Teaching Examples

Generic is dead; didn’t you get that memo?
June 30, 2006, 10:15 pm
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Tim Porter reports today on a deal that would smush the San Francisco Chronicle into an online Dumpster of sorts with the newspapers newly acquired by Dean Singleton’s MediaNews — the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times and the Monterey Herald.

What a shame. And what a shortsighted, clueless plan that would be.

Porter gets it:

Nowadays, no newsroom web manager would endorse the continued shoveling of copy from print to pixels as an online solution, but that still is what most newspapers do….

If the web has taught us anything in the last decade, it’s that generic is dead. Generic journalism, generic design, generic regard of community — dead, dead, dead. If you talked with the journalists who worked on Knight Ridder papers in the last half decade, you heard again and again how hamstrung [they] were by the constrictions of their templated web operations….

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Free wi-fi: That’s a REAL community idea
June 30, 2006, 5:43 pm
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What an amazingly smart idea: FREE wi-fi from your local newspaper.

As described by PaidContent (found by way of Journerdism) the idea is that The Pilot will give free wireless Internet access to all of Moore County, North Carolina, and also offer (separately) a pay package of WiMax.

What’s totally brilliant about this is that every free wi-fi network I have used automatically takes you to its own Web page as soon as you try to connect. ITS OWN WEB PAGE. As in, the home page of the newspaper! Or better yet — I think this would be much better — a very bare-bones Google-like page with no more than six headlines, one great photo, and EXACTLY ONE very high-priced clickable ad that does not animate, move, leave cookies, or do any other stupid or offensive ad tricks.

Would that be awesome? Everybody in your whole community would see your page EVERY TIME they logged in! The ad spot — if you do it right, without the garbage, and make it a single spot, no competition — could pay for the whole operation after the first few months.

Of course, most corporate types would go in and completely screw it up the first day, by making the page bloated and impossible to use — just like 95 percent of the newspaper site home pages in the U.S. today. But in my dream of the perfect way to finally guarantee an income for your online site — by giving away free wireless AND using an intelligently designed (fast loading) TEASER page to attract people to your other stuff — in my dream, this would be foolproof.

This idea is so incredibly perfect, I can hardly believe no one else thought of it before the folks at The Pilot. They have my undying admiration as of today.

UPDATE (4:41 p.m.) — Here’s the story from The Pilot itself. More details there.

CORRECTION (July 7): Moore County, not Monroe County.

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Soundslides examples: Links and tips
June 30, 2006, 4:26 pm
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Photojournalists discuss Soundslides and post links in a forum called Multimedia Journalism at the SportsShooter site. Lots of good tips here!

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Reinvent yourself online
June 29, 2006, 4:08 pm
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Michael Riley, the editor of The Roanoke (Va.) Times, wrote a blueprint for online innovation in the spring 2006 issue of Nieman Reports: Lessons from a Newsroom’s Digital Frontline.

Finally, some optimism!

… the future of what we do is not as scary as it seems. Newspapers — or, more precisely, newsgathering operations — are in a position of strength: In most markets, they are the last remaining mass medium; they are prime creators of original journalism and, in many cases, they are deeply committed to a community’s civic life and welfare.

Riley believes we can reinvent newspapers. That’s what they have been doing in Roanoke, he says, and I’m willing to believe him. I’ve been keeping my eye on Roanoke’s Web site for some time, and it just keeps getting better (check out their daily video update; they have never had a TV partner). Maybe that’s because management took this approach:

Don’t force change: That’s a sure path to failure, because resistance will be high. Look first for allies across the newsroom, staffers who see the need for change and the importance of online. We partnered first with photographers, technophiles who love to experiment and want to see their work go global…. I knew we’d reached a milestone when I spotted two reporters with headphones on, busily editing sound files for online stories to accompany their work in print. The enthusiasm was going viral.

Another thing that I agree with wholeheartedly:

The online content operation should be integrated into the newsroom, particularly as the seismic shift of resources from print to online gains momentum. We moved our online team into the newsroom more than a year ago, and what a difference it has made. The online editor hears a metro editor talking with a reporter about a breaking story, and within minutes that nugget of news is posted on our Web site. We’ve even given up the old-fashioned notion that we can scoop ourselves, except in the rarest of cases.

Ever since my first job in online, in 1994, I’ve been hearing arguments for and against that integration. I’ve heard persuasive logic from both sides.

I don’t think newspapers can afford to have that argument anymore. The time has come to recognize that we are all in this together, and no one can afford to do double work on the same story now. It’s all one operation. Everything is digital. The turf wars need to stop.

That doesn’t mean you should try to ram a video camera (or an audio recorder, or a copy of Flash) down someone’s throat. You won’t get a good result with force and coercion — much less with humilation, or threats of staff reductions, or demands that everyone work an extra 20 hours a week. I mean, get real. When did those tactics ever have a positive long-term outcome?

It also means you have to hire some people who already know how to make things online:

While our online content team is in the newsroom, our digital media operation is a separate department. … some separation is good, because they are free to pursue new and more radical ideas.

So go and have a look at Roanoke.com, and chew on what Mike Riley wrote in the Nieman Report.

If you’re in management at a news organization, you REALLY need to read it. Top to bottom. About 20 times. Or more.

And if you’re NOT in management … Well, print it out on a nice laser printer, and make sure it gets on the To Do stack in your editor’s In box. Today.

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Documentary video — short examples
June 29, 2006, 2:38 pm
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I like to catch Frontline/World on PBS, and with a little help from TiVo, I was lucky enough to see three attention-gripping documentary shorts earlier this week. Now I just found a news item that says all three shorts were made by recent graduates of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. I thought it was cool that recent graduates (a) did such good work, and (b) got a chance to have that work broadcast on free TV.

But even cooler — you can watch these documentaries (free) on your computer. So many people are trying to learn to tell stories with video today — maybe these three shorts can be instructional.

The Women’s Kingdom (by Xiaoli Zhou; shot in China): Broadcast version (length only 9:36) will be online July 5; a 20-minute rough cut is online now.

A Death in the Desert (by Claudine LoMonaco and and Mary Spicuzza; shot in Mexico and the U.S.): Unfortunately, the three clips online (lengths 4:36, 7:54 and 6:12) at only available in Real Video format, which looks horrible, as usual. (Why doesn’t PBS use Flash video? Or at least QuickTime! Come on, people, Real Video is so often completely unwatchable, it’s not even funny!) This story taught me some things about the U.S.-Mexico border situation that I had not realized, even though I have been following the recent political discussions pretty closely.

Zimbabwe: Shadows and Lies (by Alexis Bloom and Cassandra Herrman): The video (length 26:36) will be online July 5, and there will be a QuickTime version (hooray!). The overall online package for this story is excellent; it includes two interactive pieces and transcripts of the extended interviews with several knowledgeable Zimbabweans.

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Every picture tells a story, don’t it?
June 29, 2006, 1:03 pm
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Several people have contributed thought-provoking comments on my recent post about photojournalists doing multimedia work. They include Colin Mulvany, of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. (example slideshow: Brothers in Arms, produced by Mulvany with photos and audio by his colleague Brian Plonka); Aaron Vogel, a photo-j student at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif.; Will Yurman of The Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle (see their multimedia); and Bryan Murley, who frequently writes about multimedia at the blog Reinventing College Media.

As might be expected, there’s a deep concern about the quality of the work. In short, if I have to bring back video for the Web site AND a still photo for the paper, is that still really going to be good? And not inconsequently, will the video even be decent?

The question is really more urgent: Do I have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a good still photo?

But there’s a concurrent question and conversation too, and that one is even more interesting to me: Can I tell a good story if I don’t get good pictures?

I think every journalist in the world needs to be thinking about that question. I think a lot of the video that the TV journalists consider acceptable is garbage (especially on local TV news) — it doesn’t help tell the story at all! A lot of Page One pictures in newspapers (I’m thinking of “baby ducks out for a walk”) don’t even HAVE a story! We are becoming more and more image-centered (thanks to our immersive visual culture). Just because people WILL watch garbage (e.g. on video-sharing Web sites) does NOT mean garbage helps us tell a story.

To read their comments in full, go to the post.

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Flash 9 player is here
June 28, 2006, 1:28 pm
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I saw it first on Will Sullivan’s blog! I thought that was worth noting, because with all the mailing lists and Bloglines subscriptions I’ve got, by chance and by luck, I got it first from Will, who’s a pure journalism guy (albeit an online nerd, like me).

Here’s the press release from Adobe (the artist formerly known as Macromedia).

Download the player here.

All you Flash newbies out there — this is just the player. No (further) word yet on the Flash 9 application or Studio 9.

UPDATE: I got it wrong, it’s not beta. It’s a 100-percent full-release version.

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