Category Archives: Tools & Techniques

Great newsroom training manual; use with care

When the 130-page training guide titled, “Journalism 2.0,” was released a while back, I printed out a hard copy, but it was only this week that I had a chance to skim the document and figure out that it was written for and would be most useful for new media novices, with a great deal of value as a reference for intermediates like myself, who know something of the new tools and techniques but need practice, confidence and examples of their uses.

The booklet, which is free in PDF format, is the work of Mark Briggs, an interactive news editor at The Tacoma News-Tribune, introduces all the terms and concepts of web publishing, and most helpfully provides examples of their use by working reporters (i.e. page 58, how Seattle sports guy Mike Sando uploads source material from games to his blogs and lets avid fans help feast on the material, presumably harvesting some of their comments or quips for his paper story that comes later). Other sections show how to shoot video for story telling or which recording device to buy for inexpensive but quality audio capture.

I’m just noting here a few points of interest to me, rather than attempting to review the book, but being a newsroom guy I did give some thought to how it might be most effectively used as in training.

First the wrong way. The Powers that Be decree that all the department heads should read the Bible according to Briggs. They would probably do so and might even get excited about the possibilities (for instance the uses of “crowdsourcing” described on page 47, that is getting a bunch of readers to supply observations or research to feed stories). The department heads could turn around and tell assigning editors to read the blessed text. Compliance would be spotty and implementation sporadic. Assigning editors could also tell reporters to read the book, which a few would do but most would disdain and the entire exercise would be wasted.

The better strategy for making use of Briggs’ work would be, I think, for someone in the hierwith a knowledge of the staff and who has what strengths or interests, or what the newsroom most needs in the way of new media technique, to target some individuals for training. And not the whole booklet necessarily. Choose a few manageable things. For instance I have not gotten the habit of using an RSS newsreader to aggregate blog feeds and other background to one place where I could scan the subject lines. Of course make the whole book available to anyone who cares to go further, but I suspect that helping individuals pick up or expand skills is a more fruitful approach then dedicating a whole bunch of time to a structured and required training session that would be mercilessly mocked in true newsroom fashion. 

In short be subversive in how you use this manual and the techniques it describes.  My observation after 15 years in newspapering is that there’s nothing more difficult to do than to bring a new idea into a newsroom. These are important new ideas and new tools that will challenge our notions of how to put out the news, and require professionals with varying degrees of experience to either learn or unlearn habits. That is a huge hurdle.

One last thought. The introduction to the training manual was written by Philip Meyer, a former editor turned journalism professor and one of the gurus of the Knight Foundation, the main money-spigot in the world of news philanthropy. After suggesting that platform (i.e. print versus broadcast) specialization is passe, Meyer writes:

“As technology and media economics push us toward platform convergence (print & audiovisual news on the web), a new model  emerges: The journalist who is a jack of all trades and master of none, a person who can write, shoot, edit, talk and look good on camera with a competence that might not be great but is good enough. A good reporter would be redefined as one who is good enough in any medium.”

(Postscript: Meyer goes on to note that journalism schools should adjust curricula to prepare students for this new versatility requirement by “focus(ing) less on the craft and concentrat(ing) on basic theory of mass communications.” I will soon be taking part in a curriculum revision discussion for a college in Northern California, so if anyone has examples or templates of recent similar discussions elsewhere links would be helpful.)

Article shows how to debug multimedia projects

Newswoman turned journalism professor Laura Ruel and new media maven Nora Paul show how multimedia producers can improve their projects by asking five volunteers who’ve never seen the story to prescreen it before release to see if they can click through without confusion. They describe this process of useability testing in an article published by Online Journalism Review (OJR). They lay it all out in simple sensible steps like getting volunteers from the non-news staff and using the same test computer for all subjects to make sure any rough spots are the software and not a sticky mouse.

Ruel and Paul say their five-step process should take five hours and catch 80 percent of the potential glitches that tend to send confused browsers clicking elswhere in cyberspace. They write:

“As we’ve said in the print world for years, if the presentation is aesthetically pleasing, but the user can’t find the information, then the design is useless. This concept is even more important in the world of Web design where clicking to a new site is even easier than finding a new magazine or newspaper.”

In the same vein of new tools, OJR editor Robert Niles explains how journalists can use websites to solicit large numbers of inputs from their audiences so as to deliver a sampling of opinion or experience that is far more authentic than anecdotalism yet quicker and cheaper than the gold standard, random scientific surveys.

Crowdsourcing is the buzzword used to describe this middle ground in the search for verite. In his OJR article Niles defines crowdsourcing in the journalistic context as:

“the use of a large group of readers to report a news story. It differs from traditional reporting in that the information collected is gathered not manually, by a reporter or team of reporters, but through some automated agent, such as a website. Stripped to its core, though, it’s still just another way of reporting, one that will stand along the traditional ‘big three’ of interviews, observation and examining documents.”

It’s a concise piece that inspires and empowers reporters to cast this wide new net when they go fishing in the great sea of public opinion.

Postscript: In a comment on the OJR website I suggested that when running future how-to pieces the zine might find a way for readers to share any widgets or spreadsheets they create in implementing the project on their own website. If that is too difficult or risky because files can contain malware, it’s still great to see nitty-gritty stuff of this caliber and tone. I repeat that here because the e-publishing community needs to do everthing possible to get more how-to stuff out there, findable and actionable so we can put together the many skills and teams needed to make these new media.

Frontiers of media literacy


The new media literates? An article by Reuters reporter Gavin Haycock explores how “unprecedented change in media and technology (have) given teenagers and kids an advantage in forecasting what products will appeal to consumers.” Haycock, who apparently covers advertising for the news agency, writes:


Younger people spend more time online than watching television, have access to millions of on-demand content channels and are fueling a boom in video gaming, an industry that is bigger in terms of sales than Hollywood’s box office. As some media executives note, who needs Hollywood when almost every teenager carries a personalized film studio in a phone in their back pocket?

Thanks to DeepCuz for this trendspotting.


Teaching print dogs video tricks: Pardon me if I gush but I was wowed by this brief video tutorial written by Poynter Institute commentator Regina McCombs who shares tips from four editors on the “issue that cuts across all forms of storytelling: finding the right pace for each story.”


Some tidbits from the tutorial (many of these observations are from the editors McCombs interviewed):


  • “in video editing, the moment you glean the important information, it’s time to move on to the next shot;”

  • “we dream in dissolves, we think in cuts . . . the way it applies in storytelling, the point of editing, is the juxtaposing of one idea to the next. A cut is the cleanest, most direct, most powerful juxtaposition possible . . . cuts make pieces feel more urgent . . and more experiential, because people watching it are in their awake mind.”

  • “introduce audio before you switch to the picture . . . The importance of sound is to bring the viewer a much more intimate sense of reality, to take the viewer where we went.”

The right tool for every job but money-making?


In the overlooked but noteworthy category, blogger J.D. Lasica, cofounder of the grassroots site, has gotten a $15,000 Knight News Challenge grant to spend the next year writing about and disseminating elements of a “community media toolset: easy-to-use social media tools (plug-ins, scripts, guides and tutorials) that can expand public participation on citizen media sites. ” So says Amy Gahran in a Poynter Institute commentary. (Many additional details in Gahran’s piece.)


Lasica has already helped create one of the pioneering grassroots media efforts. OurMedia’s Personal Media Learning Center is already a great starter toolkit. In the coming year I guess he’ll be concentrating on simplification and explanation — how to use them. As he told Gahran:

“the vast majority (of systems) are written by geeks for geeks. We need to get the coders and the public-facing user interface people in the same room and on the same page.”



JD’s personal home page also has a news research & reference link worth bookmarking for ways to find sources or do research.


So there may not be a better tool-finder and organizer in the grassroots media arena. Ironically, however, we are now in the phase of the media evolution in which the creation and publication of material is of far, far less importance than the discovery or re-invention of business models to support grassroots media. Here is my talking point on this issue; as recently reported:

“The top 10 online sites on the Web, including the Big Four (Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN) captured 99% of gross ad dollars in 2006, up from 95% in 2005.”

Without a better distribution of revenues, new media will simply enable more people to raise their voices — but not to support or sustain their efforts except as labors of love. And that strikes me as a recipe for frustration.



Map it and monetize it?


I’ve just returned home from four days in the redwoods of Humboldt County. On the six hour drive from Eureka to the Bay Area I stopped at a roadside rest just before the Avenue of the Giants, the scenic drive that parallels Highway 101. The sign called the local redwoods remnants of the greatest forest that had ever been. Partisans of the Amazon might argue. But not me. I own a tiny piece of the redwood forest.


The drive up and down the coast offers plenty of thinking time and this drive the concept of mapping was on my mind. Adrian Holovaty (his home page) has shown the way with and other projects. He recently won a grant award from the Knight Foundation; here is the synopsis:


Project: To create, test and release open-source software that links databases to allow citizens of a large city to learn (and act on) civic information about their neighborhood or block.

Goals: “To create an easy way to answer the question, ‘What’s happening around me?’”

Sounds like mapping. In a related project, points to a new mapping routine by (click here for a prior posting that has background on that site). Here is the announcement of the mapping feature. Blogger Jason Kottke was one of their first test subjects and it was his note on the mapping feature that was posted on Unmediated.

In any event I think that mapping will be the critical link that allows economically viable local media to arise from the web. We’re going to have to show geographic relevance to readers, advertisers and opinion leaders. I am anxious to see what Holovaty creates. His project will be open source.

Amateur corner: A recent posting on the prevalence of amateur programming efforts mentioned an academic group at Oregon State University that helps end users make better use of software. After writing that post I contacted the team leader proposing some ideas in the publishing realm. I heard back the other day to the effect that the program in low gear for the summer. But when students return in the fall there is some interest in considering the ideas I had advanced. I consider that progress.


The real Guy talks tools, trash, numbers


Guy Kawasaki, one of high-tech industry earliest and most gifted hypesters, recently wrote a blog post spelling out how he launched a web site called Truemors for a little over $12,000. I think it competes with Michael Arrington’s rumor-mongering Tech Crunch.


But I don’t care about the rumors. It’s how Kawasaki did it. And, yes, he’s bragging but this post is packed with information about how to launch a web business on the cheap, and with attitude that reveals who Truemors so quickly gained visibility. Writes Kawasaki: “to my amazement, there were 14,052 visitors on the first day” because, after two decades of tooting his and others’ horns — and some leaks by Arrington — there were 14,052 people curious to see what Kawasaki was doing. To bloggers who say that it’s unfair he should have more visitors on his first day than a schlub like me gets in a month, Kawasaki says:


“I did spend 24 years of schmoozing and ‘paying it forward’ to get to the point where I could spend $0 to launch a company.”

Delicious! I’ve got to thank my pal, Berkeley software project manager Tim Bishop, for telling me this is a must-read post. Here’s another link to Kawasaki’s how-to.


Also on the tools front, Tom (SiliconValleyWatcher) Foremski reviews the beta of Movable Type 4.0 and says:


“It has social/community features built into the platform. Users can rate posts and each other; they can be given special publishing rights, they can be given permission to write posts without moderation, they can even publish their own blogs on the blog.”

Finally when it comes to getting attention, my sister Tina (Parental Wisdom) Nocera continues to teach her smarty-pants brother a thing or two. She recently pointded me to a widget on the website of the Advanced Marketing Institute that offers instant analysis of any headline up to 20 words. I had some fun with it and you may find it useful. But after 20 or 30 years of writing stories and headlines, it’s hard for me to rely on an artificial intelligence. Kind of like asking John Henry if he wouldn’t rather use a steam-drill.