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?

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Out With the Old; In With the Old Reader (If They Don’t Kill This Too)

When Google announced last spring that it was killing Google Reader, my response  was the same as others around the Twitterverse: an impassioned NOOOOOOO!  I’m a big believer in RSS readers for a variety of reasons, and Google Reader had definitely been my reader of choice.  I especially loved that I could follow those feeds on my smart phone through a compatible app, Feeddler, which synced my feeds, along with the folders I created in Google Reader to organize those feeds.

Like everything, eventually it all worked out (maybe imperfectly, but still). I am sure I’m not the only one who waited until the Very. Last. Second. to grab my data from Google and transfer it to my reader alternative, Old Reader (which is compatible with Feeddler–yay!). One by-product of waiting so long to make the shift:  I now have almost 2,000 blog posts to catch up on. (See photo.)

What happens when you wait too long to sync your RSS feed to your mobile phone app.

What happens when you wait too long to sync your RSS feed to your mobile phone app!

Because the few months after Google’s announcement had people suggesting so many great alternatives (totally debunking the idea that RSS readers are outmoded), I am also experimenting with Feedly and Flipboard, both of which I love for the non-work related blogs I follow, since those blogs are more visually oriented than the stuff I read for work.

But while I have all this handled, I still have to figure out what reader will be best for my students, as signing up for Google Reader was a regular class assignment.  Along with Feedly and Flipboard, others have suggested Newsvibe, Digg Reader, Pulse, AOL reader (yes, you read that right), and NewsBlur. It’s tempting to jump to something more visually exciting, but I have a feeling I’ll default to Old Reader since it basically replicates Google Reader’s interface.  Why mess with a good thing?

Except that they are.  Or maybe they aren’t. With Old Reader’s future in jeopardy, it may be a crap shoot to hold on.  But hold on, I will.  At least for now.

Introducing My Students to Data Journalism

I just attended the 2013 ACP National College Journalism Convention in San Francisco this past weekend.  Seven students joined me, and we’re all a-buzz with new ideas for The Skyline View newsroom.  I’m especially convinced that it’s time to get ourselves a mobile app.  While our website may be built with responsive design, it’s time to think mobile first.  One of our tech-savvy staffers suggested Andromo, which only serves Android devices, so we are also considering ICampusTimes, a vendor at the convention, though its prices are higher. Whatever we decide, I was reminded by Iowa State’s Charlie Weaver in his Let’s Get Mobile workshop, we need to Do. It. Now.

As inspired as we all were, one thing the convention lacked, in my opinion, was an emphasis on datavisualization.  Perhaps I was aware of this because I was tracking NICAR13 on Twitter at the same time.  All I know is that students (and advisers) need much more training on this.

And get it (at least a bit), they will.  My Journalism 121 are starting the unit on data reporting.  First, I’m aiming to convince them that learning this stuff is necessary, as I’ve done in the past.  In fact, it may just get them a job.

We’re not going big on this. After all, it’s an introduction, and realistically, serious training would take a heck of a lot longer than two weeks.  But, I want them to at least get some exposure and some practice.  The plan is to familiarize them with Excel through a series of exercises.  Then, in the past, they’ve written stories based on their analysis of college crime statistics. This semester, though, I’m loving Jake Batsell’s coffee prices assignment, which also brings in mapping, something we did a couple of assignments back.

If any of them really geeks out on this unit, I’ve got a list of resources for them to continue their training.  This list is fraction of what’s out there:

Handbooks:

Tutorials:

Other:

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.

A Short Hiatus

Clearly this blog has taken a summer vacation!  As we approach the beginning of the fall semester at Skyline College, I will begin posting periodically on this blog.  In the meantime, why not head over to my other blog, the Skyline College Journalism Department? There, you’ll get news and updates from the program and its students, but you will also find some good journalism advice.  See you soon!

Follow These Journalism Blogs

It’s stating the obvious but I’ve been spending less time posting on this blog and more time posting on my other blog, Skyline College Journalism Department. The other blog is a way to publicize the terrific things our students are doing and to provide advice on entering the field of journalism.  It’s also a recruiting tool, though indirectly.  The idea is that if people know about the department, they’ll take our courses.  We like that.

All semester long, I’ve been utilizing the heck out of my Feeddler reader on my phone, keeping up-to-date (well, mostly) on the myriad blogs I follow, some of which are also on this site’s blogroll.  As I’ve already posted about, I see real value in readers (I use Google’s) and RSS feeds, even though they seem to be slightly out of favor.  Following these other blogs not only keeps me up to date in my field, but also gives me a steady stream of ideas for my multimedia class.    Each one is a free mini training resource–I’m consistently amazed by the writers’ generosity in sharing their expertise. So, despite the semester being over, I intend to stay on top of these blogs.  After all, during summer, I have the open space to rethink my courses and try out new ideas.

But I don’t think these blogs are just beneficial to journalism professors or journalists making the transition to new media skills.  Journalism students have a real opportunity to keep the learning going over the summer just by reading some of these blogs. Want general knowledge about being a better student?  Want to know more about a specific skill?  Want to gain career advice?  It’s all here.  So get reading!

Student Skills:

  • The Chatty Professor–the inside scoop on how to talk to your professors, chock full of great tips for being a good student

TV News and Video Skills:

Data Journalism Skills:

Digital First:

Jobs:

I have at least 30 other journalism and technology blogs I also follow, but this should get you started.

What are your favorite journalism blogs?  Let me know.

One Small (Coding) Step

I’ve been slacking on my commitment to learn coding, mostly because of time (we’ve hit the overdrive portion of the semester), but also because, well, frankly, it’s hard.

I can surmount some of the issues that have come up, but other times, I can’t seem to find what I’m doing wrong.  And I’m only on the beginning lessons the Code Academy offers.

Still, I was rewarded with my first coding victory the other day while heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge from Lombard Street.  Before starting this coding venture, I never would have understood this billboard.  But there I was, able to read it.  It’s one small step, but I’m glad to take it.

Next Up: Audio Slideshows

My students just finished photographing three aspects of a particular event, getting a variety of shots for each aspect.  It was good practice, and out of it, they need to work on two things:  a) framing more tightly (or cropping later), and b) waiting for the decisive moment.  They would also benefit from repositioning themselves to get better content.

They have a second chance to practice these things while they are working on their next assignment which focuses on Soundslides and audio slideshows.  Yes, I know that narrated slideshows have fallen a bit out of favor and that video is where it’s at.  That’s ok; they are going to do that, too.

But for me, audio slideshows can create an emotional response and connection, particular the ones in which the subjects tell the story in their own words.  Two of my favorites demonstrate this well.  A Hendrix Experience is a delight, both in terms of the music and the colorful character who is at the center of the story.  What my students can especially take away from it is the variety of shots that make up the piece.  Mel Melcon provides shots from a variety of vantage points, and we don’t just see the subject out on the street, but in his home, too.

The second example is deeply moving:  The U.S. Marine Corps’ Final Salute. Lt. Col. Steven Beck tells what is happening in each photograph.  That sounds like it could be formulaic, but it isn’t.  The reason?  I’m attributing this to superior editing, both in terms of the photographs selected and the audio chosen.

But what really makes both of these stories so compelling is that they are about telling interesting stories.  If my students can nail that–and if they can get good audio–they’ll have some work to be proud of.