Teaching Examples

Multimedia package: China’s Great Grab
January 31, 2007, 1:42 pm
Filed under: design, journalism, multimedia, online, storytelling

Among all the awards for advertising, NAA does give out a few Digital Edge awards for, um, journalism. Three sites won “Edgies” for innovative multimedia storytelling:

The one for the Chicago Tribune caught me by surprise. Multimedia? Chicago Tribune? Sure, I was very impressed by The Art of Listening, but that’s just a Soundslides.

So I hurried on over to their site and poked around some. Yes, they’ve been busy! I found China’s Great Grab, and naturally I have a few remarks about it.

Be more interesting: Even though I am quite interested in China, I could not watch any of the four videos to the end. Especially not the Intro. Either they were just too slow-paced or the reporter’s narrative was too flat — I don’t know, but I felt like I had had enough by about the halfway point for each one.

Put it all together: The graphics (such as The Hidden Costs of Cashmere) are very attractive, but they are not one bit integrated into the package. WHY NOT? Storytelling is a weaving of threads. This story is excellently chunked out into three segments: cashmere, timber and oil. But each segment is a hodgepodge of disconnected pieces.

Chicago Tribune's pop-up window

Test your functionality: Look at the screenshot above. The pop-up window has NO SCROLLBARS. The content inside it is bigger than the window, and YOU CAN’T RESIZE the window. Don’t you people look at your own stuff after you upload it? (All three graphics in this package had this problem. It can be fixed in the JavaScript.)

Don’t permit ads to interfere with your content: This ad may change, but when I viewed the package this morning, there was a right-side vertical ad for a spray cleaner, and it had its own audio. First it made a squirting noise. Then it went BOOM BOOM BOOM. It did this repeatedly, even while I was watching the Tribune’s video.

Eliminate redundancy: The manually operated slideshows also pop up; their windows are usable. However, the first photos in each photo gallery are shots that I already saw in the videos. So I was not very motivated to look at all the photos, but I persevered. After the first several pictures, there were new ones I had not seen before. (Maybe because they were at the end of the videos?)

This story is important, and overall, the subject is quite interesting. But I think we can do better than this in telling the story in the online medium — which offers us so many options for really captivating the people who come to our stories.

The Digital Edge award winners are listed here. Be patient — the page takes a long time to open.

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Bakersfield to launch its own Yelp-like site
January 31, 2007, 1:13 pm
Filed under: hyperlocal, journalism, newspapers, online, search

Bakotopia’s Dan Pachecho told the crowd at NAA that Bakersfield is “rolling out a Yelp-like ‘Insider Guide’ that will contain profiles on local businesses” (source: The Local Onliner).

Bakotopia is a site from The Bakersfield Californian, a family-owned newspaper.

Pachecho … sees the Guide as a natural extension of a MySpace-like personal profile section. “If a user can create a profile, why can’t a restaurant? Why can’t people review that restaurant?”

One advantage that his company has over non-local rivals is that it has established multiple access points for Bakersfield residents, he adds.

I have written about Yelp here before. Why I think Yelp is super-smart:

  • Good interface, easy to use
  • Search functions work great
  • Useful maps
  • Real people writing real reviews

It looks clean and attractive too, so it’s a pleasure to spend time on the site.

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Getting the Web (at the BBC)
January 30, 2007, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Read the BBC’s 15 Web Principles.

My faves:

1. Build web products that meet audience needs

7. Any website is only as good as its worst page

8. Make sure all your content can be linked to, forever

12. Accessibility is not an optional extra

15. Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent

Then you can see what “clueless” really means in the Top 20 Confessed Web Design Sins. I liked these:

2. We’ve designed our site to meet our organization’s needs (more sales/contributions) rather than meeting the needs of our visitors.

4. It takes longer than four seconds for the man from Mars to understand what our site is about.

7. Our home page — or any page — takes more than four seconds to load.

If your boss is wondering how to increase traffic to the Web site, these two lists provide a great way to begin answering that question.

(BBC list found via Megan Taylor’s del.icio.us bookmarks. Web sins via Journerdism.)

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How to grow your Web traffic
January 30, 2007, 1:53 pm
Filed under: audiences, online, search

You’re trying to figure out how to increase traffic to your Web site, yes?

YouTube’s market share (for all site visits in the U.S.) rose to 0.64 percent (from 0.54 percent) in the week following the inclusion of YouTube videos in the Google Video Search Index (source: Hitwise, via Mashable).

That is a one-week growth rate of 18.5 percent.

Search is the answer. How well does your site play with the major search engines?

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Compare hundreds of news fronts
January 29, 2007, 2:20 pm
Filed under: design, newspapers

There are 465 front pages of newspapers from all over the world, fresh today, at the Newseum site. This is a new and much more usable version. The beautiful sharp JPGs, well optimized, load quite fast.

You can even sort by region.

(Via Joe’s del.icio.us bookmarks.)

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Converting audio formats, including WMA
January 29, 2007, 1:24 pm
Filed under: audio, online, tools

I’ve been recommending Olympus audio recorders to everyone for the past year or so. They are quite inexpensive, and with an external mic plugged in, they provide very acceptable audio quality. I have six of the discontinued WS-200S model, and they have all survived weeks of use by students. I think the cheaper WS-100 would do just as well, although I haven’t tested it yet.

The only drawback people have reported is that these recorders store the audio files in the WMA format — and Audacity, for one example, cannot open or convert these files. (We use Adobe Audition in our class labs, and it handles the WMAs with no problems.)

So I’ve been looking into solutions. So far I have two good suggestions:

Switch is available for both Windows and the Mac OS. I downloaded it and tried it on both my Windows XP desktop computer and my new MacBook Pro. It produced a good MP3 file on each computer, and it was very easy to use. While there is a commercial version, called Switch Plus, the basic Switch converter is free. From their Web site:

Using the Plus version allows you to do things like save to extra file formats (see the Switch help documentation for further details) and utilise the Command Line Tool….

The free version of Switch also has the additional features of Switch Plus enabled for a 14-day free trial after the software is first installed. If you choose not to purchase the Switch Plus license upgrade at the end of the free trial period, the advanced features will be disabled but the standard Switch features will continue to work.

It appears (from the Help file) that I will still be able to convert the WMA files to MP3 after the 14 days have passed. It also appears that I will still be able to convert an M4A file (the format GarageBand outputs to disk) after the trial period.

On Windows, I have been using a different program called dBpowerAMP for quite some time. I’m not sure when I downloaded it. It does cost $14 U.S., but I thought that was very reasonable. It works very quickly to convert files to the MP3 format, and it also provides a nice rollover viewer for all your audio files so that you can see the length and encoding information without opening the file. Very convenient.

The great thing about converting your audio files to MP3 format is that then you can play them directly on the page using a free, virtually foolproof player (built in Flash). I posted a tutorial for that yesterday.

The MP3 files are not really much smaller than the WMA files (both formats are compressed). But the WMA format is proprietary, controlled by Microsoft, and that’s why some audio programs cannot edit or even play files in that format. Nowadays just about any player or editing program can handle MP3s. Audio players built in Flash can load and play MP3 files — but no other audio file format.

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Tutorial: An MP3 audio player for any Web page
January 28, 2007, 5:22 pm
Filed under: audio, journalism, online, teaching, tools

I’ve been working on setting up ways to help journalism students and educators learn to gather and edit audio. One of the things people need is an easy-to-use player that they can incorporate into a blog entry or Web page.

To learn how to use this player on your own, please see this tutorial. I didn’t create the player (Martin Laine did), but I have his permission to publish the tutorial (which I wrote).

You should see the player above. If you do not see it, then you don’t have the Flash player installed. (More than 90 percent of all Internet users do have it.)

If you are using Internet Explorer, you will probably need to click the player twice to make it play. (All other Web browsers will let you click once.)

The MP3 audio file used here is 1 min. 38 sec. It is 22.05 kHz, 16 bits, mono (one channel). Data rate: 56 Kbps. File size: 676 KB.

I’m having a bit of an allergy today, so please excuse the nasal tone. I recorded the music yesterday at our local Hoggetowne Medieval Faire using an Electro-Voice 635N/D-B microphone and the M-Audio MicroTrack recorder. I mixed the two audio files using GarageBand — it was the very first time I had opened the program. (I am more familiar with Adobe Audition, on Windows, for editing audio files.)

There was also an airplane flying overhead at the start of the music, so you can experience all sorts of sound in this little file.

The player is the thing, though. I just wanted to give you a long-enough audio file so you could see how nice Martin’s player is.

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