Archive for the ‘Workflow’ Category


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.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Start here when conducting a background check

This may be difficult for budding journalists to believe, but there was a time when shoe leather was a reporter’s best research tool.

Every pertinent document sat in a file viewable only in person, unless a dependable source slipped it in the mail as a favor. And news editors were suspicious of journalists who spent too much time on the phone or loitering in the news room; they believed gathering news meant getting out of the office and returning only when it was time to write.

Of course, it’s still a good idea to go where the news is; however, a majority of the document searches formerly conducted by rooting through a dusty filing cabinet somewhere can be done at reporters’ desks — or if they’re truly savvy, on their smart phones.

But where to start? The Web has a wealth of valuable digital data tangled in it, yet the extent of that data is daunting. Thus, new and veteran journalists alike look at the lot of it, their eyes glaze, their palms turn sweaty and potentially good stories are bypassed for easier fare, all because the Internet intimidated them.

Relax. Just like building a house starts with a plan, so too does digital research. Once the seed of a story idea becomes clear, reporters need to settle on a strategy for making it grow: figure out what questions must be asked and where to go for answers.

For help with answers when researching people, try these websites:

* Naturally, start with Google. The “advanced search” feature can be particularly useful. But don’t forget other engines such as BingDogpileTwingine and Yahoo. Also, the site Zoominfo pairs people with their relationship to businesses.

FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter of course are great for examining a person’s online presence. Other interactivity monitors are 123peopleIcerocketPiplSamepoint and WhosTalkin.

BirthDatabase matches people by birth date.

Zabasearch is a free people-finder searchable by name and phone number. For a fee, the site also will run a background check on a person. Another site, WhitePages, also searches by phone number.

Portico compiles numerous websites containing public information. It’s a good place for quick link searches on such subjects as real estate holdings, aircraft and boat registrations, even horse ownership. Additionally, BRB Publications lists links to public records by state and by county. And Coordinated Legal Technologies can help trace a person’s corporate trail.

* For court records and criminal information, try the National Center for State Courts the pay sitePACER, the national sex-offender registry, and the criminal history site CriminalSearches.

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.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Social media marketing tools for journalists

In the widening world of electronic journalism, it’s not enough to report the news; reporters and editors are coming to the difficult realization that they must market it as well. This is due in large thanks to decreasing interest in static print media and the corresponding growth of the hit-driven culture that is online publishing, which unlike the print environment demands audiences be pinched and tweaked every waking minute to keep news stories fresh and memorable in their minds and to ensure they’ll click back to fresher stories later.

Add to this the rise of social media, a one-on-one engagement with information seekers and attention-getters, and the expansion of mobile computing through smart phones and tablet devices, and the effort to reach one’s community becomes a relentless task as news-gathering, more than ever, becomes a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week, no-need-for-a-desk-or-office enterprise.

It’s tiring just to think about it.

But fear not, harried journalists; help is out there in the form of new and improving applications for iPhone, iPad and other portable devices that are replacing newsrooms as the central headquarters of reporting. This week, the site Social Media Examiner has published a list of 44 apps designed chiefly for Apple devices and intended to smooth the way toward easier information marketing. Some of the apps are personal in nature but the majority of the list constitutes a small library of easy, effective tools for information mavens of all kinds. Take a look and, if you haven’t heard of them already, feel free take a few out for a spin.

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.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Writeboard: A free web tool that makes it easy to collaborate on a project


Working on a project with another reporter in another part of the country or maybe on the other side of your city?  No need to get together at the coffee shop or exchange long emails. Check out Writeboard.com

The writeboards are web based text documents that you can use when you’re collaborating on a journalism project with other reporters.   If you have to add more information or edit what you have; it’s all done in one place. 

Here’s the bonus; it’s free

 

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning reporter with 29 years of experience.  Most of her years have been in television news, but now she is a multimedia freelance reporter based in Dallas, Texas.   She is currently a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Using Twitter to bring the reader into the courtroom

Most of us have covered more than one trial in our careers.  We go through the same steps–go to the trial, watch the players at work, write what is said and done in the courtroom and meet our deadline. 

Kate Dubinski

London Free Press reporter, Kate Dubinski took it one step further.  She recently used Twitter during a high profile case to give readers a play-by-play on what was going on during the trial. Here a few key points from an article she wrote for The Canadian Journalism Project. 

 1. She started with a few dozen followers and in the end had more than 1,000 followers on Twitter.

2. The newspaper had to assign two reporters to the case: One to tweet and the other to report it for the paper.

3.  Dubinski learned quickly how to prioritize information because she could only tweet 140 characters.

4.  She used links to Google images to show readers images of such things as the type of gun used in the crime.twitter

5.  She also used links to direct followers back to the London Free Press website.

6.  Dubinski also says some of the followers became sources who gave her background information.

 Here’s Kate Dubinski’s story Tweeting a Trial which can teach many of us another way to use Twitter and get more readers interested in our news coverage.

 Rebecca Aguilar is a multiple Emmy Award winner.  She’s has spent much of her 28 years in journalism in television, but is now a freelance multimedia/online reporter based in Dallas. She can be contacted at aguilar.thereporter@yahoo.com

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Tech tools to help you keep up with your FOIA requests

Reporters: Ever think of a record or document you’d like to get hold of and say to yourself, Wait — haven’t I already FOIA’ed that?

You’re not alone.

In response to a question that someone posed on the FOI-L listserv, let’s talk about some ways you can use technology to help you keep up with your records requests. We’ll look at some pros and cons of each approach.

The simple text file: The most basic way to do it is with a text file on your computer — or, on a shared folder on a server on your network, if you’re trying to share with co-workers or a team. Problem is, only one person can access that document at any one time — which could be a pain if you’re trying to share with a large group or your entire newsroom.

And, if your newsroom’s network is like any of the ones I’ve worked on, you can kiss goodbye the hope that anyone outside your building can ever access the document on the server — that cuts out your statehouse bureau, your guys at the cop shop, or any reporter who ever leaves the office with a laptop. Which is just about everyone these days.

Some better approaches:

Create a Google Doc. Google will let you create and share documents for free if you have a Google/Gmail account — create a word processing document and then “invite” your co-workers to share it. No, you aren’t sharing it with the whole world, just with the invitees. More than one person can be in the same Google Doc at a given time, and it’s easily accessible to people outside the office.

(I should also note: You don’t have to do your FOIA list as a word processing document. You can also store them as a spreadsheet file, with columns for date sent, agency FOIA’ed, description of document requested, status of request, contact person, etc.)

Create an intranet for your team/workgroup as a Google Site. Google also lets you create free sites that you can share with a limited number of invitees. You can create new “pages” in your site, including one using the “list” template, that will allow you to create columns and pull-down menus for the headers I listed above. You can also upload attachments, such as .doc or .pdf files of the actual requests, in case you need to review how you worded something.

Create a wiki, either for yourself or your team. No, setting up a small wiki doesn’t require any coding knowledge or server space — sites including Mindtouch’s Deki Wiki and PBWorks’ PBwiki will let you set up a wiki for a few users for free, which they host themselves and which you administrate entirely through their Web interface. (At my shop, Texas Watchdog in Houston, we have a Deki Wiki for FOIAs, as well as having a Google Site intranet.) The idea is that everyone goes to the wiki and updates it every time they file a FOIA request, giving an accurate reflection of what has been requested and where it is in the pipeline.

You can also try notebook-type storing solutions such as Evernote, which offers free accounts with a maximum monthly upload limit (pay users get more storage), Springnote or even Google Notebook — which still works, even though Google says it’s stopped active development on it.

Again, multiple people can access these repositories at once, and they’re easily accessible to people outside your office, as long as they have an Internet connection. (The caveat: These are only helpful if people take the time to update them with info about their newly filed FOIAs. If that doesn’t happen, well … that’s a human error, not the computer.)

So, how do you keep up with your FOIA requests?

Jennifer Peebles is deputy editor of Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit news site in Houston, and yes, she sends a lot of FOIA requests. Contact her at jennifer@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter: @jpeebles.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Try it: Windows Live Writer for blog publishing

A funny thing happened when I was learning all about WordPress this month at their WordCamp in New York City: I stumbled upon a new Windows desktop application available for download that was created to make blogging easier.

As WordCamp attendees stampeded to an SEO workshop, I attended a Live Writer (beta) presentation by Dani Diaz, a Microsoft developer out of Philadelphia.

The first question Dani posed to the audience was: “How many of you time-out of your online session and lose your material when you are blogging?” My hand shot up.

With WYSIWYG authoring, Live Writer allows bloggers to create posts on their desktop with all the capabilities of blogging software. The settings allow users to transfer posts from Live Writer to major blogging software accounts, fully formatted to that software. That is, you can set Live Writer, for instance, to WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, etc., formatting and when you have completed your post, just send the whole thing over and it will be posted to your account. You can do this with countless blogging accounts by adjusting the Live Writer settings to tell the post where to go.

Here’s how the company explains it on their blog:

Windows Live Writer is a desktop application that makes it easier to compose compelling blog posts using Windows Live Spaces or your current blog service.

Blogging has turned the web into a two-way communications medium. Our goal in creating Writer is to help make blogging more powerful, intuitive, and fun for everyone.

Among the features:

  • integrate text and multi-media to the working Live Writer page
  • integrate live links. Frequently-used links recur automatically as you type them.
  • set publishing schedules. (This one was popular with the crowd)

Live Writer was also built for full compatibility with Windows Live application.

Jessica Durkin is a member of the SPJ Digital Media Commmittee, the Region 3 director for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and is a big advocate of entrepreneurial journalism. Jessica is based in Scranton, PA. She started http://inothernews.us to track online comunity news start-ups. She’s @jessdrkn.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Waiting for the (Google) Wave to wash over me

It takes two to tango. It also takes two to Wave.

As my blog-colleague here at Net Worked Amanda Maurer wrote recently, Google Wave is out and the invites are going around. I lucked into one and I’ve messed around a little bit with it.

Wave integrates elements of e-mail (er, Gmail), instant messaging, chat and interactive documents. It looks very, very cool.

I think Google Wave has the potential to revolutionize how large newsrooms large and small share information. It could create the ultimate collaboration system that opens the creative process to everyone involved in producing the daily news report — reporters, editors, designers, copy editors, photographers and Web producers.

The problem is, reporters, editors, designers, copy editors, photographers and Web people aren’t on Google Wave. At least not in my newsroom. Indeed, not in most newsrooms I know of. Not yet, at least.

I only know 3 people on Google Wave, and, while they’re fine folks, I don’t work with any of them. So I can’t tell you for certain whether Google Wave is really as cool a newsroom collaboration tool as I think it might be. I’ve never had to share a story or a presentation or a spreadsheet with any of my three contacts on Google Wave. Or haggle with them over a headline while the copy desk chief looms over my desk, smoke spewing from his ears, and says, “We have to have that story NOW!”

And it’s not just me. I sense there are a bunch of folks out there who got Google Wave invites but, because they don’t have any other contacts on Wave (or any other contacts they care to Wave at/with), they sit and look at their monitors and think, “What the heck do I do with this dang thing?”

I asked one of my digital sherpas, Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle, when will other people I know get on Google Wave? He could not offer me much consolation, saying Google is slowly rolling out the invites. Darn.

If I can ever use Google Wave in a real, rubber-hits-the-road newsroom environment, I’ll put it through its paces and see if it’s really as cool and as barrier-breaking a collaboration tool as I think it could be. When I do that, I’ll offer a full report here. Until then, all you’ll get from me is the sound of one hand Waving.

Jennifer Peebles is deputy editor of Texas Watchdog in Houston, Texas. She’s @jpeebles on Twitter and jpintn@googlewave.com. Please Wave at her. She’s lonely.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Tech Therapy: What is a CMS?

A CMS is a content managment system, but more helpfully now, a CMS is an application that lets you create, edit and publish various documents (text, video, audio, etc).

CMSs seek to alleviate a great deal of the complexities of publishing content online. This puts it in the hands of a great number of people that would normally have to hire someone to do it for them.

Each web-based CMS has it’s own set of features, issues and price. Being a tech guy, I’m a big fan of many of the free, open-source options. They tend to be a little more work, but the price is nice. Along those lines, the ones I recommend are: Joomla, Drupal and WordPress.

There are (almost endless) philosphical debates about which is better. Here’s my one sentence about each. Joomla tends to give you more bang for the buck just out of the box, but as you want more and more features it falters. Drupal is more tech heavy earlier on, but once that hurdle has been jumped it stands up pretty well. WordPress has in the past tended to be more of just a blogging platform, but it’s very easy to use and over the last year of updates has become a more and more full featured CMS (including an iPhone app).

So where do you get started?

Unless there is some “I can’t live without it” feature that one gives you over another, I think the main factor in choosing a CMS to start palying around with should be convenience. The hosting provider you are using may already have one installed. A friend of yours may already have installed and configured one of them. If that fails, you can always check these links out. They are almost all free at their basic level. If you want more features they charge for upgrades.

  • TopCities.com – Zero risk to start playing around with a large number of open source tools, including the three CMSs mentioned in this article.
  • WordPress.com – A hosted version of the open source package where you can start a blog in seconds without any technical knowledge.
  • DrupalCafe.com – A quick way to set up a free account and get started with Drupal.
  • Axishost.com – So this is the one link that isn’t free to start. If you don’t like the above links and are looking for something that will grow with you, this is what I would pick. They have a relatively easy installation for the three CMSs in this article. They are the hosting provider I use and have had very good experience with them. The plus side to choosing this one is their starter plan is less than $6/month but they offer a wide range of higher plans.

Steve Fosdal – steve@fosdal.net

The opinions expressed here are my own. Any similarity the may have to another opinion, either living or dead, corporate or private, is purely coincidental and does not represent any form of endorsement or sponsorship.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

The One Man Band Checklist

The reality is we’re all becoming  what’s called a one man band reporter. Also known as a mobile journalist (mojo), a backpack journalist  or a digital correspondent.  We’ll do it all; shoot video, take photographs, interview, report, write, video edit, Twitter and blog.  I’ll be honest it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re being asked to provide  a video story with your print or online story. 

Bonnie Gonzalez is a one man band reporter for an Austin television station.  She’s given us a few pointers to share with everyone who finds themselves in the same situation; having to shoot video for a story.  Here’s a simple list we’ve put together.  One that we hope you’ll put in your back pocket and use.

1. Check Your Equipment Before You Head Out The Door

*Batteries-make sure they’re charged.

*Tapes/Memory Cards-bring extras

*Audio equipment-lav, stick mic, receivers for the wireless mics and wind screens.

*Tripod

*Light kit-make sure you have extra bulbs.  Throw a flashlight in the kit. It comes in handy.

*Laptop computer and connections to ingest or capture video at any location.

*Flip Camera for emergencies when your video camera is not cooperating or crashes.

*Rain cover for your video camera.  You don’t want it getting wet, because that causes big problems.

*Lens cleaner

2.  Protection for Yourself.  You never know where you’ll end up.

*Sunscreen

*Insect repellent

*Rubber boots-for rainy, muddy days

*Rain jacket

*First aid kit

*Water

*Ruler-just in case you have to measure snow or water for a story or size of hail.

*Extra change of clothes

*Extra notebooks

 3. Communication Equipment

*Work cell phone-make sure it’s charged

*Personal cell phone

*Car cell phone charger

*Phone numbers and notes for your story.

*Phone book- you never know when you’ll need the yellow pages.

4. Basic Equipment and Short Cuts

*Pen and notepad:  You should always have these basic tools with you, especially if your equipment breaks down.

*Write down time codes: Save yourself time by writing down the time code of a sound bite or quote you plan to use in your video story.

4. Manage Time Wisely

*Pre-interview people before you meet them.  You can just jump into the interview when you get with them face-to-face and not waste time warming them up or wasting tape.  The less tape you use, the less video you have to capture.  Remember computers capture video on real time.

5.  Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

* You’re on breaking news and you’re carrying all your gear. It’s ok to ask someone to help carry the tripod.  You’ll be surprised how people will volunteer to help.   They will even hold the microphone if you want them to during an interview. 

Everyone has their own style, their own pace, and their own methods.  This is just a short checklist to get you into your groove.  Good Luck!

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy Award winning freelance multimedia reporter in Dallas. She produces videos, digital slideshows along with her reports.  She is currently working on an Associate’s Degree in Multimedia Development.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Copyright © 2007-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ