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Briggs Ch. 11 March 9, 2011

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Although most of the Briggs book focuses on aspects of digital journalism that display its strengths versus print, this chapter acknowledges something both good and bad for aspiring journalists: while print was at one time the only real legitimate news source, there are countless news sites online and it’s much harder to compete for an audience than print in its heyday.

Here are some tactics one can use to increase readership:

Above all–good writing still prevails. Quality, relevant, in-depth content will not only attract the bots, but will capture new audiences as well.

Mike Starr - Getty Images

As a test, I did a Google News search on recently deceased Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr to see which results were the most prominent. While the news of his death is clearly the biggest part of the story and probably what readers are most interested in, it’s interesting to note that only three of the top five entries (as of this writing) are reports of that while the other two are about fan reactions and comments from Starr’s fellow “Celebrity Rehab” cast members. Those two articles are both courtesy of MTV, which says quite a lot about their position in the blogosphere. Check out “Man in the Box” from Alice in Chains’ debut album, “Facelift.”

Briggs Ch. 10 March 8, 2011

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Early in this chapter, Briggs writes:

[M]any journalists (maybe most journalists) preferred news as a lecture. Only begrudgingly have they come around to the idea that a future in journalism means managing online communities and participating in various social networks.

It’s a pretty damning accusation but one that I’m unfortunately all too familiar with. When I first took a journalism class in high school, the teacher seemed downright ignorant of the shifting landscape–every single lesson was based on writing for newspapers. That was a mere six years ago, and admittedly things have changed rapidly since then but that resistance to change pretty much goes against everything journalism is about.

The idea of shifting into a conversation especially shouldn’t be too disconcerting–after all, newspapers have published and encouraged reader letters for decades. Of course, there was more discretion in that than automatically publishing what Doug Feaver calls,

anonymous, unmoderated, often appallingly inaccurate, sometimes profane, frequently off point and occasionally racist reader comments

The conversation moves beyond just comment sections–Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media can help readers share their thoughts, and as an added bonus, are often attached to their real identities. However, journalists cannot just sit back and wait for readers to pour in. There are several steps to creative effective conversation:

Once again, social networks are an effective way to complete all of these elements.

C-SPAN Video Conference with George Allen March 7, 2011

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Energy reform is one of the top platforms Senate hopeful George Allen brought up in a recent video conference.

Allen, who served Virginia as a Representative, Governor and Senator over almost two decades, joined students participating from the George Mason University Video Studio along with Steve Scully, the political editor for the C-SPAN networks, and students from the University of Denver to discuss his upcoming Senate run and his 2010 book “What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports.”

“Oil and gas, we have it in this country,” Allen said. “We ought to let states like Virginia or others explore off the coast and share 37-and-a-half percent of the royalties with the states. In Virginia, we could use that money for roads.”

According to Allen, approximately 41 percent of the ballooning national deficit in 2010 was due to foreign oil trade, and he estimates that that figure has only increased. Allen reiterated that the United States does not need to bring in national gas from outside sources.

“[The United States] need[s] to be the world capital of innovation,” Allen said. “We need to work with top quality, less waste, greater efficiency and using technology and productivity.” He suggests that the country adopt techniques to ensure that we use our resources as wisely as possible.

“Some people may consider it blasphemous but we can learn from the French when it comes to nuclear [energy],” Allen said. “They get about 70 percent-plus of their energy from nuclear. What they do is a much safer, less dangerous, more efficient approach. They recycle; they reprocess that fuel. Our country, nuclear’s impediment beyond its enormous capital cost is what do you do with the spent fuel?”

Allen discussed how, in 2009, the Obama administration effectively shut down the country’s designated national depository of nuclear materials in Yucca Mountain, Nev. which means the United States’ 104 reactor sites must store their own waste.

“I don’t know any community who really thinks that’s a great idea,” he said. “I know darn well that if the French can [recycle nuclear waste], so can Americans.”

Allen also spoke of diversifying the energy supply utilized in order to boost the economy and provide jobs for Americans, in turn making the country more competitive. He talked about how the EPA has carbon dioxide regulations that no other countries have to deal with, another energy policy that ultimately hurts the U.S.

“We really can get our economy jumpstarted, make our country more competitive, keep money here at home and most importantly, keep jobs here at home by utilizing the blessings of our plentiful resources,” he said.

The distance learning course, which is produced by C-SPAN, is a unique opportunity for students to interview guests via video conference. The course airs on C-SPAN3 on Fridays at 5 p.m. and also streams online (http://www.c-span.org/Distance_Learning/). The interview with George Allen can be viewed here.

Briggs Ch. 7 March 1, 2011

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Everybody knows that links and video are advantages to online journalism that don’t exist in print, but people often neglect to acknowledge the value of audio as well. Audio offers many options for things that wouldn’t be practical or possible in video.

Words and quotes may be powerful on paper, but imagine how much stronger they would be heard directly from the source, with all the subtle tones and pauses present. Sometimes those can say even more than the actual words of the quote.

One of the biggest formats in which audio reporting has emerged in recent years is podcasting. Podcasts are typically almost like talk radio, only focused on a singular topic and scheduled on a semi-regular basis. I generally don’t follow podcasts, as I like to listen to music while I’m using the computer, but I do enjoy checking out the Hipsters United podcast about the Smashing Pumpkins. Once you grow accustomed to the commentators, it makes for a fun listen on a subject I (usually) enjoy hearing about. For people who might not be as interested in the 90s alt-rockers as I am, there are thousands of podcasts you can subscribe to on iTunes.

Any reporter that wishes to utilize audio will have to select a digital recorder. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when doing so:

Tech Blog – Live Blogging February 24, 2011

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In my summary of the fifth Briggs chapter, I mentioned how my friend Brian Chan did live blogs of sporting events at UNC Charlotte (he also did them in the past for Mason). Alas, via the trackback he saw my comment about his lame jokes and got ticked off. There is a downside to linking to everything I suppose. But I’ll take the risk and share this article about live blogging by Kevin Charman-Anderson. He says that live blogging is not just a collection of facts presented in real-time as they occur, but it allows news sites to compete with the immediacy of broadcast.

However, it remains a point of contention among journalists, and Charman-Anderson dubs the onslaught of continuous updates as “a fire hose of news”:

I really do worry that some of the aggregation that we’re doing is really difficult to navigate unless you’re a news junkie. We have to make sure that a stream of news aggregation doesn’t feel like a maddening stream of consciousness.

That almost raises the question of whether news sites should even want to compete with broadcast–it’s a matter of breaking the story versus passing on the necessities. Last night, “Survivor” host Jeff Probst tweeted a live commentary on the show as it aired on the west coast. As a fan of the show (albeit one who had to wait two hours after I finished watching the episode to follow Probst’s commentary), I loved the idea. But the execution left a lot to be desired, and hopefully if Probst repeats the experiment (he’s looking into watching with east coast viewers next week) it is handled differently. What Probst dubbed “the gobal [sic] conversation about ‘Survivor’” played out as a haphazard and not very informative review of what was on screen. An episode of “Survivor” is not a news story that needs to be catalogued in this way.

Jeff Probst, © CBS

The moral of the story? Use live blogging wisely. Know your audience and cater to what they want and need to know. Whether that’s minute-by-minute updates on a breaking news story or maybe some interaction with fans about a TV show, it’s the key to making the most of a live blog.

Briggs Ch. 6 February 24, 2011

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The adage that a picture’s worth a thousand words has, alas, proven untrue whenever I try to submit a 1250-word paper to a professor with just a photograph and three paragraphs. But when it comes to online writing, not including pictures is a capital offense (and I’ll plead guilty to occasionally committing the crime).

A picture may not be literally worth a thousand words, but the difference between showing and telling is staggering. In print, perhaps a publisher might want to avoid the hefty amount of ink necessary to include a picture. That excuse doesn’t cut it online. Digital photography imposes little expense beyond the camera itself (which admittedly can be costly). However, that’s assuming you’re talking about photographs you’ve taken. Just like in print, any credible online publication will get permission from and credit any sources for its images.

This is not a digital camera. But it's under Creative Commons so there you go.

There are many benefits to digital photography that don’t apply to conventional cameras as seen on the left:

All that said, digital photography is simply a progression of a technology that already existed. You use the pictures in the same way one would utilize conventional photographs.

Tech Blog – Texting in Restaurants February 22, 2011

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While looking for an interesting tech blog item this week, I wanted to find something related to the latest chapter in the Briggs text. I thought something on mobile journalism would be appropriate and so I eventually came across a quirky Techcrunch.com article, “I Will Check My Phone at Dinner and You Will Deal with It.” This piece by MG Siegler doesn’t directly deal with journalism, but it does provide evidence of the importance of mobile journalism.

Siegler opines that checking one’s cell phone at a restaurant has not only become the norm, but it may actually be more awkward for younger generations to not engage in the practice. If people are even interrupting meals to check their phones, clearly mobile journalism is of interest to people.

Personally, I really hate phones. They’re my least favorite method of communication. I have a cell phone of course, but more out of necessity than an actual desire to text and be reached at any given point. It goes to show how technology is no longer an option these days (though I’m serious, there are times when the only thing keeping me from running over my cell phone is that I don’t want to damage my tires). And of course, now it’s becoming socially acceptable to tweet the restaurant you’re at.

However, a Zagat survey says that cell phones at the dinner table leave a bad taste in the mouths of most Americans, though some even upload pictures of their meals to Facebook.

There’s always an upside–namely, mobile food critics can post instant food and service reviews. Bon appetit!

Briggs Ch. 5 February 22, 2011

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It may be getting repetitive at this point to say once again how crucial it is to implement technology into modern journalism, but it remains the vital takeaway point of the Briggs text. One aspect of this is mobile journalism. If cell phones allow people to receive calls and access their email anywhere at any time, why shouldn’t they also provide the news people want and need to know about? It can also help journalists find and cover breaking stories in ways that were impossible before.

Of course, journalists need to keep a few things in mind:

My friend Brian Chan, former sports editor for Broadside, often does live blogs for games at his current school, UNC Charlotte. Basically, he watches the games and uses a laptop to provide constant updates as it’s happening. Since sports are a constant, shifting series of events, this is a great way for fans who can’t make the games to get a play-by-play of what goes down. Of course, in the case of Chan, you also have to sit through some occasional bad jokes, but having known him since sixth grade, I’m used to them by now.

Briggs Ch. 4 February 15, 2011

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In this Briggs chapter about microblogging, the first site that came to mind was Discographies, a clever Twitter feed that reviews a musician’s body of work in 140 characters. It’s a concept so simple, so appealing and frankly, so maddening that years of hard work and transformation can be boiled down to a few sentences. But that’s what journalism has to be these days.

It’s fair to say that our collective attention spans have reduced over time. It’s not our fault; it’s technology–there’s too much of it for us to focus on one thing anymore, unless it’s really captivating–or more importantly, really short.

But here’s where it all comes together. Remember that talk about open-sourced reporting in chapter 3? Your readers are not going to be giving you manifestos (and if they are, you probably should be forwarding their comments to the FBI). Their content will be brief because that’s what they are looking for.

Take a look at this story from EW.com. It reports that Aaron Sorkin will appear on the NBC hit “30 Rock” later this season. The story is pretty short, especially given the background information that makes this an especially intriguing event. Indeed, one has to venture to the comments section to be reminded of Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” his dramatic venture that premiered the same year as “30 Rock” with essentially the same concept that initially triumphed over the creatively unstable Tina Fey show, then bombed as Fey’s picked up steam.

Without comments, the main draw of this story goes to waste. It’s a slight on EW’s part, but a credit to collaborative journalism.

Tech Blog – Steve Yelvington and the Progress of Journalism February 15, 2011

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In class last week, I had the (mis)fortune of having to display my blog to my fellow students. On the bright side, it was a bigger audience than I’ll probably have the rest of the semester, but I was forced to confront the fact that, as much as I like to think I’ve progressed as a writer and journalist over the past few years, I don’t know the first thing about writing for the Web.

Below, an excerpt from my original summary of the third chapter of the Briggs text:

As anyone can have their own blog, it’s only fitting that news itself has become a much more collaborative process given all the new technology that bridges the gap between citizens and the media elite. Even sites as prominent as CNN now rely heavily on readers submitting news stories and videos. This global sharing process, dubbed “crowdsourcing,” creates a more transparent news environment, so the cream rises to the top.

Zzzzzzzzzz. No links. No pizazz. Just a dull block of text. (I hope the revised version is a little better.) But I’m not alone, as Steve Yelvington laments on his blog. Despite the abundance of new technology, journalism hasn’t shown much progress in the past 50 years. Well, I’m making the call to journalists everywhere: let’s get our acts together.

Spice things up! I’m just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to the boring and bland blog that will languish as another unloved Internet entity in perpetuity. But I’m going to change that. That’s the first step, right? Making a bold pronouncement so that I’ll have no choice but to follow through or otherwise risk the wrath of my readers and/or professor?

Let’s get some pictures in here! That’s Zooey Deschanel to the right. Perhaps I’ll aim for some more relevant pictures in the future, but for right now I defy anyone to click away from a page with a Zooey Deschanel pic (unless you’re heading to do a Google image search).

The bottom line is that the field is evolving, nearly on a daily basis at this point, and we need to make our mark. There are far too many competing platforms for journalism of all sorts to lose the audience’s attention to, so before they turn to that “(500) Days of Summer” DVD or listen to a She & Him song, let’s not return journalism to its former glory–let’s build a new glory.