Teaching Examples

Three good things I read this week
June 29, 2007, 1:15 pm
Filed under: blogging, journalism, maps, online, video

Google Maps Is Changing the Way We See the World
Evan Ratliff, June 26, Wired magazine

Since Google relaunched the software in June 2005, the stand-alone Google Earth program has been downloaded more than 250 million times. The program’s seamless zoom-in feature has become ubiquitous on television news shows. And there are dedicated sites — such as Google Sightseeing and Virtual Globetrotting — built for scouring and saving odd and interesting finds from not only Google Earth but also competing 3-D globes like NASA’s World Wind and Microsoft’s Live Search Maps. Scientists, students, and government agencies use Google Earth layers to display their data to the public … (via Journerdism)

Quest for Maps, in which intrepid multimedia reporter Ron Sylvester relates his newsrooms forays into use of maps.

‘Get to a Newspaper,’ at Gangrey.com:

Dicker: “… You can take a look at these newspapers blogs. The bloggers seem to me, Pete, to be basically opinionated stenographers, writing basically for shut-ins. I can’t imagine who would spend their time reading these things except a very rarefied, small group of people.”

Hamill: “I don’t read them, because life is too short. But I advise the young journalist, don’t waste your talent on blogs. Get to a newspaper, no matter how small, where there’s an editor who will look at your copy and say this will be better if you do this. Go somewhere where you learn the craft. Most blogs are therapy. But they’re not journalism. People who write them, except for the professional propaganda blogs, are there for therapy.

“Writing for shut-ins”? Wow, where does that come from? So the 80-year-olds reading the printed newspaper — they are the vibrant lifeblood of society? And all you blog readers out there — you’re a bunch of lumps on a log, do-nothings, hardly worth consideration.

Just last week, I was e-mailing some student I’ve never met and telling him to start a blog rather than waste his time trying to sell his travelogues to established online media. It would be great to have the tutelage of a good editor, no doubt about it. But I have to wonder what your chances are, nowadays, of getting a good editor at a newspaper. Maybe there is a good editor, but will he or she have any time to work with you?

Plus, one really great list of resources and sites (from Mashable.com): Video Toolbox: 150+ Online Video Tools and Resources — I love/hate lists like this, because it will take me some time to explore all the leads! Lots of stuff here I haven’t seen before.

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Your very first Flash package
June 28, 2007, 2:11 pm
Filed under: Flash, graphics, interactive, journalism, photojournalism, tools

It takes me eight weeks to teach Flash to undergraduate journalism students. That’s starting from zero. If they do all the homework and study all the examples, they can be very good at the end of eight weeks. Mostly it takes time and dedication, rather than any special talent or computer aptitude.

When I do training for professional journalists, I don’t have eight weeks. So I always face this dilemma: Do I begin at zero, and just get them started? Or do I begin at a later point, assuming they already know certain things? (Usually I have only three to four hours in a training session!)

The trouble with running a beginner session: At the end, the attendees still can’t really make anything on their own. The trouble with running an intermediate session: Too many people in the room don’t yet understand some of the key techniques.

Yesterday I did half a day of Flash training at a newspaper, and I developed a new teaching tool for the occasion. It’s called Simple Flash Project: Single SWF and the point is for you, the student, to download the FLA and use it as a learning tool. (Go ahead, look at the SWF and then download the FLA.)

I deliberately built the SWF to leave out everything that I consider “post-beginner” in Flash authoring. So it includes NO MOVIE CLIPS. No scenes. No externally loaded assets of any kind. It also includes nothing that was drawn — the graphics are all photos.

There are three separate segments, as any news graphic might have. The SWF is only 73 KB. The entire Timeline is 80 frames long.

There are three different animations, using photographs.

Most important, there are buttons and frame labels. You’ve got to have those if you are going to create separate parts in the package. People often ask me, “How to you make it skip from one section to another?” Buttons and frame labels. That’s how.

Here’s a list of beginner Flash journalism skills. These are the skills you have to nail down before you can build a journalism package.

  1. Simple animation, both tweened and frame-by-frame (Graphic symbols)
  2. Importing photos and other bitmaps
  3. Use of layers
  4. Use of keyframes
  5. Buttons — both making them and scripting them (Button symbols)
  6. Use of frame labels
  7. ActionScript: stop();
  8. ActionScript: gotoAndPlay(“framelabel”);

Now, I will be the very first to admit that not everyone in the newsroom needs to learn Flash. But somebody in your newsroom should learn it! Ideally, I would say that all your news graphic artists should know everything listed above. Then, also ideally, there should be one person — artist, photojournalist, online producer — who goes beyond the list and learns how to develop more sophisticated interactive graphics.

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Aussie daily rocks with slideshows
June 26, 2007, 1:17 pm
Filed under: news, newspapers, photojournalism, slideshows

Andrew Meares, chief photographer at The Sydney Morning Herald, reports that slideshows have become very popular with online site visitors — more so than video.

Total Soundslides pageviews to date are 1,214,918 (since October 2006). Our video team pop the champagne with 5000+ views, our top text stories of the week rate 80,000+.

The biggest hitters:

Pasha Bulker (129,646): Photos of the huge bulk ship aground on a Newcastle city beach (June 2007) — includes photos sent in by readers.

Golden Globes fashion (108,720) SMH fashion writer picks apart what beautiful celebrities wore to the Golden Globes. Well done — I can imagine that lots of people e-mailed this link to friends.

Danish baby princess (70,168): Handout photos from the Danish palace of the new baby princess (“Australian mum,” Meares noted). This is really interesting (I mean, the fact that it was so popular) — there’s no audio, just baby pics — and of course, a nice shot of Mum.

Hunter floods (54,063): Flooding in the Hunter region, narrated by a reporter on the ground.

* Adaminaby (46,428): Drought causes Adaminaby’s old town ruins to emerge from Lake Jindabyne. This one is a very good piece of visual news reporting.

“We have also sent Soundslides via sat phone from the middle of the ocean during a yacht race, and we are doing weekly shows with our foreign correspondents like this one,” Meares wrote in e-mail. The latter, from Lebanon, combines photos from various wire services with the voice of the Australian reporter in-country.

Thanks, Andrew! I really appreciated the chance to see how a photo department embraced multimedia in such a short time span.

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Flash journalists: I need your help
June 22, 2007, 7:57 pm
Filed under: design, Flash, journalism, multimedia

I have been working for some time on ways to teach people how to manage bigger Flash projects. This is one of those cases where I’m finding it hard to figure out how to teach something I know how to do, because (a) the process is so holistic; and (b) every project is different.

So I wrote a document and posted it as a PDF:

Managing Large Story Packages in Flash (PDF file, 410 KB, illustrated, 6 pages)

It’s not hard to read, and there’s no code in it. What I need your help on: Is this what you need to know, when you’re at that stage of knowing enough Flash to build a little thing, but not sure where to go next? Am I on the right track to help you get to that next level?

E-mail or comments — either way, I’ll be grateful.

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Three ideas to improve your motion video
June 22, 2007, 7:41 pm
Filed under: photography, storytelling, video

A really nice column by my friend Regina McCombs: Meaning in Motion: Ken Burns and His “Effect.”

Burns believes the photograph is still the core of visual storytelling, that “the still image is still the essential building block, the DNA, at least photographically speaking, of visual creation.” From that foundation emerge three concepts to consider when working with movement and photography.

Yes, she interviewed Ken Burns about the Ken Burns Effect!

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Tools for creating a social network
June 22, 2007, 1:16 pm
Filed under: culture, future, socialnetworks

If you’re going to build a social networking site online for a geographical community — what I like to think of as a “real world” community — what software will you use?

You might think with all the free and open source tools available, the hardest part would be choosing one. Not so. According to an interview with JD Lasica, one of the Knight Challenge Grant awardees (submit new ideas starting July 1), there’s a list (read it!) of essential tools that are NOT out there waiting to be picked up and used — including an “out-of-the-box community publishing solution.”

As someone who’s been writing HTML since 1994, I know that existing solutions and tools (which you may have heard about) are both powerful and complex. One example is MediaWiki — the software that runs Wikipedia. It can be installed on a Web server pretty easily, if you know what you’re doing. It’s free. It works just like Wikipedia (and looks like it too), so you already understand what it can do. The trouble is, there are just so many options! It’s as if you moved into a house with a bare interior. All the plumbing and electrical outlets are in place, but it’s left to you to erect the very walls, hang the doors and install the sinks. Yeah — daunting!

This is a conversation we need to start having in journalism now: What are the requirements of a social networking site? How do we make such a site easy to set up and begin operating? How do we make it open and customizable? How to we empower the people in the network to self-regulate, to police trolls and flamers, to vote the best contents to the top?

I don’t mean “how” in a way that can be answered by “Look at Slashdot.” I mean “how” in a way that enables someone to manage options and configurations without reading the Help files for six weeks before they start.

We need to have more journalists and editors — who are not programmers — involved hands-on in the process of inventing these systems so that the end product is usable and understandable to the people who will be configuring it.

Digg the original article and JD’s list.

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Orlando Sentinel Web redesign
June 21, 2007, 5:17 pm
Filed under: design, journalism, newspapers, online

Danny Sanchez has the news and relevant links at his blog. Or go straight to the shiny new home page.

I don’t know about you, but the new design doesn’t rock my boat. And I really don’t like the tabs.

Update: The midday video update is pretty good, but it seems kind of strange to have it halfway down the page, BELOW all the stories it covers. I like this kind of video update a whole lot more than the overproduced ones from Roanoke and Naples … probably a lot of people feel just the opposite, but this one I didn’t mind watching.

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