Category Archives: Tech for Journalists

Boston Globe Lab is full of ideas. Great, now where do they fit in a newsroom?

Chris Marstall in front of the picture map at the Globe Lab.

The newspapers still (relatively) flush with money should do the right thing and invest in researching how people, and their readers, use technology. Thankfully, the Boston Globe isn’t sitting on its hands. It’s invested in a good-looking lab that features a raft of interesting technology.

The Globe has the right to feel it’s ahead of the curve, technologically speaking. BostonGlobe.com is a nice site, even if it’s under a dreaded paywall. It was also honored with an award from the Society for News Design that basically equates to “Best Damn News Website – Period,” thanks to a responsive design setup. They also won kudos for their fancy way of integrating maps and data into the site, such as that used in their feature about mislabeled fish that Design Director Miranda Mulligan was eager to show off. It’s clever stuff.

The Lab’s other tech serves as a cool way to monitor what readers are doing. Joel Abrams was keen to show off a clever way of mapping tweets and showing how sharing links among users can really take off. Chris Marstall liked to show off a set of screens that maps Instagrams taken by people around Boston.

But where does all of this fit into the newspaper’s business of reporting? Their ability to answer that question was pretty much summarized by a trio of TV screens in the newsroom that monitored tweets and replies to the paper’s handles. Slowly, different forms of technology are working their way into the newsroom. But it looks like it’s going to be some time before all of the interesting mapping and social media analysis is going to make it into the newsgathering process, and that’s a shame.

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Who cares what you like to read?

I have The Washington Post’s social reader installed on by Facebook account. Why? Good question.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the more I saw my friend’s messages floating down my feed, I saw what kinds of articles they were reading. Or probably clicking on by mistake.

The idea behind the social reader isn’t far-fetched, I’ll give it that. I share tons and tons of stories to people I know aren’t clicking on them. At most, they retweet or throw a story on their Facebook news feed. If people reply or leave comments, that’s just an interesting side note. But the whole point is that it’s a selective process.

Installing a social reader in your Facebook account is a little different.

The point of it is to show people what you’re reading, but it turns into a map of cheesy things you click on – and might not want others to know about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the bro-iest of guys confess they’ve “read” about Snooki’s pregnancy thanks to the Post’s reader. I’m sure (or I hope) it was out of morbid curiosity, not because they’re really interested in what the “Jersey Shore” personality (that’s being kind) is doing.

I know there are ways to turn these settings off, but it defeats the mission of the product. But a social reader, to me, answers a question nobody was asking. Really, how hard is it to type 120 characters and add a link on your own?

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Maps are Journalism, too

Maps are one of the best examples of how to integrate technology with journalism. There’s nothing easier for the reader than to see exactly where news happens, without having to describe it in 100 or more words. Maps have traditionally been a standard type of infographic in newspapers, but now online maps can add so much more detail – especially in election coverage. Because this GOP nomination is being dragged out so long, it has consumed my attention.

Google’s map of elections: This is probably the best starting point for anyone looking for election results, and on nights such as Super Tuesday a week-and-a-bit ago, Google’s election maps are a great way to see how people voted in states quickly.

NYT Election Map: The New York Times does some of the best election night reporting, and I’m addicted to FiveThirtyEight. So combine this with maps that are actually a little sharper and better looking than Google’s and you have a pretty addicting set of state and national maps.

SeeClickFix – San Francisco Chronicle: SeeClickFix is popping up in a lot of places lately, but I think the Chronicle has done a good job of using it to help their geographically wide coverage area. Maps pinpointing little trouble spots such as potholes, and bigger issues of public safety, sound like a job for a hyperlocal site. While the Bay Area is plastered with these kinds of websites, SFGate.com has probably kept more than a few eyeballs on their site for neighborhood issues.

The continuing development of maps for interactive journalism can only be a good thing.

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Listen up

When was the last time you tuned into WRBB, Northeastern’s radio station? I haven’t, and I don’t even know what its frequency is off the top of my head. But if you find it online, you’ll see tons of sports and music. Clearly there’s demand among Huskies to be heard on the radio, whether on an FM radio or through the Internet.

In my video, I talk to WRBB General Manager James Maniscalso and two students eager to start their own shows and spread their music knowledge to Northeastern. They have a point: for music lovers, a radio show is a great way to discover new bands. Even if one of them says he’s prepared to feature some pretty weird stuff.

This was really the first video I shot and edited from start to finish by myself – and it was a pain. Much like photojournalism, it forces me to use different news muscles that are totally out of shape right now. I think I’ve been too used to breaking news reporting and thinking off the top of my head that I was unprepared for the amount of planning needed to make a good video. I know for next time now.

On the upside, video journalism is pretty cool and I remember how easy iMovie is – once you know where everything is. But you’ll see my learning experience if you click below.

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The reality of visual journalism

Mary Knox Merrill, Feb. 16

Those who study this industry religiously say it’s becoming more about visuals and pictures than it is about words. Cynics probably would like to charge it’s because we’re growing more illiterate by the second. I, a committed words guy, say it’s because visuals have become so involving. Good pictures, mated to great audio and video, can be grounds for a pretty entertaining presentation.

Take Mary Knox Merrill’s work. As a photographer for the Christian Science Monitor, she covered presidential elections and events that merit standard still photos that would accompany text written by a reporter. But she’s also been able to travel around the world, where interviewees don’t speak English, to document stories with audio and video tied together with her pictures.

“Even if you’re a writer, you have to learn to take pictures, you have to learn to take video,” Merrill said, because people want a “full-viewing experience.”

Merrill said her time in Congo documenting gorillas was challenging because of language barriers when filming the park ranger and his family. And she couldn’t get a lot of footage of the gorillas. The post-production for extensive projects like these are also gruelling.

“You kind of know what you have when you come back, but it’s not easy,” she said.

That’s typically the problem with lavish multimedia projects like Merrill’s gorilla work, another one of cyclists in the Gran Prix of Gloucester for the Christian Science Monitor, or Amy Silva’s artificial intelligence/political science intersection explanation for Northeastern’s External Affairs department. The work needed to make it attractive, as well as well-reported, is extremely intensive.

But making presentations like this for profiles or deeply reported topics is, in a number of ways, more appealing than a 1,200-word profile and a few pictures. It’s so much easier for a viewer to be captivated by the story. If done well, there’s so much multimedia journalism can convey. And who knows? With practice, that production process could get a lot faster.

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Show me the Storify

Josh Stearns makes sense of this thing called Storify, something I’ve long dismissed as a distraction. But the Free Press reporter’s ongoing monitoring of journalist arrests in Occupy protests works well with Storify’s concepts. Stearns is able to continue adding to the story and keep a running tally of arrests and police actions, even as the protests have lost much of the attention they did towards the end of last year. Stearns said, “Right now (Storify has) been used as a sidebar, not a main bar. The question is less than how will Storify will change journalism but soc media change journalism, and that’s an open question.”

The Daily Beast used the Komen Foundation’s political gaffe towards Planned Parenthood funding as the basis of a Storify. It organized the Storify into three segments: the plea for funding, the political backlash and subsequent turmoil at Komen because of the foundation’s own politics. I thought it provided a great mix of tweets and charts and multimedia to show the dynamic nature of this debate that emerged and then the reversal of the initial decision late last week. For stories that can change by the hour as this one did, Storify works well to keep people updated who don’t have the time to watch their Twitter feeds change or read a new news article on the hour.

PipelinePG, an offshoot of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette focused on natural gas drilling, centered their Storify on President Obama’s energy remarks during his State of the Union address a couple weeks ago. They used a combination of media sources such as NPR and groups like FracFocus.org as well as individual tweeters. They also incorporated the Post-Gazette’s infographics and video of the SOTU. It’s all really effective and well-orchestrated. It makes reading any story by them on this topic pretty much unnecessary.

I’ve already been able to use Storify for a hot topic-ish story for BostInno. It’s a great addition for capturing public opinion and what else is being buzzed about on social media platforms. Like Stearns said, how the public takes to it for their own use is up in the air. For journalists, though, it’s something we should all figure out how to incorporate.

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Seeing red on the orange, silver and red lines

This wasn’t my first choice to do a live tweeting, but it could make an interesting case study. And I’m not a big hockey fan, so watching and tweeting Saturday’s men’s hockey match while they played at UVM could have been the perfect setup to publicly admit sports aren’t my thing.

Still, there’s something to be said for closely observing what it’s like getting on the T on a Monday morning. I probably wouldn’t have noticed how many people are in fact doing a crossword puzzle or wearing ridiculous hats.

I’m doing an internship at BostInno.com, where there’s a weekly Top 10 MBTA Tweets feature. Now that I spent a commute not zoned out with my eyes closed and head against the side of a car, I see plenty of material to tweet about – enough for one of those “S*!t People Say …” videos. (Let’s hope there isn’t one about the T in the works.)

Problems? Well I found out my camera doesn’t work on the iPhone Twitter app. Instead, the picture is just black. (Probably a casualty of the rainwater damage inflicted on my device.) And while there’s service on the Orange and Red Lines, there’s none on the Silver Bus. I learned this because today was one of the two times I’ve ever taken that bus.

And unless it’s snowing or pouring rain outside, I’ll stick with the 10-minute walk from South Station to get to work.

Photo: @zacestrada

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Liking and friending on new platforms

I stand by my original motivation behind pursuing print journalism: I want to report and share news with people, but I don’t want to be on camera. Unlike broadcasters, I don’t want to hear my voice or get covered in makeup to appear on camera.

But the days of hiding behind my byline are over, thanks to the Internet. And I’m being told time and again that a social media presence is a journalist’s best friend. Really? In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been introduced to different platforms that are supposedly brilliant for journalists. If only I knew why.

Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalism program manager, has been cluttering my news feed with ways to use Timeline. After getting all jazzed about finding a way to get it before the herd way back in October, it’s been a tough sell for me. But Vadim has some points for using Facebook as a journalist. It’s a great way to shamelessly self-promote because your non-journalist friends will still like you – probably. And now that Facebook’s becoming the favorite of the Washington Post staff, there’s good reason to delete my partying pictures and post more stories.

Mashable this week gave 7 ways journalists could use the site Pinterest. Frankly, after waiting three days for an invite to join I’m at a loss. If I blogged about interior design, cooking, baking, pretty things in general, Pinterest might be of interest to me. Maybe if I were a photographer, things would be different. Or if I really cared to make picture “boards” of my interests so others could better know my work. But until I master the camera that usually gathers dust on my dresser, Pinterest will stay on the back burner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m relatively upbeat on journalism and social media and finding the point where the two do wonders for each other. I’m just learning to not jump on board with the next new thing I hear about.

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