For the third time in almost as many days, I’ve woken up to snow. The water-cooler talk about when winter will finally leave continues. (Answer: Not soon enough, and kicking and screaming then). I’m feeling an energy deficit; the falling snow has put me in a bunker mentality. So a perfect day to play around on the Internet. Here’s a sampling of where I’ve been wandering worth checking out.
Mastering multimedia: My boss and video mentor Colin Mulvany comments on the cultural shift at work in our newsroom. I get a mention. This is an inspiring read for anybody looking to build a video team.
College Media Innovation: The tips here are just as valuable for working journalists as aspiring ones. On my list today: start building my “brand.”
New Yorker: Eric Alterman sizes up the uneasy and essential alliance newspapers have with the Web. Oh, and he basically rings the bell for the funeral of print journalism as we know it.
Secrets of Self-taught Web Developers: I confess: When it comes to learning web development, I’ve been dragging ass even though I realize it could turn out to be an essential tool for staying employable. Eric Hebert offers this list of resources perfect for people like me, and he presents it with the pitch-perfect voice of the sage, reassuring adviser.
What: A tour of Zola, a new downtown Spokane nightclub, with owner/developer/artist Dan Spalding. He created the interior with almost completely salvaged and recycled materials.
High hopes: I got to use a much nicer camera than I had before, so I was expecting to create greatness. I don’t know if I got that, but I’m pretty happy about what I was able to do in about two minutes.
Areas for improvement: This could be sharper technically. I wish I’d taken the time to set up a tripod for several shots. But I liked the flexibility of working without. I also debated going back to the bar at night to get some crowd shots to round out the B roll. In the end, time and energy constraints kept me from doing so. Low-light conditions affected several shots, which I included anyway for the sake of variety.
Conclusion: I have to remind myself that this was only my fourth video effort, and I can’t expect to nail it all at this point.
For more: Visit spokane7.com.
First watch this video. Then read this story from The Spokesman-Review.
One of the great things about my job is its flexibility. When things are slow, I can pretty much work on whatever I want. So recently I started taking an idea I’ve had for months and practicing it: daily slideshows of compelling and newsworthy photographs from around the world. (Click here or on the image below to see an example.)
Here’s some advice for those looking to do the same:
- Search the Associated Press photo feed with the term “aptopix” and you’ll get AP editors’ choices of the best shots from the day’s takes.
- Use the AP’s frequent news digests to look for stories that have photos.
- Go for variety. Use the photo of the scene of a car bombing in Karbala, Iraq, but don’t neglect interesting profiles, weather shots and even the occasional baby animal. With fewer limits on space compared with the printed products, including these fluffier items can’t be considered pandering to less-serious appetites.
- Take the time to edit cutlines. If applicable, find the corresponding story and flesh out the details or add background. This is added value.
I can hear the objections waiting in the wings. When I was in graduate school, the journal articles and trade publications I read nearly all said a local newspaper website should be about local news. Why replicate content that is available all over the Internet, more so now than ever thanks to news aggregators.
I think this prejudice kept from exploiting the slideshow idea for a long time. But here’s why I chose to pursue it. First, my newspaper’s homepage often needs some good art, especially in the middle of the day. A slideshow teaser displaying one of the images helps that. Second, visual content is rich content, and I had a hunch that a collection of images would draw viewers. Third, I still think there’s a place for nonlocal content on a local news site when editors use what news aggregators lack: judgment.
For example, instead of kicking over the 10 latest images off the AP wire, I’ll look through the day’s offerings, often using the AP’s news digest to alert me to stories that might have strong photographs. Additionally, I can offer variety, both in terms of geography and style (features versus hard news, for instance).
I’ve been doing this a little over the week, and the results are encouraging. I’ve watched pageviews climb from about 500 a day to more than 1,000 on Monday. Granted in our system each photo in a set will register as a separate view, but I’m sure our online advertising people wouldn’t slice it that thin.
Hearkening back to the days of yore in pursuit of the future.
Situation: Sample jury verdict document that needs updating to be posted online once the decision is in (with full acknowledgment of facsimile status).
Problem: No full version of Adobe Acrobat, and anyway, the original document didn’t have dynamic fields.
Possible solution: Take a screenshot and photoshop in text to fill out the fields.
Preferred solution: Typewriter, then rescan the documents.
I had to ask our editor’s administrative assistant to use her typewriter, one of two in the newsroom. There were several jokes made by people who remember newsrooms before computers. Fair enough.
I’ve recently been drooling over Google maps mashups. I’m coming into the game late, and I lack the programming skills to produce anything like these maps of homicides in New York City, Spokane residents’ stories about a big snowfall* and happy hours in Washington, D.C.)
But the rise of mashups has inspired some easy-to-use, free tools on the Web for neophytes like me. For instance, I used Community Walk to create this map of places I’ve lived. While I wouldn’t use this site for my job, it’s a functional resource for personal projects.
Community Walk offers its own tutorials, so I won’t bother with that here. But here are a couple things I like about the service.
- Bulk editing: Once you’ve placed a couple markers, you can download the data as a csv (comma separated values) file and continue editing in a spreadsheet. I found this to be a lot faster than using the online interface, and it gave me access to features I didn’t find online, such as ordering my markers.
- Multimedia: You can add audio to your markers. Although I didn’t do this with my project, I like the idea. Might be a good way to add ambiance to a map of neighborhood watering holes or hikes.
- Clean interface: I never take this characteristic for granted. I found it exceptionally easy to navigate the mapmaking functions. That said, I found the presentation of the finished map to be a little clunky. For a few bucks you can remove the ads from your map, which takes care of some of the clutter. But the navigation sidebar feels too wide.
The verdict: Until I build my chops to the point that I can make this kind of map using API tools, Community Walk is a good stepping stone.
*Disclosures: A friend of mine was involved in creating the homicide map; my boss created the Spokane map; and another friend was the sole force behind the happy hours map.
What: Multimedia about multimedia. Emerge News is a grant-funded program that lets high school students create news webcasts. I visited one of their tapings and shot video of the process.
What worked: Tight shots. Lots of them. I like the popcorn sequence, but only because it was part of the story; the subsequent shot of the girl working by the bowl of popcorn is meant to establish that. Also, the setting was amenable to using a tripod, which helped keep my shots sharp and allowed me to zoom way in.
Wait, music? After my edit, the piece felt a little flat. My editor at work suggested music. I threw together a quick soundtrack in Garage Band using three loops. I think the result is a livelier video without distracting from the subjects.
Lessons learned: Check out the background on the first interview. Painted cinder blocks. How ugly. How stiff. I need to find better ways to set up my A roll interviews.
I spent last weekend in Nelson, B.C., a sweet little arts community tucked into the Kootenay Mountains. I took the photograph above (click to enlarge) outside the offices of the city’s newspaper, the Nelson Daily News. For a second I thought these men were about to take down the sign and that the paper had folded. This was not the case.
You’ll notice I didn’t link to Daily News’ website above. That’s because there isn’t one, at least as far as I could tell. I found a few sites out there that still link to www.nelsondailynews.com, but that goes nowhere.
As more people are turning to the Internet for news (at least in the U.S.), what does that mean for small towns like Nelson? Sure, there’s plenty of national and international news online. But when the hometown daily doesn’t have a Web presence, where do these Internet readers turn for local news?
Apparently places like ilovenelson.com, “Nelson’s Community Website.” It has news in the traditional sense, but it’s in the form of links to provincial and national sources. It has classifieds and an events calendar. The site also features several regular columns. I’m not sure that this works as a substitute for a local daily online news source, but there’s one thing this site has figured out: interactivity.
ilovenelson.com offers free membership to the community, enabling users to post to the classified ads, events. View your personal dashboard and keep track of all your posts and personal options.
I can only speculate about why the Daily News doesn’t have a website right now. But its disappearance hasn’t left a total void. Just another reminder of how newspapers large and small have to keep interactivity in mind as we look to serve those growing audiences.