Archives for posts with tag: news industry

UPDATED WITH MORE MAP LINKS

The Multimedia Journalism students are finding out how useful and straightforward Google Maps Engine is as an online storytelling tool. Each created a map of five places on a subject relevant to the topics of their blogs.

The maps are an interactive version of an old standby of static print infographics: the locator map. Locators have a simple ingredients list: Headline, chatter, base map, place labels, and descriptions accompanying each place label. The difference with Google Maps Engine is that you get the gift of interactivity: Users can see pointer boxes with names and descriptions pop up as they hover the cursor over a list of place names.

The five-place Google Maps assignment is appropriate as an introductory exercise in interactive mapping for beginning multimedia journalists for these reasons:

  • It challenges students to conceive of a piece they find interesting and (hopefully) that their readers will also find intriguing.
  • It requires that they do the kind of research that will be expected of them in the newsrooms that will hire them after graduation.
  • It gives them an opportunity to put to use what they learned in the step-by-step, in-class Google Maps tutorial, the Kansas City barbecue map. Hey, I’m a Kansas City boy, but some things translate well from the Midwest to the South, and barbecue is one of them. So we can almost all relate to the subject.

Here’s what the students cooked up this week:

Google Maps Engine is not hard to use, once you understand what it does and how it works. The technical questions are not difficult; the challenge, as I discovered when I sat in on the international hackathon session at Auburn University’s computer science program last fall, is figuring out a journalistic use for it.

Coders provide the conduit, and it is powerful work that they do. Journalists provide the ideas for content to flow through the conduit. Technical thinkers and journalistic thinkers complement each other. Especially now, we need each other.

I’m proud of how much my Multimedia Journalism students have built their technical skillsets while flexing their storytelling muscles these last 16 weeks. May they evangelize new media thinking in the newsrooms they join in the near future. They’re smart, they love storytelling, and they’ve demonstrated a capacity for problem solving and tenacity. Editors , directors and station managers, you need these young people. Hire them!

I was an assistant news editor at the Santa Fe New Mexican on September 11, 2001. The experiences of victims, firefighters, police, soldiers, sailors and airmen are the first things most people think of when 9/11 is mentioned. Their sacrifices were the most heroic acts and tragic losses of that terrible day. But journalists also had a role: helping communities stricken by fear, sadness, confusion and grief understand what had just happened. This is how the day unfolded in our newsroom after New York and Washington were attacked and a second attempt to strike D.C. again was foiled over Pennsylvania.

Santa Fe is in the Mountain Time Zone, two hours behind the East Coast. Attacks that happened between 8:45 and 9:03 a.m. in New York occurred between 6:45 and 7:03 a.m. our time. I had worked the night shift on Monday night, got off work at 1 a.m. and went to bed at 1:30 a.m. My work week ran Thursday through Monday with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. My Tuesday routine was to roll out of bed at 9 after seven and a half hours of sleep and head to the Spanish class I was taking at Santa Fe Community College.

About 8 a.m., the phone rang and my boss told me the news: A plane had struck the World Trade Center. The nation might be under attack. We’re putting out a special noon edition. We need you to come in and help produce it. I called my prof to let him know I would miss my morning class and probably my lab section in the afternoon. He said he understood.

My groggy mind quickly filled with questions: A plane? What kind of plane? A military plane? A civilian plane? Was it an accident? Was anyone hurt? How many? Was it intentional? How big was the plane? If it was civilian, was it a commuter jet? A small private plane? A jetliner? How many people are in the building? What time is it there? Does the time of day mean there might have been fewer people?

If it was intentional, who attacked us? Why did they do it?

A newsroom, like an army, lives on its stomach. When I got in to work, the top editors had ordered breakfast and coffee for the crew. The morning news meeting convened at 9 a.m. The goal was to have a four-page special edition on the press by noon. That was three hours to produce four wide-open pages.

City desk sent eight reporters out to get local reaction as soon as the bulletin came over the Associated Press wire that terrorism was suspected. We had a local story in the works about whether Santa Fe was prepared to deal with a terror attack. The business editor monitored the markets to see how they would react. On the copy and design desk, another editor and I sifted stories as they came in over the wires. It was so hard to keep up with it because AP was sending everything in adds. “Adds” are sections of a developing story that are sent out piece by piece, sometimes three or four paragraphs at a time, sometimes one or two paragraphs at a time, sometimes just a sentence. That day, almost all of the adds came one sentence at a time.

At one point, AP didn’t know where President Bush was. He was rumored to be in danger.

Soon came word that the Federal Aviation Administration had cleared the skies and any private plane that did not respond would be shot down.

About 10 a.m., the first shocked first-person stories rolled in over the wires. People were holding hands jumping out windows at the World Trade Center. Firefighters asked why they got to live when some of their brothers died inside when the towers collapsed.

About 11 a.m., we debated which photo to put on the front page. One of the photo editors said we should run a picture of the smoking World Trade Center that showed people falling to the ground because that was the news, that was what happened, that was reality and we shouldn’t shield people from it. In the end, we agreed that a photo showing people running away from the base of the towers illustrated the fear and the scale of the attack without being distasteful.

About 11:15, the local stories started coming through. We assigned two copy editors to read each one simultaneously – one on the computer and one on a printout. After they finished, they conferred to make sure they had caught every error, clarified confusing points, and had the latest information. The reporters stood by to answer questions about content as the editors tabbed through word by word and scrolled down line by line.

While that happened, the city editor, managing editor, an assistant editor and the front-page designer conferred about story play on the front page. This normally would have taken place four or five hours before deadline when we had a good idea of what each of the stories would be. Time was not a luxury we had that morning. We only knew exactly what we were going to put in the paper 45 minutes before deadline.

My role at that point was copy desk chief. Another senior editor and I split the stories as they came in and gave them a final read before sending them to the designer to put on the page. We had already filled two pages. The content we read at that point would go on the front page and the jump page. As we read all the stories, we wrote “refers,” sometimes called teases, to put in a box on the front pointing readers to other stories inside.

It was hectic. We made deadline. Then I went to class.

Santa Fe has a special connection to New York. They’re both major American art markets. Lots of New Yorkers have second homes in Santa Fe. Lots of my classmates had family and friends in New York. None worked in the World Trade Center, but some lived nearby. They feared for their loved ones. Nothing made sense.

So my professor turned the class over to me, and I delivered the news I knew. The questions kept coming from my classmates, just as the questions bubbled up when I first heard the news. I could tell them the facts. I could tell them which rumors were unfounded — and there were many. I just couldn’t tell them what it meant and what would happen. “What does this mean?” and “What now?” were particularly urgent questions. It was frustrating to not know the answers.

It was such a whirlwind that morning, I wasn’t sure what good we had done because there were so many unanswered questions. Over the next couple of days, we speculated — in the gallows humor style that journalists use when we’re really scared or shocked or angry or sad but hope to mask it — what anyone might attack in Santa Fe. The one thing we could think of was St. Francis Cathedral, which I actually thought would never be on the radar of a foreign power or a terrorist seeking to strike fear into our hearts. We thought maybe there would be small bomb-vest attacks in a shopping mall or other shopping centers elsewhere. But there was no possibility that could ever happen since we were so far out of the way and the terror value just wouldn’t be that big. Right?

Then I remembered that Los Alamos National Laboratory, with all its nuclear research materials, was just 45 minutes away. My blood ran cold.

I have told this story to my reporting and editing students the last couple of years. I tell them the skills we build together will give them the ability to react to the news instantly and efficiently. That all the experience they can get in their young careers will make it easier to cope in chaotic times in the newsroom. That mastery of AP style and grammar and punctuation are the “small ball” skills that you need to make automatic so you don’t have to even think about them on deadline when big news happens.

I tell students my experience of 9/11 this time of year to give them a slice of a working journalist’s reality and to show them what role we play in times of crisis. I just hope their cohort of journalists, with an array of digital and new media tools and social media and multimedia storytelling skills at their disposal, will be more tenacious than mine at asking questions about how our nation uses its might and about the wisdom of the decisions our leaders make. I urge them to be more vigilant than we in the aftermath of September 11. I pray they will be wiser.

As I read the reflection papers my Reporting students wrote about the introduction and first chapter of Kovach and Rosenstiel’s The Elements of Journalism, I note that several students dwelt on the continual change in the definition of news since the Revolutionary War era. Several also noted change in the ways news is delivered.

Knowing the history of this craft and professional* practice we love points at the inevitability of change, yet American journalism frequently finds itself paralyzed concerning how to adapt to the rise of new technologies and changes in public taste. If we looked to the past for antecedents, we would be better equipped to cope and adapt. Examining journalism history should be a regular mental hygiene that inoculates us against the disease of inertia.

The fact is, the news industry grew complacent about hefty profit margins in the 30 percent and up range. Phillip Meyer’s essay “Saving Journalism” (2004) and book The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Digital Age (2009) describe an industry that saw what was coming for it but was thrown for a loop as it struggled to evolve. Why do we find it so difficult to change?

The push to teach our students to code and to shoot multimedia stories and use content management systems isn’t so far removed from what happened to me as an undergraduate. I learned to type on a manual typewriter in junior high, upgraded to an electric typewriter in high school, and used my first PC in a lab in the William Alan White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.

When the profession was new to me, so were all the technologies being introduced. While we used clunky, proprietary front-end systems to process copy and “H&J” (headline and justify) our display type in the newsroom of the University Daily Kansan, over in Les Polk’s editing and design class we students were beginning to figure out how to put Aldus Pagemaker and QuarkXPress to work to do this new thing called pagination.

Using those programs was a struggle, and we got a lot of stuff wrong in the beginning. But experimenting with Quark got us ready to be the generation that took daily newspapers first into area pagination, then full-page pagination to paste-up, then straight to film, then straight to plate. The rate of change, come to think of it, was astonishing. Given that background, it’s not so hard to make the leap into the online world. What html commands text to do is the same thing manual coding did in the era of area pagination.

These examples come from just the last 30 years. How did we get from Gutenberg to the Internet? Incrementally, of course, from Gutenberg press to Stanhope iron press to steampress, from hand-set type to stereotyping to electroplating to Linotype, and from mail carrier on horseback to delivery by steamship to the first “lightning” telegraph, to the Trans-Atlantic Cable, to radio to television to the Internet.

My generation of journalism professors joined the news industry during a time of rapid, incremental change in the computerized processing and display of news. I wrote my first news story in 1987, I joined the full-time journalism labor force in 1990, and worked in newspapers until I joined the professional-practice faculty at the Missouri School of Journalism and staff of faculty editors at the Columbia Missourian in 2002. The mid-twentieth century was an anomaly in that the technological routines of reporters were little changed. Change is the real normal state for journalism technology.

Those of us who worked on copy and design desks (myself included) in the 1990s and early 2000s got used to that change on a regular basis, while changes for reporters came more slowly and largely involved the technologies they could use to gather information (e.g., smaller and smaller tape recorders, suction cup mics for telephone receivers to record conversations, switching from typewriters to PCs to laptops, the ability to file by remote via telephone modem or satellite hookup).

But video remained so expensive it was out of the question for most newspaper newsrooms to adopt. Maybe that’s why the demand in the last decade to become backpack and mobile journalists capable of videography and video editing has come as such a shock. Videotaping and editing? Isn’t that what videographers and producers are for? We are all our own videographers and producers now in the converged world.

How to cure this future shock? The obvious answer for veteran reporters in future shock is training, a luxury news organizations might hesitate to provide even when veteran journalists step forward to request it. I have written elsewhere about the training I’ve sought to prepare myself to teach multimedia reporting and storytelling to my own students. While the opportunities are there, I know it remains challenging to carve out the time or come up with funds to pay for it. But do so we must to remain relevant.

The bigger answer for the news industry is to sound out hiring editors for what they need, revamp curricula, and do whatever it takes to train the next generation to be technologically savvy and adaptable while maintaining the enduring values of journalism. We’re doing that at Auburn University’s journalism program through a just-announced partnership with Raycom Media in which professionals, faculty, and students will collaborate in a convergent newsroom to produce local news stories for television, the Web, social media and digital devices.

While information technology lurches forward at a frantic pace, the traditional values of journalism remain largely the same. My students seem to embrace those values as sacred. This heartens me. They also raise questions about how to preserve those values amid technological and economic change. By assigning this reading to my students and encouraging discussion of it, I am sowing the idea that change in the news industry and evolving technologies are normal, but the core values of American journalism are worth preserving. Watch for my next post, in which I will discuss the ways journalists of the past have juggled journalistic values with economic pressures.

* Yes, there is debate about whether journalism is a “profession.” While we lack professional licensing, we do abide by codes of ethics and hold each other to standards that are characteristic of professions.

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