Monday, January 29, 2007

Reader-hooking tools

Here's a repository of examples of the way Google maps are being used by news organizations to deliver information. Like gas prices around town, or crime by neighborhood ( was created by Adrian Holovaty, discussed lower).

Another thing. Here is a site that will discuss good newspaper Web site design. A couple of experts from USC's Annenberg Online Journalism Review will feature a monthly column. As writers Nora Paul and Laura Ruel point out:
Research into story design effectiveness is happening in newsrooms and universities. In the case of newsroom research, the findings are regarded as competitive intelligence and not readily shared with the industry. In universities, the findings are written in academese and not readily understood by the industry.

In this column, we will ferret out the research and findings about story form effectiveness and profile the people and places who are trying to understand current practices and guide more informed design decisions. Creating stories that engage, inform, and get people to come back for more must be part of the media’s mix of offerings.

Last thought on news Web sites. Here is a personal essay from Adrian Holovaty, now working on the Web site, and previously for the World-Journal's site. He has forward-thinking suggestions about how facts reporters gather and write into stories also could be built into incredibly useful online databases. Having a Web site that can manage these databases sounds like the seed of a best practice.

His commentary is located at, a "Web site devoted to discussion of Web development, with a particular emphasis on news/information sites. Sometimes I release open-source code, too." Read a current profile of him in American Journalism Review. See him play MacGyver's theme song on acoustic guitar here. Very fun.

About LA Times going web-centric

Here is how former journalist and blogger Gary Goldhammer characterized the Los Angeles Times, historically.
The Times is as fractious and fragile as L.A. itself, as diverse and as divided. Layoffs, careless leadership, and ignorance of new horizontal media structures left The Times in the journalism Dark Ages. While other papers braced for battle and embraced the future, The Times cowered in its Spring Street cave like an injured animal.

He notes that the paper has "rearranged its deck chairs" before, to no avail. But adds:
The difference now, however, is the coming tide of journalistic change is raising all boats. After all, this is not a course The Times decided to take, but rather a decision it had to make.

As part of the move to web-centric journalism, (Times editor James E.)O’Shea said all reporters would take an “Internet 101” course to teach them how to be “savvy multimedia journalists” and improve their response to breaking news. Business Editor Russ Stanton will be the paper’s first “innovation” editor, charged with molding the editorial staff into podcasters and videographers ...

Whether this shift will give reporters more job security and help bring The Times into the 21st Century is a question we will see answered in public...

Read the whole post at Below the fold, or not. I mention it here for two reasons. First, let's hear it for training. And second, the powerful inevitability of it all. Not the guaranteed success of it all, but the need to face it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Letting readers contribute

It's raining cats and dogs outside. OK, make that pea-sized ice and big splatty raindrops in sunny California. Meaning I am forgoing my walk for the moment. Here's a few thoughts from other bloggers on newspapers and newspaper websites and their ideas for potential improvements:

From journalist/marketing/new media participant Gary Goldhammer's Below the fold blog about journalism:

Interactivity, social tools and multimedia are now staples at most major papers. And they should be – moreover, the lessons of online engagement and influence of a media created by the masses, rather than a media created for the masses, must permeate today’s newsrooms and course through journalism’s 21st Century veins.

But while these advances are essential to the industry’s survival, there is more to flying above the clouds than putting on new wings. Remember what happened to Icarus when he ignored his father and flew too close to the sun.

Newspapers need to fight the battles they can win. This means getting niche and local, like magazines and weeklies. It means letting your online product be the “AM” edition, with the latest breaking news, and letting your print version be the “PM” edition, with the context, analysis and opinion readers can’t get anywhere else. And it means getting back to telling stories that matter, stories that engage and involve audiences.

In today’s age of the ever-shrinking news hole, words are a precious commodity. Newspapers need to make every word count.

And one more, post from Robert Niles on the Annenberg Online Journalism Review. It speaks to what he considers the silly fight between bloggers/citizen journalists versus members of the MSM.

He tells the story of a Los Angeles Times reporter writing about fluctuating prices on Amazon from an anecdotal experience that the reporter had -- the cookbook he wanted to buy went up 51 cents overnight.

Niles suggests that had the LA Times reporter availed himself of "citizen journalists" he could have learned and used information from their experiences of price-fluctuations of books or goods they've ordered from Amazon. Niles, as a seller on Amazon, had price fluctuation information about the sale of his own 10-year-old book through Amazon. He suggests he and others could have appended their information at the end of the reporter's story, if the Website would have allowed it.

The string of comments reflects the ongoing concern with newspapers' fears of "outsiders" mucking with a newspaper's info versus just getting to comment on it, after the fact.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Toolkit Info

Scroll down a bit and look at the list of books and websites in the blue box, bottom right. I will keep adding them as I encounter them in class and online. I hope you'll pick up a book or two, and scroll through some of these web sites.


This powerful multimedia story, called "Touching Hearts," was done in 2001 by the Herald Sun in Durham, North Carolina. A print reporter and a multimedia reporter both traveled to Nicaragua to tell the tale of N.C. pediatric cardiologists working on the hearts of young children there. The multimedia reporter was Joe Weiss. Find his story here, and remember to allow the pop up window. Make that choice by clicking on the preference button that pops up on the right.

If you watch only one segment, watch Oscar's story. (Off main page, select stories, then select Oscar.) What could be more powerful than hearing a father's words after he hears the doctor cannot save his son because the preventable illness has progressed too far. Hear the doctor's voice when he realizes he cannot save Oscar. Hear Oscar's father weep after his son dies. Hear sounds of the torrential thunderstorm that marked that horrible afternoon.

This story also appeared as a nine-part series in the newspaper, and you can select those stories off the same link above.

Something to realize about multimedia stories is the reader decides where he/she wants to go first. The story telling is non-linear. In this case, the reader can select different buttons off the opening page to proceed to info on the mission, the stories at the hospital, the people involved. This is a new twist for a print reporter, accustomed to folding it all into one story, from top to bottom.

Multimedia: here's where it begins

I realize I have never shared the site where I and other students posted our multimedia projects from the one-week UC Berkeley multimedia workshop from December, 2006. Here is the site.

Here's what's good about this site:

1) Along the left hand side in a blue bar are tutorials on the many-faceted aspects of multimedia reporting, from how to choose a story that works well in multimedia, to tutorials on technique like how to do a stand up or a voice over, nuts and bolts on how to edit video with Final Cut Pro or iMovie. Even details on what equipment the school is using, in case you want to outfit your newsroom. Oh, and let's not forget web design, so tutorials on Dreamweaver and Flash.

2) Student projects. This school has been giving these one-week boot camps for a couple of years now, and the projects are posted. Take a look and see how video, audio, voice over, slide shows are used. These were accomplished in about 2.5 days by total greenhorns. With a little time, you can and will do amazing work.

From the horse's mouth: You Tube founder

The BBC keeps amazing me. They are blogging and reporting and podcasting out of Davos, the World Economic Summit in Switzerland. I'm still trying to absorb it, but came across this podcast with You Tube founder Chad Hurley (left) by the BBC that is worth a look-see. Follow the link above to an 8-minute video from the founder of You Tube on what his site is about: Is it to kill television and movies? No, he says, it's to broaden the voices in conversation.

Two reasons to watch: a new multimedia reporter should NEVER feel shy about her on-the-job first-time video -- here is a hand-held, hallway video that the BBC is posting for its immediacy, not for its beauty. And two: look how young this guy is, and consider the impact he's having on how we communicate with each other. I would encourage you to explore the BBC Davos coverage, and in particular, their Davos Conversations, in which they are hoping to get viewers responding back. This is not unlike the kind of commitment a newspaper might consider from its readers. Imagine the boldness of BBC asking the world to react. Surely it would be easier to ask residents of a state to react to events in that state. Engaging the audience is our future.

Oh, and you can catch Jeff Jarvis of doing his citizen reporter bit. Looks like he and others joined the BBC hallway interview, video camera in hand, and jumped in to ask some questions. Catch his Davos commentary on buzzmachine, including his version of the same interview that BBC posted.

And now for the numbers, wince

OK, this is a downer post. But this article from UPI tallies up the U.S.journalism job losses in 2006. And points out how many jobs have already disappeared this year.

In my Digital Journalism class, the professor is pushing us to figure out a model where amateurs could fold into a process with professionals. Anyone who wants to check out our class blog, where ongoing posts from students get critiqued and pushed along by the professor, please just email me and I'll send you the sign on. It is not a public blog but it's not a purely private blog either. I think this would be worth a working journalist's time.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Worrying about battle, the war was lost

We fret over whether we'll write for a newspaper or a website, assuming the Internet will be there as a stomping ground if/when we need it. But people are already out there fighting over who will control the net. Will it be government? If it is, will Internet service providers be "state actors," required to turn over material under a court order? Does the FIrst Amendment offer protection here? If we keep government's hand out, will big business carve it up and charge admission so that the Internet isn't free anymore?

A class at Stanford, "First Amendment in the Digital Age" is looking at these questions. A class assignment is to blog on The Cairns Project as students explore the issues. (The Cairns Project is about "building a network of collective action." The Cairn reference is inspiring: "Throughout history, travelers have collaborated in building Cairns: stone monuments to mark the path and collectively navigate new territory.Together we can do what no one of us can do alone." Already I feel less lonely.

Here's a first amendment post that argues against government intervention, with a response that argues for it.

Frontline on the News Wars

Maybe I'm just getting used to sitting on the edge of my seat. But when I stumbled on the promo for Frontline's four and a half hours of analysis on the state of journalism in America that will air over several days in February, I had to click through and check it out. You should too. So you've only got three minutes? Then go here and find the third purple panel that asks "What will be the future business model for the news industry? How will we get the news?" Click on Eric Schmidt's face -- he's the CEO for Google, and give a listen. Reporters won't write for newspapers anymore, he says, but they'll find an audience. Being that Google just aggregates news from newspapers, Schmidt wants newspapers to survive. Then click on Jeff Jarvis' face. He's a blogger for He argues that a 17-year-old walking down the street with a camera phone is a journalist. Any and everybody is, if they are witness to something the world wants to know. Where will you be working in two years? If you wonder, here's a potential flashlight into the darkness.

A manifesto for journalism

Today journalist Geneva Overholser visited our Knight Fellow forum to talk about the future of journalism. She has a long view of it, having served in many capacities including as former ombudsman and syndicated columnist for the Washington Post and editorial board member of The New York Times. She edited The Des Moines Register from 1988-1995, and lead the paper to its 1991 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service. She is now with the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting, Missouri School of Journalism, Washington Bureau.

What I liked the most about her talk was she said these words: "I'm optimistic."

Why? a room of journalists asked her. Given the current rocky state of affairs, what's to be optimistic about?

She had good reasons.

#1. Creativity -- lots of it -- is springing up all around the edges of the battlefield. She told the story of a tiny community in Maine that newspapers had forgotten. So the town librarian got some folks together and started a news website for that community. You can look here at for a collection of new ideas. Funding for grassroots news sites is out there. J-Lab has a February 20 deadline for initiative proposals. Get the scoop at New Voices.

#2. People -- the reading public -- care. She travels and talks to lots of folks, including people who claim to despise MSM (mainstream media.) She sees them as allies because they care enough to complain.

#3. She strongly believes in public interest journalism. To complaints that newspapers have to pander to lowest common demoninators and that no one cares about "eat your peas" journalism, she demurred, and said: We (journalists) can set the appetite and taste by what we deliver. Readers may not know they need a voting guide, until we give them such a good one they can't live without it.

She admits good journalism costs money, and the current delivery models are collapsing. But she is sure good journalism will carry on -- simply on a new platform.

Read her analysis at On Behalf of Journalism: a manifesto for change.

And get a good night's sleep. There's lots of work tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Trying something new

So, I wanted to figure out how to get a photo into this blog. It's too easy for words. There's a photo button you push when composing a new blog post, you browse on your desk top for the photo you put there to upload, hit the upload button, and in a minute or so, your photo is uploaded. Fun stuff. Peter says hi. This image was taken in early January on the northern California coastline about 30 miles north of Petaluma at a sweet place called Sea Ranch. A bunch of Knight fellows rented a big house for a three-day weekend, and we hung out there walking along the cliffs over the ocean and watching seals bounce around in the waves.

Looking for real journalists

I mentioned my Digital Journalism class, where we all have an obligation to blog (on a class site, not this blog). Well, my class is interested in talking to people who work at a real newspaper. If you have any interest in reading the digital journalism blog and maybe interacting online with these undergrad and grad students, let me know. The site is not private, but it's not quite public. I have permission to give you my sign on, it's OKd by the prof. So email me at and I'll send you the link and my sign on. (My apologies: the first generation of this post linked direct to the site, and those who tried to go got a 'cannot enter' message.

Oh, and here's some reading for you. The Nieman folks have just done their analysis of the state of newspapers, called "Goodbye Gutenberg." You'll find it here. I haven't read it all yet, but there's obvious food for thought. A good one to start with is multimedia reporter and teacher Jane Stevens' "Taking the Big Gulp." Find it here.

Talk about frustrating

About half an hour ago I prepared a post here mentioning some multimedia work my UC Berkeley classmates were now posting back at their home newspaper Web sites, when Google's server went down. There went my web post.

So here it is again. Technology demands nothing if not persistence. It seems so unstable sometimes.

Anyway, Vindu Goel is an editorial writer at the San Jose Mercury News and he's started a blog that discusses politics, technology, immigration -- or anything else he gets activated about. A recent post mentioned Jimmy Wales, the creator of Wikipedia. Wales' new idea is an open-source search engine that will use human intelligence instead of algorithms for searches. Here is an audio interview by a Merc Internet writer with Wales, all about his new idea, to be called WIKIA.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Bob Cauthorn is a 20-year journalist who created the award-winning sfgate Web site for the San Francisco Chonicle. He's now out of newspapers and involved online. In this talk that he gave at the UC Berkeley multimedia workshop in May 2005, he critiques print newspapers. His talk is called The Changing Rules of Journalism: the role of editors and reporters in the future. Get ready for some harsh criticism of the newsroom, editors and reporters. An example: he'd ban journalism competitions for five or 10 years so journalists will stop writing for each other (and judges) and return to writing for their readers. I didn't agree with it all, and found his tone wearing. But it's clear he's passionate about journalism and wants it to be better -- whether it's online or in print. Got a fix on "the random access reader?" Think newspapers will keep publishing seven days a week? Give Bob a listen.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What the hell is a wiki, anyway?

If you are an ADN elder, you will remember "Newsbits." This was an old file on the first ergonomically disasterous computers we ever used (see, some things DO get better....). Anyway, it was called Newsbits, and anyone could post thoughts and comments. There were often running threads of commentary as one staffer or another would get exercised about a policy or an event in the newsroom and vent and argue on Newsbits.

A wiki seems to function about the same way. Here is the Wikipedia definition:

A wiki (IPA: [ˈwɪ.kiː] or [ˈwiː.kiː] [1]) is a website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content, and typically without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring. The term wiki also can refer to the collaborative software itself (wiki engine) that facilitates the operation of such a Web site, or to certain specific wiki sites, including the computer science site (the original wiki) WikiWikiWeb and on-line encyclopedias such as Wikipedia.

In my digital journalism class, besides a requirement to blog on a specific site about readings in the class, we also participate in a wiki. I will explain more as I learn more. At this point, all I understand is that we will take our class notes on the wiki (in a classroom that includes a laptop for everyone in the class), and at week's end, a student in the class will rework (refactor is the term) everyone's notes into a whole-class version. The theory is that the collaborative effort will make the final version better than any one of our singular versions.

But, another note on wikis that relates to the turmoil newspapers find themselves in today. A newspaper in Southern California is retooling itself to be a multimedia news organization, which is requiring it to reorganize the newsroom. They are doing it with a wiki; every staffer has access. Issues that emerge in the wiki are dealt with at a once-a-week face-to-face meeting among the editor and any staffers who want to participate. Password to the wiki is ventura; the editor invited us to take a look at their process.

The Ventura County Star is the paper and it has a 100-person newsroom like the Anchorage Daily News. About 7 months ago, they committed to going multimedia. The editor left an empty position vacant to purchase four video cameras and four laptops with the accompanying software. Their commitment came from being beaten on a big local story. A California wildfire broke out near them; a blogger located near the fire set up shop and started blogging. Soon locals knew the best place to go for up-to-date fire info was this guy's blog. Badly stung, the paper made a commitment to go multimedia. In a more recent fire, which they handled as a multimedia event, the first images they posted were not their own, but those of readers who got to the fire before any news media could.

The editor said the initial investment was $65,000 for the equipment mentioned above, and the time of a multimedia reporter named Jane Stewart to come in and work with the staff. Their strategy was to offer multimedia training -- 8 staffers at a time for six weeks at a time. While being trained, they were freed from their normal duties so they could concentrate on learning multimedia reporting (video, audio, editing of same, and creation of a web site and placing the media on the website). Training is optional, not mandatory. Now, they have 24 newsroom staffers trained in multimedia reporting. They have temporarily stopped the training to catch up with newsroom reorganization issues. Basically, with 24 multimedia-trained reporters busy producing, they need to reorganize the newsroom for a better flow of content online.

Their first efforts, by their own admission, were beginner in nature. They learned by doing, and explained to their readers that this was their approach. Here is a multimedia story that appeared online in one form and in the newspaper in traditional story form. It is about teen females being moved out of a detention center because of the expense of running it. Take a look.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The BBC is on to it

This is another Digital Journalism offering. Meet Nigel Paine, the main guy who teaches the BBC's 27,000 employees what they need to know. He's decided they need to know about wikis, podcasting and blogs. Here's a talk from him about how the BBC uses these tools to inform itself internally and externally. This is more about journalists inside an organization using these tools to share information. You'll find it here.

The talk (about 20 minutes) plays on Realplayer or Windows media, but I needed to hit the button that looks like the globe and download it onto my desk top to listen to it. Both in my multimedia reporting class at Berkeley, and now in my digital journalism class at Stanford, the BBC is coming across as basically having its act together, big time. Their drive to share what they know is applauded among multimedia journalists. This goes for their journalism as well as explaining how they get there.

Digital journalists do it differently

Here's an Italian journalist who's started an online news website. In "A New Media Tells Different Stories" Bruno Guissani tries to close the gap between what we used to do, and what the new job is. This appeared in a peer-reviewed journal on the Internet called First Monday and is a current reading in Digital Journalism, a class I'm taking this quarter from Howard Rheingold, author of "Smart Mobs."

Here's a taste from Bruno's piece:
"A journalist with little online experience tends to think in terms of stories, news value, public service, and things that are good to read, points out Melinda McAdams in her excellent account of the making of the Washington Post online venture. But a person with a lot of online experience thinks more about connections, organization, movement within and among sets of information, and communication among different people

"The newspaper is no longer a product. It becomes a place. A place where people from the community stop by, make contacts and come back again to build a common future."
And this:
"The relationship between us and our readers becomes less clear in its definition yet stronger by its need. Answering your readers' e-mail as well as opening forums for debates or chat rooms on Web sites are the first steps in developing what I call a community: a group of people who identify with a certain newspaper not only because it provides news but because it allows connections, a space for sharing ideas and developing solutions. As Katherine Fulton writes, Content is people as well as information, and I fully agree.

"With this in mind, facts and information can circulate without interference and without the journalist acting as a filter. He will have to give up part of the power he used to have - based on his competence as well as on his position. The role of the journalist is changing into a more central figure, a mediator. He directs traffic, explores, becomes a facilitator of discussions. His new power will depend on his ability to animate a group of people, to develop methods and means to enliven the community, to organize information-gathering and use with the participation of the members of the community."

Seth Familian

I spent a week in December at UC Berkeley's multimedia reporting workshop for mid-career journalists. We worked from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. for five days. While building multimedia projects, we listened to speakers. Seth Familian was one, a 2nd year grad student from Berkeley's business school who has worked for Faith Popcorn's BrianReserve. Why point him out? He got the room so fired up that after working all day on our projects, we forced him to have beers with us until the wee hours. I'd describe him as catalytic. His message to us was a talk he's given a few times to newspaper editors. It's "who is the new digital audience." He describes his Web site as "anticipating the future of news in an age of digital connectivity." You will find it here.

Once there, check out [clips] where you can listen to:
  • Make it easy to use. The first is a 6-minute talk telling newspaper editors at the 2006 ASNE conference in Seattle that the ease of use of their Web sites is extremely important. What's Google's 54-word rule? Bottom line, if it isn't seamless for the consumer, she'll click away.
  • Who is the digital audience? The second talk is about 20 minutes and has a little power point you can watch while you listen. This is a talk given to the San Francisco Chronicle staff in 2006 about who the new audience is, and how to get in the game. This is worth viewing because it will introduce you to some sites you may not know.
Next, still on Seth's page, go to [links], where you'll get a tour to some sites organized very visually.
  • Under [content visualization] check out Phylotaxis and wefeelfine and Marumushi Newsmap. Pretty soon you get the feeling that straight and orderly lines of text on an opening Web page don't cut it anymore.
  • The New York Times is paying attention. My Times Reader is still in beta and is a way to view The New York Times online in a modular format, instead of scrolling down (and scrolling and scrolling.) That consumer experience, again.

Maybe this will help

Stomach-churning change. It's everywhere.

I've been out of the line of fire, down here at the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford since September. I'll be here through June. It's a free year at this university for 20 mid-career journalists to study anything and everything. ( Here is where you apply. The deadline is February 1. If not this year, some year; it's way too good not to try for.)

One of my goals down here, besides getting tan and drinking Napa/Sonoma valley wines, was to catch up on changes in journalism. More than an update, it's turned into a tumble down the rabbit hole. Blogs, wikis, social tagging, pro-am (professional journalists working with citizen journalists), multimedia reporting and publishing. Feel your temples throbbing?

My aim is to share useful links and resources with ADN colleagues. Some links are practical. Some links are gee-whiz. Some are out-there conceptual takes on the Creative Commons (the Internet) and the battle over who will run it. I'll give a short description of what you'll find at a link, and the link itself. I welcome additions from anyone.

Daily journalists are so damn busy, they hardly have time to look up and sniff the wind. This can help: an ad hoc guide to the changing landscape, with links to tools to help navigate it. That's the spirit in which it's offered. Whether you work for a news organization or go out on your own, the state of our work is changing radically. You need new tools, new skills. You've already got the experience. Combine both, and you're invincible.

In the meantime, I'll keep trying to soak up what I can and post it here. It's all new to me, too.