New Semester, New Ideas, New Journalism

After a semester hiatus from teaching JOUR 121: Advanced Writing and Reporting, we are back. And that means this blog will be active again.

As with past semesters, I want my students to leave this semester with a strong skill set of knowing how to tell interesting stories in a variety of ways. They will learn how to capture and edit audio and video; they will see how numbers and other kinds of data can reveal stories; they will think visually and socially; and they will play with tools. We will look at formats they may not have considered yet (VR journalism anyone?) and look to see what other trends are starting to take hold. And we will bring the basic journalism skills and ethics to bear on all of this.

My hope is that these new ideas and new ways of storytelling will show my students just what an exciting time this is to be in journalism. Despite all the changes and cuts and chaos, if they remain passionate, continual learners who are willing to take initiative, there will be a place for them.


Social Media and Verification Tools

It should be obvious from this blog that I’ve been learning right alongside my students. I’ve had fun chronicling my failures and successes with teaching digital journalism. One thing I’m feeling like I can put into the (moderate) success column: I just added a section on verification.

verficiatonLet me back up a moment. For the past several years, my students have built social media stories in Storify. They’ve also used or identified how to use social media to find sources and stories. But one thing I had not yet deliberately built into the process was verification. Sure, we’ve talked about the basics of making sure sources are credible–after all, these are my more advanced students–but we haven’t talked about specific methodologies for making sure particular tweets, photos or videos are authentic. Even just typing that sentence, it feels so obvious that that needs to be explicitly taught, but, well, perhaps I’m late to the party.

The realization that I needed to do this came after I had already completed this semester’s schedule. Nonetheless, I found a way to designate two class sessions to this. Was that enough? Probably not. But at least they have an introduction to the subject.

On the first day, I had them identify what prior knowledge they brought to the topic. They easily identified the strengths (we’ve covered this before) and the weaknesses of using social media. I was pleased that they innately knew the risks of relying on social media information. But what especially made me happy was that they were able to brainstorm several solid ways to verify information on social media.

I followed this up with readings from the following:

Once the students had done the reading, I uploaded different social media posts to an online class forum and had the students analyze the posts and figure out how they would go about verifying each.

So, again, I put this in the “success” column. Perhaps this will work itself into a larger unit at some point, but for now, I’m happy to have initiated some training on this. How are you teaching or doing verification of social media postings?

Update on April 30, 2015: This article by Anthony De Rosa is also a worthwhile read: How to Be a Good Internet Citizen During Breaking News.

Immersive Journalism: Now You See It; Now You’re In It

NPR interviewed documentary filmmaker and journalist Nonny De la Pena yesterday about Project Syria, which participants were able to experience at the Sundance Film Festival. Yes, experience, not view.

That’s because De La Pena’s piece is not a movie, but what she calls “immersive journalism,” created using virtual reality technology to place the viewer in the scene. In this case, one of those is a street corner in Syria’s Aleppo district right as a bomb blows up. De la Pena aims to put the viewer in the middle of the action, using real footage, audio and images taken on site. Wish you were here?

The project heralds a new way to tell journalistic stories. Journalists are already experimenting with how to use Google Glass and Oculus Rift for storytelling. But if de la Pena’s company, Emblematic Group, becomes the “CNN of VR” as Engagdet predicts, that would be a game-changer.

Think about it: Younger audiences are already accustomed to more engagement than previous audiences, ditching traditional news stories for real-time social media. What if journalists could put them, say, right on the streets of Ferguson or in an Ebola hospital in Sierra Leone? Not viewing the action, but engaging with the action.

Of course, journalists must think through the pitfalls of this kind of storytelling. As de la Pena told NPR, journalists must reflect on best practices for these new “spatial narratives.” For example, while photo manipulation is considered unethical in photojournalism, de la Pena told All Things Considered host Robert Siegel that with this new platform comes “different affordances.” That is, just as documentary film makers have ethically acceptable ways of recreating scenes for which there is no actual footage, virtual reality storytellers might also ethically recreate narratives that help audiences understand a story or situation.

This virtual journalism will have to be navigated carefully–for one, will audiences suffer post-traumatic stress from interacting with actual scenes of violence and carnage? But it’s exciting to consider the applications.

I watched the Reynolds Journalism Institute Green Shoots in Education program live stream the other day from the comfort of my home. I barely needed my second cup of coffee, because the innovations that the speakers were discussing so excited me that I felt ready to tackle a whole new curriculum before getting out of bed.

And then I had to leave for a writer’s discussion group in my daughter’s 5th grade class. Pumpkin muffins in hand, I headed down to her school, while still wired through my headset to Green Shoots. Yes, I unplugged when I got there.

So, now it’s the next week, and I’m going back through the archived videos of the event. It’s giving me much to reflect on. I’m proud that I’ve already brought some of the things discussed into my program: I’ve taken seriously (if not totally successfully yet) the need to bring data journalism into my courses, I’ve had my students participate in Carrie Brown-Smith’s Twitter scavenger hunt, and I’ve introduced my students to tools like Timeline JS and SoundCite JS.

But this line up? Wow. I’m struck by how much more I want to be doing.  During the program, someone asked on Twitter what the barriers or challenges were to change at our schools. For me, it’s being a department of one. The nice thing is that I can be fairly nimble in my curriculum, since I do not have to get the rest of a department on board with me. But I often want to do more than I can tackle as one person–or at least one person who still runs carpool in between planning curriculum and grading papers.

Perhaps the most inspiring part of the discussion was to see what you can do within your curriculum now.

That alone made me decide to change up the students’ next assignment. Instead of merely doing a photo piece, I may have them use Timeline JS to display the photos they take at an event over the course of several hours. Or I could use the StoryMap JS tool to have them create a Gigapixel visual to start with a broader photo (say, an scene-setting or establishing shot) and then move in with greater detail, perhaps getting a variety of different kinds of shots, such as close-up, above, etc. The point is to get them comfortable with telling stories in new ways.

And new ways–new ways of story telling, new ways of reaching audiences, new ways of teaching–seems to me to be the point of Green Shoots. Inspiring indeed!

Why Taking This Class Will Help You

Skyline College started its fall semester yesterday.  And since I have several students in the JOUR 121 course, I will once again be updating this blog more regularly.  I love teaching this course, in part because of the professional developments challenges it offers to me. But I also feel an obligation to teach this course as the journalism landscape continues to implode change. Perhaps I’m in this mood because I just read Clay Shirky’s smackdown-of-an-article, “Last Call: The end of the printed newspaper.” Yikes.

So, if he’s right–and it’s prudent to think so–here are the three things he says you better get on now:

  1. “Get good with numbers.”
  2. “Learn to use social media tools to find stories and sources.”
  3. “Journalism is becoming more of a team sport…volunteer for (or propose) anything that involves deeper teamwork than you’re used to, and anything that involves experimenting with new tools or techniques.”

If you are enrolled in JOUR 121, you are taking a good first step towards these three things, because those three goals are already built into our class and its assignments.  The real challenge is to not stop at what you learn this semester, but to take his advice as path to follow. Sure, take this class. But if you also see a free MOOC on data journalism, enroll.  If you aren’t on social media, or are not on top of posting, do it.  If you envision interning at a print publication, but aren’t also imagining a news or journalism product you can produce yourself, start now. Make sure journalistic Darwinism finds YOU a survivor.

Tracking Twitter Chats the Easy Way

As I said in the last post, feedback from some of my students about joining in with the #Edshift Twitter chat indicated that they were overwhelmed by the fast-paced, multi-directional responses. I can understand that.  While it fires me up, it was too unfocused for some of them.  Well, here’s a quick remedy if you want to engage in chats (and you should). Try the following free tools for seeing a more organized chat:

  • Nurph: While this tool is free, you will  need to sign up and create a “channel” for the chat. What I like about this is that, depending on who’s running the chat,
    Nurph allows replays of your old chats, as well as helping to organize a current chat.

    Nurph allows you to view replays of old chats, along with organizing your current chat.

    you can set it up to keep the current chat question at the top, instead of the question getting buried in the barrage of tweets. The site also allows you to see replays of archived chats.  And I haven’t even tapped into all of Nurph’s functionality.

  • Tweetchat: Simple.  Just type in the Twitter chat hashtag and you’ll see all the tweets from that chat.  It’s sort of like doing a search for your hashtag directly through Twitter, only it’s better because when you tweet through this site, it automatically adds the hashtag.  It also auto updates, but not when you scrolling down on the page.
  • Hootsuite: This overall social media organization tool can also help you manage your chats.
  • TweetDeck will allow you to do the same thing.
  • Twubs: Another tool for following a particular hashtag.

And once you’re done chatting (or lurking!), it’s possible the people moderating the chat have Storified the whole affair.  While you won’t be able to participate in these post chat round-ups, you can still soak up all that chat goodness.


Google Fusion Tables Fail (But I’ll Keep Trying)

I’ve been trying to learn how to have my students mash up two data sets and map them through Google Fusion Tables. Every tutorial I click on to learn more about Google Fusion Tables tells me how easy this is.

Yeah, no.

OK, let me modify that a bit.  I can get a data set into Google Fusion easily.  On occasions, I’ve even gotten Fusion Tables to locate my data on a map.  But I’ve also run into myriad problems.  And sure, this is to be expected, given that I am such a novice in the world of data-driven journalism.  But Lord knows I’m trying. I subscribe to a number of data-driven journalism feeds, recently took the Knight Center Data-Driven Journalism: The Basics and am signed up for Doing Journalism with Data: First Steps, Skills and Tools.  I’ve viewed dozens of tutorials on YouTube and have experimented multiple times on Fusion.

So, what are the blocks I’ve encountered?

  • Getting two data sets to align in the “merge” option.
  • Once the files have merged, getting the data to show in a way that doesn’t replicate certain columns. (See photo.)
  • And what’s up with the map? (See photo #2.)
Exhibit #1: Problems with merged files

Exhibit #1: Problems with merged files

There’s so many small things that I don’t yet understand and I suspect it’s these small details that are causing me big problems. What I really need to do is to find someone with more expertise than I have with whom to work.

Exhibit #2: Failed attempt to properly map the data

Exhibit #2: Failed attempt to properly map the data

Any suggestions?

Doing More With Twitter

A new semester of teaching Journalism 121: Advanced Writing and Reporting has begun with a crop of particularly talented students.  I’ll need to make sure they are appropriately challenged.  One of the things I’m twitter interface1rethinking this time is the Twitter assignments I give the students.  In JOUR 121, the students use Storify to curate stories, and I’m pretty happy with that.  But across all my journalism courses, they need to learn several things in regards to Twitter.

1.  Pitfalls in usage.  I still have students who are using accounts that are inappropriate as their public face. Even if they aren’t posting about getting drunk, students need to realize that if they’ve attached their full name to their account, their posts (including photos) need to be “scrutiny ready” by potential employers. What’s more, they should be aware of the ethical guidelines different media outlets are crafting for social media usage.
2. What to tweet.  Recently, I sent The Skyline View newspaper staff on a Twitter “scavenger hunt.”  I tweeted out directions through my @skylinejour account, things such as “Tweet a photo of one beautiful spot on campus and tell us where it is” or “Tweet one thing #skylinecollege students need to know right now.” What was interesting about the assignment is that we still have staffers resistant to using Twitter, even though it’s become de rigueur in journalism and connects so crucially with mobile reporting skills.  That’s a sign to me that I have to provide more instruction on and exposure to Twitter.
3. Full utilization.  If the students are only asking themselves what they should tweet, they haven’t tapped into Twitter at full strength.  When they think Twitter, they ought to be utilizing it for story ideas and contacts.  They should be considering new ways to report.  (Think @ACarvin.  Think Vine.) They should be on the look out for mentors and journalists whose work they admire. They should be following accounts that tweet scholarship, internship and job opportunities.  They should consider how they want to brand themselves online.

But first I need to convince them that Twitter is worth their while.  I’ll be thinking about this and experimenting with different ways to get them on board this semester.  And as I do, I hope to keep track of my progress here.

Social Media and The Anniversary of 9/11

My students recently learned about mining social media to get at stories.  They started by reading a post I wrote last semester on curation journalism.  Social media can be useful in getting story ideas (particularly trends), acquiring sources, and asking questions, and my students did all of that.  But I also want them to understand how stories that are curated from social media can not only provide readers with a broad overview of a particular story, but also can also give readers an intimate feeling by letting those involved tell the story in their own (140) words.  It’s as if the journalist is tour guide, inviting the reader to take a walk with them through the story.

I found this particular compelling in regards to the anniversary of 9/11 this year.  It is interesting (if a bit horrifying) to imagine what 9/11 would have looked like had we had social media back then. The tweets would likely have been unbearably intimate.  Being a fly-on-the-wall to all that destruction (more than the live TV coverage already allowed) is something that would have been heartbreaking.

But from the distance of 11 years, social media proved itself a fitting way to hold tribute to that tragic day.  No place was this more apparent than on Storify, the popular curation site. Check out the way Storify itself compiled how other outlets curated the anniversary.

RSS Readers Redux

Short hiatus over!  The fall semester at Skyline College in San Bruno has started and with it, my Advanced Writing and Reporting for the Media class.  As with last semester, one of the first assignments I’m having my students do is to create a Google reader.  I gave the reasons for why RSS readers are so useful last semester.   The students can so much more easily keep on top of industry reading this way.  While I already gave them a bundle for multimedia blogs I’d like them to include in their feeds, they would benefit a lot from taking a look at what others are suggesting (even if much of the conversation is from a few years ago).  For starters, the Online Journalism Blog suggested two years back this treasure trove of 50 feeds, broken up into different categories. (And if you read the comments, you’ll find even more suggestions.)  If you like what the site has to suggest, you find even more about the blog’s take on RSS readers and their utility for journalists.