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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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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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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New aggregation idea catches my attention
June 21, 2007, 12:44 pm
Filed under: ideas, journalism, news

I’m going to keep my eye on Thoof, an upcoming news aggregation site, now in beta. It might end up getting taken over by technology wonks (like Digg) or being gamed (also like Digg) — but if not, it could be really useful.

Thoof’s founder, Ian Clarke, is:

obsessed with the fact that even when accurate information exists on the Internet, it often does not have the political impact that it should.

“I’m concerned that most Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “All of the information is there, but people are still ill-informed.”

He believes Thoof will provide a way to make sure accurate information can spread, and that he can profit in the process.

That’s from John Markoff, writing in The New York Times on June 18.

This is an interesting twist:

Based on data from comScore, which measures Web traffic, Mr. Clarke estimates that about 1.3 billion pages are viewed daily on news and information sites, generating advertising of roughly $51 million a day. But sites based on user submissions account for only about half of 1 percent of all news viewing on the Web, he said.

Thoof is negotiating with an advertising syndicator to put ads on the site based on demographic and behavioral data that the Thoof system will provide about its users.

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Multimedia flashback: Black Hawk Down, 1997
June 20, 2007, 4:12 am
Filed under: future, journalism

Mark Bowden relates how an enterprising online producer at the Philadelphia Inquirer transformed his 29-part series (!) “Black Hawk Down” into a Web site — in 1997. Early days indeed. It’s a fascinating site to look at today — imagine how much work went into this package. Tons of audio, lots of great contextual links …

In the case of Black Hawk Down, apart from all the multimedia razzle-dazzle, it opened up a global dialogue with readers, including men who had fought in the battle. They corrected my mistakes, pointed me to better information, and offered to be interviewed, allowing me to improve greatly on the story before it was published as a book in 1999. Mine may have been, thanks to Jennifer [Musser-Metz], the first book that ever benefited from this new journalistic tool. In a sense, the story was edited by the entire world.

But little has happened in the 10 years since. Surprisingly, the site Jennifer created is still in the vanguard of Internet story presentation.

Bowden provides nice commentary on where we’re headed — especially considering he is a self-proclaimed “old fuddy-duddy” who still wants to pick up his newspaper in the driveway every morning.

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The right tool, the right approach, for video
June 19, 2007, 11:28 am
Filed under: journalism, newspapers, online, video

Chuck Fadely, who shoots video for the Miami Herald, posted a long rant about boneheaded attitudes toward video:

The internet audience is growing and you want your staff — from the janitor all the way up to the M.E. — to contribute to the web product. Video! Let’s do lots of video! There was some guy at the publisher’s association meeting who said all you need is a point-n-shoot; let’s get ’em for everyone. How ’bout the photogs? Nahhh, they care about silly quality…. we won’t ask them about doing video… We’ll get the web people and reporters to do video.

So the reporters start doing video. All of a sudden the story they used to be able to write blindfolded, in five minutes while doing the office football pool, takes ’em six hours of work to get the video into their computers, figure out why Movie Maker keeps crashing — I’ve got 128 megs of ram, fer krissake! — and finally re-compress the file into the right size on the third try.

Now, to be fair about this, Chuck is a newspaper photographer. And he’s got a lot of experience, so you ought to listen to what he says. But he’s also lumping all those reporters who shoot video into one mushy basket. And that’s NOT fair.

The truth here is that video has a heck of a lot of facets. It’s like TV — you gotcher Planet Earth (pure awesomeness) on one channel, and on another channel, you have Cops, from that bastion of quality journalism, Fox.

Newspaper publishers, editors and owners who think video online has one easy solution are totally kidding themselves. Wishful thinking — that’s all it is. And simplistic. Fatally simplistic.

It’s exactly the same mistake so many newspapers made on the Internet when they started out, whether that was in 1993 or 2003. Looking for a cheap fix, a turnkey solution, listening to some consultant who’s just blowing smoke out of a place far south of his mouth.

Link via Angela Grant at News Videographer.

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