Monday, December 22, 2008

The need for speed

By now everyone in the world has written about Twitter and the Denver plane crash Saturday night.

But from earthquakes and Mumbai, we already knew Twitter can break news.

Let's move on to the next headline: Twitter and links to live information can make newspaper websites look horribly slow, in these days of tight newspaper staffing.

This isn't a little inside dirty newspaper secret: Readers everywhere are seeing the problems. Local newspapers and websites must retain an old-fashioned commitment to speed to retain any credibility with audiences.

If there's a plane wreck or other big breaking news in our town, on a lightly staffed Saturday night or any night, we have to own it and remember the world is watching our coverage, in real time.

I was working in the Charlotte newsroom Saturday night and watching Twitter. The first our newsroom heard about the crash was a Tweet from Ryan Sholin. It alerted us to be prepared for remakes of pages and to watch for clear, reliable information coming out of Denver. But that information was painfully slow.

A couple of intriguing side notes: Readers appear to expect a high level of quality, speed and accuracy from newspaper websites, as if those sites are public utilities, even when they're getting the information for free. And as Ryan Sholin noted in a Tweet Saturday night, now the whole world gets to watch and try to figure out what's true during the early confusing scanner and live reports of breaking news. Newspapers have the experience to know initial reports are often wrong, and we can use that experience to help guide others through the firehose of live information.

What follows are some comments from the Denver Post's initial online story.

I hope everyone is alright, but why would the Denver Post allow spelling and grammatical errors in articles posted on the web? It is painful to read news articles like this.

It's hours after this occurred, and this is all you have posted?
The Rocky, Channel 4, 7 and 9 ALL have much more complete stories. Is this what we have to look forward to when you're the only paper in town? Sad.

Three hours after this plane crash occurred, and you've got a total of five sentences posted, and some of it is gramatically suspect. This is why journalism, especially print journalism, is dying. Meanwhile aviation-oriented websites from to to are reporting this story with speed and enthusiasm -- if you want to know what's going on, go there. I guess the "professional journalists" aren't as vital as they think. Tonight they seem to not even be working.

John, that's why newspapers are dying. It takes longer to put out news in a paper than you can get on TV or the Internet.

Man, some of the people here sure do expect a lot from a newspaper that is providing it's services at no cost to any of you.
If you notice a grammatical or spelling error, why don't you email someone at the paper and let them know? Or were you all those annoying kids in elementary school that when the teacher asked a question you would shoot your hand up yelling "OOOOOH! OOOOH! I KNOW, I KNOW! OOH! OOOOH!"
Get over yourselves.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Twitter visuals: They matter

Now that everyone's a-Twitter, a quick look at the visuals. While part of Twitter's beauty is its simplicity of setup and use, visuals still matter.

A few points, many obvious, but important:

1. Twitter avatars are small. Most people looking at your Twitter avatar will see it about the same size as a mugshot in the current skinny Charlotte Observer: 44pixels wide, or 3.6 picas or so. If you're using your face, crop tight. Consider radical crops that only expose eyes, or other pieces of you.

2. Twitter avatars are displayed in groups. So the color and design, or lack thereof, need to be simple and clean to stand out to be remembered. My three favorites, from designers, are in the Twitter block at the top. Can you pick them out?

3. Twitter avatars and backgrounds convey your brand, your visual sense and the amount of time and care you put into your product. If you use a standard theme, you're demonstrating your lack of originality and commitment to your brand. If you don't want to take the time to do a quality background that will tile (or not) and look good (settings/design/backgroundimage), then consider not using a background image and only changing your design colors to be easy on the eyes. Consider color-blind people and others with accessibility issues. Consider recruiting a friend with visual issues to test the ease of your avatar and page.

4. Technical tip: At times, it appears Twitter doesn't like photos in .gif format. Try .jpg instead.

5. Fun matters: Laughter, whimsy and fun matter on Twitter. Putting on a Santa hat, no matter how cheesy, or changing your avatar to reflect a season in some other subtle way will help endear you to your community. But numerous changes will confuse your followers. If your avatar reflects a standing brand, take care in changing too frequently: A touch of seasonal color might be all you need.

6. Numerous websites exist that will customize avatars for you, and trends, fads and fashion come and go. Dress accordingly.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Journalism education: Begin anywhere

"Before it was InDesign, it was paste-up and darkroom courses."

"J-school == glorified trade school."

"A few can teach themselves."

"lynda should replace formal education."

"for some students class definitely gets in the way."

"the important point is that you have a whole community of 'tweeple' now to to help advance your learning."

Some journalism students held a discussion on Twitter late Saturday night about journalism education. The ideas go beyond the young students.

These days, all smart journalists are looking at how they should retrain themselves or update their skills, and many have moved beyond waiting for their company (or their school) to hand the tools to them.

The question even for experienced journalists: What kind of class should I take? Should I just focus on the software? Is a community college course in HTML as valuable as a certificate program like the one offered by UNC's journalism school? Should I just focus on the technical tools I can learn on my own? Who needs a high-priced program anyway?

Funny thing:
I remember having these same conversations 25 years ago. It wasn't on Twitter, and didn't span a group from Alaska to Florida, but the questions remain quite similar:
"How will counting headlines by hand help my career in a world of new technical innovation?"
"How will writing programs on sequential punch cards help me in a world of new computers?"(Yes, I punched cards.)
"These professors are old and out of touch. I can learn everything I need at the school newspaper. I'm switching my major to something else." (Some did, successfully).

Those memories have a point: No matter what software you learn now, you will have to learn something new later. No matter how good (or bad) your journalism school or company is, your education and career are in your own hands. To continue to be marketable, you need to demonstrate a continued ability to learn, to cross discipline boundaries, to make connections and to think.

I can't tell who will get more bang for their buck at the moment: Those who pick up skills online or in a tech class, or those who go for broader programs at established schools like UNC. But as one young tweeter said: Having community support and role models, tweeple or otherwise, helps immensely.

Begin anywhere.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

CLT Wordcamp roundup

The Wordcamp conference at The Charlotte Observer was a great success. Jason Keath of The Stratius Group organized the event, presented on Wordpress blog basics and got a Wordpress keynote speaker, Mark Jaquith. The Observer contributed space, some volunteers and some organizational help. Steve Gunn led The Observer effort and made the partnership happen.

Slides from keynote speaker Mark Jaquith, plus links to deeper stuff.

The official CLTWordcamp blog.

Ben Ullman on The Ultimate Tweetup.

Corey Creed of Hippo Internet Marketing on what he liked.

The Guy Trapped in the Elevator speaks.

Short story in The Charlotte Observer. (Ben Ullman noted the story did not mention Wordpress. Good point.)

And yes, My Other Blog is on Wordpress.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Searching dirty

Librarian Genie Tyburski teaches an online class through the University of North Carolina on web research.

Sounds dull and dry, right? Uh, no.

Try, for example, using some of her suggested search terms on Google to find stuff that people don't want you to find:

  • "not for public dissemination"

  • "not for public release"

  • "official use only" (variations include FOUO and U//FOUO)

  • "company confidential"

  • "internal use only"

For Genie's class, I tried some of these search terms combined with *NC*. I found a local political candidate's profile, with his home phone number, marked "not for public release."

That's one general theme that emerges from Genie's class: Information that is supposed to be private can sometimes inadvertently leak onto the web, through careless coding, or scanning, or editing, or incorrect placement on a server.

We've debated in class the legality and ethics of finding such information, and concluded that using the tools to find such information fall into legal, ethical realms like much of the reporting labeled "investigative." The ethical questions get sticky when you weigh what to do with the found private information.

Regardless, Genie's tools should be familiar tools for reporters and other journalists. Read her article and play around with the search terms sometime.

And check the updated "Reference" sidebar here for links to other resources, including Power Googling.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Finding election information

So you're looking to study up before voting? Or do you just need to check something that you're editing?

The Charlotte Observer's vote guide is here.

The Raleigh News and Observer's election coverage is here., the website for The Independent in The Triangle, has election information here.

The League of Women Voters has PDF documents covering state and local elections here.

The Mecklenburg Board of Elections has early voting information and other stuff here.

You can also check the links in the "Politics" sidebar. If you have suggestions of links to add, please comment.

And while you're surfing elsewhere, beware. Lookalikes and wannabes proliferate. For example, you can get great information at FiveThirtyEight, but do not confuse it with or At, it'll prompt you to download special toolbars for access to maps. Don't do it!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Help from the academy

Ryan Thornburg of UNC poses some questions for discussion at his blog, "The Future of News," about how universities can help newsrooms. His questions stemmed from a panel discussion at the Online News Association's recent meeting.

Unfortunately, the panel discussion had morphed into a session of preaching to the choir, with most people in the room being from academia, instead of being working journalists who could learn from academia.

Too often, working journalists tend to see academic people as falling into two camps:
1. Isolated, slow, behind-the-curve ivory-tower inhabitants, or
2. Incubators for products that have to be pitched like all the other vendors competing for our dwindling dollars.

As Ryan Thornburg quoted Paul Volpe, the deputy politics editor at
“Pitch me.”

Unfortunately, with that approach, the transaction becomes all about the sizzle and not about the steak. Many of us have had experience with stories that landed on 1A not because they were good, but because they had a good sales pitch in a meeting. And many of us have had experience with software that landed on websites not because it was good, but because it had a good salesperson.

And then let's go back to No. 1 for a moment: Many of us have had experience with journalism classes that taught out-of-date skills or that were staffed with professors unaware of new technical developments.

But a middle ground exists. As we all deal with sad, sad news of losing good colleagues or jobs, academic works can help us remain focused on the long view. And academic research can give us independent views on business models, trends, staffing and management. That's quality information that can fuel important decisions.

So if you need to be reminded of what we're all trying to do, go back and read Phil Meyer.

If you need research information into attitudes, skills and diversity among staffers over time, check out the Newspaper Research Journal.

If you're looking for information on new technical developments, keep an eye on business incubators and information-related academic fields like online learning and information science.

Go give Ryan a comment on his blog. Give the academics a chance to help us.

And chin up, head down, ears open.

Send good thoughts for all.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hurricane Twitter

The Biloxi Sun Herald twittered Hurricane Gustav. The Wilmington Star-News twittered Hanna.

Leslie Wilkinson twittered the July 30 earthquake in California. She was among the first in the nation to do so.

So obviously, news organizations and individuals are seeing the power in Twitter.

Plenty of examples exist on how to use it, and plenty of people have written about the mechanics.

So try it out. Create an account and follow some of these people to see what's going on: @ckrewson @robyntomlin, @andrew_dunn, @saragregory, @shanbow, @smalljones, @romustgo, @johnrobinson, @cnewvine (AP!), @rmathieson, @acarvin, @CNN_Newsroom, @SNOhurricane, and even @frankdeloache in Salisbury.

Read @andrew_dunn's case study of Twitter during Hurricane Gustav. Check how @ckrewson separates his "personal brand" from a professional brand at @PhillyInquirer. @KaylaC does the same separation in Charlotte with @WCNC.

Beyond those mechanics and examples exist some intriguing points about networks, community, professional and personal brands and separating the two, boundaries among parents and children and managers and employees, self-awareness, self-obsession, transparency, privacy, the Dunbar number (Google it), signal-to-noise ratio....

Start thinking about all that while reading Clive Thompson in the New York Times magazine on digital intimacy.

I could go on. But I won't right now, because I crave some real face-to-face community. But let's talk about it more. And try it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A yellowed clip predicting the future

This old clip from The Pierce Report on Charlotte in 1995 gives a great history lesson on building community online. Steve Snow was talking about building links among people 13 years ago and struggling with funding questions. We're still discussing those questions.

Related links with lessons:

Dallas Morning News, 1999:

Freelance article on politics and funding, 1997.

Letter from Steve Snow offering sage advice.

Case study from the Charlotte library. "It's not about technology, but about people."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gentle curmudgeon nudge

Goals with this post:
To be gentle, positive and collaborative, and yet to add a little perspective. Besides, sometimes I just can't keep my mouth shut.

Gary Nielson posted a link on his Facebook page to a story in The New York Times headlined, "TV networks rewrite the definition of a news bureau."

I beg to differ.

The story does have one phrase that seems to show that someone in the writing and editing process was aware that this kind of shoestring journalism has been going on for a long time (Hemingway in Paris, anyone?). Here it is:

"Though the style of reporting has existed for years, it is being adopted more widely as these reporters act as their own producer, cameraman and editor, and sometimes even transmit live video."

I respectfully, and gently, suggest that perhaps someone should have asked for a reworking of the top of the story, and an elimination of some words like "newfangled" and "new breed."

Instead, the story would have been more valid if it had taken the approach that new tools allow this kind of reporting to be much faster, cheaper and visual. Imagine some quotes, too, from a reporter like The Observer's Steve Lyttle, who was a one-man band with a typewriter and film camera many moons ago in the Monroe bureau. He's adapted and now reports online.

That example would invalidate phrases like this one: "Old-school journalists may bemoan the changes. ..."

On the contrary. If a return to the lean-and-mean reporting structure pre-1980s helps save journalism, I'm willing to bet one would find many old-school journalists who would embrace change and add their experience and skills. Let's stop this old-school vs. new-school dichotomy, which seems more damaging to journalism than the blogger vs. traditional media company dichotomy.

The reporter is about 23, according to Wikipedia (yes, he has a Wikipedia entry.) Being 23 is a great thing. But being 53 is also a great thing, and a little editing or seasoning of the story with some perspective would have presented a more valid picture. And perhaps it would have inspired others to embrace this "newfangled" reporting, instead of creating a "hogwash" reaction among the curmudgeon tribe.

In addition, the story perhaps implies that all this technology could eliminate the need for rewrite and producer positions back in the main office. Certainly it seems that many folks on the business side would like to think so. But take a look at the quality and success of Peter St. Onge's "Primary Source" blog during the May N.C. primary. Peter, essentially, was a rewrite man and a linker. And a darned good one, with 50,000 hits that month.

So let's try to be a little less breathless, and a little more seasoned. Experienced editors have perspective to add. We should add it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

It's something unpredictable

Three blogs, three young Carolina journalists.
You've probably heard of a couple of famous-in-the-blogosphere young journalists. These three aren't so famous, yet.
Check them out the next time you need a shot of inspiration. Some young people are intent on journalism's reinvention -- and its continuity.
Andrew Dunn, at "Breaks the News."
Sara Gregory, at "The Water's Fine."
Shannan Bowen, at "A (Young) Reporter's Notebook."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Learning about layout from blogs

This just in from Social Median:
Learn about blog layout from the world's top 50 blogs, as measured by Technorati.

Key quote:
"When taken together these sites have a readership bigger than all newspapers in the western world combined."

See some numbers about how they design at Subhub.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Making readers' opinions work

Readers and commenters at the McClatchy Next wiki are abuzz about anonymous comments at newspaper web sites and blogs.
Don't click away -- I know this subject has been done to death. I promise a different approach.
Many of the comments have been fueled by the vitriolic name-calling recently in comments at Etaoin Shrdlu, the blog of McClatchy's vice president for news, Howard Weaver.

Let's face it: Weaver's public blog and position make him an easy target these days, much like Tony and Peter and Par were in previous days. I'm sure he doesn't feel quite as rich, but I'm sure he feels just as targeted with anger.

So let's take a different path, as job cuts hit editorial departments and as McClatchy sites look at new technical toys for enabling and highlighting comments.

Let's take a look at what works: The Observer's letters to the editor, and a couple of Observer blogs. I'm sure there are other examples of print features and sites that work, but I offer these up as ones I know best. I'd love to hear about others.

One of the major reasons I was attracted to The Charlotte Observer 20-some odd years ago was the vibrancy of the editorial pages. Much of that vibrancy came from the letters to the editor.
These days, Lew Powell is still editing those letters (as far as I know. I've been away from work email for a few days), and The Observer still kicks butt with the feature.

I'll be more specific: The Charlotte Observer still kicks The News and Observer's butt and many other papers with its letters to the editor. The Observer's printed letters cover a wide variety of subjects, are concise, quick and to-the-point. The News and Observer has plenty of letters online, but they're less concise. A recent printed News and Observer also had fewer, longer letters than The Charlotte Observer's daily printed product.

In addition, some Charlotte Observer blogs have fostered vibrant, often thoughtful commenting communities, with questions and thoughts that resemble the salons, not saloons, of days of yore.

So let's find out why, while we still have Lew Powell with us and while those bloggers still have time to engage those communities.

Then, perhaps, we can figure out how to make money from those communities without destroying them, or share their content on a wider basis, or emulate their success to give other readers a place for thoughtful comments that they seem to crave.

Here's the letters policy, in part:
"Please sign and include your address and daytime telephone number. We edit for brevity, grammar, clarity and accuracy, and we reject letters published elsewhere. Letters typically address a single idea and do not exceed 150 words."

Yes, 150 words.

That policy is backed up by Lew, (and others on the editorial board. Added 7/30). Here's what was published for the Sunday, July 27, edition:
12 letters
11 subjects
At least 7 with reference to specific previous stories, editorials or letters.
8 from male writers
4 from female writers
1 from a writer under age 13.
The longest letter included 147 words: the letter from the young person.
3 letters included less than 50 words.
All letters are signed with a name and home town. Phone numbers and addresses are not published.
(This example actually was produced by esteemed Editorial Page Editor Ed Williams, who retires this year. Lew was on vacation. But they back up each other's standards, and Lew says he won't let Ed get letters published more than once a month after his retirement. Added 7/30.)

Stuff I don't know:
How many letters are received each week? How many are rejected? How many have to be edited to that 150 word limit or shortened further? How many are from repeat writers? How could new tech tools ease the workload, integrate the letters more with online comments, or enrich information, links and visuals to the letter writers, so readers can know more about specific letter writers while protecting privacy for those writers who want it? Is it worth the time it would take? Does Lew call every letter writer each time they write?

Compared to comments on blogs, Lew's published version of the letters gives me a chance to hear what people are thinking on a wide variety of topics, quickly and concisely. It's what's left out that's important here.

No wasted words.

Blogs, on the other hand, give commenters unlimited space and quicker interactivity with other posters as well as the original blogger. I can't afford the time to visit them frequently, but here are some details about two of my favorites.

The Naked City, from Mary Newsom: The latest post, "Any hope for '60s suburbia?" poses a detailed question in 121 words and asks for comments. It was posted Thursday, July 24. As of Sunday, July 27, at noonish, it had 31 comments. 10 comments used pseudonyms or names. 20 used anonymous. One was pure spam, but the others were generally thoughtful and positive.
32 visitors came to the blog as of about 1 p.m. Sunday, July 27 (the slowest day of the week). 1,146 came on Thursday, the day of the last posting. 1,746 hits came on Tuesday, with a posting done at 6:05 p.m. The timing of comments and hits appears to indicate that many readers are using RSS feeds to watch for new postings. (Hit stats are from a Sitemeter bug at the blog. I wonder whether that immediate feedback tool will disappear with our site redesign. Will be a shame if that happens).

And another:
Sacred Space, from Jane Pope: The latest post, "Are we born cruel or kind?" poses a detailed question in 126 words and asks for comments. It was posted Friday, July 25. As of Sunday, July 27, at noonish, it had 42 comments, one of which had been removed by the author. Comments frequently referred to specific other commenters by their pseudonyms or names. Only two people posted completely as anonymous.
Gamecock made 15 comments.
Iztok made 8 comments.
Pete made 7 comments.
Others made one or two comments.

Things I don't know about Sacred Space: Hit counts. But I'd suggest that Gamecock and Iztok get a little credit for those hits -- not from just themselves, but from all the other readers coming back to watch their dialog.

Something else I don't know: How much total time these bloggers estimate they spend on writing and moderating comments, and how they are moderating comments. Are they autopublishing any comment, and then catching up later to edit? Or are they approving each comment separately? (Surely not).

I do know both Mary and Jane have had to remind -- and perhaps scold -- commenters to remain civil. Mary has had to delete the worst of the inflammatory, nasty comments. I assume Jane has had to do so as well. If one wants a well-kept saloon, or salon, setting some standards is necessary. Real people seem to work better than automated technology, in this case.

So what's next?
It's clear that creating online (or print) communities with a high level of discourse and value requires some human intervention. It's clear that creating enclaves of reasoned thought is possible even in a broader online (or print) free-for-all of anonymous comments.

Not so clear, and worth discussion:
Could some advertisers aiming at specific audiences be missing out by not advertising on some of our blogs? Will our online redesign give an opportunity for such ads in a not-in-your-face way? Is there a sales rep. in the house who can gather some more numbers and target tasteful advertisers who aren't already spending money with us? How will we preserve the time for folks like Lew, Jane and Mary to moderate, edit and encourage those communities? How much time are those communities worth? How can we avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater as we streamline our staffing? And how can we connect some of these subject-specific communities for cross-pollination? (Some of the most frequent commenters do jump around or migrate from blog to blog already.) How can we reward the most thoughtful commenters? How can print benefit from the online comments?

Interesting questions, as we go forward.

Let's hope we make the right decisions.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Turning the pages, online

The Sporting News is launching an e-edition, emailed to subscribers and delivered in an electronic page-turning format. The publication, now based in Charlotte just about a block away from The Observer, has hired some talent from The Observer and elsewhere, with big names in visuals, including Charles Apple.

Mygazines is offering myriad magazines, with the same kind of page-turning feel. Its version of In Style is in the picture.

Scribd offers a similar service, community-based, where readers can upload and download publications in a page-turning format, comment on each other's documents and see most-viewed, most likes and top users.

Smaller publications like The Raleigh Downtowner are offering similar technology to view their work, or they're offering PDFs.

It makes sense in a publishing world of diminishing resources to leverage and reuse the design work already done for a publication. But do the designs of print and web really work together? Is there a way to please both the lovers of print and the lovers of online interactivity at the same time, without having to redesign or re-template for different mediums?

And now, with the IPhone and similar toys, online publishers are forced to reinvent design to fit the small screen, with varying levels of success.

I tested Mygazines on the big consumer of magazines at my house: an 18-year-old who loves visuals, fashion and the computer. Results: too slow to load, and not clickable enough. If it's on a screen, there better be plenty of links.

We didn't even get into the other benefits of printed, glossy magazines -- the passalong ability and portability of visual, beautiful information.

Update Aug. 16: The Magazine Publishers Association has sued the owner of Mygazines, which is incorporated on Anguilla, a British territory in the Caribbean. Details here.

So as all kinds of publishers try to cut costs and leverage work, it's a bit heartening to see that design still matters, and fitting design to the medium is still relevant.

And as I was thinking about this post, something called S3 or "Simple Storage Service" from Amazon went down. Visuals in all kinds of places, from Twitter to Scribd, disappeared. The Internet still worked, mostly, but many sites lost the visual elements of their services.

Change is sometimes frighteningly fast these days, and glitches will happen. As journalists a block away in Charlotte try to make a go of new technology with an interesting format, I wish them luck. We all need it.

Again, we live in interesting times.

(Added July 26) Steve Cavendish, graphics director at the Chicago Tribune, critiques the Sporting News PDF version.
Jakob Nielsen on differences between print and web design, 1999.
Coding Horror, aka Jeff Atwood, on the New York Times' Reader and its format vs. the web format.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Roger the rock

Former Observer copy editor Fred Vultee, now a professor at Wayne State, wrote this tribute to Roger Mikeal for Roger's going-away page after 39 years at The Observer. Fred, who continues to edit us from afar here, said we could share.

John Updike already wrote my favorite Roger Mikeal story, except that he wrote it when Ted Williams retired. What Updike remembered was not necessarily how Williams played in the spotlight, but how he played "on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill."

Stories about Roger are like that. They're less about who's on first or what's a trend than about whether things we've decided to do are going to be done well or ill.They're about Roger reminding the religion editor that the history of religion didn't begin with the Second Temple. Or Roger reminding the city desk that the stylebook doesn't have a separate entry for First Names on Second Reference in Stories By Writers of Staggering Genius. Or Roger making sure that every story passes under the right number of eyes before it goes off to print.

Given his clock skills, you'd think Roger's favorite athletic figure would be Dean Smith. I'm not sure Roger even has a favorite athletic figure (although if the world is ever held at gunpoint and threatened with execution unless someone can spell "Krzyzewski," Roger is the guy I want in the hot seat). Roger has favorite poets (Gary Snyder), favorite Eastern philosophers and favorite guitarists. He is alleged to have roomed with a 19-toed mandolin genius while at State. He not only knows whether Travis picking should be hyphenated, he can do a fairly good job of it (the picking, I mean; nobody's ever questioned his hyphenation skills).

That might make Roger sound like a renaissance man of detail (like knowing whether "Renaissance man" is capitalized). He is. But like Ted Williams, he also manages to be in the middle of things when the home team needs some runs in a hurry. So here is a true Roger story.

It was the Saturday before July Fourth (or the Fourth of July), 1994. Roger was not only on vacation but attending the wedding of one of his sons. USAir set one down a little too hard in a microburst out at the airport, killing some three dozen people.

People converged on the newsroom, whether they were called in or not. It was suggested that Roger might not even hear of the crash until the next day. It was pointed out that calling Roger would be really tacky.

And then it was noted that either Gene Kelly was in town or somebody else had just shown up at the desk wearing a tuxedo.

That's how Roger won an Oscar for Best-Dressed Slotting of a Disaster Story. Until there's a Pulitzer category for lifetime achievement in running a copy desk, it's the best we can do.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The early online shift

As we make changes at The Observer for The Desk, take a look at how the AM copy desk works at the Los Angeles Times, and how the early-morning online shift improves the social lives of copy editors.

Andy Bechtel of UNC spent some time there recently, and he interviewed the "senior copy desk chief for the web." It's here, titled "Q&A: How the L.A. Times edits for the web."

The hours and pace remind me of the copy desk at The Jacksonville Journal, a PM newspaper and my first daily job back in 1982. It was staffed by what I saw as a bunch of old guys who wanted to golf in the afternoon. They worked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

And don't everyone line up for that shift all at once. Or at least share. Here's a key graf:

"Because fewer hands are touching the copy, we have recruited slot-capable editors to our ranks for the most part. After a year, we have trained four editors and sent them back to their home desks to help spread their Web knowledge to their print peers. We’ll keep rotating people in and out on six-month stints."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Letter of recommendation

Dear (recruiter/hiring manager/grant reviewer):

I'd like to recommend ________ for your opening.

She's young, diverse, tough, talented and laid off from the newspaper industry, a business both she and I love.

She seems to have moved through with lightning speed the grief and anger of losing her job to thinking about her next steps. I'd like to help her. I'm sure she can help you.

She wants another job in the newspaper industry. I'm not so sure that's her best move.

At the moment, for her, I'm sure she feels like the timing stinks and that she's unlucky after making all the right moves early in her career.
From my perspective on the other side of 28 years in this business, I'm thinking she's lucky.

Others have lost their jobs after 10, or 20, or 30 years in this business, and some of those have managed to bargain for what they care about more than anything: a continued voice in an industry designed to make a difference for society. Many of them will continue to write or edit, and have their work appear in newspapers and their websites on a contract basis.

This oh-so-young journalist can be in a different place.

By taking a step back and thinking deeply about why she loves newspapers, she can broaden her options. While both of us would love for her to land at another newspaper, we know that move could just delay the inevitable: another round of cuts, later, and being in "the last-in, first-out position" once again. I know another journalist in that position, one who landed a spot at our paper after a layoff at another, only to be in yet another city, with yet another new mortgage, facing yet another career move, while raising a young family.

My hopes for this young journalist are different.

In many ways, she's so like me, 28 years ago. She's from a background that encourages hard work and education for success. She's entered the work world at a time of massive change when only the strong succeed. I know she will.

In 1981, I put on my gray Reagan dress-for-success suit, degree and internships in hand. I was ready to go anywhere and do (almost) anything for a job at a daily paper. I'd rejected the higher-paying public relations after falling in love at my school newspaper with the people, the power and the willingness to try to right wrongs. I found that daily job. Now, I know that newspapers aren't the only places that offer that environment.

Sometimes these days, newspapers feel more like morgues.

For this young journalist at this time, she can share a resume that demonstrates an ability to learn all kinds of information software, and to use it to tell stories. No matter the medium. No matter the tool. No matter the information. I know she burns with the same motivations I have: to work with smart, fun people, to work in a business that's trying to make life better for others, and to learn new stuff.

As this young journalist moves forward, she'll learn more about what it takes. I hope it won't take her 28 years.

She'll learn that being tough, fast, strong, smart and confident are not always enough. She'll learn that strong communication, good teams, friends and family help one make better stuff, and she'll learn that the balance of personal and professional realms is the toughest job, especially for women.

She'll learn that being among those affected by massive social change gives one a chance to reinvent oneself, before too much of life's commitments anchor her down.

And she'll learn it's OK to cry.

She might learn that newspapers aren't the only place she can make a difference.
I hope she lands at a newspaper, and I hope she has the long, rewarding career that I've enjoyed.

But if she finds another place with smart, funny, driven, passionate colleagues, all with a goal of changing the world, I know she'll be OK and she'll make a difference.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Sometimes, you just have to "see" a story to get an idea of its scope. Merging video, text, photos and graphics gives such a richer story than just reading an article or watching a video. proved the power of this with its "13 Seconds in August" project looking at the I-35 collapse.

Now, the folks at have shown us -- in ways made possible only by using the power of the Web -- the terrible damage to a town destroyed by a ferocious tornado. The Des Moines team has assembled graphics, photos, data and stories into an amazingly interactive package that's worthy of emulation.

Charles Apple, at, quotes the Registor's data editor, James Wilkerson, about how the project came together:

For base data about the properties, I scraped the county assessor’s web site using a perl script and put the results in a spreadsheet. There were about a thousand records for Parkersburg.

One of our graphics people, Kelli Morris, walked the route of the storm, taking pictures and talking to survivors. She then used the property spreadsheet to link to “after” pictures and built a library of survivor stories from her data and stories we published. We later went through all of the properties for which Kelli had pictures and downloaded the “before” photo from the assessor’s web site.

A parcel map shapefile was not available in a timely and affordable manner. So another graphics person — Craig Johnson — built his by hand. He then built the Flash display using some dummy xml data. Putting Kelli’s spreadsheet in mySQL, I built an xml page in php, which was used to fuel the final display.

The end product is something I believe is truly unique and visually powerful. It also shows what can be accomplished by graphics folks who understand how to use data and think ahead about how to best weave it into their work.

Wonderful example of the power of merging data and multimedia.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Connecting the dots

The lead story in The Observer today was a good old-fashioned pork-barrel project with a new twist. The Associated Press Managing Editors Association created a project to train reporters in how to use new online research tools through the Sunlight Foundation. The Observer's McClatchy's Lisa Zagaroli participated and reported on government pork projects in North Carolina.
It's a step forward for the group of newspaper leaders, especially since the Sunlight Foundation is led and funded by new media people: Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, and Pierre Omidyar, founder of EBay.
We live in interesting times.
And a second connect-the-dot: The Observer's Forrest Brown spoke Saturday in Greensboro for the Society of Professional Journalists' Citizen Journalism Academy, about reporting and writing basics. I haven't talked with him about it yet, but have it on strong (Twitterfriend) authority that he was good and funny. I can't wait to hear more.
So connect the dots, and think about the nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation's mission. They seek to use:
“new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy. We are unique in that technology and the power of the Internet are at the core of every one of our efforts."

And another thing: A relationship button?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mass Comm law 101

Remember that journalism law class you took? When was that? Where was that?
Ryan Teague Beckwith of Raleigh's Under the Dome offers a shop to get a tuneup.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

How online journalists see themselves

Ryan Thornburg of UNC surveys online journalists in North Carolina, with a little help from Phil Meyer, Teresa Edwards and McClatchy's own Julianne Mulhollan.

A snippet, about the "Gannett" effect:

"Several panelists from Asheville ... contacted me to say they really didn’t work online. In their email signatures and in phone conversations, the job titles that they chose for themselves never included the online elements we found next to their names on the paper’s masthead. Among this group who declined to participate in the survey were people who I found had created online-only content for the Citizen-Times during the month the survey was conducted. I’m fascinated that despite what I perceive as obvious participation in the creation of online news, they still declined to self-identify as someone who worked primarily online."

Watch for more results at Thornburg's blog.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Go, Trevor

Trevor has five more days to get about 200 hits to keep an upward trend at Fantasy Baseblog.
The math looks like he'll hit it. Help by giving him some blog love.
And yes, this is unabashed PR for a colleague. Isn't that what the social web is for?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How to keep eating and doing journalism

As gloom and gossip bloom, take a few moments to wander over to Global Vue, a blog for a class at UNC fall semester, and read and think about some other ways that journalism can pay for itself.

Friday, May 9, 2008

See how easy it is to add Twitter to a site?

OK, so I'm coming a bit late to this whole Twitter thing and am still trying to figure out its appeal potential ...

But, imagine if every reporter were texting updates from meetings, from crime scenes ... from the newsroom. And all those Tweets were collected on a page on ... Talk about the latest in breaking news!

We all know frequent updating draws users back to news Web sites. With enough of the right people contributing to a Twitter stream, you can't get much more frequent than this...


Hat tip to WCNC's excellent Twittering of the election. But does it just have to be for "big nights"?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Walls, tweets, politics and language

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out.

--Robert Frost

A few examples of journalists breaking down walls:
1. Kayla Castille of WCNC in Charlotte urged the station to use Twitter to report on the N.C. primary. Read the story behind the results here.
2. Chris Krewson of The Philadelphia Inquirer used Twitter for Pennsylvania's primary and continues to engage his local community through the Twitter network. Read about it here.
3. April Bethea of The Charlotte Observer responded to a request by Rogelio Aranda for a few grafs from a county commission meeting. Rogelio had heard about someone speaking up at the meeting against inflammatory remarks about the Hispanic community made earlier by a county commission member. Rogelio figured that information wouldn't fit in the main paper, but knew readers of The Observer's Enterese Charlotte would care. April wrote nine grafs, Rogelio translated, and the blog linked to other reaction elsewhere. Hits went up.

Being on the (b)leading edge is not easy. But it's not impossible.

Friday, April 11, 2008

What j-schools should teach

Mindy McAdams at the University of Florida challenged her blog readers to share ideas about measurable skills that journalism students (and journalists) need.
The problem for j-schools has always been to teach up-to-date skills that will help students get jobs while at the same time giving them longer-lasting skills and ideals.
I learned how to use a proportion wheel and count headlines at the University of Georgia. The longer-lasting skills came from ethical discussions over beer after work at The Red and Black.
So too much emphasis on the latest technology -- Flash, or editing video for a particular outlet like Youtube -- won't last. The first, primary skill any student or worker needs is the ability to continue to learn.
Still, here's a small list, from a journalist and mom of a soon-to-be college freshman, broken into core classes and j-school classes. The j-schools can't and shouldn't do this work alone. Full colleges need to evaluate core requirements for the new generation of "net natives," who live on Facebook but just might not know how to make a balance sheet.

Core curriculum:
1. How do you identify and evaluate "good" information? Students should learn this skill starting in elementary and middle school. But public universities can't count on that education being deep and strong enough for future journalists. This class can be part of a library sciences curriculum, a liberal arts curriculum, or a science curriculum. Genie Tyburski asks that question in the syllabus for JOMC 714 through the UNC j-school's distance-learning program this fall.
2. How do you write a business plan or grant proposal? (Echoing Amy Gahran) This question can naturally evolve from students' (or their parents) efforts to get into college in the first place, or their efforts to pay for it. Navigating the maze of financial aid forms is just the first step. I know a freelance photographer mom who has told her musical college son that he can do anything he wants -- as long as he can get someone else to pay for it. That's the grant-writing part. The corporate/capitalist side is knowing how to quantify the cost of a business idea, write a business plan and make a sales pitch. Prerequisite: Accounting 101, Excel proficiency.
3. How do you organize, archive and share research? New tools are rapidly evolving here, from Google apps to institutional software available to students at specific schools. Plan a course for freshman year (or for re-entering grad school students) that mirrors middle-school organization classes -- electronic "notebook" checks, note-taking and citation-saving skills. Teach how to break down deadlines into small checkpoints. Teach the importance of deadlines for personal time management, not just for external requirements.

Journalism curriculum:

1. How do you evaluate and bring sense to raw data? Database information is proliferating, and is often available free from nonprofit organizations like the Sunlight Foundation or directly from government sources. Many organizations are finding new, cheap ways like Caspio to publish that information, but few are crunching, mashing up and analyzing the data. The easy way out is to stick it in a database ghetto on a website and watch the web hits come. Journalists need to evaluate that information and the sources and know how to mash it up into maps and categories to find patterns. Example: Binyamin Appelbaum, Ted Mellnik and friends at The Charlotte Observer demonstrated that skill with home foreclosure information long before other outlets jumped on the mortgage crisis. Prerequisite: Accounting 101, Excel and perhaps Access proficiency.
2. How do you continue to find and evaluate new tools for searching and sharing of information? Tyburski's class at UNC in the past has envisioned what life would be like without Google. Former colleague Leslie Wilkinson blogged for class about the challenge. Many journalists have at one time or another had to deal with email being down or having another crucial tool unavailable. This track would focus on alternative ways of finding and sharing reliable information when the standard methods don't work. Evaluating Twitter and mobile tools is key as technology and business evolves. Figure out how to find new tools and evaluate their effectiveness in terms of efficiency and usability.
3. Where do you draw the ethical and legal lines these days? Mindy lists an online ethics class. Going a little further and playing off Amy's post again, give students some up-to-date case studies involving business and ethics. As media companies try to find new ways to make money and also explore new roles for "citizen journalism," explore where the ethical line is now. (How to test and measure success in this class? Toughie. It would be a seminar class, with discussion, group work and papers.) Real-world examples:
A. Private corporations are buying up student newspapers. What are the ethical and business implications of the move? Will it affect what information campuses can produce and receive? What are the implications for other media in college towns?
B. The Hoya at Georgetown wants to go independent, but the college wants the paper to change its name so the college can retain the Hoya name. What's right there? How much is a name worth?
C. Should ads for egg donors be allowed in campus newspapers but ads for condoms be disallowed?
D. Should a newspaper publish the last names of children in a photo caption submitted by a reader if the reader prefers no last names because of concerns about privacy and safety?
E. Should a newspaper ignore or publish photos from an event staged by an activist group to bring publicity to their cause? Is there one standard if the photo comes from the wire versus a "citizen journalist" with the activist organization itself?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Be careful out there

Update your virus software. Be careful what you download. This might be innocuous, but there's a reason companies have IT people.
At home, you have to be your own IT cop. Don't think you're immune if you have a Mac. The more popular they become, the more likely they are to be targets.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Worth repeating: Alltop for journalism

Repeating an earlier post for a colleague (you know who you are):
Do you want to be able to go to one site and find the stuff being written about journalism in an online world? Want to know what's out there besides Romenesko? Go to Alltop for journalism.
Want to be able to steer reporters to good online sources for information about parenting, education, business, venture capital, whatever? Go to Alltop for everything.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Child care, design and subtraction

Great ideas come out of the SXSW festival in Austin, a tech/music/film event.
Jeffrey Zeldman, an interaction designer, proposes a couple of disparate ideas worth your time.
Zeldman, who Tweeted frequently during the recent conference about missing dinners or events because he was playing with Barbie dolls with his child, throws out the idea of a child-care co-op for future conferences. It's a wonderful idea that can help broaden the diversity of attendance at similar events.
And he concludes the post with links to a couple of videos about design. My favorite part: Michael Lopp of Apple talking about how good design is the taking away of features, not the adding of more gizmos.
The tie between Zeldman's ideas? Usability.
Go there.

Monday, March 17, 2008

State of the News Media: Skills and attitudes

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has released its exhaustive 2008 report.

Couple of quick highlights:


"More than half (55%) of national executives felt their reporters substantially shared their values. Only 30% of reporters feel this way about their top owners and editors. And the gap is even greater between executives and newsroom staff. At the local level, only 23% reporters felt their bosses shared their values, versus 47% of executives and 31% of senior editors who felt this way about their reporters."
--Amy Mitchell and Tom Rosenstiel, commentary on journalists' attitudes.

Top four traditional skills needed for online: 1. ability to learn, 2. research, 3. teamwork and 4. (tie) reporting and photograpy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts on Innovation from a Disney exec

CNET asked Chris Heatherly, vice president of technology and innovation, Disney Consumer Products, The Walt Disney Co., how he defined innovation. "I think innovation is understanding people and what they need and giving them the most perfect solution you can to their problem even if they might not know they have it yet."

Heatherly talks about why companies like Apple, Google and Target have succeeded in their industries; why it's imperative to have management that nurtures the innovative spirit; and some examples of what's worked and not worked for Disney. He also discusses which comes first: technology or the art?

(Oh, to be a Disney imagineer and dream up ideas all day long! Talk about creative story telling.)

Some highlights from the piece:
"I think too many people confuse innovation and technology. I have seen a lot of designers try to make a mediocre concept innovative by putting Bluetooth or some other whiz-bang technology du jour in it. That's not innovation. It's cheating. Innovation is about solving problems for people."

"What are the most important areas of innovation in your organization (product, process, IP, marketing, etc.)?
To be a creative company, you have to have a creative core, whatever that means for your company. For Disney, that's people like storytellers, animators, and Imagineers. For a company like Apple, it's designers and engineers. The people at the core of what you do have to be the heart that pumps innovation through the vessels of the organization. ... Pixar is very clear that it is about telling stories and that everyone who is there is there for that purpose. Technology plays a really important role for them. They like to say that 'art challenges technology and technology inspires art.' They don't look at technology as being a second-class citizen to their artists. It's a respected peer. There are lots of other parts of the organization that have to be part of an innovative mission."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RSS without the RSS

Have a colleague you've been dying to teach RSS? Want them to discover what you've been reading online about journalism?
Now you can forget the RSS and send them to one place.
Yeah, it's overload. Yeah, not everyone's there. But it's an easy way to share stuff with folks who just don't want to go learn that Google Reader thing right now.
Check it out.
My favorite new find there: Celebrity English. Headlines: "Jennifer makes an error in parallelism."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Design, function and congratulations

Congratulations are in order for some Observer folks who won awards in the recent Society of News Design competition: designers Luke Trautwein, Jason Benavides, and alum Leslie Wilkinson, plus photographers, photo editors, editors and copy editors Wendy Yang, Todd Sumlin, Theoden Janes, Bert Fox, Barbara Russell and Chip Wilson.

But why should design matter at this time in our industry?

It matters more than ever. Read a smart McClatchy Interactive guy, Darren Abrecht. He writes about why haircuts matter, why design matters and how words like digitization, functionality and interfaces affect people, emotions and art.

Check him out.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another Twitter victim

Succumbed to the pressure of Twitter to keep in touch with Leslie in L.A. and Rogelio here in Charlotte.
Ran into an unexpected success story right away.

Ro had emailed me a link earlier this week to Tommy Tomlinson's blog, which I admit I don't regularly visit. Tommy was asking readers to describe Charlotte in six words.
I couldn't visit at the time, but came back Sunday morning to see 193 comments. That's bigger than anything I've ever seen at blogs.

Had chosen on Saturday night some different people to "follow" on Twitter that I don't normally read via Google Reader. There's a small group of incredibly wired folks who travel in the same circles on the web, and one can fall into the trap of reading the same people all the time. This time, I chose Jack Lail as one to follow, from just over the mountains in Knoxville. He's more from Neil Mara's or Ted Mellnik's generation of wired journalists, and I wanted to hear a new, "old" voice. Within the hour, Lail started following my "tweets" because I was following him.

I "tweeted" early Sunday about Tommy's 193 comments, and Lail picked up the idea on his blog. How cool: Tommy's idea leaped the mountains.

So, in the spirit of Twitter, some small, further thoughts:
--Twitter is a great signpost to other content, in combination with tiny urls.
--It's a great playground for headline writers and others who enjoy the challenge of conveying information in tiny bits. Copy editors can rule there.
--Busy moms trapped in cars schlepping children are there. (Steve Gunn note.)
-- Newspapers are there. The smart ones fragment their feeds. NYT lets me follow arts coverage only, or business, or metro.
--Some content ideas are perfect for Twitter when they wouldn't find an audience elsewhere. Charlotte's feature pages are soliciting emails from readers on their six-word descriptions of their lives; I'm betting Twitter would've been a better tool.
--Twitter can be one tool to help give a voice to those who only have cellphones to get their word out.

Others have written plenty about Twitter and "micro-content." Posts worth revisiting include Rich, here, and Howard Weaver, here and Weaver on the six-word game, here.

Like other new tools, Twitter likely will have explosions of interest and then settle down, with many orphaned accounts. It's possible mine will be one of them. Life intrudes.
Still, it's a powerful, fast way to share ideas with little maintenance, and something else journalists should put in their arsenal.
It seems to work best bite-sized, like the New York Times feeds. So I'd love to carve up and start hurling tiny urls, instead of one big lump feed. But I do have that day job and some other stuff to do, so we'll see. Thanks, Jack, for giving me a success story. Thanks, Paul, for making me laugh at Austrian sock puppets discussing the plight of workers. Thanks, Leslie and Ro, for dragging me into Twitter. I think.

"Stop talking, start walking."

--Jimmy Carter, 1980

Friday, February 15, 2008

A cautionary tale - at the Washpo

Very long story by the Washington City Paper, worth the read, about the divide between digital and paper at The Washington Post.

Summary quote:
"It’s all about control—the news people and the Web people are grappling over who hires whom, who edits what, who pays for what, and who gets what first."

The story offers specifics, deep within, about technical and workflow barriers, particularly with photos.

There's no mention of the departure of technical whiz Adrian Holovaty from The Post, but you can read more about his thoughts on the divide via the long tail of the web here. Holovaty himself showed class in his departure announcement.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kansas City wins at SND

Congrats to sister paper The Kansas City Star for winning an award of excellence in SND judging in Syracuse.
Results for other papers are unclear at the moment: the SND judges are designers, not database experts, and they want some time before posting the full results database. They're great at posting pictures though.
Please note: Kansas City uses CCI to produce their paper. The winning front page uses a tried-and-true formula for breaking news: great photos, played well; a locater map, a breakout box. What looks like the planned centerpiece was squished downpage while retaining its graphic elements.
Six of the Top 10 list of winners use CCI: the Los Angeles Times; The New York Times; The Boston Globe; Hartford Courant; Chicago Tribune, and the San Jose Mercury News.
Thought for next year's SND judging: invite a database geek or two to help get the full results posted faster. It's possible, as The New York Times demonstrates with election results.
Or develop one from within. Avoid fields; jump fences.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Of prom dresses, chicken and journalism

Shopped for prom dresses last weekend. All dresses were made in China. Had a minor discussion about the likely sweatshop conditions behind those swirling, sparkling swaths of beauty, then moved on.
Then read about chicken and saw Ro's tweets about considering vegetarianism. Recalled visceral reaction after reading "Fast Food Nation."
Then read Carl Lavin on a journalist finding funding for her own investigation about the cost to Chinese workers who are making products for us.
Maybe we should make our own prom dresses, grown our own local food and find money for our own journalism? Take a cue from the local food movement and our parents or grandparents in World War II?
But then when would we blog, Twitter, Ning and Facebook?

Friday, February 1, 2008

So about that business model...

Former Observer business editor Jon Talton rants about what's really wrong with newspapers.
He got a link from Romenesko, so you've probably already read it, and it's not the business of this place to focus on the negative.
But Talton is worth a read not only because his words can be so biting but also because he approaches the topic from a business point of view.
And many discussions are finally moving beyond lamenting the death of a business model to looking for solutions. Online advertising might not be enough (Project for Excellence in Journalism).

Let's hope the vision is broad and progress has begun.
Other links:
American Journalism Review on nonprofit journalism.
TechCrunch on whether government should support media companies.
Columbia J-dean's response.

Really want to dig deep and be surprised? Go to Charlotte's Urban Planet forum for outsiders' views. As always, consider the sources, put on your thick skin and look for the hope.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lessons and links from science bloggers

Bloggers from the 2008 N.C. Science Blogging Conference have returned from last weekend's chilly event to their homes and keyboards, sharing their presentations, photos and thoughts online. What's so cool is that anyone can continue to learn from this conference from the comfort of their own monitors, wherever they might be, and whenever they can.

In addition, the conference has a heavy dose of participation from the
smart minds at Science Blogs, supported in part by Seed magazine. The networked circle of science represents one new way of aggregating and filtering information beyond the traditional methods of big-company media sites. NYU media professor Jeff Jarvis has made much of Glam for doing the same thing (perhaps with a larger emphasis on advertising and content that attracts ads). Glam doesn't impress me; its college fashion blog can't hold a candle to the Daily Tar Heel's The Good, The Bad and The Fab.

Oh but wait. We were talking journalism and science, not fashion.

I respectfully submit that Science Blogs serves as a better model for distributing, sifting and making findable strong content than sites like Glam. Ads play a supporting role, rather than being the goal.

And conference organizers are also demonstrating a new model of sharing strong content with "reverse publishing," creating a downloadable or paperback book of the best science blog posts of 2007. You can read the background of how the idea came to be at Bora Zivkovic's A Blog Around the Clock. The "publisher" of the compilation is Lulu, and the editors are Zivkovic and Reed Cartright, with input from the readers of Zivkovic's blog.

But back to the conference. The main jumping-off point of the group is a wiki.
Below are random links gleaned from various conference bloggers. They're filtered through what I find interesting and not too far above my head. Most bear a relationship to journalism; some don't. Of course, your mileage may vary.

How to report scientific research to a general audience
From Cognitive Daily, out of Davidson.
(Alternate title: How to report anything to a general audience.)
My favorite line:
"Visuals need the same treatment as words."

Peer-reviewed research
(How to dig through all the crap to find the ponies.)
(Or how wearing a badge can change the life of your blog.)
Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research
Research Blogging

Citizen Science

(Who knew? We thought it was all about us, the journalists and citizen journalists.)
Purple loosestrife detectives and reporters, at the U.S. Geologic Survey.
Cornell University's Citizen Science toolkit from a citizen science conference.

Public Library of Science and one of its online peer-reviewed journals, PLOS One.
Again, who knew?

A ring of science blogs
(Fix a big cup of something and stay awhile).

Questions for the next president.

PDF organization
Organize all your pdfs and papers as if they were songs on Itunes. Unbelievably valuable for people in distance-learning classes, but only if they're smart enough to have Macs. At Papers.

The Institute for Southern Studies

I remember this group from my days as a student journalist in Georgia. It's great to see they're still producing research galore. One of their most recent reports is about the "devastating costs" North Carolina is suffering from war, and it comes after the launch of the N.C. Military Foundation, a public-private entity to lure more defense contracts to North Carolina.
This site is worth digging into, keeping in mind the organization does have an agenda. It's intriguing to think about comparing its research with that available through The Sunlight Foundation and Taxpayers for Common Sense at Earmark Watch Dot Org.

Flickr groups to identify plants
(These will change my life and possibly put my aunt, The Plant Oracle of the Mountains, out of business).
ID Please and What plant is that?

Invasive species blog
(And you thought mussels only stopped development.)
Invasive Species.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Committing Journalism in Fewer Than 140 Taps

The Times calls it "microjournalism" — using Twitter to instantaneously file reports from the field. The story focuses on how a few writers are using text messages to Twitter in order to report from the campaign trail.

Microjournalism is the latest step in the evolution of Mr. (John) Dickerson, who worked for years at Time magazine, and has moved from print to online articles to blog entries to text messages no longer than 140 characters, or about two sentences. “One of the things we are supposed to do as journalists is take people where they can’t go,” he said in an interview. “It is much more authentic, because it really is from inside the room.”

Some might consider the idea of a barrage of text-messaged snippets about the presidential election the final dreadful realization of the news media’s obsession with “sound bites.” And spending time with the Twittered campaign reporting can mean wallowing in skin-deep observations, anonymous trashing of candidates and more than you would want to know about the food and travel conditions for the reporting class.

But it is genuine, and at times enlightening, which is more than you can say for the candidates themselves, who have also taken to using Twitter to update their supporters. (The septuagenarian Ron Paul, for example, is an ardent Twitter user, it appears, though he has a penchant for exclamation points that would make a teenager blush. Typical Ron Paul Twitter message: “Thus far in the race, I’ve received more votes than Fred Thompson or Rudy Giuliani. Freedom is popular!”)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

ACES meeting in Rock Hill

A quick reminder that the Southeast chapter of ACES is holding a meeting from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Rock Hill Herald. There's no charge, but organizers would appreciate an R.S.V.P. For more details, go to the ACES message board or e-mail Holly Kerfoot.

Among the planned topics:
  • Doug Fischer Fisher, a USC professor who writes one of my must-read blogs, Common Sense Journalism, will lead a discussion about moderating a small-town citj site such as Hartsville Today.
  • Teri Boggess of the N&O talks about "Sports as News."
  • The N&O's wire editor, Jon Wallace, will dive into the campaigns with a discussion on what copy editors can do to give readers the news they need in forms that are easily digestible.
  • "What's Up" — an opportunity for copy editors to talk about issues in the field, or just get to know colleagues at other papers.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Learn from science bloggers

The 2nd N.C. Science Blogging Conference is this weekend. It reaches far beyond the Carolinas and even far beyond science.

Go visit the organizers' wiki and blogs, and substitute the word "science" with "journalism" and see what happens.

Try that especially at the group's link to a Scientific American interactive article from Mitchell Waldrop, author of "Complexity."

Or start at the event wiki or the Facebook event.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Two cups data, one cup journalism

Matt Waite of Politifact is a smart guy. Go read him. Part of his latest:

"Are we really building a business model, or even a component of a business model, around making public data searchable? Because guess what? Google is too. That’s right. The search giant is dealing directly with government agencies to help them make their own data searchable. Sound familiar? Think your data ghetto can compete with Google? Do you think people are going to remember your url over Google? Really?"

"....That said, here’s how we can get out of the data ghetto: add some journalism to it."

Like Charlotte did here.

More on Google's efforts from my UNC class research last semester:
"The search engine company has launched technology and standards to make public records more findable on the Internet and is making agreements with states to help get public information in to the hands of the public. The most recent agreement was with the state of Florida, opening records about public schools, water and waste permits, employment data and consumers' commuting patterns. Google is offering its services for free for now. ...
Google has also initiated agreements with hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Energy Department's Office of Scientific and Technical Information and the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics." Reference.

Ensuring government is only one search away here.
Agencies work with Google here.
Dense code but clues to the future here.
Hiding in plain sight: Why important government information cannot be found through commercial search engines (again, density warning): here.

H/T to Waite's post from John Hassell, from the Facebook group "The Exploding Newsroom," now a blog.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Poz remembers The Post

Another former Charlotte Observer staffer, Joe Posnanski, writes a loving obit for The Cincinnati Post on his blog.

It's long, but it reminds me of the days of the sitcom newsrooms and of the hardware and software we used to produce the news. The Poz talks about Teleram, the place that stories arrived in the "mainframe" computer system, written by folks on TRS-80s, lovingly called "Trash-80s." Don't they look like enhanced Blackberries?

(Sidenote: the fragmented, miscoded stories in Charlotte went to Teleram Bad. I kid you not. Can't find a story? Check Teleram Bad.)

Joe's column shows how newspapers were a part of young people's lives back in the day. Perhaps the next generation of columnists are growing up with the parents blogging in the living room, instead of helping to roll and deliver the afternoon dead-tree product.

The Poz started as a clerk-reporter at The Observer many years ago. Now he has a couple of sports books and a column in Kansas City. And his family questions his judgment in spending time blogging, even though he has a Facebook group, "I'm a Pozcar Voter," with 33 members.
Shows how easily the addiction to telling stories finds a new TRS-80.

Image from