Archive for April, 2012


Change your sorry tech habits — now

We live in awe of technology, demonstrated with each remarkable advance over the generations. From the cotton gin to the computer, the tools we contrive to enrich our lives have affected how we behave as well as how we work.

Then the awe fades and we begin behaving badly, treating our tools as toys, or worse, as trash. That’s because once the bloom is off our newest gadgets, we slip into boredom and let bad habits sprout. We allow gadgetry to supplant or interfere with things it shouldn’t, such as responsible behavior, and then we have the nerve to be disappointed with the results. Pretty soon, we’re itching for another innovation to come along and make us feel better about our ourselves and our devices when the one thing that really needs to change is … us.

So, start making that change now by:

Improving your passwords — For a couple of decades, technologists have implored us to use passwords that are roundly more complex than our pets’ names, or our maiden names, or our nicknames, or — for God’s sake — the word “password.” Yet we are well into the 21st century and still making bad choices when pretending to protect what little security we have left. Get creative with passwords now, before someone gets creative with your personal information soon.

Standing, or taking a walks — Among the latest in fear-provoking research is a study out of Australia that says too much sitting can shorten your lifespan by 40 percent. And why not? The research material abounds: we’re in cars, at workstations or in front of the TV much longer than we’re on our feet. Other studies show that inactivity leads to weight gain and potentially fatal blood clots. Do more strolling, less trolling, and add years to your life in the process.

Changing chairs — When we sit, we don’t do that properly, either. Part of the blame lies with our poor posture, another part lies in the one-size-fits-all workstations employers impose on staffs. Work can be stressful enough; why compound it with sorry seating? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers suggestions for improving workplace comfort. Study these to create the optimum working environment at home, and make suggestions to your employer’s human resources department about replicating that environment at the office.

Taking better care of your equipment — Face it, computers and tablets are not appliances; they require somewhat more care and attention than the average bagel toaster. That includes:

  • System updates, to improve performance and security. Do these at least once a week.
  • Software backups, to prevent loss of critical data. Do this daily.
  • Battery optimization, to improve power-source performance. This involves running batteries all the way down, after their first use, before charging them all the way up again.
  • Cleaning and dusting, to reduce strain on components. Even solid-state devices such as cell phones require regular cleaning to prevent dust and grit from damaging their connectors, and to prevent germs from causing you grief.

Putting it all away — There are numerous optimum places to use gadgetry. Your car and your bed are not among them. For the sake of safety, avoid texting or talking on the phone while driving. And for the sake of sanity, set the phone or the tablet on the nightstand and leave them there. No amount of technology compensates for lack of sleep.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Keep those tweets short and sweet

Kind of silly, huh, telling people to be brief on Twitter? After all, who can possibly wax wordy with only 140 total characters?

The answer: everyone.

It turns out that tweets using the full count are not as widely read as those running 20 to 40 characters less, public relations and social media analysts say. For one thing, Twitter is a scannable medium, something we can read in a glance. A simple sentence —  subject, verb, object and little else — registers with us faster than a sentence padded with adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. Those supplementary words may be good for grammar, but they can act like speed bumps on Twitter, slowing down our understanding of what’s said.

For another thing, the shorter the tweet, the more likely that followers will fill out the rest of the empty space behind it with ideas of their own, because the Twitterverse abhors a vacuum.

So, when you tweet, keep it short and sweet. But in striving to do this, make sure those tweets have one or more of these things:

At least one link — Web links make tweets valuable by providing more information than the tweet can do on its own. Readers see such tweets as portals to other places they may not already know about. The result: tweets with links are two to three times more likely to be read than tweets without them.

At least one “hashtag” — Prefaced with the pound sign (example: #SPJ), any word or string of connected words becomes a searchable element in Twitter. Hashtags are essential to search strings and topic lists, so including a tag greatly improves the chances that a tweet will turn up in searches by other Twitterers not already in your network.

A reference to at least one other Twitterer — Mentioning at least one other Twitterer fairly guarantees that tweet will trickle through said Twitterer’s network. That’s because social media is, at its heart, an ego-driven tool, and the more egos you massage, the more likely those egos will massage you in return.

A photograph — Social media is increasingly a visual experience, as the rapid rise of Pinterest and Facebook’s purchase of Instagram can attest. That’s why more photos have been appearing on Twitter via tools such as TwitPic. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” or a thousand more than fit in a tweet. By some estimates, tweets with photos are five times more likely to be retweeted.

A full biography — There’s not much room to muse in Twitter’s bio space, either, but a concise self-description attracts other Twitterers as much as a well-reasoned or witty comment. Openness is attractive; people tend not to engage others on social media who avoid being forthcoming about themselves.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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School with Multimedia programs are training tomorrow’s journalists

Here’s a thorough list of college and universities that have multimedia programs under their journalism or mass communications schools or departments, on the blog with the long but SEO-friendly title, “Multimedia journalism and social media journalism: A journalism instructor’s observation and thoughts.” I applaud these institutions for having the foresight to train students with the skills that will make them competitive in the job marketplace of the future (hell, the present).

The blog post also has a form at the top for people to enter in schools that have been overlooked.

If you’re a student SPJ member, take note of these schools!

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Is “digital first” the healthy snack food fad of the media industry?

Rick Edmonds wonders in a Poynter.com piece, “Healthy snacks, ‘digital first’ and the speed of the news industry’s transformation,” if some media companies are hurting themselves by embracing the online mantra that’s most personified by John Paton and Digital First, the company that manages both the Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group. He notes the recent strategic shift by PepsiCo away from the healthier snacks and drinks (think Stacy’s Simply Naked pita chips and Izze sodas) that have been promoted by high-profile CEO Indra Nooyi back to the company’s traditional core business of junk food and sugary drinks (Doritos, Pepsi).

Edmonds cautions media companies from embracing the digital revolution whole-hog and turning away from their print products too soon.

I’m not equating print editions with junk food, or digital with trendy eating. Sooner or later (maybe much sooner), people will consume most of their news digitally. The ranks of healthy eaters are growing, but holdouts still outnumber the converts.

In most news organizations, print still drives 85 to 90 percent of revenues, and that imbalance has been slow to shift. Print is every bit the core product that the old Pepsi brands are at Nooyi’s company.

It’s food for thought for those of us committed to the digital future of media. But outside of the rhetoric that’s needed to begin changing the cultural values of a print-centric industry, I don’t see digital-first advocates shutting down dead-tree operations and going exclusively online and mobile. No one seems in a hurry to kill off the goose that (once upon a time) laid the golden egg. The egg may be smaller, and maybe it’s losing its luster, but it’s still golden for now.

The transition’s just started so it’s possible some extreme strategic decisions are coming sooner rather than later. Maybe they’ll be necessitated by the realities of the evolving business model. I think it’s important to be aware of all points of view, but personally, I’m going to forge forward and embrace the future while still cheering on the efforts of the print industry I grew up on (I was a WashPo paperboy in the pre-Watergate era, after all).

Edmonds acknowledges that we won’t know for a while how this all will end:

Time will tell the merits of Paton’s high-profile, evolving digital initiatives, and whether other major companies will be persuaded to follow. I’ll be watching the drama unfold in coming months, and so will many others. (Meanwhile, please pass the Doritos.)

I agree — the jury’s just gone out. I think in the long run, people like Paton, Jim Brady, Steve Buttry and Jeff Jarvis that are mentioned in Edmonds’ piece will be proven correct.

But journalists shouldn’t just sit around waiting for the jury. They should be learning the new skills they’ll need to thrive in the next era, which everyone agrees is coming, whether we like it or not. I don’t think Edmonds is saying we should stick our heads in the sand and hold on tightly to the Old Ways. But I’ve known mid-career journalists who want to do exactly that, and are resistant to the changes staring them in the face.

The question is, how long will it take before the jury’s back in, and can we afford to wait? (Hint: The changes will never stop coming, so don’t be left behind!)

What do you think?

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