Archive for the ‘Writing for the web’ Category

Digital Journalism takes a big step forward

SPJ DigitalFrom typewriters to Twitter, technology has shaped and reshaped journalism. Only now, the technology is coming faster than we can master it.

In the span of a lifetime, hot type gave way to cold type, which in turn sank beneath a wave of websites and blogs and social media apps. Today, we have come to think that two-year-old tech is obsolete, and that new news can become old news before readers reach the last sentence.

Moreover, we’ve entered an age when, thanks to rapidly evolving technology, the practice of journalism is no longer restricted to journalists.

All of this is why the Society of Professional Journalists has tried to evolve as well — it’s casting a wider net for freelance news gatherers and non-affiliated journalists, and revising its Code of Ethics to meet the needs of the new age.

And it’s expanding the Digital Journalism committee into a digital journalism community.

The new community, SPJ Digital, began unofficially last week but already has a Twitter account (@SPJDigital) and a presence on Google+. It debuts officially in September at EIJ in Nashville under the shrewd guidance of student journalist and editor Alex Veeneman.

Incoming SPJ president Dana Neuts says SPJ Digital’s mission is to “examine and raise awareness of current trends in social media, as well as digital innovations and the digital culture and their affect on the culture, craft and practice of journalism.”

In committee form, Digital Journalism has been chiefly a conduit for information on digital culture. Members met at SPJ’s annual convocation to discuss potential topics for Net Worked, as well as the Digital Media Toolbox and occasional features in Quill, and report on hot tech and trends worthy of special consideration by SPJ leadership.

As a community, SPJ Digital will keep the discussion going year round, encourage input and participation from digitally savvy citizens both inside and outside journalism, and help everyone see the blur of onrushing technology a little more clearly.

The mission is to “serve all members interested in the digital future of the industry as well as the profession,” Neuts said.

A new landing site for SPJ Digital on is in the works. Neuts and Veeneman invite those who are interested in joining the community to stay tuned for updates and registration information at @SPJDigital, Google+, and right here at Net Worked.


David Sheets is a freelance writer and editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.





Size doesn’t matter, but quality does

Journalists should all take note of the purchase, by Yahoo, of a 17-year-old Brit’s app for $30 million. The app, Summly surfs the Web for news content by keywords, then uses an algorithm to summarize those articles down to chunks that would be readable on small screens such as smartphones and tablets.

Nick D’Aloisio, who was born in 1996, two years after Yahoo was formed, launched the app in 2011 (he’s been creating iPhone apps since 2008) because he was frustrated having to read big articles on his small screen. Summly uses artificial intelligence and language processing programming to boil down text.

Once journalists get over their jealousy of a teenager getting the big bucks, they should think about what D’Aloisio has accomplished, and why.

For many news consumers, short, to-the-point communications is more useful on a day-to-day basis. They can sit back and enjoy the long enterprise stories on Sundays.
The foundational architecture of news writing – the “inverted pyramid” that puts the who, what, when, where and why at the top of an article is a model that’s still paramount. Busy readers can just scan the top of an article and “grok” what it’s about without diving deeper for details.

But in a world where people are increasingly connecting to the Web and getting their info on-the-go via smartphones and other mobile devices, we should all be more sensitive than ever to the elements of good writing and storytelling: the pacing of a narrative, the choice of words, the use of tools such as metaphors, similes and alliteration, and the rhythm of sentences that can be like music, ebbing and flowing melodically through the reader’s head, and the depth of a reporter’s knowledge and expertise in the subject all contribute to the quality of news. It’s how great writers separate themselves from mediocre ones.

And how journalism, which increasingly incorporates and relies on social media as another avenue for news content, separates itself from the clamor of social chatter.

In the end, not all news content needs to be in byte-sized chunks. There’s certainly a place for long narratives and 1,000, or 2,000 or even 6,000-word stories and more (last December’s fabulous New York Times “Snow Fall” multimedia package about a 2012 avalanche was 16,000 words, plus a lot of videos and interactive graphics).

Sure, the article’s going to be boiled down to “just the facts, ma’am” by Yahoo/Summly and probably a horde of other “summarizing engines” to come. But the original article, whether short or long, should be a pleasure to read in full.
That’s the value that journalism brings to society, which code and algorithms can’t.

Gil Asakawa is a journalist and blogger, and the Chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Committee.


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, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.


Build your own website for free

More journalists these days are setting up their own websites where they can profile their work. It’s one of the best ways to grow your brand and display your resume online.

I’ve taken web design classes for four years, and I must admit sometimes I get lost in all the language: CSS, HTML, PHP, HTML5, Flash and the list goes on.  I’m fortunate, because as a freelance reporter I’ve had time to take classes.

But if you don’t have time to learn how to build your own website from scratch or can’t afford  to get one designed; here are a three free website builders  Each of these companies will also host your website for free if you don’t mind the long url  (example: ). 

I set up sample websites at Wix, WebStarts and Moonfruit.    It was very easy and fast.  I think the end results look very professional at all three sites.  Check out my Wix sample website.   Each free website builder offers:

  • Templates designs for your website
  • Text editors
  • Variety of font choices
  • Drag and drop tools for images
  • Video embed tools
  • Video tutorials to help you use the site

Each company offers a “premium” package,  if you want to buy more tools to use on your website.  In my opinion, what they each have to offer for free is good enough if you need the basics.   You also have the option of paying to get it hosted by the hosting company of your choice.  Now go out there and get yourself a website!

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning freelance reporter in Dallas, TX. She is the vice chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee, and a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She has 30 years of experience: television news, online news and video producing.  She can be contacted at



Forgetful of AP style? Then quiz yourself

For decades, the guru guide for news publication style has been “The Associated Press Stylebook” (full name: “The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law,” nickname: The AP Stylebook), a reference of 400 or so pages started in the early 1950s, expanded in the 1970s and updated sporadically thereafter.

Style, for our purposes, refers to the rules and customs of typography, spelling and word usage by a publication, and for legions of budding journalists the AP Stylebook has been essential reading and final-exam fodder on this subject. In my turn at journalism school, the dog-eared, spiral-bound Stylebook was tantamount to the periodic table in chemistry or a bible in divinity studies, and was ubiquitous in student book bags and next to IBM Selectrics.

Of course, style changes as times change and the AP rules we don’t practice every day can get lost in the murky depths of our distractions. Even seasoned pros are wont to thumb through the Stylebook’s pages or surf the online version — yes, there’s an app for that, too — to satisfy their finical needs, and the reader’s.

But who peruses the Stylebook like a novel to stay abreast of lost knowledge? As useful as the guide is, the pace plods, characters are lacking and the plot is rather thin. Better then to stay up to date on both old and new entries by taking refresher exams using‘s practice AP style quizzes. The quick and easy online test developed by Ron Hartung and Gerald Grow, is arranged alphabetically and with summary exercises at the end of each section. The entire series of quizzes contains about 450 items.

Hartung and Grow include a link to recent changes and annotations to the style guide, as well as refreshers on general grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage and how to spot errors in news copy. The authors note that the quizzes are circa 2009, but an update with the latest style changes is pending.

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


Tools that help you get more from Twitter

All of us who relish the social aspect of the Web can be thankful to the great gods of social media that a website such as Twitter came along.

The short-messaging-service knockoff has retooled the way we interact, 140 characters at a time, so that now Twitter is among the top-10 websites worldwide and has been used in a variety of ways — from college lectures to civil unrest.

But not everyone apart from newspaper headline writers believes they can express themselves in a mere 140 characters per post, or believes that words alone can convey their messages. That’s why a wide rage of tools has appeared to help Twitter users — or “tweeps” — get the most out of their Twitter messages — or “tweets.”

When paired with Twitter, these tools transform a site for blurbs into one of exposition, even journalism. Among the worthwhile tools and associated websites:

Twitpic — Allows users to upload images to their Twitter feed.

Tweetie — A Mac application, permits simultaneous access and update capability for multiple Twitter accounts.

Formulists — Helps users organize their Twitter lists by activity, number of followers, location, keywords, among other means.

Tweet Memo — The rough equivalent of a Post-it note, it lets users send themselves reminders that will pop up on their feed updates at scheduled times.

Only the Links — Sorts tweets containing Web links.

Tweriod — Analyzes followers Twitter streams, determines when they are online most often and lets users know the best times to send tweets.

Storify — An exquisite and burgeoning tool for journalists, it allows users to create narratives by knitting tweets together.

To learn more about Twitter and its uses, visit the website Top Twitter ToolsTweeterland, or find reviews on Twitter tools at All Twitter Apps.)

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


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

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.


The Wayback Machine

Folks, allow me to introduce you to The Wayback Machine.

Now bookmark that site, because I guarantee you’ll want to go back.  Seriously. The Wayback Machine is an utterly amazing tool for investigative reporting. It’s basically a huge archive of old web pages that allows you turn back time and browse ze Internets like it’s Y2K….or 1998….or even 1996.

Just type in the URL of any website or page, hit enter, and you’ll be taken to an archived version of that website, so you can see what it looked like way back when.

A quick example: I recently visited The Wayback Machine and typed in – the website for the Society of Professional Journalists. A few moments later, the following list of dates popped up on my screen:

Those blue links are archived web pages that are available for viewing.

I clicked on the April 1997 link, and it brought me to the SPJ website….frozen in time, as it appeared over 13 years ago:

The Wayback Machine contains over 150 billion web pages, dating back to 1996. It’s great for doing research on companies, people, organizations….you name it. I’ve used it myself many times. Have you? Tell us about it in the comments below.


Emily Sweeney is a staff reporter at The Boston Globe. You can follow her on Twitter (@emilysweeney) and find her on Facebook and LinkedIn, among other places.


Blogging Basics: How To Get Started

I was working at a Dallas television station a few years ago when a manager sent out a memo to reporters telling us we had to start blogging. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. We didn’t get a book of rules or a “how to” book. We were just told, “start blogging.”

Now, three years later, I have two blogs and ideas for three more blogs.  On my Wise Latinas Linked blog, I write about members of my social networking group on Facebook and LinkedIn. On my Latino Communicators blog, I write about Hispanic “movers and shakers” in journalism and mass communications.

Whether you’re blogging as a requirement of your job or planning to have your own blog, there are several reasons why you should consider doing it.

Blogging is easy. It’s a way to start your journey in digital media. I also think it’s a great way to build on your journalism resume. Blogging is online work.

How To Start Your Blog

First, you need to find blogging software that is easy to use. There are several available. I use both and They’re free and have step-by-step instructions on how to set up your blog. Both offer templates that are ready-made pages for your blog layout.

Who Are the Readers You Want To Attract?

You need to know which readers you want to reach with your blog. Once you know your target audience it will be much easier to come up with content. The blogs I have now are targeting women and/or Hispanics.

If you work for a media company, of course, your readers will be those devoted to your newspaper, television station or online site or — simply put — your fans.

Hundreds of journalists in the U.S. and around the world are blogging. Want to see if your blog will be unique? Just check out Blog Catalog’s list of journalist-bloggers. It’s a good site to surf for ideas.

Decide On Your Content

Some journalists write their own original content, but others find an interesting link, post it and add their two cents.  Linking to other sites is a good way to grow your readership.  I do both on my blogs.

If you’re one of those reporters required to blog for your company, your blog can just be an extension of your original story or the story of others who work with you.

Marian Wang is a reporter/blogger for She tends to expand on stories published by other reporters on their site.

A blog can also be an opinion piece.  Got an opinion on an issue? That makes for an interesting blog.

This will probably be a little easier for a freelancer to take on.  If you’re an employee of a media company, you may have to get your bosses’ permission to go down the avenue of opinion blogging.

Neil McCartney is a photojournalist in Johannesburg. He blogs about his daily experiences as a photojournalist and shares his photos.

You can also take a completely different direction and blog about something other than news stories and journalism. Do you enjoy golfing?  Why not blog about golf courses you’ve visited or, maybe, interesting golfers?

Do you like visiting different museums around the country? Why not blog about your experience and your take on different museums?

Look, we’re journalists and we love to write, and we all have different interests.  Blogging is an easy way to start building on your digital media experience.

Blogging should not feel like a job.  It should feel like another way to express yourself through your words.

Rebecca Aguilar is the vice chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee.  She is an Emmy Award-winning freelance reporter based in Dallas, TX. Rebecca also sits on the Board of Directors with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.  Contact her at


Think Like Google: What You Need To Know About SEO

Want to learn more about search engine optimization?  Well, you’re in luck.  On Oct. 19,  the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism will present  Think Like Google: What You Need To Know About SEO, a free webinar for reporters and editors who want to reach a wider audience online.

Robin J. Phillips, web managing editor at the Reynolds Center, and Chad Graham, the  social media editor at The Arizona Republic, will lead the 1-hour session. They’ll explain why journalists  should care about SEO and provide tips  for writing good headline and ledes for the web. The webinar will air at 12 noon and 4 p.m. (EDT)

Click here to register.

Emily “Spikey Em” Sweeney is a staff reporter at The Boston Globe. You can follow her on Twitter (@emilysweeney) and find her on LinkedIn, among other places.

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