Archive for March, 2008


Your neighborhood news web site

The Palm Beach Post wants to deliver news to the neighborhoods.  I’m not talking about those old “Neighbors” sections that languished and failed so miserably in our print editions.

I’m talking about Backyard Post.

It took William Harnett and his crew 574 days to pull it off, but who’s counting?  It features an interactive map, where users can click on their neighborhood and find out about schools, parks, libraries, and even create their own pages to share news and connect with their neighbors.  What you see know is just the start of what Harnett and the Post envision.

“Why shouldn’t the local newspaper be the party that delivers that level of detail and organization to its community?” Harnett writes. “Think of the value you can build on top of that foundation of neighborhoods. Not just value for your users, but value as well for the 80 percent of local businesses in your typical market that don’t consume any form of newspaper advertising.”

This is what newspapers sought to do, but couldn’t quite accomplish, with those failed “Neighbors” sections.

It’s an ambitious project but yet another idea of how newspaper web sites can reach through the computer lines and into people’s homes, no longer simply being the rolled up piece of paper at the edge of the curb.

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Go live

Angelique van Engelen of ReporTwitters, and my newest friend on Wired Journalists, introduced me to a utility that looks like it could be very valuable to online reporters.

Cover It Live is a new blogging tool to help reporters, well, cover live events.

“Your commentary publishes in real time like an instant message,” Cover It Live’s web site said. “Our ‘one-click’ publishing lets you drop polls, videos, pictures, ads and audio clips as soon as they come to mind.”

I realized the power of live blogging this past fall while covering a capital murder trial. It’s an easy way to get into the online conversation.  It’s a little unnerving for those used to waiting until the end of the day to write, and you have to be good at multitasking. But if we couldn’t do that we wouldn’t be in journalism.

Angelique’s ReporTwitters also seeks to help reporters figure out how to use Twitter as a professional tool.

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Back to nature: rambling thoughts from an unplugged week

I unplugged.

I took the first week of vacation time during spring break from school, so we could play together, just chill, as the 16-yearold would say, and most importantly unplug from the various wires that keep us connected.

I twittered maybe once or twice the whole week.  We took everyone to Eureka Springs, AR, and my wife purposely booked a two-story cabin that advertised “no wireless internet” and “no cell phone coverage.”  It drove the teens a little nuts.  They would sneak out of the cabin and trudge up the road until one would hear the other say, “I’ve got bars.  Yes!”  At least it got them to hike.

The blog lagged but my life rejuvenated.  It reminded me we all need to unplug every once in a while.

When I returned, I found this post by Mindy McAdams with some excellent tips on how to plan and carry out a multimedia package.

It’s something we all need to think about. We’ve talked about learning the essentials over the past year, getting audio and video, trying not to let it take up too much of our time.  We  also need to try to pull all those elements together into a cohesive package for the web.

As Mindy says: “The best time to tackle these attributes of the package is at the beginning — not at the end.”

Also catching my attention in the reader, Howard Owens pointed me to this article in the New Yorker about the “death and life of the American newspaper.”Now I’m ready to plug back in again…

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Newsflash: A reporter brings back compelling video without eating up her day

Lisa Fernandez of the Mercury News recently blogged on News Videographer about a video she produced to illustrate a story she reported about a toddler who died in a pond.

Fernandez’s video is a great example of what reporters can do with multimedia without putting half their day into it.  Fernandez went to the sight where the child died and shot the pond from different angles.

“I pieced the shots together, no sound just the sound of the water running, and while this video is not a standalone (it needs to be read with the whole piece) I think it aided visually for anyone who wanted to see how this could have happened.

“Three editors came over to me while I was putting this together and said, ‘Oh, that’s what it looks like.’

She said it didn’t take any extra time out of her day.

You don’t have to have a backpack full of equipment or spend a lot of time to provide an interesting layer to your stories. It doesn’t have to rise to the level of documentary.  It can just be an illustration to help deepen understanding of the story.

Lisa’s video should stand as an inspiring example to those who may be intimidated when they’re handed a small camera and asked to “get some video.”  With a little thought, you can bring back a powerful piece.

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Dogging the page views

Stan Finger set a new record for our web site Kansas.com with his story about a man arrested for having sex with a dog. I’ve provided a link but don’t click on it: you’ll just drive up the numbers.

The popularity of the story does remind me of H.L. Mencken’s observation that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Stan’s story broke records for page views that were set during our coverage of the tornado in Greensburg, which was a national story.  It also cemented Stan in first place in our new game, the unofficial race for clicks on the web page.

That friendly rating began a couple of months back when our fearless senior producer Jeff Butts realized he could search page views by byline.

At last count, Stan had about 10 times the rating as my measly second-place finish.  To be fair,, he would be leading without the dog story. (Note to self: find a kinky sex story to post as breaking news).

But it is valuable to know who is drawing traffic on our web site.

The answer is simple.  The people who drive the traffic are, for the most part, the reporters who think web first.

Stan and I both report on the crime beat.  So does Hurst Laviana, who’s also in the top 5. Hurst does investigative pieces and is a database guru.  He recently wrote a story about the decline in parolee crime in Kansas.

Joe Stumpe, our food writer, also leads the traffic count. He has recipes and who doesn’t use the web to get recipes these days?

But one of the real signs of how are industry is changing is from sportswriter and blogger Jeffrey Martin.  Jeff’s K-Stated blog is showing how well people respond to blogs as away to get their news.

“Our blogs are just now beginning to get as many views as our stories,” Jeff Butts said.

There’s also a lively discussion at Wired Journalists on how newsrooms are trying to get more people involved in thinking about the web first.

What we’re finding is there’s no magic to getting people to read your stories on the web.  You just have to post them there, early and often.

And Jeff Butts says anytime you can get the word “sex” in the online headline, that helps.

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Hot links

After a busy week of deadlines, I’m using the weekend to catch up on some reading:

  • Comedy is easy.  Audio is hard.  Cyndy Green keeps sound in synch by giving good advice on which microphones are best.
  • Mindy McAdams provides a thought-provoking discussion about the differences between traditional media “audiences” and on-line “communities.”  Be sure to read the comments.
  • Multimedia means just that: video, text, data all working together.  Here’s a great example of putting it all together. (via Multimedia Shooter)
  • What’s an asset we all need to develop?  Speed, says Adam Tinworth.  Some of us aren’t reacting fast enough to provide news for the digital audience.

And of course, I’m posting that link four days later. Need to get faster.

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Getting started: Moving to that place on-line, where we all need to be.

The latest edition of The Quill offers tips and tricks to surviving in an on-line world.

OK, I did write one of the articles.

But be sure and read the excellent tips on:

Collecting audio by Vincent Duffy of Michigan Public Radio.

Getting into video by Angela Grant of the San Antonio Express-News.

How to put it all together for print and on-line by John Straus of the Indianapolis Star

And being a hyper-local mojo (mobile journalist) by Bob Dunn of InstantNewsNetwork.com and founder of FortBendNow.com.

Good tips by all and worth reading whether you’re just getting started or have been doing it for a while.

One question:  Why am I the one who gets called old?

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Fitting multimedia into the workday

My multimedia goal now usually is to get home in time for dinner.

I’m only partially kidding.  My first year created some long, hard hours of learning.  I knew I was straining patience when I would begin receiving text messages from my wife, about 9 p.m.  The learning was worth it, and this year my goal is to integrate multimedia into my regular workday.  That means getting home for dinner on time.

I did that with two pieces that week.

The first involved a new medical residency in Wichita, the first of its kind in the nation, geared toward training doctors for the challenges of practicing medicine in developing nations.

When I went to interview the doctors who were building this program, I took a video camera and recorded them.  The story didn’t really fit video. I ended up with a bunch of talking heads.  The doctors did have some incredible pictures they’d brought back with them from their travels, however.

I took the audio track off the video, exported it as an MP3, edited it in Audacity and used it with the photos for a slide show.

That did take some time.  But I finished the story and composed the multimedia while my editor was working the text.  I did have to stop once, and pick up my high school son from track practice, but I was able to come back and finish it, no problem.

A couple of days later, I was scheduled to work a Saturday shift.  Saturday being a slow news day, editors usually try to find a quick-turnaround feature of an event happening that day.

This day, I was assigned to cover the annual festival of the statewide honors bands and choirs.  These are the kinds of assignments as a young journalist, I would dread. But after 30 years in journalism and playing dad to several kids, I love these kinds of stories.  Not only have I been to my share of events, I like this idea.  It’s the musical equivalent of all-state in basketball.

I thought it might make a good video.  The challenge with all video, but especially music, is to capture good audio.  Because this was an acoustic concert, there was no sound system to plug into.  The camera mic picked up audience noise, and this is the cold season, so plenty of coughing and wheezing in the background.

I experimented with something I’d wanted to try for some time now, but hadn’t had the courage – or the time – to figure out:  recording audio separately.

I took out my Edirol-09 mp3 recorder.  I turned on the “automatic gain control” (AGC), because I would be shooting video and couldn’t ride the levels manually.  This way, the sound would adjust itself.  I set it on the stage in front of the band and went about shooting video.

I’d worried about the time in learning how to synch the audio with the video.  I’d read about it, and even learned that’s the reason for the clapboard you see sometimes associated with old movies.

I did it this way:

Back at the editing station, I downloaded the mp3 from the Edirol. I edited the song I wanted using Audacity and imported it to the time line of Final Cut Pro, which is the video editing software we use.  I then pulled in the video clip of the same song to the timeline.

I watched the conductor’s visual cues.  When he brought his hands down to signal the band to play, I stopped it (with the space bar).  I then lined up my audio track to that point.  I played both the terrible sound from the camera with the imported track to make sure they were playing together.  Then I muted the audio track from the camera to make sure it looked and sounded right.  I cut in some close-ups and b-roll.

The result is this video.

It won’t win any awards, but really most of what we do on a daily basis is to inform, to entertain, to illustrate.  My target audience on this video was to get the attention of the parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters of the students who made the honors band.  And I liked picking the kids from the smallest schools in Kansas, Classes 1A-4A.

It didn’t take me forever. I made it home for supper. I even made it home in time to make dinner.  My own high schooler appreciated that.

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