on Facebook, which means that they will likely practice more constraint when writing inappropriate comments on a news article.

Comments will allow us to progress in the world of journalism in ways we never imagined possible. All that we need to remember, in the words of Mark Briggs, is to “treat our comment areas like a garden: a little care and nurturing every day will go a long way towards making a healthy community. And will remove any weeds as soon as they appear.”

To read Stephanie Goldbergs full article, click here.

For information on how to manage comments, click here.

Add comment Posted in  Briggs "Journalism Next" Chapter Reviews  Tagged:  , , March 9, 2011

Dan Rather and Tucker Carlson on the world of journalism

“American journalism needs a spine transplant,” stressed Dan Rather, famous American journalist, in a CSPAN video conference on February 24, 2011. Students from George Mason University, Pace University, and University of Denver all participated in the conference, provided by C-SPAN’s distance learning program.

Joining Rather was Tucker Carlson, a political news correspondent and editor-in chief of The Daily Caller. He explained, “the best journalism is tough and doesn’t suck up to power.”

Both journalists seemed to agree that the transition period we are in as journalists has led to the downfall in our credibility. “The old order is gone and the new one is not in place yet,” said Rather.

Online journalism offers writers all the tools they need to get their stories out to their readers, but without a business model they are having trouble doing so. Even more detrimental to their work, according to Rather, is the fact that “conglomerates control 80 percent of major news distribution.”

Rather and Carlson believe that the new world of online journalism will have tremendous payoffs. The only issue, however, is staying true to the iron core of journalism: investigative journalism.

According to Rather, we need to “get the truth and lay it out there, no chaser.” We must continue to be “honest brokers of information” to help our readers make sense of this age of information overload.

To watch Dan Rather and Tucker Carlson’s videoconference at length, click here.

Add comment Posted in  Video Conference Blogs  Tagged:  , , , March 8, 2011

Audio breaking in to the visual and text based journalism market

First we were forced to switch from the type-writer to the computer. Then came the transition from the print media to Internet media. Now we are being thrust in to a world of photojournalism, blog journalism, Twitter journalism, and most importantly: audio journalism.

You might be asking yourself what is so great about audio journalism. Why does Jim Stovall say, “audio journalism is important because it is the dominant form of information distribution on The Next Big Thing in Journalism: mobile journalism.” How can someone possibly say that audio is more intriguing than videos or photographs? In this post, I hope to help you navigate the confusing world of audio and understand why it is so important format to journalism today.

Audio has many great benefits that many other formats do not have because of how flexible it is. As National Public Radio has shown us over the years, audio hosts are able to make a true connection to their audiences. These connections may be a result of the fact that audio offers the following:

  • Presence: allows a reporter to “literally bring readers to the story”
  • Emotion: “tone of voice, expressions, intonation and pauses can enhance the message
  • Atmosphere: “natural sound helps pull the listener in close”

Because audio has benefits that are incomparable to other forms of media, it is no wonder that Karin Hogh says, “audio can be as powerful in journalism as written articles of even TV and video.

In order to start making use of this powerful media outlet, you will need just two things:

  1. A digital recorder: ranges in price from $30 to $300; when researching one to buy, keep in mind recording quality, digital file format and compatibility with your computer, ease of use and ease of transferring files.
  2. Software: allows you to manage and edit sound files. When using audio, make sure you record in WAV format and that the software is set to capture data through a microphone input.

After you record your interviews, voice overs, or natural sounds, it is time for you to begin editing. The most basic thing you need to remember when editing is to keep the parts that are most important to telling your story. Listeners will lose interest by repetitive or unimportant information. Once you have perfected your sound clips and compressed them in to an MP3 player you are ready to upload them to the internet. The following offers a list of how your sound clips can be used:

  • Stand-alone audio file with news story or blog post
  • Podcast, or a file that can be downloaded to a mobile device or played on a computer
  • Vodcast, or sound file with video
  • Audio accompaniment to a photo slide show

Once you have perfected the basic skills of audio reporting, you, like so many others, will understand why Stovall says, “reports and journalism students must stop thinking about sound as an exclusively radio format and adopt it as a reporting tool that can be used to effectively deliver information to readers or listeners.”

Add comment Posted in  Briggs "Journalism Next" Chapter Reviews  Tagged:  March 5, 2011

The Lord of the Journalists: Fellowship of the Camera

“One can argue that the digital age has had a greater impact on photography than any other single skill or ability” – Mark Briggs

You are probably wondering why I am taking precious blog space to teach you about how to use a camera. How hard can it be to pick up a point-and-shoot camera and take a picture? Everyone knows how to do that, right? Wrong! When applying photography to journalism, you need to go much deeper than just picking up a camera and taking a picture. So lets get started!

Before you can become an expert photographer, there is some vocabulary you should learn:

  • Pixel: visual representation of data in a digital image or graphic
  • Megapixel: 1 million pixels which are used to measure the power of a digital camera
  • Resolution: measurement of pixels in a digital image, or in terms of electronic data, a measurement of pixels that are available to the human eye
  • Camera mode: controls the shutter speed. You are able to chose from a range of options, which will help you best capture a moment in a particular environment.
  • Optical zoom: zoom provided by the lens. It is the only zoom a photographer should use.
  • Digital zoom: used when you are out of optical zoom range. In Mark Briggs terms, it “basically just begins cropping the outside of the image to make it look like you are getting closer.”

Once you become fluent in this language you will need to determine which type of camera you want to use. There are two types, point-and-shoot and DSLR, both equally as good. Lets examine the benefits of each to help you better decide which one you would like to use.

  • The point-and-shoot camera is fairly inexpensive, is more compact, and does not require extra equipment, as the lens, flash, and video camera’s are built in. It is also fairly simple to use, so you won’t need much experience to get decent  pictures.
  • The DSLR camera is extremely expensive, and complex to use. It does not come with built in features such as a flash, but it takes much better photographs than it’s point-and-shoot counterpart.

Now that you have chosen the camera to use, and you are out in the field, you need to acknowledge how to get the best possible pictures. The following list include some things you should take in to consideration before you take your pictures.

  1. Lighting: There are three types- ambient, flash lighting, and a mixture of flash and ambient lighting. The best photographs are taken only with ambient lighting, so if at all possible try not to use flash. According to Briggs, “cloudy and sunny days provide the best light for outdoor photography.”
  2. Location: don’t be afraid to get close to your subject. Val Hoepner, of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, quotes Robert Capa by saying, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”
  3. Time: Dedicating even just ten extra minutes to a photo session will give you that many more photographs to chose from when you go back to edit your photographs and place them in your story.
  4. Relationships: If you build a relationship with your subject, they will feel more comfortable around you and you will be able to better capture their natural emotions and movements.

After you have taken all your photographs, it is time for you to go to your computer and get busy organizing and editing them so you can quickly upload them for your audience. Adobe Photoshop is probably the single best tool for a photographer as you have access to both organizational tools and editing tools. Through Bridge a photographer is able to apply metadata, such as date, time, location, and copyright to their images. With Photoshop, he or she can can crop, resize, modify, tone and color correct, and save images to be uploaded to the web. Since Photoshop is so incredibly expensive, Mark Briggs offers several alternatives such as Photoshop Elements and Picasa.

Having completed the photography process, the only task you still have to do is to upload the images to your blog. Whether you upload them in a slideshow, or as single images there are some things you should remember. First, make sure to compress your images so they don’t require a lot of time to download. Second, make sure you use “intuitive alternate text” so viewers can learn about your photographs. Lastly, remember that your image has to be saved in an Internet format, it can’t just live on your computer. Once you have gone through all these steps, you are finally ready to upload your images for all the world to see and admire.

To learn more about photography and journalism, visit the following links:

The Power of Photojournalism

The Future of Journalism in a Digital World

Uploading Photos to Blogger

Basic Photoshop Tools

Add comment Posted in  Briggs "Journalism Next" Chapter Reviews  Tagged:  , , March 1, 2011

The Secret life of mobile phones

“Mobile computing will impact our world with the same force as the Internet did in the late 1990s” – Mark Briggs

The world is going mobile, and quickly. Being able to use cellular phones for journalism is absolutely critical to journalists, as it always them to “report in any medium, from anywhere, anytime.”

In order to understand the why mobile journalism is so critical, it is important to understand how it aides reporters.

  1. You are able to report from the scene of a breaking news event before camera crews and photographers can get on location
  2. You are able to view, capture, publish, and broadcast in one location
  3. You can live blog and give your readers the facts as your story progresses

So now that you know how mobile journalism helps you, you need to understand when to “go mobile” on a story. Mark Briggs says you should ask yourself the following questions in order to decide:

  • Will the audience benefit if we can take them there?
  • Will the journalism be better if it’s done on location and with urgency?
  • Can this event be effectively communicated in small chunks over time?
  • Will sound reporting or video footage, turned around quickly, help people understand the story?

When you decide that you will partake in mobile journalism, you need to determine what sort of equipment you will bring with you. Mark Briggs classifies mobile reporters in two ways:

  • Light Packers who only need a smart phone with a quality camera, full keyboard, and mobile Internet capability

  • Gearheads who need laptop, mobile Internet, camera, video camera, tripod, audio recorder, headphone, microphone, and cell phone access

With the knowledge of what equipment you will need, what questions to ask to decide about going mobile, and why mobile blogging is extremely beneficial, you are ready to go out in to the “mobile, global world.” Get your camera phone ready, stories are waiting for you around every corner. With just a little luck and expertise you may be the next journalist who was “in the right place, at the right time,” reporting a breaking news story first.

Add comment Posted in  Briggs "Journalism Next" Chapter Reviews  Tagged:  , , , February 28, 2011

Columbia professors on new media

“Its painful going from being a caterpillar to a butterfly” June Cross, associate professor of broadcast, Columbia University

If you need any reassurance on the future of journalism or you need to be convinced that journalism is anything but a dying breed, look no further than the following video. In the video, by Columbia University News, faculty members discuss exactly what the title suggests, the future of journalism.

“Newspaper is part of an industry that is changing, really revolutionary,” says Duy Linh Tu, digital media coordinator and associate professor at Columbia.

As writers, we should be excited to be able to do “ground breaking and innovative journalism,” explains Sheila Coronel, Director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

June Cross, like Mark Briggs, author of Journalism Next, explains the need for journalists to work across multiple platforms. “The guys and the gals who have made a living from writing long-form narrative are really struggling with this concept of how do we do video and how do we do sound, and how do we mix all of this together?” Although it seems stressful to have to learn new methods, it is important to do so because they can “yield follow ups in ways that we would never even have time to do” otherwise.

In combining multiple methods of journalism together, such as magazines and websites we are able to enhance our readers’ experience. As Victor Navasky, delacorte professor of journalism, explains, we are able to have “physical, very attractive magazines plus websites that get increasingly sophisticated each year in what it provides.”

“There’s this great flowering and proliferation of new news organizations doing new things,” says Nicholas Lemann, Dean and Henry R. Luce professor.  This is an exciting and challenging time, and we are all able to help make history. So future journalist, I’ve asked you once, and I’ll ask you again: are you ready for this exciting time?

Related reading: Welcome to the future: the age of new media

Add comment Posted in  Individual Tech Blog Items  Tagged:  , , , , , February 22, 2011

Has Twitter taken away the need to live in the moment?

Twitter, the phenomenon that has had users addicted since 2006, allows users to receive information faster than they could through any medium other than the live-web. Whether the information comes takes the form of news, entertainment, or updates on friends, Twitter has made it unnecessary to actually watch television broadcasts or meet with colleagues in person.

In her article “How Twitter has made the tape-delay obsolete,” Tara Dublin examines Twitter’s effects on the 2011 Grammy Awards. She points out, “thanks to Twitter, not only is every ‘shocking moment’ ruined before I can lay eyes on it, it’s also been processed and snarkified by all the people I follow.”

After reading Dublin’s article, one might ponder on her question about living in the moment. If we can get our information from our friends, who get their information from news source twitters, who get some of their leads from people in their communities, what need do we have to actively interpret the world around us? In the age of Twitter, somebody else will always be able to analyze and interpret the world around us, for us. In this sense, Dublin is right, Twitter is taking away any need to live in the moment.

Who are we when we're not behind the computer?

It is time that people realize that social media is taking away from our livelihood. It is time that people realize that by hiding behind Facebook we are preventing ourselves from building and maintaining real

relationships with our peers. It is time for us to realize that there is a fine line between gathering information through social media, and needing to be connected to those outlets to survive. As a collective body, we have become so lost in this digital age that we have ceased to live. So readers, after realizing the addictive nature of these outlets, will you disconnect or cut down on the time you spend with social media?

To read Tara Dublin’s full article, click here.

To follow Tara Dublin on twitter, click here. To follow her blog, click here.

Add comment Posted in  Individual Tech Blog Items  Tagged:  , , , February 15, 2011

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