Archive for the ‘Writing for the web’ Category

Embrace the Age of Social Media

Social media–or what I like to call a journalist’s savior.

When I decided junior year of high school to become an environmental journalist, I assumed I’d just be writing stories for tree huggers; I never thought one day I would need to be marketing myself on the Internet, too, in order to survive this job.

Because of Tumblr blogs and Facebook status updates, tweets on Twitter and snaps on Snapchat, everyone in the digital age is now considered a storyteller–a title once earned only by those trained as professional journalists.

But now the lines have blurred:  Who can tell the news?  What is a credible news source?  Who can we trust for information?

Online journalism: it’s a relatively new term coined for the surge in digital readership, although I’d argue it’s both the present and the future of journalism as we know it.

And if you’re a journalist not active–or just a silent avatar–on Twitter and Facebook, you’re already irrelevant, lost in the fathoms of cyberspace and letting someone else tell your story.

I’m surprised that at this stage in the digital revolution there are still journalists who do not promote their own work–their livelihood–to readers online.

When I read an article from National Geographic or The New York Times, I expect to see who has written the article and find them on social media.

Maybe it’s a compulsive response as a nosy American, but I relish the opportunity to connect with the man or woman who has produced what I believe is a quality piece of news.

I want to know where they live, what they’re interested in, and what else they’ve written.

And just like me, your readers want to know the same thing about you as a journalist.

Accept the transparency of online journalism and embrace the curiosity of your readers.

Give them something to look at on social media. Show them you’re engaged in the digital age. Prove to them that you’re relevant, that you’re ‘tuned in’ to the information their thumbs so desperately crave. Give them a reason to trust in you as a credible news source.

And above all, give them a reason to return to you for future information.

Staying engaged with the current trends of American consumers–this is how you will survive and thrive as a journalist in the 21st century.

Bethany N. Bella is a multimedia journalist studying at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bnbjourno or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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The Kansan and student journalism in the digital age

The Chi Omega Fountain at the University of Kansas. Its student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, has embraced a digital first model.  (Photo: InaMaka/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

The Chi Omega Fountain at the University of Kansas. Its student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, has embraced a digital first model.
(Photo: InaMaka/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

In this Net Worked guest post, Emma LeGault and Brian Hillix of the University Daily Kansan student newspaper at the University of Kansas reflect on their decision to go digital first and what student media will be in the digital age.

On Feb. 4, the University Daily Kansan announced it will print two days per week instead of four, beginning in fall 2015. A desire to be digital-first and capitalize on an industry movement was at the heart of the decision.

Once we announced the decision, the general response was positive. While many were sad to see the change, they understood why it was necessary.

The response from former Kansan alumni, however, was not as encouraging. Some said they don’t think the switch to digital news will adequately prepare students for future jobs in journalism, saying that working under pressure on deadlines nights was invaluable. Others said the flexibility of being digital will make us complacent with stories.

More than anything, it seems they are rooted in the tradition of the print product. The Kansan has been the student voice for 110 years, and for as long as they can remember, we’ve printed the paper at least four times per week. They hold fond memories of working for — and reading — The Kansan this way.

We thought former students — many who are professional journalists — would understand the decision, because they were a part of the continually changing culture of digital journalism not so long ago.

That being said, a student media organization should never do something just because it has been done that way in the past. Journalists must continue to ask questions and adapt when necessary. If not, we become disconnected to our audience and what it needs from us. Today’s student journalists should always be thinking ahead to the future and how to best connect with their audience. They shouldn’t fear change, but welcome it.

From an advertising perspective, The Kansan’s decision makes sense. Clients want their ads to appear in editions that preview and recap the weekend, and our Monday and Thursday editions are fuller. With fewer clients wanting to advertise mid-week, turning a profit for those papers has become increasingly difficult. By not printing and distributing papers two days a week, we will have more money for new and improved technology such as cameras, servers and computers. We imagine newspapers across the country experience this, too.

At The Kansan, we take pride in preparing our student workers for careers in journalism and business. Our journalists are slowly understanding that their job goes beyond doing a little research, completing a couple interviews and writing a 500-word story. With the focus on digital content, they will learn to cover breaking news, update stories, post on social media and take pictures and video — skills that employers are looking for in a job candidate.

With a focus on digital content, we can tell a better story. Journalists can now incorporate photos, galleries, videos, Vines, social media posts, polls and other digital elements in a story. Articles with only words are becoming a thing of the past, and we’re learning that, too.

Timeliness will become a bigger priority. Instead of a midnight deadline for the print product, the deadline is right now. In the past, our readers might not have seen certain content until it was in print the next morning. Now, the news can reach our audience instantly. By posting articles immediately, reporters will be forced to be more accurate. Without a three-stage editing process, the importance of fact-checking is more critical than ever.

We know that this is a major change. Many of our students pick up the paper on a daily basis, whether it is to glance at the headlines, complete the puzzles, look at the free-for-alls or read a story or two. Whether they pick up a paper every day or not, there’s a sense of comfort knowing that The Kansan is there.

Some may be worried that we’re declining, fading or even dying. We’re not going anywhere. Instead, we’re changing, adapting and evolving.

The Kansan will still cover news that affects KU students — we will still be the student voice. The information will just be communicated in a different way, one that will better connect us to our readers.

We are behind this 100 percent. All we ask is that our readers and supporters join us, and watch what happens next. The Kansan will not disappoint.

Emma LeGault is the Special Projects Editor of The University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper of the University of Kansas. Brian Hillix is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kansan. You can interact with LeGault and Hillix on Twitter.

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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.




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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.

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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.

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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


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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