Archive for January, 2011


Quora tries to answer all your questions

In this burgeoning age of instant analysis online, the question for many professional journalists nowadays isn’t “What do you know?” but “Who can be trusted to have accurate information?”

A relatively new site called Quora may provide an answer — in fact, it probably has several answers.

Quora, which went public last June, is a free information aggregator featuring queries and responses provided by and edited by its members. The site resembles a cross between Wikipedia, Ask.com and an old-fashioned forum board, with a little bit of Facebook and Twitter mixed in.

One thing appears clear, however: Quora has generated positive responses to the question, “Can I take this site seriously?”

“If I’m posting the question, ‘Does Quora have a bright future?’ my answer would be yes,” wrote USA Today tech blogger Edward C. Baig.

Quora was founded by former Facebook technical guru Adam D’Angelo and Harvard computer grad Charlie Cheever. Their idea was to create a site that taps the collective wisdom of experts as a source of community knowledge. Ideally then, new members would follow those experts or choose topics they themselves knew something about to bolster the credibility of the content.

“One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the Web and asking other people,” says the description page at Quora.

During setup, new members are asked to use their real names and choose favorite topics or follow specific members or questions of interest, then decide on the validity of an answer by clicking on a little up- or down-arrow to the left. To the right are links to related to the posted question plus statistics on how many people have viewed or are keeping track of the responses. An “answer summary,” created by clicking on the Options button, displays the community’s consensus on a question.

Users can log in through Facebook or Twitter and post or share content through those sites as well.

Of course, the wide-open nature of Quora makes it unsuitable as a definitive news source on anything other than Quora itself because, as with other social networking sites, responses can be shaped largely by public opinion. Furthermore, though Quora encourages honesty among members upon sign-up, the contributors’ qualifications cannot be verified with certainty.

However, Quora’s voters tend to give credence to thoughtful answers dotted with embedded links over the quick-hit, 140-character posts made via Twitter. The site also discourages explanations posted only through photos or video, though this may change over time.

Nonetheless, Quora is worth exploring. It may very well hold an answer to the question, “What next for social media?”

David Sheets is a sports 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.

SPJ Net Worked: Who we are and what this blog is about

We interrupt this blog to talk a little bit about who we are and what we do.

First of all, welcome to the Net Worked blog. This is the blog maintained by the members of the Society of Professional Journalists’ national committee on digital media.

Generally speaking, our committee exists to advise and help SPJ, the board, the top officers and the HQ staff in any way they need us regarding digital media.

I’m your chairman. I’m Jennifer Peebles, and I’m an editor at a small nonprofit online-only news site in Houston called Texas Watchdog. Before moving to Texas, I worked for 14 years at The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville as a reporter and line editor. Our vice chairman is Rebecca Aguilar, a former television reporter turn multimedia freelancer based in Dallas. Rebecca is also a national board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. (No, there is no Texas conspiracy here. I promise.)

Our committee is 10 SPJ members from all around the country — from New England to California — with expertise and interest in digital media. We have broadcasters, we have multimedia people, we have newspaper people, we have data people, we have people in the academic world. We’ve got a pretty diverse set of skills. Our newest edition to the committee is Mike Reilley of DePaul University, who is heading up SPJ’s new live weekly #SPJchat on Twitter. (Tune in Thursday night!)

Our focus for this blog is largely how-to material — such as how to edit video, or how to take part in a live Twitter chat, or how to annotate a YouTube video, or how to know if your story would make a good video story.

We could take the blog in many different directions, and every now and then, you’ll see something here that doesn’t fit the how-to mold (after all, variety is the spice of life).  But by and large, the thing we hear over and over again from journalists is that they need training, training, training in the skills they need to tell stories and do their jobs digitally. So, we largely focus on showing people how to do things we’ve learned how to do.

Now, keep in mind, this blog is far from the only training that SPJ offers. In addition to real, live training through the national journalism conference (this year’s is in New Orleans in September, so get ready!) and regional conference, there’s also SPJ’s new e-Campus online training modules, available through SPJ.org. Get over there and check those out if you haven’t already. (And SPJ also has a committee solely focused on professional development — they’re fine folks, and their chairman is Deb Wenger from Ole Miss, who is a great teacher. I took a class from her in how to shoot Web video with a FlipCam a couple of years ago.)

So, that’s who we are and what this blog is all about. If you have thoughts, comments, criticism, ideas for blog posts or something you wish we would blog on, send those on. Leave us a note in the comments, or you can e-mail me directly at jennifer@texaswatchdog.org.

How to participate in a Twitter chat

Participating in a Twitter chat may seem a little disorienting at first, but a tool such as TweetChat.com can make the process quite easy, even for a Twitter newbie.

Twitter chats are a great way to converse on a topic while sharing the dialogue with a large audience. And unlike the chat rooms that were so popular years ago, Twitter chats leverage the power of your existing social network while still providing a come-and-go environment for casual chatters and dedicated listeners.

SPJ members have organized #SPJchat, a weekly Twitter chat on journalism issues, and several other journalism innovators have developed a weekly chat called #wjchat that has become quite popular. But for someone new to Twitter chats, and especially for someone new to Twitter, trying to make sense out of either of these weekly events can be quite disorienting.

The first thing to understand about a Twitter chat is that there is no special chat function on Twitter. Rather, chatters have simply chosen to include the same hashtag in all of their tweets. And when that hashtag is isolated from everything else that’s being said on Twitter, you have a Twitter chat. See this page in the Twitter Help Center if you don’t know what a hashtag is; understanding hashtags is key to understanding how a Twitter chat works.

It’s certainly possible to participate in a Twitter chat from the Twitter.com interface. All you have to do is include the hashtag — in the case of SPJ Chat, that would be #spjchat. There’s no moderation that takes place in a Twitter chat so your tweet is immediately included in the conversation. To listen in on a chat using the Twitter.com interface (or the Twitter iPhone app if you’re away from your computer), just search for the chat hashtag.

There’s an easier method than the Twitter.com interface, though. The free online tool TweetChat significantly simplifies the process by providing you with a streamlined interface that’s ideal for Twitter chats. TweetChat also automatically appends the chat hashtag to your Tweets and allows you to “Feature” certain users and “Block” others, which can be helpful in busy chats when you don’t want to miss out on the comments of especially insightful contributors.

Added Jan. 18 at 9:30 a.m.: Digby Killick (@Dogby52) adds a useful tool: the Chromed Bird extension for the Google Chrome browser. He writes: “It appears as a small icon in the top right of the browser that expands when you click on it, so you don’t need to run a separate program. It tracks your tweets, @mentions and direct messages and updates in real time, but one of the best features is that you can get it to track searches, so all you need to is have it monitoring a hashtag to follow a chat …” I would add that his suggestion should work using any of the various Firefox add-ons and you could definitely accomplish the same task in the Rockmelt browser, which has these functions built-in.

There are likely other great Twitter-chatting tools out there. If you know of one, leave it in the comments. Also, be sure to check out #SPJchat and #wjchat. #SPJchat takes place at 7 p.m. Central time on Thursdays and #wjchat is held at 5 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesdays. Be sure to follow @spjchat and @wjchat for updates and weekly previews of upcoming chats.

Live weekly Twitter chat #SPJchat starts tonight

Want to chat live with prominent journalists and leaders in our industry?

SPJ has just the thing: #SPJchat.

SPJ is launching a new weekly live Twitter chat on hot topics in journalism. It’s called #SPJchat, and it’s slated to take place at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central each Thursday, starting tonight.

#SPJchat is being coordinated by Mike Reilley, the man behind SPJ’s Journalist Toolbox site and adviser to the SPJ chapter at DePaul University. (We’re also welcoming Mike as a member of the Digital Media Committee.)

If you’re totally new to live Twitter chats, Mike has posted a step-by-step primer at this link.

The first #SPJchat sounds like it’s going to be great. The topic will be “Online Storytelling and Best Practices,” and the guest are slated to be:
* Mark Briggs, author of Journalism 2.0
* Mark Luckie, Washington Post national innovations editor, author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook and founder of the 10000words Blog
* Mandy Jenkins, social media producer at TBD.com

And next week’s topic is slated to be “Copy Editing and Social Media.”

So follow @spjchat on Twitter for more updates, and we’ll see you at #SPJchat!

Using Windows Movie Maker to edit audio clips — yes, audio clips

When you run into a problem, sometimes the solution you’re looking for is right under your nose and you don’t know it.

And so I came to learn how to use Windows Movie Maker to edit audio for my podcast. And now, I’m going to show you how to do the same.

My problem was editing audio clips of interviews taped with my digital voice recorder — the fact that I still call it a “digital tape recorder” probably gives away my age.

I have an Olympus-brand recorder (my second Olympus-brand recorder), and it allows the user to plug the recorder into a PC through a USB connection and download the audio recordings from it as Windows Media Audio (.wma) files.

So, when I recently launched a podcast/live Internet radio talk show on open government issues through BlogTalkRadio.com, I thought I could pre-record telephone interviews with my guests and then use free Audacity software to edit it down.

Or so I thought. But when the time came — two days before my second show aired — to edit the audio, I found out the hard way that Audacity, as awesome as it is, will not edit .wma-format audio.

I thought about trying to convert the audio from .wma to a format Audacity does edit, like .mp3 or .wav, but I didn’t want to pay for yet another conversion program that turns out not to work — been there, done that. Is there no program anywhere that edits .wma?

There is. And it was on my computer the whole time: Windows Movie Maker.

My friend and colleague Emily Sweeney has already posted a primer on how to use Windows Movie Maker to edit video clips. But it will also edit audio-only files, too.

Here’s how to do it:

First, download the audio file from your digital voice recorder.

Now, open up Windows Movie Maker. In the upper-left corner, hit “import media” and pick out the .wma file you want to edit.

When it imports, look at the timeline down at the bottom of the screen. You’ll see that your .wma file shows up in the “audio/music” track in the timeline, showing you a waveform pattern for the sound — big hills represent lots of noise, the valleys are the silent parts on the audio track. (Don’t be bothered by the fact that there’s nothing in the “video” track of the timeline.)

Now, you can edit the audio track the same way you would edit a video clip in Movie Maker. Use the “play” and “rewind” buttons on the timeline to manuever the green time bar to the points in the audio track where you want to make cuts. Use the “split” function to make a cut where the green bar is standing. To cut out a section, make a cut on each end of the section you want to excise, then put the cursor on that section, right click and pull down to “remove.” (You can also hit the “delete” key with that section selected.)

Once you’ve got it edited the way you want it, you’re ready to make the program spit out the edited-down audio as a .wma file. So go up to “publish movie.”

It will ask, “where do you want to publish your movie?” Pick “This computer” and hit “next.”

Now, give the edited file a name and tell it what folder to place the finished file in. Next, it’ll ask you for some setting information — I usually don’t change any of these — and you can hit “publish.”

And when it’s done, you’re done. You’ve got an edited .wma file ready for podcasting or uploading to the Web for whatever purpose.

Jennifer Peebles is chairman of SPJ’s Digital Media Committee and is deputy editor of Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit online news site based in Houston. Contact her at jennifer@texaswatchdog.org or follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles and @texaswatchdog. And if you’re into FOI and open government, her Internet radio show/podcast airs Tuesdays at 3 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Central.

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