Teaching Examples

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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New — Soundslides Plus
June 15, 2007, 1:32 pm
Filed under: audio, journalism, photojournalism, slideshows, tools

The fabulously popular Soundslides program is now available in two flavors: regular and Plus.

The regular product is still $40. The Plus version is $70. Both flavors are available in Windows and Mac versions.

Plus provides a bunch of extra visual features that photographers have been clamoring for, but which beginners probably do not need. If you’re an educator buying Soundslides for 100 workstations, for example, you might be okay with the regular version. (Make sure you contact Joe for education pricing if you’re buying that many licenses!)

If this is all new to you, here are some great examples of what the regular old Soundslides can do (my current favorites):

  • Guitar Lessons at the Central Area Senior Center: An 81-year-old Seattle woman loves taking guitar lessons. No narration, nice story, several interviews skillfully edited together.
  • Cockfighting in Puerto Rico: Awesome photos, wonderful audio that puts you at the scene.
  • Nutcracker: A fresh photojournalism grad tells us the story of a production of the Nutcracker ballet. She produced this while on an internship at The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun. Notice the variety in shots, scenes, lenses, etc. Notice too the excellent editing of the pictures to match the content of the audio.
  • After the Riots: A Soundslides about the housing projects in Paris, by the British newspaper The Guardian. Exceptional storytelling and great use of sound.

Some people will tell you that Soundslides are boring. I offer these four examples to prove that it’s all in the storytelling.

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Cool tools for multimedia production
June 1, 2007, 1:18 pm
Filed under: multimedia, tools

Maybe you already read Multimediashooter.com, maybe you don’t, but you should read this post. It is a roundup of useful links shared by experts at the NPPA meetup.

I’d like to highlight these three:

The Levelator: Runs on Windows or Mac OS X. Adjusts the audio levels within your audio file. “Not a compressor, normalizer or limiter, although it contains all three. It’s much more than those tools, and it’s much simpler to use…. Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler’s application window, and a few moments later you’ll find a new version which just sounds better.” Cost: FREE.

VisualHub: I discovered this just last week when my colleague Lauren and I were playing with her shiny new tapeless video cameras (Sony DCR-SR300). The little buggers save in MPEG2 on a 40 GB hard drive. They come with proprietary Sony software (of course), but it won’t run on a Mac — and that’s what we had. VisualHub to the rescue. We were watching a lovely MPEG4 in no time. Mac only. Cost: $23.32 U.S.

Switch (Windows or Mac): I’ve mentioned this here before, but I just used it for the umpteenth time last night — it’s like having a Swiss Army Knife on your laptop. It converts a long list of audio file formats to all the formats you really need. I ripped a CD into iTunes and then converted one M4P file into a more user-friendly MP3. Cost: FREE. (Be careful not to install the “Plus” version if you want the free one.)

Extra video goodness (not in Richard’s post): Add more formats to your QuickTime player with Perian (free; requires Mac OS X 10.4.7 or later). Play Windows Media crap — er, files — in your QuickTime player with Flip4Mac (free). For Windows users (and Mac and Linux too!), there’s the VLC media player (free). VLC will play WMV, WMA and FLV files. The sole remaining thorn in my side is the Real format — and if only NPR would ditch that garbage, I would never have to think about it again!

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Working smarter: Uses for Google Docs and Spreadsheets
May 30, 2007, 5:13 pm
Filed under: online, tools

I often run into journalists (and others) who have never heard of Google Docs and Spreadsheets. This free online software suite can really come in handy for a variety of situations.

Basically, it’s like having your MS Word documents and MS Excel spreadsheets online, but private and secure from prying eyes. Unless you choose to let someone else see them. And if you need to convert, either from Microsoft to Google or the opposite, that’s easy to do. Check the online Help files if you have any questions.

You will need a Gmail account, but I can hardly imagine that you wouldn’t already have one! (Still using Yahoo! mail? Good heavens, WHY?)

Here’s the latest thing I did with Google Docs that saved me a ton of time: I received a highly formatted MS Word file from a colleague. It had headings, italics, boldface, indents — all kinds of formatting, all over it. I had to put this thing on a Web page. I mean, I had to transfer the information to a Web-readable, proper HTML file.

The worst possible way to do it would be to copy from Word and paste into Dreamweaver. Because of the way MS Word works, this will carry all kinds of unnecessary and difficulty-causing code into your HTML — not at all what you want!

The usual way I would do it would be to copy from Word, paste into a plain-text editor, then copy from there, and paste into Dreamweaver. However, that method loses all the formatting. For a typical memo, this method works fine. For my super-duper formatted document, it would have meant hours of re-formatting.

Google Docs to the rescue!

I copied the document from Word and pasted into a new, blank Google Doc. Then I de-selected the text. And straight from the surface text (DO NOT view source), I copied, then pasted into Dreamweaver (Design view). Perfect! Headings, italics, boldface, indents — all preserved, in standards-compliant HTML.

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It’s here! Soundslides Plus
May 24, 2007, 6:13 pm
Filed under: audio, photojournalism, slideshows, tools

Joe Weiss posted this about two hours ago:

It’s not just an update, it’s an entirely new version of Soundslides — the long planned pro version. New features include image movement (pan & zoom), built-in lowerthirds, thumbnail menus and the ability to create traditional (non-audio) slide shows.

Even though it will cost more than plain Soundslides, that’s okay, because the plain version “will continue to exist,” Joe wrote.

There’s a new 1.6 update on the way for the plain version. It will include individual transition control. W00t!

This announcement is a wee bit premature because you can’t actually get it yet … but almost, says Joe.

Update (May 25): Download here! This link is good only until sometime in mid-June.

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Buying a point-and-shoot for video
May 15, 2007, 12:33 pm
Filed under: journalism, online, tools, video

I was in a Price Club store in Virginia over the weekend, and they had a large display of very good digital cameras, including some of the models that are excellent for shooting on-the-spot video.

What I look for in a digital point-and-shoot camera:

  1. Street price about $300 or lower (look at the Canon PowerShot A570 IS)
  2. Still-image quality of 5 megapixels or more
  3. Optical zoom of 4x or more
  4. Image stabilization (why this matters)
  5. VGA-quality video (640 x 480) at 30 fps (frames per second); see an example, including clear audio
  6. Optical viewfinder (although the excellent Lumix DMC-TZ1 lacks this feature, which makes your job easier in bright sunlight; the Lumix counters with a 10x optical zoom)
  7. Batteries you can buy off the shelf, such as AAA’s (my own beloved Canon PowerShot SD700 IS lacks this feature, having a rechargeable lithium-ion battery)
  8. USB 2.0 connection (no need to remove the memory card from the camera — just connect the camera directly to your computer and transfer all the photos)

If you’ve got one of these in your pocket (and they do fit nicely into a pocket), you can try shooting video informally when you’re out reporting a story and then experiment with the video when you’re not on deadline.

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Survey results: What my readers said
April 28, 2007, 5:37 pm
Filed under: audiences, blogging, data, metrics, tools

A week ago, I posted a Wufoo survey here, and 173 of you were kind enough to complete it (108 said they are journalists). Thank you!

You can see the results in graphic format. It’s not the most user-friendly format I’ve ever seen, and it’s only the raw data, so it includes everyone who answered. I have downloaded all the data as a CSV file and will analyze it properly after I finish grading (yes, our semester ended Wednesday).

To see the questions I asked, look here.

Reading Habits

I asked: How does this blog fit into your other blog reading?

  • 70 selected: It is one of the top 10 blogs I read regularly.
  • 67 selected: I read a large number of blogs regularly, and this is just one of them.
  • 10 or fewer selected one of the other six answers.

I asked: Have you seen this blog before today?

  • 74 selected: I have your blog in my RSS feeds and check it often.
  • 46 selected: I check your blog often.
  • 19 selected: I check your blog occasionally.
  • 12 selected: Today is the first time I ever saw your blog.

There were four other answers, each with lower totals.

Preferred Content

I asked: You want to see more posts about … (tick only 3)

  • 58 selected: Online journalism packages (larger stories with multiple segments)
  • 51 selected: Video online
  • 42 selected: Flash
  • 41 selected: Newsroom reforms
  • 38 selected: Teaching online journalism
  • 37 selected: Interactivity

(This is one of the questions where doing a proper data analysis will yield more useful results; I can sort for regular readers, journalists only, etc.)

I asked: What type of post do you like MOST?

  • 51 selected: Tutorials and how-to posts
  • 49 selected: All of these, or I can’t pick just one
  • 22 selected: “Think pieces” or original essays
  • 16 selected: Links to examples at professional journalism sites
  • 14 selected: Critiques of specific online journalism work
  • 10 selected: Overview posts that provide links to several related posts or resources at other sites

I asked: What type of post do you like LEAST?

  • 60 selected: I like all of these, at least sometimes
  • 43 selected: None of these are a type I like LEAST
  • 18 selected: Summaries of other people’s very long articles or blog posts
  • 14 selected: Critiques of specific online journalism work
  • 12 selected: Overview posts that provide links to several related posts or resources at other sites
  • 12 selected: Tutorials and how-to posts

So, this is all pretty interesting to me (I don’t know about you). As I said, these are just the raw data, but it does make me think I should adjust some of my practices with this blog!

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