Monday, October 29, 2007

Bike versus car (And you can too!)

Apologies to Mr. Colbert on the title.

Wonderful visual presentation of bike-car wrecks from The Oregonian.

We could do it in Charlotte and Raleigh, with information at sites like this one and this one and this one.

I spent about two minutes at the last one and made the (not so pretty) chart shown here. The hard part: The crash data site says, "For a detailed review of crashes in specific locations (e.g., corridors or certain intersections within a community), it will be necessary to obtain such information at the local level."

But it's possible.

Here's another example of mashing up publicly available information to make it useful for readers, from Marc Matteo with McClatchy in California.

Utopian ideas: Foundations could give rewards or grants to creators of such projects so they can take the time to write project "cookbooks" for other papers. Or foundations could fund time for local reporters and graphic artists to develop their own projects, without eviscerating slim newspaper staffs. The ideas are spinning off Ed Wasserman's critique of Propublica.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reader submissions from activists

When should news organizations display reader-submitted photos from activists? When should we link to outside websites affiliated with specific causes? Can we institute some common policies that approach visuals, words and links the same way?
How can we find the time to research any conflicts of interest from readers making submissions and check their credentials? Should we?
And what can we learn from how such activist sites are using technology?

The Rainforest Action Network targeted Bank of America in Charlotte for an action Tuesday, with protesters climbing one of our city's ubiquitous cranes, dangling precariously after posting a large banner that made great visuals. The Charlotte Observer's online staff smartly solicited readers for photos and video of the very public event, likely increasing hits by making a slideshow to accompany a story.

The story did not link to the Rainforest Action Network's website, which explains in detail why it is targeting Bank of America. In the past, such a link would likely be seen as crossing over the boundaries of reporting and publicity.

However, on the visual end of things, we included a photo by Luke Smith of RAN in our slideshow of reader-submited photos. It was one of the better photos, silhouetting the banner and crane against a cloudy, pink-tinged sky. Very similar photos -- if not the same ones -- are posted on the RAN's Flickr group, shot by ranflickr. (One of them is on this post, under a Creative Commons license). It's unclear how much Photoshopping went on to enhance the sunrise, if any.

Other reader-submitted photos did not identify whether contributors had affiliation with the network.

So the questions remain: When is it right to link to an outside site that is seeking publicity? When is it right to include visuals submitted by readers with an agenda? How do we determine whether those readers even have an agenda when we have limited resources?

I don't know the answers; I do know that policy should be clear and apply in a logical way to words, links and visuals.

Many readers are submitting amazing fire photos from California. Our policies should be clear for such catastrophic events in the future as well. Can we make sure we avoid any unintended consequences, such as volunteer firefighters getting sidetracked by gathering photos and videos? How can we make sure submissions aren't Photoshopped beyond our internal policies? Should we care?

What else can we learn? I'm awestruck by activists' use of the Internet to distribute visual PDF documents to support their causes, map their plans and build their networks. I hope we've marked Nov. 16 and 17 on our newsroom calendars to be on alert to more publicity-seeking RAN events, since they're telling us about their plans on their website. I hope we talk about about policies on covering such events in advance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why does enterprise software stink?

Khoi Vinh, designer director for, asks an important question about why enterprise software is so hard to use. Newsroom production systems aren't his only target -- payroll and HR systems get their share of blame.

In part, he asks:
"What is it about the world of enterprise software that routinely produces such inelegant user experiences? Presumably, IT managers are enthusiasts of technology and the Internet as much as designers, if not more so. It’s understandable that they may fail to explicitly grasp the design principles that inform good interfaces, but surely that same exposure should make them aware that the software they’re buying and rolling out is not as easy to use, right?"

For the full article and comments from design heavyweights, go to

I know a fine once-upon-a-time designer who is now a big-time IT manager. Is it hard to remember principles of design when dealing with vendors and budgets? Or are there no simpler, secure choices? What can we do to make it better?

Real-world illustration:
Adrian Holovaty, database wizard, is using his Knight Foundation grant to launch cool new things with a team of two database people, one people person and one amazing "interaction" designer, Wilson Miner. Some folks talk about Holovaty's work without recognizing Miner's contributions. They shouldn't.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Idea lab launches

Media Shift, PBS and money from the Knight Foundation help launch a new idea incubator at MediaShift Idea Lab.

The site looks like it will be a great place for examining how to support and find quality, objective journalism online. Its focus is on the process and the questions -- other newly announced sites like ProPublica and The Center for Independent Media say they'll provide the journalism. Almost all of the new ventures have some form of foundation money, except for a new private effort, MinnPost, in Minneapolis.

It feels as if we're entering a new stage. Hold on tight.
(And yes, I'm cross-posting here and in a class blog. Extra credit in class never hurts.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Carolina wins SNDies

UNC's photojournalism program gets honored through the SNDies online multimedia journalism again.
Mindy McAdams has the headlines and links. UNC's dean of the j-school, Dr. Jean Folkerts, visited The Observer recently and expressed a wish that the great work from the program would have a wider audience. So go visit.

Technology leaders 90 percent male? Please...

On women and technology: Can we please get a grip? I don't know exactly how many women are in's list of Top 50 agenda setters for technology, but at first glance it looks like about four.
Any credibility the list had with me evaporated after seeing those numbers.
If someone thinks that 90 percent of the people setting the technology agenda are men, they are out of touch with a large part of the audience and customers.
Broaden the vision.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Deadline nears for money for innovation

Come on, y'all.
The deadline for the Knight News Challenge is Oct. 15.
Someone's asking for $800,000 to do what is already being done at Urban Planet with maps on proposed developments.
Someone else is asking for $90,000 to build RSS feeds for a network of youth activism bloggers.
Someone else -- the techie behind Politifact in St. Pete -- is asking for money to build a free-for-five-years content management system for small-town newspapers. That's my favorite idea so far.
They're giving away money for ideas. Disclaimer: I'm not in this fray. I have a kid to launch into college in 2008. If you know someone with a great idea and who is ready to gamble, urge them to take a leap of faith. We'll all benefit.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tags bring traffic

Visits to a Wordpress class blog skyrocketed when I tagged a post "Google ads." I couldn't understand what was going on until classmate and co-worker Leslie Wilkinson helped me navigate through some of Wordpress' tagging search.
We're in an online class together through the University of North Carolina's journalism school, which offers a certificate in technology and communication.
Leslie wrote a post about the Wordpress features at her class blog. Pardon our self-absorption: we're learning, learning, learning.
A reciprocal link from a smart blog about cognitive psychology helped too.
The event shows the need to provide taxonomy and tags to the zillions of bytes of information we're pouring into the Internet bucket. People seek organization and structure in the world, and we benefit through increased traffic if we help people find our stuff.
As we go forward, I hope reporters and photographers -- the stuff generators -- realize the potential of giving their work some organization and tagging from the beginning, and we spread the work. Taxonomy isn't just for librarians and copy editors anymore.
More later as we continue to learn and play tag. We promise not to tag everything with the G-word.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Anonymous postings harmful?

Another fun tidbit from the APME meeting blog:
More than 60% of the editors surveyed said it would be harmful to good journalism to invite users to participate without using their real identities; only 43% of the readers surveyed said it would be harmful.

Is it a safety issue? Is it a credibility issue? Is it a civility issue? Panelists weigh in.

More praise for Fort Myers

The Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press, which seems to be an incubator for new ideas at Gannett, won APME's first Innovator of the Year award for its "culture of innovation." This is the paper that has mobile journalists armed with laptops, audio recorders and wireless Web connections out patrolling neighborhoods for "hyperlocal" news. The paper also earned a lot of buzz (on this blog and elsewhere) for its crowdsourced story on sewer problems.

I like the idea of both these things -- allowing community members to get involved with investigating a story and unleashing reporters from their desks. But, man, it seems Fort Myers is getting a lot of traction from one story a year ago and a lot of ribbon-cutting stories. (Have you heard of other crowdsourcing success stories? Know of any people who admit to being devoted readers of hyperlocal news?)

Am I being too cynical?

(Oh, the other finalists for the APME award: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle. The AJC was nominated for its newsroom overhaul. The D&C got the nod for its RocDocs, which gives online users access to data, maps and investigative reports assembled by the newspaper.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Map this, the local edition

I thought it only appropriate to point out the use of Google Maps today on today's story about a fatal shooting in Dilworth.

Details TK.

Brick walls, brain drain and dreams

You know those days when you read the comic "Dilbert" and you could swear Scott Adams has a spy in your office?
Many journalists might have felt that way when reading Alan Mutter at "Reflections of a Newsosaur." He wrote about the brain drain that traditional newspapers face as young journalists get frustrated with the pace of change.
The comments tell the story: Several anonymous postings say, "Yeah, that's my shop."
Add some perspective and seek the positive: The post has 10 comments, two of which I recognize, one of which I respect. Many other journalists are out there, quietly working to be the change.
What the elders and managers need to remember: Brick walls can drive talent away. Many young people have never experienced the frustrating lack of success that can sometimes accompany work in a corporation.
Then the elders need to do what dying professor Randy Pausch did in his "Last Lecture." Give perspective and help others fulfill their dreams. The short WSJ version of the Pausch lecture is here; if you want the nine-minute version, search YouTube.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What readers want

Jim McBee of SmartNews, formerly of Bluffton, used LinkedIn to ask contacts how they would improve their hometown paper. I believe he plans to share his research at SND Boston in just a few days.
Read about it and more at his new blog, Lamentations. And check out his links, including The Blogslot. The j-blog world is mighty crowded, but Jim has interesting perspectives, and is trying to change journalism in nearby Fayetteville, so he's worth watching.
I'm linking permanently under journalism links.