Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Google's Picasa for simple, fast & complete slideshow embeds

I was really just trying to come up with one more way to fit the word 'Google' into a blog post headline before the month ended ... kidding, of course. I would so like to post about some non-Google thing, and I will. But not today.

The first snowstorm of the season hit Michigan last night. It wasn't exactly a whopper of a storm, but it was enough snow to get everyone to pull out their cameras and take shots of their snow-covered lawns and backyards.

We started crowdsourcing this morning on Twitter and Facebook, asking for people to send us their snow pics. People responded — not a massive response — but several folks Tweeted pics of their dogs, yards, wildlife, etc. As community engagement editor, I feel like part of the whole 'engagement' task is to not just get people to interact with you, but to make use of those interactions.

I had five photos to start. Not enough to make a fancy slideshow in iMovie, and I really wanted to be able to include captions. There was some program that we used to use for slideshows, but something about an FTP server and passwords has always been a roadblock in actually using it.

So I turned to Picasa, which is Google's version of Flickr. I've used it for years now and knew it offers links to albums and automated slideshows, so I figured it had to offer an embed code for slideshows too.

It does.

Here's the how-to:
1) Sign in to your Google account, go to "more" and then "even more." Select Picasa when you see it.
2) Upload your photos
3) Make sure you're selected on the album and you should see "Link to this album" on the right hand side
4) Select "Embed Slideshow" — it's an option that only shows up after clicking "Link to this album" 

What I love
It pulls in all the captions you added for the photos. I have Photoshop and run everything through it first, adding captions and stuff. I was so pleased to see that pop up.
I used the extra large size for our website. It came out so nicely!

Here it is, this is the large size  

Don't forget
Let people know you appreciated their interaction and made use of their contributions. I thanked each person who contributed and Tweeted a link to the final story file.

I almost forgot the best part! 
About an hour after embedding slideshow, I had a sixth picture come in. I added it to the Picasa album and crossed my fingers, hoping it would just automatically update the slideshow on our website.
It did. How cool is that? I shared the little success with some of my colleagues.
"You know how awesome that will be when we're covering something on the fly, to have it update like that?" said Charlie Crumm, our political reporter.
So true.

Check out the story file: Send us your wintry photos

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Google Voice examples: 'BackTalk' and soundcloud

I'm happy to share some more examples of how we're using Google Voice.
Click on the headline to view the project referenced.

Trentonian launches audio version of 'BackTalk' 
We call it 'Sound Off' here at The Oakland Press. At the Trentonian, it's 'BackTalk.'
It doesn't really matter what it's called, though — it is consistently one of the most popular items for readers, regardless of whether it's in print or online.
The way it used to work was that readers could call in and leave a voicemail sounding off on issues important to them. At The Oakland Press, we requested only that the caller leave the name of the community he or she resides in.
A clerk then manually transcribes the messages — listening and typing furiously to keep up — and editors select which messages will be published.
The Trentonian is using Google Voice to put a new spin on this project. They're using the Google voicemail account to capture messages, downloading them and then uploading to Soundcloud, which generates an embed code that you can place anywhere in a story file.
Pretty neat.
One note: Editor Joey Kulkin contacted me while working on this with a question about the embed codes offered directly through Google. By clicking on the down arrow next to the message — the same function you use to download the files — you have an option of generating an embed code for that individual message.
I haven't tested out the Google embeds myself, but Kulkin said they weren't working for him. Let me know if you find a way to make them work.

Can the Lions win against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day? 
We are all aware the answer to this question is no.
But before the game was played, we asked readers what they thought would happen.
Normally, I use audio files like this to accompany a slideshow, but we all know how holiday weeks can be — busy.
For this project, we uploaded the audio to our website using the same function you use to upload a photo. As long as the file is smaller than 5 MB, it'll work and play automatically. It is also automatically dropped at the very top of the story, so not exactly my favorite option to display audio.

Readers thankful for family, friends
Oakland Press Reporter Shaun Byron used Google Voice for his Thanksgiving Day story asking readers what they're thankful for.
It was not a hugely popular use of Google Voice with readers, though, and only two people called in.
Because we were having issues setting ourselves up with Soundcloud accounts before the holiday (we've fixed that problem now), we again had to use the media upload feature on our CMS.
Byron made it work by linking to a separate story file that contained the audio responses.
For instance, under a graf about so-and-so, it said something like: "Listen to so-and-so's full response." Then it's one click for the user and the audio begins playing.

Fans sound off about Suh's Thanksgiving Day performance
Michiganians love Lions' defensive star Ndamukong Suh, but no one seems to be loving the Thanksgiving Day play that got him ejected from the game.
Fans reached out in every way they could to talk about the penalty, including calling our Google Voice line.
With my Soundcloud account now up and running, I used that option today to showcase the comments called in.

Get the how-to docs and resources you need to start using Google Voice at your organization

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Audio editing tips: 'An aggressive process'

Planning to use Google Voice to put together a multimedia project featuring audio responses from your audience? Here are some tips on editing audio to keep in mind.

"Editing should be an aggressive process," advised Mark Lewis, corporate multimedia editor for JRC. "Cut until you think that losing one more piece would sink the project. As a rule, tighter tends be better." 

Select for emotion
Audio is an excellent way to convey emotion — as a listener, we can hear the intonation of the speaker's voice and understand the emotions driving it. That means audio can be a powerful tool, but in order to capitalize on it, you've got to be selecting for those passion-filled, emotional responses.
Skip over the dry, monotonous responses. If you include them, you risk losing the listener. So no matter how well-versed the response is, it's not worth including if it means driving away listeners.

Keep it short. Really, really short.
We're all familiar with the term soundbyte, but what is a soundbyte, really? I like this sentence from wikipedia that sums it up this way: "A short phrase or sentence that deftly captures the essence of what the speaker is trying to say."
How short is relative. In a video I produced this week, I included a clip of an accident witness simply saying "Ka-boom!" to describe what the accident sounded like. In the context of the video, it worked.
A good soundbyte can be as short as a couple words. Whether it works is all about context and emotion.
Moving quickly from one quick soundbyte to another gives these projects great movement to keep the listener engaged.

Lead with the best
Just as we know to lead our stories with the most engaging information first (and your videos, now that you've all been through the JRC video training, right?), the same goes for audio.
Saving the best response for last is useless if the listener gets bored with the less-than-best responses you led with and ditches before he or she reaches the end.
Keep them engaged. Start with your best.

Reduce redundancies
If you asked five people for their opinion on something and they all gave the same answer, would you include all five answers in your print story? I hope not — space is tight, right?
Apply the same method to audio.
If you have a bunch of responses that are essentially the same, take the most passionate one and cut the rest.
Even if the point you're trying to convey is that everyone is saying the same thing, be selective. Choose the best and get rid of the rest.

Giving credit
I struggled at first with how to give credit to the people who participated — many left their names verbally, which meant I'd have to call back to confirm spellings if I was going to use a scrolling credit screen.
I ended up using their audio instead, selecting the brief second or two it took them to state their name, and using them at the end of the project. You'd hear my voice say, "Today's audio contributors include" followed by each person saying their own name.
Just a suggestion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Google Voice: 'Great engagement tool'

I'm loving that Google Voice is catching on as an engagement tool. Here's the latest on these projects:

Delaware County Daily Times produces 'Delco Speaks'
After the Philadelphia Eagles recent loss to the Cardinals, the staff at Delaware County Daily Times used Google Voice to ask its audience, "What should the Eagles do now?"
The responses poured in — 60 calls in the first 10 minutes after posting the question.
Here's the finished product:

Feedback on putting together these projects
I asked Vince Carey, online editor for Delco, what he thought about using Google Voice.
"I found the process pretty easy, but pretty time consuming," Carey wrote to me in an email. "We got over 60 calls and going through each message before deciding which ones to download wasn't a lot of fun."
He added: "To be truthful, I think it's a fun idea, but can't be done daily."
I agree, this isn't a daily project. I really think the best uses of this tool will be for those big breaking news stories or issues that people are deeply opinionated about.
Getting so many calls will make it more time consuming to go through the messages, but I think it's also a sign that we've done the right thing by engaging the community on a topic that they want to be heard on.
I'm going to post later with some tips on editing audio that should help reduce that message review/selection time too.
And while the process can be time consuming, I found that practice helps. As with everything, the more you do it, the more experience you get and the more efficient you become — the whole practice makes perfect theory.
Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media for JRC, recently chimed in on Google Voice too, calling it a "great engagement tool" and asking staff to let him know how it's working out.
Thanks Steve!

Coming up — tips on editing audio
Just like learning how to structure a story, there's some things to keep in mind while editing audio.
Check back tomorrow for some general tips on that.

Looking for resources on Google Voice? 
Lots of information and how-to documents available on the post, Using Google Voice for multimedia projects

Friday, November 11, 2011

Google voice project on scandal at Penn State

One of our sister papers in Pennsylvania, the Delaware County Daily Times, used Google Voice to crowdsource reaction to the scandal at Penn State earlier this week.
They crowdsourced the question using a story file on their website on Wednesday morning, asking their audience whether Joe Paterno should step down.
At that time, the Associated Press was reporting that Paterno would announce his plans to retire at the end of the season later in the day — which he did. Even later that night, though, he was terminated by the board, effective immediately.
The question was posted online just before 11 a.m. Wednesday. In less than an hour, about 20 calls poured in.
I tried to do the same here in Michigan, but perhaps Penn State is just too far removed from us for folks to be passionate enough about the subject to call in. No calls from Michiganians on this one.
The efforts of the staff at Delco definitely demonstrate that the right question about the right story in the right market make this a worthwhile project.
Seriously, when you get about 20 calls in less than an hour, you know you're engaging your audience on a topic they want to be heard on. That's valuable.

Here's the final result:

Learn how to use Google Voice for a project like this, Using Google Voice for multimedia projects 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hey Google, we want an embed code for the hangout!

Some colleagues of mine at The Trentonian, a JRC paper in New Jersey, used another cool Google tool to help them cover the election last night.
Editor Joey Kulkin, staffer Joe D'Aquila and reporter Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman teamed up to use the Google hangout to get live interviews with candidates, concluding with an interview of the winning mayoral candidate.
I caught up with them earlier this week when they were testing it.
Because Google does not currently provide an embed code for its hang outs, D'Aquila and "tech guy" Ryan Boyle used a screen capture feature through Ustream, which gave them the live feed used on their website.
Pretty awesome.
I talked with my coworker, politics reporter Charlie Crumm, about potential uses in our own office.
"Is this something I could teach an 70-year-old politician to use?" he asked me.
I think so. It all depends on the individual, but knowing the politician he had in mind — one that at least is aware of the impact applications like Twitter and Facebook have — I do think it's possible.
It's super easy to join Google+, if you haven't already, and from there, starting or joining a hangout is a click of a button. As long as you have a webcam, you're ready to rock n'roll.
You can see in the embedded video file below that The Trentonian had a reporter on the scene to do the interview with the politicians.
At The Oakland Press, we're also thinking about ways we can use this when we can't physically get to the interviewee.
Something like this could also be used in conjunction with a live chat so that viewers could feed questions they have directly to the reporter, who can ask and get the interviewee to respond in real time.
I love Google.
But really, Google could make this a whole lot easier on us by just providing an embed code for the hangout. So, come on, Google. At least consider it.
Hats off to The Trentonian team for innovating a new way to use yet another cool Google tool for journalism!

The Trentonian's livestream using Google+ hangout
Video streaming by Ustream  Here are some additional notes from D'Aquila on the set up:
We found some soda crates in the room and used them to prop up a web cam in front of my laptop’s screen. The camera was hooked to a desktop we lugged into the conference room. I started the google hangout then positioned the camera to grab what I wanted. We used an audio patch cord that I just happened to have (one I use to hook an ipod to a portable boombox) and we used that to feed the audio from the laptop to the desktop-speaker jack-to mic jack. I then set up a third computer, a notebook, to use as a monitor to watch what viewers on our Web site would see and listened with a headset.
He also said: "Google has created something called 'Hangout On Air' which can be embedded, but they haven’t made it available to everyone yet. Soon, hopefully. It will be a very useful interview tool once they do."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Using Google Voice for multimedia projects

Merriam-Webster still defines Google as a search engine. Isn’t that silly? Google is so much more than that.
The latest and greatest Google product to grab my attention is Google Voice, a free service that has some really exciting applications for journalism.
Google Voice is essentially a routing service — you get a local phone number with a digital voicemail account that can be tied to other phone numbers and email accounts. For instance, you could route all calls to your work and home phones to your cell phone.
But that’s not what I’m excited about — in fact, I don’t the service at all for how it was intended. I leave my phone lines unlinked and use the Google voicemail account to collect messages.
The voicemail allows you to download audio messages in an editable format.
Think about the possibilities there.
It’s an incredibly simple (and don’t forget, free) way to collect comments and reactions from our audience.
Those messages can be edited into soundbytes and placed over slideshows or even used as simple audio files to accompany a story.

Ways to use Google Voice for journalism
I first used this tool to crowdsource “Where were you” stories for The Oakland Press’ coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Read all about that, A hyperlocal multimedia approach on the 10th anniversary of 9/11
More recently, I’ve gathered fan reaction after Detroit Lions games (check out a detailed case study on that). It was while working on the Lions project that I came across a promising way to crowdsource reactions with immediacy.
I used our SMS service to reach the audience, sending a message like, “Where did the Lions fall short tonight? Let us know, call 248-291-7332.”
People began calling in the very minute the message was received on their phone. The immediacy blew me away. 
With that in mind, I’m excited about the possibilities this has for breaking news situations, timely collective pieces — think about the how the world reacted to Steve Jobs’ death — or even hot-button issues.
What do you think? Is this something you’d use, or something you have used? I’d love to see more examples of how journalists are using Google Voice.

Learn how
Here’s a handy how-to on getting started with Google Voice, and also some information on using the free tool audacity for audio editing.

Listen to why I used Google Voice for the 9/11 project:
Karen-1-1 by jrctraining  

Listen to how I used Google Voice for the 9/11 project:

Karen-1-2 by jrctraining
And hear about the results:
Karen-1-3 by jrctraining

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The three-Flipcam experiment

Political Reporter Charles Crumm
We've been doing a lot of work at JRC to improve the quality of our videos lately — we've actually just kicked off a company-wide training program that I'm proud to be a part of.

It's definitely something the staff here at The Oakland Press has been craving, as exemplified by Political Reporter Charles Crumm's efforts to make his weekly video series with our colorful County Executive L. Brooks Patterson more pleasing to watch.

Crumm was one of many on our staff to receive training from a local public access consortium called CMNtv and has pitched in to help the filming of many Oakland Press-related segments we've done with CMNtv at their studio.

I'm thinking it's this experience — particularly the knowledge of how TV work is generally done with multiple cameras — that hatched his idea to use multiple Flipcams to film his weekly interviews with Brooks.

For the first time around, it's certainly not perfect. In fact, backlighting on the Flipcam set up to shoot the close-up on Crumm made the footage unusable, so he wound up with only two angles rather than the three he was aiming for.

As one of the trainers for our new video program, I suggested to him that the close-ups could have been closer and a little more off-center, and the video could've been tighter in terms of time too. But all things considered, it's much more pleasing to the eye to watch this conversation from two angles (did you know you're naturally inclined to focus on something — anything — for a mere four seconds before turning your eyes in a different direction?) than just a talking-head style video. I'd also like to see Crumm do a reporter intro — and maybe he did, but couldn't use it because the camera set to him had lighting issues.

The neat thing is that Charlie — after borrowing a Flipcam from me and a third from another coworker — did this all on his own. I think it's a good model for improving Tier 1 videos (talking heads) when applicable.

Here's the video, and below, read what Charlie had to say about this experiment:

"Overlooking the fact that you have two old guys on camera with faces made for radio and voices made for print, here is the background and some observations:

I showed up a half-hour early for the 9:30 a.m. appointment so I would have time to position the cameras, one pointed at each of us and a third for a broader establishing shot, and enlisted Patterson's secretary to help me frame the camera positions. I also wrote out the questions in advance with the goal of keeping the final result to 5 minutes.

I wound up using mostly two angles because I inadvertently pointed one camera right at the window. I left a frame or two in the final video to illustrate the undesirable result.

While flipcams have great audio, the audio volume varies with distance. You'll have to beef up the audio during editing for the shots from the cameras furthest from whoever is speaking.

Editing is a bit more time-consuming since you're jumping sequentially from three different angles.

In short, it's a bit more complicated and best planned out in advance, but not right in all situations.

But it's doable and I plan on doing it again, based on availability of flipcams, subject matter and subjects to interview." — Charles Crumm

See the full story, Patterson: GOP presidential nomination a two-person race

Monday, September 12, 2011

A hyperlocal multimedia approach on the 10th anniversary of 9/11

Associated Press file photo
When my assignment for our coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was doled out, I couldn't help but think, "There's got to be a more powerful way to tell this story."

My assignment was to gather "Where were you" stories from our readers.

I thought about getting people on video. Sure seemed like a whole lot of work and in the end, a well done video would have only sound bytes from a wide variety of people. Maybe photos as B-roll. A lot of shooting. A lot of editing. And the finished product, would it be worth it? Would people want to watch a bunch of people they don't know talking about where they were when the planes crashed? I wasn't sure that video was the best fit for this project.

So I turned to audio instead. Voices can be so powerful.

Here's what I did:
1) I read tips on using Google Voice from Michelle Rogers, an ideaLab member from our Heritage newspapers group.
2) I set up a Google Voice account and left it unattached to any other phones.
3) I set up my Google Voice message to say, "Thank you for taking part in The Oakland Press' coverage of the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. You will have 2 minutes to leave a message with your memory of day. Please also leave your name and the community you reside in."
4) I wrote a brief for print asking people to contribute and gave them directions on how to do so. I put the same instructions on Facebook, put an item on our website and Tweeted the link to it.
5) I got a total of about 15 messages.
6) I downloaded the messages (sometimes, tears welling up just listening to them) to my desktop, imported them to garageband and shared them to my iTunes library. From there, I opened iMovie and began plunking down AP photos (from with different chunks of the messages.
7) When I was done, I shared it with a group of video trainers here at JRC and got an excellent tip on slowing down the time & movement of the photos.
8) Here's the final product:

Some of the audio stories couldn't be broken down for this video. Some just needed to stand alone. This took my story in a very cool direction.

Basically, the text article included a graf or two about someone's experience. In the online version, I made a link that said, Listen to so-and-so recall the story of ...

Clicking the link brought you to a different story box. For text, I just re-used the couple grafs used in the master version of the story. The nice part, though, is that as soon as the page loads, the audio begins playing. So it truly was a click to listen — not a click, then another click ...

Why didn't I just include each audio piece by the relevant text, you ask? Good question. It can't be done with our current CMS. Only one audio piece can be uploaded with each story and it automatically goes to the top of the story box. So this was a workaround, and it was a good one — it aided SEO because of the quality hyperlinks, it broke up the story content to make it easier on the eyes, and it was good for pageviews too.

For those who actually plan to click the link and check out the story, please note that the first video box is a video of a guy talking about where he was — exactly what I said in the beginning of this post was not a good fit for this story. To be clear, he was the lede to my story. I sat down with him for an interview and felt video, just of him, was appropriate and worth the time and effort.

The story: County residents recall terrifying moments of 9-11 attacks

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Include obituaries on your brand Facebook page with Legacy app

See the obituary tab on the left hand side of the page?
IdeaLab members may recall seeing an email from Oneida Daily Dispatch General Manager Karen Alvord about adding an obituary tab to the organization's Facebook fan page.

I responded to her saying I didn't think you could add tabs (thinking of the placement directly above the wall). Boy was I wrong!

Kali Zigrino, Managing Editor of the Rome Observer, emailed me back a day later saying she'd found a way to add obituaries by using an app provided by Legacy.

Here are the instructions she shared with me:

"If you just type ‘Obituaries’ in the Facebook search, it will take you to the app, which is powered by Legacy.
Once you get to the app, just hit ‘Add to my Page’ on the bottom left.
Then it takes the local obit feed right from Legacy!"

Pretty cool. I added it to The Oakland Press Facebook page this morning. It's really neat how it automatically pulls in obituaries based on your geographic location.

Here are links to The Oneida Daily Dispatch Facebook page and the Rome Observer Facebook page.

Thank you Kali & Karen!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crowdsourcing from start to finish

It's one of the many new buzzwords in journalism right now — crowdsourcing.
Here's an example of a crowdsourced story that I'm particularly proud of, with some writing-for-the-web tips added in along the way.

Large chunks of text hurt! 
This post starts with a web-writing tip. Notice how I've got all these subheds? Subheds make reading online easier for the reader to read and digest. Use 'em — ya got the space, right? Not exactly like you have to worry about fitting the page.

Engage in Facebook and they shall come
We ask a lot of questions on Facebook, certainly more than people ask of us.
So when they do ask, we pay attention and we try to answer.
On July 20, a reader used our Facebook wall to post this: "Any progress on finding out why there is a rather useless light south of waldon but no desperately needed light at waldon and M24?"
Check out the Facebook exchange that kick-started the story.
My favorite part, of course, was the nice compliment from reader Robert Vaughan (Thanks, Robert!) attached here as a jpeg.

All that work, why not a write a story? 
It was pretty simple to send off an email to one of my contacts and get Barb some answers.
Just before I walked out the door, my MDOT contact emailed me back with the last answer — that a signal request was made by the township years ago and denied, and that future requests should also come from the township.
That sparked another question for me — what does the township think?
And another question — so just how does an intersection qualify for a signal?
I called Orion and emailed MDOT. I didn't get any immediate responses, but wrote the story with the most up to date information that I had.
I used that story to ask for even more opinions, posted the link to Facebook with an additional question and Tweeted the question w/link from both my reporter and The Oakland Press Twitter accounts.
Check out the story, YOU TELL US: Does Waldon Road at M-24 in Orion Township need a signal?
Oh yeah, and I built a Google Map too.

View Waldon Road and M-24 intersection in a larger map

The final story
The follow-up
I talked with the Orion Township supervisor.
I did the research on what qualifies an intersection for a signal.
And I heard from people — I heard from my Tweeps, I read the story comments and got even more opinions from Facebook.
I even got an old-fashioned email and an even older-fashioned phone call too! (Click on those links for today's tongue-in-cheek joke)
Finally, I wrapped it all up for one big web story: 'It's dangerous' says Orion Township supervisor of Waldon Road, M-24 intersection
Then, I cut it to hell for print. Ha! Just kidding. But I did do some serious trimming. The web story is nearly 40 inches, the condensed print version is 20 inches but I was very considerate in my cutting.

Prepped for print
The print version included a lot of paraphrasing to get it shorter, but I don't think there are any big holes in it.
We're letting print readers know that our website is host to an expanded version of the story, and we're using a QR code that will take them right to it.

Writing for the web
Here's some things to note about the final story,  'It's dangerous' says Orion Township supervisor of Waldon Road, M-24 intersection
• Bullet point lists are easier to read and digest online. It's been proven that readers like them, so use them. I didn't even list all the warrants for the print version, but online, every warrant sticks out as a bullet point.
• Lots of links — from previous stories to the Facebook conversation to big nouns mentioned, like MDOT or Orion Township, and of course, to the links I used while researching the article.
• Subheds — again, they make reading easier. Web story has a bunch of subheds, print story has none.
• Multi-media — It might just be a Google map, but that's a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gerrymandering: How multi-media are you getting with coverage of the redistricting process?

Multi-media story on gerrymandering
All across the United States right now — from the national congressional level to the countywide level — redistricting is taking place.
This is where those pesky political maps get redrawn.
In recent years, we've seen lots of jostling locally as politicians prepared for this moment — each party trying to get a majority in key areas so they may have control of the process.
And of course, now that the redistricting time has arrived, there's no shortage of gerrymandering accusations to go around.
In Michigan, our statewide legislators are responsible for redrawing maps for both themselves and the national congressional districts. At the county level, a five person committee draws the boundaries for the county commission districts — those five people are the county clerk, prosecutor, treasurer and chairman of the two major political parties.
At the statewide level, the Republicans have the majority in terms of redrawing these maps.
At the county level, the Democrats have the majority.
This is creating quite the local battle, as county Republicans accuse county Democrats of gerrymandering. In response, county Democrats are crying foul about the statewide maps — saying their Republican counterparts are the ones doing all the gerrymandering.
In effect, it can be summed up like this:
"Your party is gerrymandering!" cries the Republican to the Democrat.
"No, your party is!" cries the Democrat to the Republican.

So, how are you covering this in your state, community, etc.?

I advise journalists to take note of the work done by our political reporter Charles Crumm, who has been dashing out of the office right and left the past few weeks to take video of politicians on either side of the aisle defending their party's map and crying foul about the others.

Last week, our always colorful county executive (a Republican) called our county prosecutor (a Democrat) a "political hack" because of the map she created.
The county prosecutor responded Monday by saying she wasn't going to 'battle' the executive, but alluded to the statewide maps as being more politically biased.
When the maps were first introduced, Crumm uploaded each to Scribd. Now that specific maps have been chosen, he has all of the embed codes and/or links ready to go for each story he writes.

Additionally, every time he darts out of the office for more interviews, he's taking his video camera with him. The issue has spread into outlying issues too, like who's going to support who for future offices based on whose maps are deemed to be more offensive. In other words, he's coming back with not just one, but several video clips to accompany each story.

Check out how Crumm uploaded each story, giving one video placement within the story and linking to others in the text where it makes sense. Of course, links to the maps themselves are also right in the text.

It's a nice way to keep the story looking tidy, but yet offer readers a great variety of multi-media content to really expand their understanding of the issue.

Here are the articles:
L. Brooks Patterson encourages Bishop to run against Cooper for prosecutor's job WITH VIDEOS
County prosecutor, executive at odds over gerrymandering on political maps WITH VIDEOS

One thing we'll be adding soon: links to previous stories.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Take advantage of Associated Press videos via Youtube

I opened up a wire story this morning about a 7-year-old from the thumb area of Michigan who was charged after driving a car 20 miles in an attempt to get to his dad's house.
Check out the AP Channel on Youtube
It's been a hot story in Michigan for the past week and I couldn't help but notice "AP Video" marked on the story file.
I looked in my AP exchange account to find the video, but had no luck. I called the customer service support line (which is 877-836-9477, by the way) and talked with someone about getting the video.
While he searched for a way to get it to me, I brought up to check there.
I found the AP channel and while scrolling down, I noticed a whole bunch of videos that could go with hot wire stories we posted today — there was a video of a possible twister striking the racetrack at Churchill Downs and a video on the Boston mobster 'Whitey' Bulger being arrested, a couple videos pertaining to 'Jackass' star Ryan Dunn's death and more.
The video I was originally looking for — about the 7-year-old driver — was also there.
I told the customer service representative that the videos were available on their Youtube channel and from there, I could just embed them. I thanked him for his help anyhow and hung up.
From now on, I'll be checking the AP Youtube channel daily. There's a bunch of good national stuff on there and I recommend everyone in our organization make a regular habit of checking — especially whenever you see the "AP Video" on stories you plan to upload.
I've also subscribed to the channel and set myself up with email notifications for all new videos — also not a bad idea, I think.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Google maps continue to be a hit for QR Code use

QR code for traffic signals ran on the front
I recently created a Google map for a story I wrote about flashing red traffic signals being phased out not just in our county, but nationwide.

I thought it would be neat to plot on a map all the Oakland County intersections that currently have the new flashing yellow traffic signals as well those slated to be changed over this year.

The Road Commission for Oakland County provided me the list and I built the map based off that. Even though I had more than 80 points to plot, it wasn't terribly time consuming.

Online, the Google map was embedded in my story file. In print, a QR Code linked readers with smartphones to the map.

Once again, the Google maps are proving their worthiness in terms of things readers will use. The traffic signal map code garnered a total of 91 scans. Compare that to my Fires in Pontiac map & QR code, which published twice and got a total of 127 scans. Both numbers are good.

Meanwhile, using QR codes for websites seems to be less of a hit. In a story that published recently about a local couple who travels to Utah to volunteer on their vacations, a QR code linking readers to volunteer information for the organization got only 11 scans. A remembrance page for a local teen who died got just 10 scans. Information about an event, the Great American Basset Waddle, got just 13 scans and a code for a contest on my blog garnered 14.

So you can see the difference. Google Maps = hit. Websites = not so much.

A Google map building tip: When adding your own icons isn't working
When I was creating this map, I wanted the icons to be little traffic signals. I had a good image of one on a flyer from the Road Commission for Oakland County, and since I couldn't find any standard icons I liked, I decided I would try adding the traffic signal image as an icon.
Seems simple enough — double click on the icon box and then select "Add an icon."
It requires you to have a link to the image, so I uploaded it first to my Picasa account (another facet of Google that allows you to store images online). I figured that since both Picasa and My Maps are features of Google, they'd work together. And Picasa does give you a specific link for any image uploaded.
Well, it didn't work.
I ended up in help topics, found my way to reader forums and finally got some good advice: Set up a free account with and use the link provided to the image once uploaded there.
The last thing I need is another account and password, but that's OK. In the end, it worked like a charm and got me back to building my map just exactly how I had envisioned it. seems like a bit of an archaic website — it's super simple — but it worked very well and it's simplicity also meant it was very, very easy to use.

The traffic signals map

View Oakland Co. Intersections with Flashing Yellow Traffic Signals in a larger map

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

QR Code data

We've been increasing our use of QR codes in The Oakland Press' print edition and I've been tracking the data.
The Google Map QR Code

Here are the results:
• We've been running a QR code on our front page rail linking to The Oakland Press' Facebook page for several months, albeit not daily. Over time, that's been used to bring 237 people to our Facebook page.
• Earlier this month, we used a QR code for a contest where readers could enter to win tickets to a Red Wings game. That generated 76 clicks to the page.
• A QR code linking to The Oakland Press sports page has gotten 130 users.
• A Google map plotting the locations of nine fires at vacant homes in Pontiac also got a QR code, which was published twice in print for stories about the fires — 118 people used it.
• Links to the comments page of stories have had less stellar results, though I'd argue that with the right story, they'd be wildly successful. A story about Michigan State Police using a device to extract data from cell phones had a comments page QR code got almost 30 uses; a link to a less controversial story about a drunk driver garnered only 16 uses.

Below is the Google Map that the QR code links to:

View Fires in Pontiac in a larger map

Monday, April 18, 2011

My 30-day project: & QR Codes

With everyone in the newsroom Tweeting, it made perfect sense for The Oakland Press to create a "best uses" of

My 30-day project gives the why-to and the how-to on using to do a lot more than just shorten URLs for Twitter.

By creating a free account, people can track data related to their shortened links. An added bonus? Every link shortened through the use of a account also has a QR code generated for it.

QR codes are something we're trying to use more often in our print edition. Why? To be able to interact with a huge and growing segment of news consumers — the mobile market.

Why not just create an mobile app for my newspaper, you ask? As much as I love apps, I'm not sold that they're the be-all end-all for newspapers organizations looking to reach the mobile consumer.

If we were to build an app, should we decide that iPhone users will get an app, or will it be Droid users? Or should we spend the money to make two apps? What about an app for the iPad? And what about apps for all those other tablets coming out now, and the next generation of smartphones lurking just around the bend?

My point is, the app thing is going to change. Right now, your apps are decided by your brand. Conversely, from our standpoint, we'd have to decide which brands are going to get our app. It's not a sustainable model and I have faith that in my lifetime, all smartphones and tablets are going to be able to shop at one master app-store — forget this by-the-brand crap.

I was just telling our Online Editor the same thing. He interrupted me to say, "In your lifetime you think that's going to happen? That's more likely to happen before Obama's term is up."

Red Wings ticket giveaway
Plus, why would you spend all that money creating a bunch of different apps when you could just add a line of code to your website that can tell what devices a user is coming from and automatically optimize the website for whatever that particular device may be?

I believe that's where JRC is headed. It certainly seems like the smartest and best use of resources.

In the meantime, we're finding other ways to connect with the mobile consumer — QR codes being one of them. We're also working on an SMS platform.

Already, we're getting results back from our use of QR codes. Staffer Paul Kampe said a QR code was used to promote a recent Red Wings ticket giveaway and generated a total of 65 clicks, including 35 from the first day and 25 more the next.

"Giveaways seem like a slam dunk for using a QR code," Kampe wrote.

I agree.

Here's video of the presentation broken into 3 approximately 10-minute clips:

This week, I'll be tweaking the Powerpoint included below to shed its OP-specific elements and make it applicable for all JRC properties.
Bitly QR codes

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Using Dropbox for journalism

Dropbox is one of my favorite things about the iPhone, and it's not even an iPhone specific thing!

You can download Dropbox (Click the link to go to the Dropbox homepage and see a video tutorial which, for some odd reason, is not embeddable) on your computer and all your mobile devices, allowing you to share content seamlessly between all of them. Even better, you can share folders with other computers.

In The Oakland Press newsroom, I downloaded Dropbox first on my computer, then added it to the iPhone and iPad, and then sent invitations to several of my coworkers to download Dropbox as well. For every person that answered my invite and downloaded the application, I got an extra 250 MB of free storage space. I then shared a general folder (ours is titled "OP Media") with all those coworkers who downloaded Dropbox.

This meant on Tuesday (and again today, while I was on the scene of a fire) I was able to use the iPhone and Dropbox to get photos sent automatically back to the office. I turn on the iPhone, go to the Dropbox app, take a photo, hit "use" and as soon as it uploads, a screen pops up on my coworkers' computers alerting them that "New media has been added to the OP Media folder." They can then drag and drop the photos (or video) to their desktop, edit as necessary and upload to the website. Generally speaking, it's a faster method than trying to upload to a story file right from the phone.

Here's a handout I made:

Using Dropbox for Journalism

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Covering a developing story

It was just before 8 a.m. Tuesday when I ran out of the office to chase down a raid on a medical marijuana dispensary taking place within our county.
That was the start to what would be a long day trying to keep track of the latest developments in the story.
What started off as a raid at one dispensary turned into a raid at two dispensaries, then at a bar, then a strip club, and then at a home.

iPhone photo
Here's how we did it, and how we could've done it better:

How we did it
1) I put a two sentence story up on our website. It went something like this "A raid of a medical marijuana facility is taking place in Walled Lake. The Oakland Press is sending a reporter to the scene."
2) I grabbed the iPhone, which once again proved itself as one of the most valuable tools to cover breaking news. While en route, I called a photographer to give him a heads up and promised a callback once I figured out where the raid was taking place.
3) Once on scene, I called back to the office and, for the sake of expedience, gave the information on the dispensary's name, address, phone number and website to staffer Valerie West. (What turned out to be really neat was that Valerie instantly recognized the dispensary as the one she'd recently gotten kicked out of while working on a story about medical marijuana ordinances in the county.) While it was comforting to know I could've updated the story from the iPhone itself, it was still faster to call back to the office and relay the information over the phone rather than fumble with the iPhone little's keypad.
iPhone photo
4) I interviewed employees of nearby businesses to get quotes and color for the story. After each interview, I called back Valerie with a quote to update the story.
5) I shot photos using Dropbox on the iPhone. We may have very well been the first news outlet in the area to have images of the raid online.
6) I took video with the Flipcam.
7) I was on the scene from 8:30 a.m. to nearly 10:30 a.m. Once back in the office, I set about making calls like mad. Meanwhile, other staffers at the office were also making calls. By the time I arrived back at the office, we had a full-fledged story with photos posted online, and a reporter and videographer en route to a second raid. We continued updating the story throughout the day.

How we could've done it better
1) I spent a lot of time on the scene, had the iPhone handy and could've been Tweeting. Should have been Tweeting. Mental note taken for next time.
2) I could have shot a 15-second video via Dropbox and had video online before any other news outlets too. We need more people set up with Dropbox.

In total, the stories about the raid garnered 10,283 pageviews — pretty good for us.

At the end of the day, we had a comprehensive story with two videos and a huge variety of photos. The staff really worked as a team to get the latest on this story, keeping it freshly updated and making it a solid multi-media story package.

See the full story, WITH VIDEO: Feds raid Oakland County Medical Marijuana dispensaries

The photos posted here are from the iPhone. The video is my contribution; our full-time videographer has a second video from a second location posted within the story file.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How multi-media tools enable better displays of data

I can't help but continue clicking around on this Google map created by Political Reporter Charles Crumm.
It shows the exact number of foreclosures by community for each year during the past 10 years.
See the article, Foreclosures spike in March WITH MAP AND CHART
Could this information been presented on a print page? Sure, but the staff resources required to create something like that are huge and the amount of space such a chart would take up on a page would be huge too.
This is an area where digital journalism wins. One reporter, one database and one tool (batchgeo) that significantly cuts down the time involved in compiling and presenting this information. Compare that to one reporter spending hours transferring information from an Excel spreadsheet to a Newsedit document, only to set up even more hours of work for a second staffer to take that Newsedit data and turn it into a pretty full-page chart that eats up valuable space on the page.

View Oakland County Foreclosures in a full screen map

It was time-efficient enough to create that map that Crumm didn't stop there. Taking another set of data, he made a bar graph for foreclosures by the month since January last year. It really gives a visual to demonstrate what the story is all about — that it's difficult to discern a reliable pattern in foreclosures.
A simple glance at the graph instantly relays that foreclosures were high all last year, appeared to dip drastically in the beginning of this year but have now suddenly skyrocketed again.
March Foreclosures

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

OP hosts Community Blogger workshop

Glenn Gilbert, Executive Editor of The Oakland Press
Almost 20 Oakland County residents interested in becoming community bloggers attended our workshop yesterday, April 5.

Yesterday's workshop was different from those we held in the past. Those past workshops have broadened our list of bloggers to about 70, but yet we're lacking a crucial type of blogger — the community blogger.

The way we see it, there's a defined market for micro-local bloggers — a gap in news coverage left by traditional media organizations. With a need for news just waiting to be met, that also open ups revenue opportunities for those willing to take on the task.

 Last night, we had Marissa Raymo of our advertising department's special projects team on hand to talk about monetizing blogs. That, of course, goes back to building traffic, and traffic is something — with an average 3 million monthly pageviews — has to offer potential bloggers.

Our Executive Editor, Glenn Gilbert, discussed why we're reaching out to the community, the changing media landscape and our belief that the inclusion of a diversity of voices is imperative to being a successful source of news in the 21st century.

Using a projector, I was able to guide bloggers through a how-to session on setting up a blog and talked about using social media to promote it.

Online Editor Stephen Frye gave tips on covering communities, structuring blogposts and more.

Snippets from The Oakland Press' Community Blogger workshop

Oakland Press Community Blogger workshop

Marissa Raymo also handed out copies of her presentation on Search Engine Optimization, which is loaded with great information and available on her ideaLab blog.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Broadcasting positive news live

Top three winning students
Excellence in Education is a 19-year-old program here at The Oakland Press.
It was started by retired Senior Editor John Cusumano as a way to showcase positive stories from local school districts.
I first became involved with this program as an Editorial Assistant back in 2005. It's hard to believe so many years have passed now.
Year after year, I'm impressed and humbled by the students we honor.
This year, we got to open this wonderful event to the whole world via a livestream on our website.

Livestream replay: 2011 Excellence in Education Awards

Video streaming by Ustream 
Afterward, I also shot video of the winners with my Flipcam

I also filed the story for today's paper from the event using Google Docs and the iPad. I wrote the shell of the story in advance — the basic information about the program, the scholarship amounts and donations, etc. — while in the office and saved it to Google Docs.

Me (left) with third place program winners
After interviewing the winners with my Flipcam, I added quotes and color to the story. I have to admit, it wasn't the most enjoyable experience in the world to work on the iPad. Most frustrating was the fact that, despite my best efforts, Google Docs would not let me "select all" so I could copy & paste into an email. Instead, I called the copydesk, got in touch with someone who had a gmail account and made them an editor. They were able to retrieve the story that way.

Also, being in a hurry to file my story made the iPad keyboard all the more annoying. I wish I had one of those fold-out attachments ...

Either way, it worked out. Here are the story files: 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mapping census data with batchgeo

Political reporter Charles Crumm decided to build a map for the census data released yesterday.
As you scroll over the map, you can click on different points to see the population change data by community. It's pretty neat. allows you to use an Excel spreadsheet to import the data, removing the time-consuming method of plotting data manually.
Also nice about using to produce this map is that if you prefer to view the data in a list, it's included that way underneath the map.
The only thing I don't like about the map is that there's no public embed code. Embed codes are sent directly to a person's email.
Check out the story: Community leaders react to newly released census data

View U.S. Census data for Oakland County in a full screen map

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pick a tool, learn a tool, teach a tool: It's Evernote for me

IdeaLabbers are working on creating a toolbox for our fellow staffers. We've been asked to pick a tool, learn it and find a way to teach it to others.
For me, it was a no-brainer.
"Oh look, here's Evernote," I thought. "Well, I wanted to learn it and it looks like now's the time."
From "Best iPad Apps" by Peter Myers
Let me clarify. I got this book to review called "Best iPad Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders" by Peter Myers — the image you see here is a scan of the entry for Evernote — and after reading about the app, I was pretty excited.
Evernote is ranked by the book as the "Best App for Gathering Research." Being the type of reporter who loves the research gathering process, this seemed right up my alley.
I downloaded the free version of the app on my iPad and figured I'd be Evernoting it away in no time.
It opens up to a blank page with a little text letting me know that I can save any search I want to by creating a saved search. How do I do that? No idea. I tried figuring it out that night. No luck.
So far, I've figured out how to create a new note and add photos and audio to it. Not exactly the range of cool stuff I was expecting.
Just like figuring out how to use the ancient version of iMovie on my Mac laptop back when I was in college, I expect this to be a bit frustrating but overwhelmingly worthwhile.
And when it's all said and done, I'll have learned something I really wanted to learn and will make sure all of my coworkers can have an easy-breezy time learning and making use of this.
Stick with me for updates and please, if you've got some tips on using Evernote, leave me a comment!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Live feed from Hawaii News Now on tsunami: a must have

We've had the Hawaii News Now livestream up on our website since early this morning and have been tweeting as we follow along. In a matter of just a couple hours, our tweets have been clicked on almost 3,000 times.

We're also finding local folks with family, friends in Hawaii and California through facebook.

This is totally engaging. I love the things we can do with technology.

Check it out:
Live feed on The Oakland Press website

Live TV : Ustream