New tools for reporting
Friday May 15th 2009, 5:37 pm
Filed under: journalism tools

Held at Ateneo University, Manila, 16 May 2009

This course will look at: 

Using blogs for research and finding story ideas

RSS feeds for better journalism

Skype and CallRecorder

Mobile journalism (mojo)

Micro-blogging and using Twitter (TweetDeck) for journalism

Visual reporting: Panoramas, Wordle and Soundslides

Web 2.0 tools for reporting

 

Bio of the teacher

Stephen Quinn was a full-time journalist for two decades until 1995, and continues to practise as a journalist. He has worked for regional newspapers in Australia; the Bangkok Post; the UK Press Association, BBC-TV, Independent Television News and The Guardian in London; the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney; and Television New Zealand. He was a producer for the Middle East Broadcasting Centre in 2002-03 while running a research centre in Dubai, to re-acquaint himself with new television production technologies.

Dr Quinn became a full-time university academic in 1996. Since then he has written 12 books, scores of book chapters and thousands of journalism articles. The most recent books are Asia’s Media Innovators and Australia-UAE: Expanding trade and cultural links, which appeared last year. In 2007 he co-wrote with Dr Stephen Lamble Online Newsgathering: Research and Reporting for Journalism. He published three books about convergent journalism in 2005 and 2006. Another two books are due for publication in 2010. In the past decade Dr Quinn has presented 123 academic papers in 24 countries. More than a third have been by invitation. 

Dr Quinn contributes to newspapers and magazines, consults for media companies, presents at industry conferences, and conducts research and training courses for media companies. In the past decade he had run almost 100 training courses in eight countries. He is a consultant for the Ifra Newsplex (based in Germany) and Innovation International (based in Spain), a member f the Counsel of the Newsplex, and a member of the international committee of the Online News Association.

Introduction

The history of journalists’ adoption of newsgathering technologies contains a continuing theme: reporters will embrace new tools if they are relevant – that is, they make the job of storytelling easier – and if the tools are easy to use (intuitive).

Some powerful digital technologies have become available to reporters over the past few years. This course focuses on some of the latest. But please note they require a little practice before they become second nature.

Blogs

Blogs and other related technologies offer new opportunities for journalists. Blog is a word combined from web and log. The word “blogosphere” describes all the content built by blogs, moblogs, podcasts and video blogs (these are discussed later).

Research with blogs

Journalists can use blogs as research tools, but the quality of information varies considerably. Think of them as a convenient electronic tool for listening to scuttlebutt. It’s a bit like listening to conversations on public transport or at social events. Sometimes they will stimulate ideas for stories. 

Use blogs to discover what people in the blogosphere are saying about local businesses or sportspeople or politicians. But remember that blogs are more influential than they deserve because Technorati, like Google, ranks sites based on how many people link to that site. This produces high rankings for bloggers who link to other bloggers. If you find lots of links to a blog, this might mean the blogger is respected and the blogosphere thinks they know a lot about the subject. They might prove a useful person to interview.

Technorati (http://technorati.com/) is the leading tool for searching blogs. According to Technorati, more than 175,000 new blogs start every day. More than 1.6 million blog posts appear a day, or about 18 a second. As of early 2008 Technorati was tracking 112.8 million blogs and more than 250 million pieces of social media. Four years earlier Technorati tracked a mere 2.4 million blogs. Now the site simply says it tracks “millions” of blogs. It claims to report within eight minutes of a blog being published.

 

Google also has a good search tool for finding blogs at http://blogsearch.google.com.au/ though it is still in beta, which is geek speak for still being tested.

 

Also remember that the same search terms typed into a blog search tool such as Technorati will produce different results compared with using those same terms in a search engine such as Fast or Google. So when casting the net wide for information make sure you search both on blogs and search tools.

Exercise

Choose a subject you plan to research. It might be a local person or sporting identity or organisation. Or for the exercise you could use your own name. Search for the name in a web-based tool such as Google or Fast or Yahoo! (putting the full name in quote marks tells the technology you only want mentions of the name that are in a phrase). Then do the same search in Technorati, the blog search tool.

Compare the different results. You will note that these tools search different parts of the Internet. It helps to research something topical because people tend to blog about current events. For example, you would search Technorati for a local sporting identity close to a major game, or a local politician close to an election.

RSS feeds

Blogs can help reporters do better research and consequently better journalism. But blogs are spreading so quickly it is difficult to keep up. A technology known as RSS is available to help keep journalists abreast of the news, and also follow the latest blogs. RSS stands for “really simple syndication”. It means journalists can have information constantly fed to them instead of searching for it. Technlogy “pulls” content to your computer, as opposed to being “pushed” with email.

A program known as a news reader (sometimes called a feed reader or aggregator) checks a list of sites the journalist chooses and displays all updated articles. The software provides summaries of web content plus links to the full version of each story. As with email, unread entries are shown in bold.

News readers come in two forms: web-based aggregators that gather feeds for reading in a browser, or desktop news aggregators that can be installed on a computer. The latter can be cross platform, or specific to the Macintosh, Windows or Linux. I use Google Reader because it is part of the Google group of tools, such as Gmail.

Exercise

Set up a Google Reader account. You can use your existing Gmail account to log in. You will need to set up a Gmail account if you do not have one.

Google tools for reporting

Google’s mail tool (Gmail) is useful for journalists. The chat option keeps a transcript of the conversation, so you have content to use when you write a story. You can use the same log-in for Gmail as for Google Reader. Google tools inter-connect with each other, so you have access to Picasa, the free picture editing software, from the desktop.

Skype and CallRecorder

Skype (www.skype.com) is free software that lets you make free phone calls to anyone who has skype installed on their computer. It works best with broadband. If you put money into a skype account, you can call mobiles and landlines that do not have skype. The cost is low for international calls, compared with toll calls, especially from hotel rooms. I make almost all my international calls by skype.

Read this column by Amy Gahran headlined “Skype: Why every journalist should use it”. http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=155339

CallRecorder (http://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/) costs $US16. It used to work only on a Mac running OSX. It links with Skype to record the conversation, using the Mac’s built-in camera. Calls are saved as a QuickTime movie. The local and remote audio tracks of the conversation are recorded on different tracks. So you can select one track to use as the audio for a sound slide. More on sound slides later.

A PC version is now available at http://www.callcorder.com/.

Exercise

Demonstrate Skype and CallRecorder.

Online video and multi-media

Over the next few years newspaper journalism will transform itself from its current print emphasis to a focus on a combination of print and multi-media, delivered online.

As that happens, newspapers will compete with broadcast companies to be first with the news. Before the spread of the web, broadcast companies owned breaking news. Radio could interrupt programs to announce the latest news. Television could go live if executives considered the situation appropriate, but only if they had a camera crew at the location. Meanwhile, newspapers had to wait until they were published. Now newspapers can break news online, often ahead of radio and television.

Much research has shown that breaking news drives traffic to newspaper web sites. The most popular form of breaking news, the kind that builds and holds audiences for web sites, is multi-media: news that is some combination of text, video, still images, maps, timelines, chronologies, slideshows and audio.

The simplest and quickest way to get multi-media news on a web site is via the mobile phone. Reporters can also send news back to the office via text messages from mobile phones and via tools such as Twitter (more on Twitter later).

Enter the mojo, a mobile journalist armed with only a mobile phone and a wireless Internet connection. With these simple tools a reporter can get multi-media breaking news onto a newspaper’s web site within minutes of an event being reported, ideally after an editor has looked at it first.

Enter the mojo

At least six companies offer tools for streaming live video from a mobile phone to the web. They are Qik, Shozu and Kyte in the United States, Mogulus in Canada, Bambuser in Sweden and Flixwagon in Israel.

The technical process is simple: Register the mobile phone number with one of these companies. Within seconds you receive a text message with a web link. Select the link and the software loads onto the phone. Thereafter, it takes one button to open the video software or audio recorder on the phone and one more to begin and end filming or recording.

Most of the software is currently only available on Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones and a handful of handsets running Windows Mobile. Newspapers need to consider how to pay for data charges because video and audio generate large files, and phone companies charge for data transmitted, not time connected. The best option is to choose an “all-you-can-eat” monthly data package if they are available.

Safdar Mustafa of Al-Jazeera talks about mojos at his channel. The video runs for 2:47. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2W9q3q_SVZI

In most examples of mojo work, the video is streamed from the reporter’s camera to the software company’s site. Then the newspaper copies selected pieces of video to the newspaper’s web site. A faster option, which would involve negotiations between the software companies mentioned earlier, would be to stream video directly from the camera to the newspaper’s web site. Newspapers considering this option would need to contact the individual software companies.

Recommendations

Of the software tools mentioned earlier, Qik and Bambuser worked best for reporting breaking news as of late 2008. My main criteria for selecting software were simplicity of use and quality of image. Qik is by far the easiest to load onto a mobile phone and use. If the software corrupts, one simply logs in to one’s private section of Qik and requests a repeat of the software. It appears seconds later and takes less than a minute to download onto a phone.

The quality of the video each software package produces varies, depending on how far the phone is from the server, the number of servers the company owns, and the calibre of local wireless broadband networks. Qik’s servers are in California while Bambuser’s are in Sweden. Both offer fast connections, which suggests they have plenty of server power.

Examples of the author’s mojo videos can be found at http://qik.com/mojo1 and http://qik.com/mojo2 and http://bambuser.com/channel/mojo1.

Twitter (aka micro blogging)

One of the big developments since early 2008 has been the concept of micro blogging via the web or mobile phone. Twitter was the original tool (http://twitter.com/). Reporting with tools like Twitter is limited to 140 characters (similar to SMS). A post to Twitter is called a “tweet”.

 I originally used a free tool called Twhirl (http://www.twhirl.org/). But I now find TweetDeck easier to use and it has a cleaner interface. See http://www.tweetdeck.com/. I think TweetGrid is a great tool for monitoring Twitter: http://www.tweetgrid.com/ A video about it is listed in the readings at the end.

Tweetscan (www.tweetscan.com) is like a search tool for tweets. Insert words that interest you, such as earthquake or riot or protest and see who is twittering about these things. Or use TweetGrid. In May 2008 American blogger and journalist Robert Scoble reported the major earthquake in China on Twitter an hour before CNN or major media started talking about it. How did he do that? “I was watching Twitter. Several people in China reported to me they felt the quake while it was going on. Over the next two hours I pointed at anyone who had info about the quake on my Twitter account. It’s amazing the kind of news you can learn by being on Twitter and the connections you can make among people across the world.”

Here is a map of the world in which tweets appear from the continent of origin (it seems to have a lag of about 40 minutes). http://twittervision.com/

Also useful way to see what the blogosphere is saying is via Twitscoop. It uses an automated algorithm to monitor hundreds of tweets every minute and extract words mentioned more often than usual. The result is displayed in a tag cloud at http://www.twitscoop.com/. Pierre Stanislas, one of the developers in Paris, said Twitscoop crawls in excess of 20,000 tweets an hour.

For a laugh, watch this mock documentary about a new form of communication called nano-blogging at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeLZCy-_m3s

Think of Twellow as the Yellow Pages for Twitter: http://www.twellow.com/.  A journalism graduate student in Buffalo New York, Craig Kanalley, launched a fascinating Twitter project in 2009 called Breaking Tweets. It organises thousands of tweets into a news service. Think of it as “hyperlocal gone global”. Find it at http://www.breakingtweets.com/

Reporting with social networking (Web 2.0) tools

Web 1.0 was one-way delivery of information to the audience. Web 2.0 involves interaction and connection between audiences, and is also known as and social networking. “Web 2.0 journalism” is the term that describes the relationship between the Internet, social networking possibilities and reporters. Examples of Web 2.0 tools for journalists include Facebook, Delicious and FriendFeed.

Facebook is an excellent way to find people to interview and story ideas. It has thousands of groups, many of which are useful for journalists. Join a group that relates to your area of interest. Some journalists have found Facebook a quick way to locate a photograph of someone in the news.

Delicious

This weirdly named site (http://del.icio.us/) allows journalists (after they register) to store all their bookmarks in one location on the web. So if reporters are on the road, they always have access to contacts and information.

More importantly, plenty of people make their bookmarks publicly available on the web, which means that it is often possible to locate ready-made sources of research on specific topics: del.icio.us is an excellent research tool for journalists. Visit my bookmarks at http://del.icio.us/sraquinn/ to see my links about mobile phones and business models for journalism. More relevant for journalists is this huge collection of links on the subject of internet freedom: http://delicious.com/internetfreedom/ Search the site using keywords.

Visual reporting: Panoramas and Wordle

One new way of combining images and audio online is what has come to be known as a panorama. A panorama is a series of photographs taken over a short period of time and linked via software to produce a continuous single image. Audiences can explore the image by scrolling their mouse around the image.

Here are some good examples from The Washington Post and The New York Times. The first was taken at the Pacific Arch, the national World War II memorial on the National Mall in Washington. The $US 172 million memorial was dedicated in May 2008. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/mmedia/360/042904-20p.htm

The second panorama was shot on the floor of the New York stock exchange. Vikas Bajaj, who covers finance for The New York Times, describes how the New York Stock Exchange has changed in the age of electronic trading. See http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/10/23/business/20081023_NYSE_PANO.html?src=tp

Click and drag your mouse over either image in any direction to see some amazing detail.

Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) describes itself as a “toy” for generating “word clouds” from text. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak the clouds with different fonts, layouts and colour schemes. A wordle is an excellent and simple way to illustrate news stories such as speeches.

Soundslides

This software, created by American photo-journalist Joe Weiss, has become the default tool for creating multi-media slideshows. Many newspaper photographers take many images at a news event but only one appears in the paper. Slideshows are wonderful ways to publish the spare images on the web, combined with audio. The software is available at http://www.soundslides.com. The demonstration version is free. It costs $US 40 to buy the basic edition and $US 65 for the deluxe edition.

Here is a suggested process for creating a slideshow. Assemble all your images in a clearly marked folder. Number those images in the order you want them to appear. Make sure those photos, already cropped and photoshopped, are in the JPG file format.

Prepare a sound track. It could be a reporter’s voice-over, or music, or an interview, or a file recorded on Skype via CallRecorder, or some combination of these. Make sure you save the sound track as an MP3 file. The sound track is the backbone or skeleton of the slideshow. The duration of the sound track is the duration of the slideshow.

Open the software and select new project. Make sure you know where you saved your project (desktop is simplest), and the name of the folder. You can use the video cited in the references to teach yourself how to use Soundslides. Allow about 5-6 seconds per photo, on average. A slideshow should be about 60 to 90 seconds. So 90 seconds of audio will require 12 to 15 good photos.

Nothing is more boring than image redundancy or repetition. So choose pictures wisely.

Soundslides offers a great way to tell multi-media stories. Sometimes a video of a person speaking can be boring. But that same voice combined with a slide show will produce strong storytelling.

Everything on one site

One good way to remember it all is via FriendFeed, which helps put all your links on one page. Demonstrate: http://friendfeed.com/sraquinn

Online resources

Mark Briggs has written a free book on multi-media for journalists. It’s basic but it includes a good section on Web 2.0: http://www.kcnn.org/resources/journalism_20/.

You can learn lots about multi-media journalism at this site from the University of California at Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism. Multi-media journalist Jane Stevens wrote many of the tutorials: http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/

Mindy McAdams, professor of journalism technologies at the University of Florida, has a comprehensive blog about online journalism: http://mindymcadams.com/tojou/

The author’s blog about mobile journalism has a range of information about reporting with only a mobile phone. See http://globalmojo.org

Mark S. Luckie writes an excellent blog about multimedia which should be on your list of regular reads. http://www.10000words.net/

Readings

Jonathan Dube of Cyberjournalist provides an excellent introduction to RSS feeds for journalists. Read it at http://www.cyberjournalist.net/news/001913.php. JD Lasica has written a RSS guide for journalists at http://www.ojr.org/ojr/lasica/1043362624.php.

If you use the Pro version of Soundslides, here is a video tutorial on how to use it: http://www.multimediashooter.com/wp/uncategorized/video-tutorial-soundslides-part-1/

Reporters Without Borders has a guide for understanding how people in repressed cultures can publish their blogs: http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=542