Category Archives: Journalism

23 Jan

Explainer videos and motion infographics

Explainer videos are the relatively new kid in the world of infographics. Combining animation with infographic style design, they fit perfectly in the social media landscape. 

I’ve had clients request explainer videos for presentations, trade shows and websites. 

I work with a skilled animator and filmmaker, to create the perfect film for you. 

14 Feb

Infographics? Infovisuals? Stop and think

buttons-01-150x150

Visual communication is nothing new.

Man has been daubing on walls and scratching into rock for centuries. Whether it’s “5 Ways to Catch and Skin a Deer” or “The River Styx: Everything You Need to Know”, visual representations of information have been the simplest way to pass information from one person to another.

Nowadays, the data explosion has meant there is not only more information to be conveyed, but an increased demand for access and understanding. We want price checks, reviews and evidence before we hand over our money and companies have to work harder to gain our loyalty. There’s also the decrease in trust of power – public organisations have to be transparent, as each member of the public becomes as hungry for facts and proof as the most voracious reporter of the past. Add the internet and especially social media into the mix and you have the perfect transportation method for this information.

Of course, with every shift in human consciousness, there are those who misunderstand, misuse and abuse this shift. The demand for infographics has reached fever pitch and organisations are now jumping on this dangerously overcrowded bandwagon.

If you’re one of those people thinking, “we need to get visual” but aren’t sure how or why – read on.

 

What are you visualising?

buttons-02-150x150I’ve been approached by organisations in the past who want infographics creating, but have no idea what the content will be. They’d simply heard the phrase and wanted a piece of the action.

Your visual communication must be driven by content. Would you write a press release or blog post, with no idea at the start what it’s for? Of course not. An infographic or data visualisation must be part of your overall communication message.

If you’d like to use visuals, take a look at your current projects. What kind of information are you dealing with?

For example, are you dealing with numbers/stats, the most common form of content for visual communication? Charts and data visualisation are tried and tested methods of explaining numbers. Great for showing prices, budget cuts, population counts and user demographics.

Perhaps you have location data. Maps are the most obvious way of communicating geographical data, as we understand how maps work and can instantly put ourselves into the picture – we can see how the data will affect us directly. New store locations, country of origin of products, transportation routes all work well mapped.

timeMany organisations overlook the third type of data: time and dates. Visit a museum and you’ll probably come across a timeline – again, a tool that allows us to put concepts into a visual form for us to understand. If you’re trying to explain the growth of your company, future development plans for an area or a events schedule, a timeline allows the user to access this data in a logical way.

There is another form of data that does not fall into any of these categories, but often requires the most explanation: systems and processes. How your company is structured, how that process works or why that thing happened. Flow diagrams and mindmaps can be useful tools to turn that understanding into something that anyone could follow.

Of course it could be a mix of these – showing stats on a map or the timescale of a process – and this is where infographics and data visualisations get really interesting.

 

Who is Your Audience?

Spending some time considering your audience will help you pick the right tool for the job. No point using an interactive online only tool if you target audience are not computer users. Of course, infographics and data visualisations can work well in print, whether that’s billboards, posters or flyers – it’s just worth thinking who they are before you start designing.

So here are a few questions to ask yourself about your reader

  1. what do they want from your visual? Why are they engaging with it?
  2. How old are they? You’ll use a different visual for young people and adults
  3. where are they? Reading online? In a doctors surgery? Different attention span, different tool – think
  4. What prior knowledge do they have? Avoid confusing them, but also don’t be condescending.
  5. What are their literacy/numeracy levels? Can you rely on text and stats, or does it need to be simpler than that?
  6. What will they think? You’ll use a different approach to announce job cuts than to promote your new product.
  7. What is their starting point? If you’re mapping libraries in your town, what will they use to search – will they necessarily know the library name or their “ward”? Think about how they’ll interact with your information

 

Why are you doing this?

buttons-03

What story are you trying to tell with the information? As with a press release, there is something you are trying to get across. Are you announcing some new plans? Is there budget cut information you need to explain?

Each set of data will contain key information – this has probably sparked the idea for a visual in the first place – so make sure your visual tells that story clearly.

Then there’s the message – it may be that you’re not conveying any opinion or feeling on the data – or perhaps you need to make sure you appear sympathetic about those job cuts, or excited about the new product announcements. Either way, you need to make sure that tone is clear through design decisions and tool choice.

The final consideration is action – specifically, what do you want the reader to do? An anti-littering infographic will have the aim of encouraging them to use the rubbish bins. Perhaps you want them to think less harshly of your organisation, or simply understand the situation a little better. Make sure you keep this intended action at the front of your mind when developing your visuals.

 

Caroline Beavon is a freelance infographic and data visualisation designer. She has worked with local authorities and charities offering information design solutions to comms teams across the UK.

29 Mar

Reliable Witness

Reliable Witness was a transmedia project for Birmingham Book Festival 2012, culminating in an interactive storytelling installation.

Participants were asked to make several choices for the characters, affecting the final outcome

I was asked to plot the various storylines, also showing the use of real-world media and social networks.

 

Reliable-Witness-infographic-01-730x1024

20 May

I speak: Creating Usable Content event video

If you picked up my recent blog posts, you’ll know I took part in the Creating Usable Content event in Cardiff a few weeks ago.

It was an event for local gov and  health comms professionals, and  I delivered a workshop on Infographics, which went down really well, by all accounts.

There was a camera crew at the event recording sessions and interviewing the workshop leaders.

Watch out for my pals Dan Slee and Pete Ashton.


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin

17 Feb

Work in Progress: The Warriors plot-map

Intro

If you follow me on Instagram  you may have seen a picture I posted recently.

Warriors map

To most people it would have looked like a random arrangement of squiggles, lines and terrible sketches.

In fact it was a draft sketch of the plot of  The Warriors, a film that came out in 1979 (trailer)

The plot is set in a slightly-futuristic New York, where gangs in theatrical-costume uniforms roam the streets defending their turf. After being called to an all-gang powwow in the Bronx, the Warriors, from Coney Island have to make their way home with all the other gangs after their blood.

vignelli-map-1972What follows is their route south, to Coney, via the subway network and the highly controversial* 1972 Massimo Vignelli map (right) features heavily. (*the map was controversial as it followed the London underground style of being geographically inaccurate but focussed on connections within the system).

So boiling this down – the film is not only set over a series of locations (as with most films) but the specific locations are crucial, have different gangs attached to each area, and the movement between these areas is central to the plot.

—————

I’ve always admired highly detailed “infographics”, or information design – where extensive time has gone into turning something conceptual into a visual finished piece and I felt the location-centric Warriors plot would work well overlaid on the New York subway map.

However, it would not be enough to simply plot their route across the city, but i wanted to show the key clashes with the other gangs and key plot points.

I have since added another series of elements – key lines from the script at the relevant locations, and the route of the individual Warrior members, if they peel off from the rest of the gang, or are killed.

Minard

I was also inspired to use the same effect adopted in the Minard Napoleon campaign data visualisation – where the width of the line denoted the number of men in the army.

This diagram (left) shows the outgoing army via the brown line, as they march to Russia, with the returning army shows in black. The depleted numbers are clear. The diagram also shows how some peeled off from the rest of the group.

This is a great visualisation and very effective and I want to adopt a similar idea for my map – although in this case we have 9 “soldiers” depleted down to 6 (plus an addition).

This is still a work in progress, but here are a couple of screen-grabs of the work so far:

screenshotscreenshot

 

 

 

 

 

02 Jun

The Kernel Returns [updated]

kernel

UPDATE

Well, blow me down with a feather …  new look The Kernel is  definitely worth a revisit.

I was always put off by the overly-snarky comments (see below) and it appears I wasn’t the only one. The  site has managed to shift from vicious bile to playful teasing  – and it works.

It’s definitely back in my RSS feed – I just hope the many tech power-players they took pot shots at in the past are willing to let bygone be bygones.

In terms of content, they are taking full advantage of the benefits an online presence gives them; being able to take a 360 look at a wide variety of issues and giving relevant content the space it deserves (without being tied to filling x-number of pages).

However, the most heartwarming part of this whole experience: receiving a friendly, humble and honest email from The Kernel founder and Editor-in-Chief  Milo Yiannopoulos asking for my feedback (in reaction to the post below)

Classy move.

————————————-

I must admit, I was never a huge fan of the Kernel (the weekly technology newsletter, sharing some news and information, but mainly gossip and judgement).

Actually, that’s not true. I enjoyed the information it shared, but not the snarky way in which it did it – coming across like a bitter and twisted lunatic throwing rocks at those working in the real world. There were some very public spats with some high profile tech journalists (including The Guardian’s Charles Arthur) which drip fed into several tech podcasts leaving a pretty nasty taste in my mouth.

Plus their editor had, what I felt, was a vicious pop at the chaps at Birmingham City University, for their Social Media MA course (a course I am involved in)… and that wasn’t on. (Sadly the website is now down so that post is probably lost forever).

Eventually I cancelled my subscription and thought no more about it.

Back in the Kernel camp things were going a bit awry (to say the last) and it finally went kaput

Until this arrived. The Kernel is back, with a new company behind it, and seemingly a new focus. (my highlighting)

I’m going to give it another go – often the journalism was insightful, and I hope the bumps they’ve had in the road have knocked a few holes in their smuggery.

Although I’m not holding my breath.

——–

 

 

———

 

Technology magazine The Kernel to be relaunched with fresh investment, new commercial team

 

BERLIN, 3 June 2013.—BERLIN42, parent company of Axel Springer-backed event series hy! Berlin, today announces it is to relaunch The Kernel, the online technology, media and politics magazine originally launched by high-profile technology journalist Milo Yiannopoulos in 2011. The Kernel suspended publication in March after exhausting personal investment by Yiannopoulos and failing to secure further funding.

BERLIN42 has acquired The Kernel and will operate newly founded publishing company Kernel Media from Berlin. Acquisition terms have not been disclosed. Editorial operations will remain in London. Yiannopoulos will be re-employed as founding Editor-in-Chief of the relaunched publication, while BERLIN42 founding partner Aydoğan Ali Schosswald will serve as founding CEO.

The Kernel will shift focus from startups and startup culture to digital lifestyle and the effect of technology on society, politics and culture. All site content will be published in English.

The Kernel will commit resources to more video and photo content and investigative journalism in areas such as modern warfare, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, pornography and space travel. The “Nutshell” subscription newsletter will not return.

Schosswald said: “BERLIN42 continues its mission to build, accelerate and connect global businesses in technology & media with this latest venture. We are tremendously excited about what Milo and his team can achieve with fresh commercial backing.”

Yiannopoulos said: “The Kernel was a terrific editorial success. I’m thrilled to be getting a second chance at making it work commercially, and on a much larger scale. Hans and Aydo at BERLIN42 understand what I was trying to accomplish the first time around and I could not have wished for a better team to help me build the company into a global media brand.”

Under its former directors, The Kernel incurred debts which were settled by Yiannopoulos privately in April. Six contributors from the previous incarnation of the magazine, including Ezra Butler, James Cook and Greg Stevens – are returning to write for the site, which goes live on Monday 12 August 2013.

 

Press enquiries and interview requests:

Milo Yiannopoulos

press@berlin42.com

+49 179 6088 788

18 Feb

Bham Council to cut grit bin numbers – but where are they now? [map]

A few weeks back I was inspired to map the grit bins in Birmingham, due to the *very* dangerous icy pavements around the Jewellery Quarter.

This appeared on my hyperlocal Tumblr blog, This is the JQ.

Now the Council bosses say they’re going to cut the number of bins, in a cost-saving exercise – so this map will need redoing at some point

View Birmingham Grit Bins location in a full screen map

05 Jan

How do you blog? Just do it

As part of my recent New Year Resolutions I mentioned blogging – and more specifically, how I’d like to blog more.

Here are a few of my thoughts about the process.

But I wonder – what stops you from blogging more often?

wordpress-webtreatsetc

 

What I like about blogging is the fact you don’t need to spend hours slaving over an article, creating a story arc or creating a masterpiece – you just need to get the information out there, whether that takes 3/4 paragraphs or a photograph with  comment.

However, that’s one of the hardest things to teach someone else, whether it’s a student or a client who wants to develop their own blog.

Students or clients will always produce a “print style” for their first few blog posts.

Also, I’m not saying that you should NOT write long form posts, just don’t wait weeks to post, if you have a nice thought buzzing around your head. 

The problem is, unless you are an experienced writer, with hours to spend, this long-form writing style is VERY time consuming.

I don’t know the number of blog posts I currently have in DRAFT mode, because

  • I ran out of time
  • I ran out of ideas
  • The idea was never “finished”

In fact, if I’d simply posted the bare bones of the idea I may have received some interesting feedback or ideas to move the post forward.

So why are new bloggers so reluctant to post short unstructured updates?

  • habit
  • personal satisfaction
  • professionalism
  • keeping client work under wraps
  • keeping work-in-progress under wraps
  • writing is your “thing”

Habit

tumblr-webtreatsetcBy the time young people reach university they have (more than likely) just finished 4 years of exams. If they are coming across me at Uni, there’s a good chance they’ve been studying humanities – traditionally the more essay-based subjects.

For them, producing a piece of work is about the introduction, content, summary and conclusion.

Similarly, clients I work with are still locked into the idea of long-form reports, and even hark back to the days of university or school essays.

PLUS, people are still tied to this “newspaper/magazine” article idea – even the younger generations – as they’re as exposed to long-form structured articles via sites like BBC News and newspaper sites as the rest of us. Every piece that appears online is a long form essay, or article.

Personal Satisfaction

There is something fulfilling about writing a well structured article. It’s the closest thing many of us  will get to being “published” – and it’s a rush.

We all know that a paragraph featuring some disorganized ideas or random ramblings would not end up in The Guardian, so why should it end up on your blog?

However, if you get around to writing one brilliantly-structured article, then what are you proving? Not much.

You can show off your ideas, your creativity and your writing talent just as well with short, more frequent posts.

Professionalism

blogger-logo-square-webtreatsetcIt does require a level of bravery to just “put it out there” – you’re opening your self up to criticism and potential ridicule.

What if people think I’m biased or an idiot?

You know the answer?- be honest, tell the world that you are just “putting it out there”

Start your blog post by explaining what you are about to say – ie “I’ve been thinking about XXX. I know there’s a big debate there – here are some of my early thoughts but I’d love to know what you think”

Immediately the reader is not expecting a well-formulated article, but a jumping-off point – a debate that then can get involved in.

Keeping Client Work under wraps

It makes sense that, if you are working on a confidential client project that you would not want to blog about it in small bites.

You don’t want to breach a confidence – and that’s commendable. However, you may attract more work if you show you are actually doing something.

Talk to your client – you never know they may be happy for you to write about your experiences and work in progress.

I tend to blog about my client design work on a Tumblr site but I keep it very theoretical, never revealing the final art work (until the client has) but I simply muse about the process and any hitches.

Talk to your client – you never know, they may be glad for the extra exposure.

Keeping your BIG PROJECT under wraps

Say you’re working on a big TV documentary, launching a start-up or writing a book.

Why on earth would you put all that online for everyone to see, when someone could easily steal your idea?

Writers sending pitches to large media organisations are always encouraged to mail a copy of the manuscript to themselves as well, a trick that can be useful for future copyright claims.

Think about this: if you blog about this – you’re automatically taking ownership. You’re telling the world that this is YOUR idea, and that you are already working on it.

In addition – by showing you’re working-out (like you were encouraged to in maths and science exams) you’re showing you are genuine, knowledgeable and open.

And who wouldn’t be interested in that?

 

Writing is your “thing”

I know writers. For them, putting anything out into the world that is not completed, polished and a masterpiece would be a crime. For them, writing is their thing, and everything they put online is their portfolio.

Maybe the answer here is multiple blog sites?

Despite all my musings on “short blog posts”, most of the ones on this site are structured ideas (albeit written in one sitting)

However I tend to use my several Tumblr sites for less structured brain dumping.

If writing is your craft, and you want to keep your portfolio site pure – why not branch out and use a separate site for more informal musings? Link to it, don’t link to it – that’s up to you – but it does give you an outlet to relax a little

 

So come on then – what about you? How do you blog?

31 Dec

Links [27 Dec 2012]

A collection of the articles I’ve been reading and sharing recently

Interesting Sites

Interesting Articles / Finds

Interesting design / From my design blog

Interesting / New Apps / Tools

03 Jul

Update > 18 June 2012 – busy busy busy!

(this post was written weeks ago – just getting around to sending it now)

Well it seems that freelancing is like waiting for a bus.

After a few weeks of not-much-at-all, now I’m going through a very promising patch.

Active Projects

I am currently working on 3 dataviz projects – one for the London Fire Brigade (an infographics on cuts and spending), an infographic for Walsall Council and a project for regular client Communicate magazine.

The Communicate project should be an interesting one, as my work is going to be turned into animations – watch this space!

Compass

Today I found out I was to become part of the Compass Design team. I will be helping out with social media, online content and some design bits and pieces, as work comes in. This came from a chance meeting at Birmingham City University, during an MA Social Media class. I was leading the class, whilst Rachel McCollin (from Compass) had been invited to speak to the students about dealing with clients. Over coffee today we decided it would be good to work together.

DevLab

The recent DevLab event was another boost to my freelancing opportunities.

The event took place on Fri 15th Jun 2012 – Sat 16th Jun 2012 at the Old Library at the Custard Factory in Birmingham, with the aim of bringing together developers and general techy-geeky types with arts organisations keen on investigating the digital world.

As well as some very interesting conversations with several organizations on the day (including Walsall Arts Gallery, SAMPAD and Capsule) I was also lucky enough to work alongside Zarino Zappia, from Scraperwiki on a quick-turnaround project for SAMPAD. The aim is to mash up the organisations mailing list data, with socio-economic data from the region. This should help the organization work out why they are not hitting certain areas of the city (are they a target audience or not etc.)

I’ve never really got on with Scraperwiki (this is a HUGE understatement), and my contibution to the hack was sourcing the extra data, but I get the feeling my conversations with Zarino are not over – I’ve already bent his ear about a WYSIWYG version of Scraperwiki for non-coders like myself.

16 May

How long should online content be?

Graphic showing glyph images relating to content length How long should online content be?

According to this Writinghood article, the perfect length is between 500-800 words; other people say shorter is better; but surely there’s more to it than that?

For personal/fun blogging I say do whatever you like, but for something more structured and professional , here are a few things you might want to think about: (feel free to add your tips/thoughts in the comments below).

  1. What is the content? For example, is it an introduction, a product description, a technical report or an opinion blog post? Each of these has a different purpose and require different treatment.  Thanks to @theaardvark  (via Twitter) who said that posts explaining complex issues (in his case VAT) need to be lengthy in order to achieve their purpose.
  2. What are you hoping to achieve? Do you want to impress the reader with your literary prowess, or prove that you are a snappy, swift communicator who cuts to the chase?  If you are selling something, which will convince the reader/customer?
  3. How much have you got to say? Are you getting stuck into a big topic, or making a short comment? A great rule of thumb from several people via Twitter, including @pigsonthewing “I stop writing when I’ve said what I have to say”
  4. What is the subject area? Some interesting research here into the average length of articles from some of the larger specialist sites. Tech stories tend to be shorter, politics and financial tend to be longer.
  5. Just text? Have you created a block of text, or will you break it up with bullet points, images, diagrams, video or audio? Additional content will keep the reader’s attention and make the article easier to read. @hainsworth tweeted: “Can it be read in three minutes, or can it be bulleted or paginated to more than one post? 300 words is usually enough”
  6. Page layout – How much room do you have? Do you want to go “below the fold” (will the user have to scroll down to continue reading?). Look at the page layout, font size – how will it look when it’s published?
  7. How long is the other content on the site – what works, what is the reader expecting? Are certain length articles more popular than others on the site? (Check analytics). (If this is a new site, see 8.)
  8. What are other people in your field / the competition doing? Are they right? Is it working? Are they getting shared/commented upon? Do you want to be different? Could you use the length of your articles to compete/make a point of difference?
  9. How often are you posting? Are you writing daily, weekly or monthly? It may be impractical to deliver 10-page articles every day, and your reader may struggle to keep up.
  10. Mobile – with the increase in mobile browsing, we cannot ignore the necessity for even shorter posts. They are prepared to scroll, but not endlessly. How many users visit your site from mobile devices? Is it worth tailoring content for them?
Do you have anything else you would consider, when writing online?
Further Reading:
You might like my article on > Top 10 Crimes of Online Writing
25 Apr

Covering a live event: a quick guide

Covering live events can be a chaotic, stressful and sometimes unfulfilling experience. Battling with the digital elements can mean the finished product is disappointing.

However- there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself

(feel free to comment with more below  – I will also add to this as ideas come to me!)

Background Research

Find out as much about the event as you can.

Where is it? – how are you going to get there? Public transport? Where can you park?
When is it? – what time does it start? What time do you need to be there?
Where will you be – do you have an allocated desk? Will space be tight (should you get there early to secure a good seat?)
Who is running the event – are you on the event mailing lists?
who is going – try to get a list of speakers / delegates beforehand. This is useful to make contacts and arrange interviews ahead of time!

Make sure you have all the information with you and easy to find. I often make a crib sheet for myself of the address, directions, contact names / numbers etc.

See more on content and research in Live Blogging, below

Power

With the increase in laptop and smartphone use at events, the demand on power outlets is great. Always take a power lead for your device and a LONG extension lead (this means you can share one plug amongst many devices – great for charging phones, laptops etc at the same time).

Internet Connection

Vital if you are going to live blog, tweet or in any way cover the event online.
In the days before the event, check with the venue/event organisers if there will be free wifi available and that you will be able to use it. Don’t rely on 3G (especially in old buildings where often traditional mobile coverage tends to drop off).

If there is no wifi available invest in a 3G dongle (although often these struggle in old buildings / internal rooms).

If you are worried, try to visit the venue ahead of the event to check internet coverage. This gives you time to solve any issues.

 

There are several ways you can cover an event – a straight forward article written after the event for online or print, social media updates (eg Twitter, or Google+), web streaming, audio capturing and live blogging

As with any form of reporting, preparation is key. However, with live blogging especially, ANYTHING you can do to make your job a bit easier once the event gets underway, the better.

Live Blogging

If you are using a live blogging tool such as CoverItLive  – save as MUCH content in the tool library as you can:

  • photographs of speakers
  • build a quick contact sheet for each of them, with Twitter links, websites etc which you can paste in when they begin talking
  • links to statements, policies, etc.
  • running orders
  • presentations – easy to embed and link to with tools like SlideShare.

A few other ideas:

If you are there with other reporters, get them to take pictures from different parts of the event and tweet them with a #hashtag. You can then add these into the live blog stream …

05 Mar

Six Ways to Spice Up Your Podcasts

Are your podcasts limp and lifeless? Then try these tips to spice up your audio output …

Location Location Location

Get out there!!!  You might think that you need peace and quiet to record a podcast, but remember  – the joy of a podcast is that you can get to the centre of a situation or story. Sometimes silence just sounds strange.

Example: If your podcast is about farming – why not record it in a field, with the sound of the wind, sheep and birds? Use appropriate background noise (known as wildtrack) 

It not only sounds more interesting, it gives the podcast a sense of authenticity and makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

Music / Jingles / Sound effects

Have fun with these. They will make your listener smile, and can be useful to break up different segments of the podcast, a change in subject or mood, or simply to illustrate a point. Just be careful where you get music from due to licensing laws. It’s a grey area but it’s best to be safe.  I haven’t used these guys, but looks promising (Magnatune)

Example: You’re creating an audio podcast for kids – teaching them English languge basics, How about using sound effects to illustrate the words you are saying – a baaaa-ing lamb, for lamb (lambs again!!!). Its even harder to keep kids interested, but this will definitely help.

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

Stop going on … Think about where people will be listening to your podcasts. It could be on the way to work, in the car, on the bus … how many people have an hour-long commute? Some do, but not everyone.

Listening to a speech based podcast for an hour may be a commitment too far for some people. Think about “chunking” … breaking it up into smaller pieces.

In addition, trying to do an hour long podcast regularly will be difficult. Spread out your content or you’ll lose interest over time.

Signposting

People like to know what to expect. You could start your podcast with an introduction and an audio menu of what’s coming up. Then people can decide whether it’s for them, and what to listen out for. Similarly, you could post a written version of this running order, with times, so people can scroll forward.

Example – The DataStories podcast use this effectively
 

Interviews

You’ve landed a great interview for your podcast – a real find. However, resist the temptation to put the whole interview unedited into your podcast. It will slow the whole thing down. How about playing some clips from it, then putting the whole interview (the “raw”) as a separate podcast? Refer to this in your podcast, and you’ve got them coming back for more!

You could also split the interview over a series of podcasts – imagine saying “more from Dave next week”.

Mix it Up

Have a think who’s listening to the podcast, and what do they want? Think about bringing in different features, or sections to the show. It keeps interest up as you change subject, tone and pace.

Example: A news style bulletin for airport customers could be livened up by adding travel advice, health tips and local recommendations. Also, advice on facilities in departure lounges etc. This would make the podcast a lot more interesting and popular. 

 

 

24 Feb

Adventures #1 – SoLoMoDEN

In something of a mid-February resolution, I’ve decided to do more day-to-day blogging about the various online activities I am involved in. You have been warned

—–

Yesterday I found myself at the SoLoMoDEN conference in Manchester. Right in the heart of Media City, it was hard not to be inspired about the future of the profession – even though there was a slight Legoland feeling to this regenerated part of Salford.

The “DEN” bit of SoLoMoDEN, stands for the Digital Editors Network – a group for anyone with an interest in online journalism ventures. Entrepreneurs, reporters and students rub shoulders, exchanging business cards and ideas. (As someone who has been to a large number of these new media journalism conferences, this is still my favourite, due to a very friendly crowd, accessible subject areas and free ticket (donation is optional)

The “SoLoMo” part of the event title captured the buzz phrase of the moment – Social Local Mobile … the holy triumvirate of online news innovation – and the event focussed on these issues specifically with presentations on

One of the chaps behind DEN, the softly spoken (but don’t be fooled) @Francoisnel is an academic interested in sustainability of online news models, and he used the event to launch his latest venture MADE – an incubation support project for such ventures.

However, it was the presentation by Greg Hadfield (@greghadfield) that certainly got me, and a few other people, all of a flutter.

Firstly, it was great to see someone so genuinely excited about open data – but refreshing to see it applied to both social good, and commercial viability.

Secondly – as I was in the process of writing my application for the role of Electronic Editor at the Express and Star, it gave me some fantastic ideas.

The evening ended, inevitably with a few drinkies with a nice crew including @foodiesarah, @alisongow @paulbradshaw + some new friends, before Paul Bradshaw and I legged it for a train at Manchester Picadilly back to Birmingham.

01 Feb

How journalists can follow the story/find contacts online

(a few notes/ideas of using online resources for journalism from a recent 30 minute workshop with 2nd year Online Journalism students) – this is by no means definitive, so feel free to add any suggestions, comments below
There are so many ways a journalist can follow the story, search for contacts or get leads online – but starting off is the hardest part.
In this blog post I’l be running through a few very easy steps to jumping in – often using tools you may already be aware of.

SOCIAL NETWORKS

eg Twitter, Facebook (less mainstream ones mentioned in Other Tools below)
YOUR PROFILE
I would suggest having a professional account, especially if you already have an account and use it for day to day chatting to friends, posting pictures of nights out etc.
If you need convincing – perhaps these reasons will help:
Reason 1 – potential to upset bosses
Countless examples of people being fired for criticizing their bosses, talking about getting another job. being unprofessional, being offensive etc. drunk pictures, sweary tweets. keep them separate.
This doesn’t mean you cant be human on your professional tweet, just not an animal.
Reason 2 – your company could claim ownership of your followers
Recently a man was sued for his followers, He was using his own account to promote the companys work – when he left, they wanted him to leave his Twitter account, and his followers, behind.
Reason 3 – Content may not be suitable for your personal account
Friends don’t necessarily want to see your work
some may not like the work you are doing … may not be suitable
Imagine youre doing research on neo-fascists – and you decide to follow a few groups for research – do you want your friends seeing that?
Now, whether that is true or not – it shows that if you are searching for something a little unsavoury, illegal etc or dealing with people, it is best to have a separate account.

 

Name: If you already have an account using your full name, consider changing it to a nickname, and using your full name on your professional account – remember, a potential employer/contact will probably do a search for you – which account do you want them to find?
Also, avoid a username that alludes to your current situation – eg Davethestudent, or JohnBCU – in 2/3 years you won’t be a student any more. Also avoid employer names for the same reason.
picture – I would choose something clear and recognizable – it’s amazing how many people at events will come over because they’ve seen you on Twitter.
So now you have your account set up, the question is …
WHO TO FOLLOW
Who’s on there
celebrities
councils
MPs
sports
experts
other journalists
General advice
you’ll end up following lots of people
don’t be afraid to stop following people if your interest changes
e.g. you’re working on an education story – so you’ll follow lots of teachers  – for example. once the story is over, you don’t need to keep getting their updates
use lists  – group the types of people you are interested in so you can see them all together
Finding that first person
  • name search people/organizations/publications you know
  • check articles on the subject  – is the writer online?
  • check organizations websites – a lot now promote their social network accounts
  • Google search subject area + social network name …
Next step
Youve now found someone to follow …
  • check their profile – they may have other accounts, organizations mentioned
  • who are they following? (very useful) who follows them? (not as useful)
  • Lists – the lists they follow and the lists they are a member of – find similar people
  • look through some of their tweets – who are they talking to / replying to?
WHAT FOLLOW
Hashtags (Twitter)
As well as following people, you can follow events (whether temporary or ongoing) with hashtags. These are words, preceeded by a #, which users use to show the subject of their tweet.
With certain services you can search and follow hashtags .. which can be set up for TV shows (eg #xfactor, or for individual conferences, events.
Lists (Facebook, twitter)
If you find a list of interesting people, you can follow the whole list, instead of the individual people. Again, certain readers let you do this.
Groups (Facebook, LinkedIn, google groups)
Join groups, follow conversations, get involved …
HOW TO MANAGE
Ideally this shouldn’t be something you are sitting down to do once a day, but you are notified about updates as-and-when, to suit you
Various ways to interact with Social networks
  • official website – Facebook.com, twitter.com
  • phone app – eg Boxcar for Iphone (covers Facebook, Twitter, email etc) – most smartphones have built in notifications for Facebook/Twitter or apps you can add
  • computer desktop application – eg Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Destroytwitter
  • via SMS
  • via email notifications
DestroyTwitter2 – http://bit.ly/ykTwOX
_________________

RSS FEEDS

a way to keep an eye on websites without having to keep checking them
Sign up to a Google Reader account
Ways to Subscribe
  • search for subject area/names via SUBSCRIBE button
  • manually add URL via the Subscribe button
  • click on an orange RSS button on a website
  • click on RSS button on URL bar in browser (most show if there is an RSS feed available now)
How to Read those feeds
Google Reader, but many other RSS readers sync with your Google Reader account
  • Google Reader website
  • desktop reader – eg Feedemon, RSS Bandit
  • phone app – eg Feedler, Feedly, Flipboard
  • online readers – (list from Geek Adda http://bit.ly/w6Amie)
____________________

They Work for you

 Allows you to keyword search MP’s speeches in Parliament
——————————-

GOOGLE ALERTS

A way of keeping an eye on whats happening
_______________________

OTHER TOOLS

LinkedIn Specifically
How Journalists Can Use LinkedIn http://tnw.co/ypyo3e
Useful to have professionally
good for job hunting
find company contacts – and approach
Follow companies
Browse company stats
Also
Youtube, Flickr, Soundcloud (music site) – a lot of content – a source for contacts
Quora –  a questions and answers website – very professional. not as busy as it was but still useful
Meetups.com – people organising meetups – useful for finding sources, interviewees, interest/action groups
Podcasts – Itunes … search for subject areas – a lot of interesting content
01 Feb

New website launch > The Hidden City

An interesting project to emerge in this time when questions are being asked about the role of the mainstream media is The Hidden City. It is a website covering the hidden stories of Birmingham through audio slideshows (a slideshow of relevant photographs with an audio track underneath).

The brainchild of the guys behind Fourseventy Media, a local media production company specializing in audio, The Hidden City is a not-for profit project funded by donations and sponsorship. All money raised will go back into the project to cover costs, (eg travel expenses)

With local newspapers shutting down and broadcast newsrooms co-locating out of the region, this site hopes to focus attention back on the local people, stories and events happening across the region and are inviting the public to submit story ideas. Once these ideas are submitted, the site will either assign it to one of their reporters, or help the member of the public to cover it themselves.

Checking the site out at today’s launch, at Brewsmiths Coffee shop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, there are a handful of stories up there, as produced by the FourSeventy Media guys, and a small army of local media/tech students from Birmingham City University. Reports currently on the site deal with subjects including squatters rights, the history of UB40, an old-school barbers shop and street sport.

Right now these are accessible through “pins on a map”, housed on the front page (See screengrab below) – although they are not categorized into subject area/themes. (there are plans for themed/colour coded pins in the future)

I was concerned about the issue of quality control. Right now, the site houses some top notch content – produced by a professional company, and students trained by them. I was assured that content standards would remain high, and that all submitted work would be either produced entirely in-house, or under supervision/editorial guidance from the in house team. There is also common sense here – with the guys clearly going for quality over quantity – there will be 2/3 audio slideshows (or audio/video in the future) uploaded her month.

Overall, it is an interesting project and I wish them all the luck!

19 Jan

The Changing Role of a Journalist – a few thoughts

What is the role of the journalist in today’s world?

During the Birmingham riots, when a huge amount of rumour and speculation was being passed around the social networks (Riot rumours – Guardian), should the local media have also stepped in to set the records straight?

(check out this fantastic visualization of Twitter rumours by The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/interactive/2011/dec/07/london-riots-twitter)

Many believe that journalists should only deal with news — a rumour is not news, and should be left alone.
This may have been the case before the era of social networks and citizen journalists – when the journalists had the monopoly on the information reaching the public, and to mention “rumour” was to give it credence.

However, today – thanks to the power of the online world, rumour has credence without the journalists being involved.
Consider this example: a station is evacuated due to a suspect package. Word breaks online and spreads quickly.

Traditionally we would turn to our the established news outlets (local radio, local newspaper website etc) for confirmation or, at least, information. However, if they are saying nothing about it because nothing has been confirmed, then that organization will quickly lose its reputation. Concerned parties will instead continue to believe the information being passed around online.

Those local news outlets should be on Twitter and Facebook saying what they know about this situation. They should besaying that the station has been evacuated. They should also be passing on information as they receive it.  Granted, it probably won’t make a story, but people are talking about it – hence it deserves attention.
Now we are left with a situation where minute-to-minute updates are handled by the sources themselves (police, Government, NHS) and an army of citizen journalists.

It is no wonder that local/regional news outlets are losing their grip on their regions – when there are other sources of information not concerned with filling pages, and maintaining exclusives.
02 Jan

The embargo > a few thoughts

Embargo: a request by a source that the information or news provided by that source not be published until a certain date or certain conditions have been met News embargo – Wikipedia 

A lot of talk recently about embargoes, after a journalist for the New Yorker posted a review of the new David Fincher film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ahead of an agreed embargo date.

 

You can read the email exchanges between the reporter – David Denham and Sony here  but Denham’s points appear to be:

  • They were trying to spread reviews to avoid a “jam up” of articles featuring the large number of important movies released at the same time
  • His review was positive – he says he would not have broken an embargo with a “bad” review
  • “madness” of early publication dates in the run up to the Xmas period and a need for serious content for this particular edition.

Sony retaliated by accusing him of doing  “a deeply lousy and immoral thing“, that the glut of Xmas films is nothing new and that the needs of the magazine should not come ahead of an agreement.

Embargo’s are designed to structure the flow of information between a source and a journalist within an environment of trust and it is important that they are maintained. They not only offer an obvious benefit to the source (by controlling coverage) and the wider situation (e.g.protecting  police operations, court cases etc) there are also definite benefits to the journalist.

A journalist who is given access to embargoed information is working within a privileged position. The source considers their, or their outlet’s reputation to warrant this trust and in return the that journalist is given time to absorb and develop the story.

With the online information-explosion thanks social networks and blogging, it is important for traditional news outlets to play to their strengths. Whilst many are excelling in breaking news in innovative ways, they still have a definite advantage when it comes to their access to information. This head-start gives the perfect opportunity to prepare a well-researched, in-depth piece ahead of time.

A journalist who breaks an embargo is often punished in the future by missing out on information – it would be a shame if this becomes a habit and more journalists ignore this agreement that is there for the greater good. 

04 Mar

Top 10 Crimes of Online Writing


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin


Are you blog posts not getting the attention they deserve?
Check out these points to improve your writing and reduce that bounce rate
[toc]

1. Too Clever/Too Boring/Too Complex Title

  • The title of an online post needs to be clear and succinct – no clever tabloid puns or vagueness here please!
  • Avoid figures, but use place names, people etc. they will catch attention.
  • The difference between: “Birmingham man falls into pub-cellar after night out” and “Down the Hatch”
  • Avoid long titles, they’ll drop off the end of tweets if people share your story. Rethink your focus if you are struggling to write a clear title.

2. Images to big/boring/stock photos

Images are a useful way to not only break up a story but also to improve traffic. Have you ever seen a story posted onto Facebook? Often the article IMAGE is the first thing you will see. Remember that!
  • Size: Don’t automatically use the original size. Unless the image is VITAL to the article (i.e. if it is illustrating a point) keep it small, and wrap the text around the image to avoid white space.
  • Location: Does that image REALLY have to be at the top on the left hand side? Would it work better further down? Consider using it to break up a block of text, or illustrate a particular point in the article.
  • Multiple Pictures: Instead of ONE picture, how about several? How about an embedded Flickr slideshow? A gallery?
  • Diagrams: Not all images have to be photographs. Is the story complex – would it benefit from a diagram? How about drawing your own with an art package (even Paint can work for simple diagrams), then save it and embed. (If it’s a personal blog, how about taking a photograph of your own doodles, flow charts, schedules etc and posting those up?)

3. Epic Paragraphs

It’s a common mistake of print journalists – they simply paste their copy online, add an image and have done with.

The eye simply cannot cope with the same about of text on a screen. Also, image if someone is reading the article on a mobile phone.

Keep paragraphs short

One idea, one paragraph.

People will scan the article – they will glance at paragraphs, and move on if it does not interest them. Don’t bury the facts in a paragraph they may not read.

4. No Header / Subheader

If the article is long, breaking it up into sections will help the reader find what that want quickly.
See how this article is divided into sections? Did it help you find what you wanted? Good.

5. No links / links not working

Links are vital – and useful.
  • they give the reader a chance to find out more about a story
  • they give your story credibility
  • the linked person will know you’ve linked to them – creating interest and a possible link back
  • you can keep your article short by linking to a resource elsewhere (read more here, see full list here etc.)

Never post a full link into your article – it looks messy and amateurish. Instead create a LINK within the article using relevant words (more here, for example).

See below (Spreading the Word – for details of creating short links)

6. No Lists

What would you prefer to read?
The company has created websites for Exfan, Doldoran. The Burmese Artichoke Foundation, Sandcastle Equities, Danders, Phirman Enterprises and Zhulom Corporation
or
The company has created websites for:
  • Exfan
  • Doldoran
  • The Burmese Artichoke Foundation
  • Sandcastle Equities
  • Danders
  • Phirman Enterprises
  • Zhulom Corporation

And don’t forget to use those bullet point as LINKS to the relevant page.

7. Fact and Figures

Above I mentioned how diagrams were a useful addition to an article to explain a point. If your story is very NUMBER heavy, how about using a table or a chart to explain the figures?
For WordPress, I have discovered that creating the table in Word, then “pasting from Word” places the table into the post with no strange formatting.
A B C
Dave 3 8 6
Archie 5 6 1
Charles 3 4 2
Also think about a chart – input the data into a spreadsheet program (ie Excel) create a chart, copy it, paste into Paint and add as an image to your article.

8. Tagging and Categories

These are crucial. They allow people to navigate your site, and flag up what the article is about.
If your articles have a lot of links and tag words, consider using Zemanta (no students, we can’t have this on the uni computers). It finds possible links and tags and allows you to add them automatically. By no means does this pick every link, but saves a lot of time with the obvious ones.
Add tag words that a relevant only – don’t add everything – you don’t want to be using tag words to get people to your article under false pretenses.

9. Spread the Word

If you don’t tell anyone about your article, no-one, apart from your mum, will read it.

Here are some ways of spreading the word:

  • Post the link on Twitter but ALWAYS use a short link (I use Bit.ly – it shortens the link and allows you to track the number of clicks – great/terrible for the ego!)
  • Post it on Facebook – (useful tip: if you use Hootsuite as a Twitter /Facebook client you can CHOOSE which image will appear next to the link)
  • Are there forums on this subject? Post it on there. – but be respectful of forum policy – forums are notoriously feisty when it it comes to spamming.
  • Send it to the contacts, sources and interviewees that you used – they will like to see it and may post it on their websites. Again, send them a short link so you can keep track of the traffic.
  • Get an email sig that allows you to promote your blog (I use Wisestamp, it adds links to my social networks AND an RSS feed of my blog).

10. Feel free to suggest a Number 10, below …

 


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin


15 Nov

INTERNSHIPS: slave labour or opportunity?

This post was written in November 2010. I am now no longer a member of the NUJ. However, my feelings on internships have not changed.

There has always been some discomfort about the idea of unpaid internships, work experience etc. However, in the media they are considered something of a necessary evil.

National Union of Journalists
Image via Wikipedia

The NUJ have launched a campaign highlighting the fact that anyone who’s worked as an unpaid intern over the past six years COULD be entitled to minimum wage back pay – irrespective of the terms of the internship at the time. (They make a clear distinction,however, between internships and work experience. Internships tend to be longer and you make a contribution to the company. Unfortunately individuals on work experience often slip into an internship role, if they have anything about them they will do all they can to make a contribution to the company)

I am a fully paid up member of the NUJ but this concerns me.

Yes, companies DO take advantage of unpaid workers but don’t believe that this is entirely a one way street. With so many teenagers heading to university nowadays, and coming out with a range of weird and wonderful degrees, anyone serious about getting into the media can’t rely on a Desmond in Media Studies any more. I actively encourage students to get as much work experience as possible. Not only are they, as I did, putting themselves in a prime position for any vacancies that DO come up, but they are making contacts, learning about the industry and picking up new skills that their university may omit to teach them.

You simply cannot put a price on that.

This added pressure on media companies concerns me because it could …

1. put those  who have used interns in the past in a dire financial situation if they had to dig deep and find back pay

2. discourage others from offering internships in the future

Don’t think that companies will immediately start finding money to pay interns in the future, they won’t. It simply means the opportunities will close up and there will be fewer chances to get a foot in the door for the media workers of the future. On the other hand, as I explained above, there is a distinction between Intern and Work Experience. Maybe we’ll see a drop off in internships and a shift to work experience. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing?

I also have concerns when young people complain they do not have time to intern. Yes, they find time to go to football on a Saturday, see their friends a few nights a week and still have time to watch TV, play computer games and sleep.

It comes down to how badly you want it. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of supportive parents. But I do wonder how desperate you are for a role in this industry, if you are not prepared to give up some of your spare time getting experience

Your thoughts?

Related articles

08 Aug

Making Online News Pay – Pt 1 paywalls

I am currently exploring the various avenues for making money from online news as part of my MA Online Journalism.

Over a series of Posts I hope to explore the various methods of generating revenue from online content – looking at the various issues, and pitfalls along the way.

The Project

My idea is a website that offers short, exclusive video interviews with bands – often bands that would not get mainstream coverage elsewhere (e.g. radio and television) but have a small, but cult, following.

The Money Making Options

  • Paywall
  • Standard Banner Ads
  • Ad-content (more on this in future posts)

Paywalls

First, then – the big talking point of the moment, Paywalls.

I would not even consider a paywall model, were I providing standard, general interest news that could be read anywhere. Why would people want to pay for my content, if they could read it for free on a rival site? The beauty of the internet is the sheer volume of material out there, and the means by which to get at it. Websites, RSS feeds, email, social networks – they are all serious competition now for the news outlet.

“The Times”
Image by tripu via Flickr

The Times is attempting to do exactly this with their paywall. Initial figures are not healthy (losing 2 thirds of their online readership). Of course, that means a third of their readers are happy to pay £2 a week for online news – and those figures may eventually work in their favour, who knows. This is The Times, however, they had more readers to play with in the first place. A small local paper that attempted a paywall would be looking at 33% of not-very-much – an impossible situation.

There have been more successful attempts at a Paywall, all of them offering something unique to the reader (the old ad-men phrase of the USP) be it useful information (in the example of the FT or Wall Street Journal), or “celeb-toriety” (right wing commentator RushLimbaugh in the USA). In fact, many of us already accept paywalls as a way of life – Sky TV subscriptions anyone? Again – offering something that you cannot get for free elsewhere.

The question really is not, WILL people pay for “exclusive” content, but how much?

The Content

  • The content I am offering is exclusive video interviews with bands.
  • These will be video interviews, which are quick to digest, interesting to watch and entertaining.
  • The bands I am interviewing are small enough not to get mainstream media coverage (radio or TV) hence the content has a unique value
  • The bands have a cult following within their field and there is a genuine interest in their activities
  • Content will tend to gathered in batches (ie at festivals) so there is an opportunity to promote interest between similar bands

The Audience

  • This audience are not a business audience – they are music fans (teenagers, early 20’s) who consume their magazines, news etc online via social networks, websites and apps.
  • They will be happy shopping online, and in theory, would be comfortable using Paypal to sign up to a site
  • However, would they see the value of this content? And how much would they be willing to pay for it?

Maintaining the Exclusivity

This is icon for social networking website. Th...

Image via Wikipedia

I would go to great lengths to maintain the exclusivity of this content – attending small niche festivals where no other media is interviewing, locking the content as private on video website Viddler,  and embedding it behind a subscription page on my own site.

The downside of this is that the content itself cannot be shared, passed on or promoted – only the link to the page – for which you would need to have paid to access.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

28 Apr

Photographers v Police 1-1 (after 1st leg)

Photographers are not a happy bunch. If they’re not having their pictures used online without getting credit or being replaced in the festival photo pit by young bloggers waving iPhones, they’re being persecuted by the police and accused of being terrorists.

Authority 2.0 (Birmingham City University, 28 April, 2010) was a fascinating event, organised by the MA Social Media students to investigate how the UK’s police forces should be using social media, AND to discuss some of the very real problems today’s photographers face at the hands of officers in this age of terrorist suspicion.

For me the panel discussion, 2 photographers (@KarenStrunks and Christian Payne (aka @Documentally) and 2 representatives from West Midlands Police (CI Mark Payne Force CID and Inspector Ian Grundy, Counter Terrorism Unit), was the highlight of the day by sparking a series of interesting debates about freedom of access, how the police handle the public and training of their officers.

The discussion started with a, quite frankly, horrifying video recorded by an anonymous photographer as he was subject to some very unecessary harrassment, first by a Community Support Officer, and then by a police officer, as he tried to take pictures in the street. Accused of being “suspicious” and being ordered to give his details, there was mention of “terrorism” and an eventual arrest, which ended in release 8 hours later.

If this is as commonplace as it seems, then I am right behind photographers in their fight for acceptance among the police force – and, give them their due, the officers present at the event were just as keen to see a closer relationship. Unfortunately though, these senior members of the force are as likely to have to deal with a suspicous photographer on the beat, as they are parking in Livery Stret Car Park in Birmingham and NOT getting a ticket (in joke, sorry).

Instead, the message that people with cameras in the street are NOT necessarily scoping out a terrorist target, needs to be filtered down to the officers on the street, the Community Support teams and the private security firms – all of whom have been accused of bothering snappers in the past.

Karen Strunks also highlighted that current poster campaigns asking the public to be vigilant and report anything suspicious has turned everyone into a wannabe Jack Bauer eager to challenge even the most innocent of activities.

But surely terrorists ARE walking the streets armed with SLR’s sussing out the best angle for attack? In reality, probably not.

West Midlands Police admit they now use Google Earth and Street View to check out a property before a raid, instead of sending officers or the helicopter – it’s easier, and a hell of a lot cheaper. So why would your common-or-garden terrorist be any different?

It seem, however, that officers on the streets are sadly behind the times, and sometimes out of touch with modern developments. And is it any wonder? Many forces refuse to allow even their communications department onto Twitter, and bobbies on the beat do not have access to the internet whilst they are out and about (although West Midlands Police are looking into Android phones to solve this problem). Particular mention, however, to CI Mark Payne who DOES have an official Twitter account, which he uses for both professional, and personal tweets.

The discussion also revealed some more interesting developments being investigated by the force, including a website where the public can upload pictures to help them solve crimes.

However, it seems we’re still a way off yet from the “police online” levels reached by the force in Beijing who, as we heard during an earlier presentation. They have designed a cartoon officer who moves across your computer screen with a friendly warning should you venture into forbidden web territory – and judging by China’s current attitude towards content – the poor guy must be exhausted.

03 Apr

iPhone Apps: RSS READERS

Continuing in my series of posts about my favourite apps, I move onto …

RSS READERS

I currently run 2 RSS readers on my phone. I struggled to find one that could accommodate forwarding to 2 different Twitter accounts.

iNEWS PREMIUM (£2.39) iNews Premium - gdiplus

I am a big fan of the iNEWS interface – it is fully customisable, so if you are a white-on-black text girl like me, then so be it!

I use this app by importing my Google Reader feed. Unfortunately it does not sync – which under normal circumstances would be a pain. However, as I run 2 RSS readers (one for journalism and tech stories – the majority) and another for music news this “flaw” is actually quite useful. I have deleted the feeds from this reader that are not relevant to me, and it does not affect my Google Reader feeds or the other RSS app I use.

The app can check for new feeds when you open it, it even “bings” at you when the update is complete. The app also informs you how many unread items you have with a number next to the App icon, which, depending how high that number is, can be a good or a bad thing!

The list of Feeds is very clear, with ones that have unread items highlighted for quick viewing. The rest lurk in a shadowy haze, so you can skip them. Click on a feed and it takes you do a list of articles

On this screen you can also scroll down, and see all the articles in all the feeds, which can get confusing at times because it is easy to miss the fact that you have moved into a different feed.

There is also the option to read the article in full.

In full article view, there are some useful share tools:

  • Mail
  • Instapaper
  • Read It Later
  • Twitter
  • Twitter with Comment – you can edit the text that goes out
  • Facebook
  • Delicious – via a link at the BOTTOM of the article (a pain if you don’t want to read it straight away).

There is also the option to Favourite, jump to the next or previous article (both carry red numbers to show how many unread articles there are in the current feed and in which direction they are), plus the option to go back to the full list of articles.

There is a handy counter at the bottom, showing you the number of unread articles in the current feed. Another feature is SLIDESHOW, which is fairly self explanatory and if, like me, you tend to skip some articles, this is a great device to MAKE you read the introductory text to an article – time-consuming, but good for the soul.

There is also another option to view the feeds in a “newspaper” style (left), with each feed it’s on box. I don’t really see the point of this, it does not show you how many upread feeds to you have. Pro mode is much easier to use.

iNews is a clever gadget, but for me lacks one facility – to read articles in order of posting. All the feeds are sorted into Alphabetical Feed, not date. This would be a great addition!

8/10

iNews Premium - gdiplus


MobileRSS (£1.79)  MobileRSS Pro ~ Google RSS News Reader - NibiruTech LTD.

Mobile RSS was originally my secondary RSS reader, linked to my CarolineTheDJ twitter account – but the fact that this feed can SYNC with my Google Reader account, has promoted it to top dog over iNews.

The interface is fa less pleasing than iNews, and it lacks many of the features I gushed about above, however, it is a simple reader that gets the job done.

The opening screen shows a list of your feeds, with numbers of unread items next to them. Click on the feed, and you head into a list of all the articles available, with a “show new” or “show all” option.

Another button allows to you Mark All as Read or sort by oldest.

In full article view there are a range of options:

  • Full Screen – which places shadowy buttons across the bottom of the article for navigation.
  • Mark
  • Favourite
  • an RSS button – not quite sure what this does!
  • Share.

The share button is customisable in the App options with the following options:

  • Share with Note
  • email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • ReadItLater
  • Instapaper
  • Delicious

This is a very clean and useful RSS reader, and if it allowed more than one Twitter account, it would definitely have scored full marks

9/10

23 Mar

Audio slideshow – music news bulletin

It was only a matter of time before I harked back to my old job of knocking out music news bulletins for the rock loving masses!

Instead of a straight bulletin read though, I decided to turn a standard bulletin (recorded into my laptop with a clip on mic and with Audacity) into an audio slideshow.

The Process

Write the Bulletin

  • Check the main music news websites (including NME.com, Kerrang.com and Gigwise) as well as the press releases I have received, for the top stories of the day.
  • write a short 2 minute bulletin with 4-5 stories, an intro and an out

Record the Bulletin

  • Using a clip on microphone and Audacity sound recorder, I recorded the bulletin into my laptop
  • Edit the bulletin for any mistakes/re-recording

Add Images

  • Unfortunately I do not have an extensive gallery of rock stars so I have had to use images from the internet.
  • I am aware that this may be in breach of copyright, so I have offered the opportunity for photographers not happy with images being used to contact me via the video hosting website Vimeo.
  • I selected pictures that supplemented the story. For example the image of Pete Doherty with the policeman and Damon Albarn with the cigarette were obvious choices.
  • I used movement throughout the slideshow to add to the story – for example, zooming in on the eyes of Robin Whitehead, the heiress and filmmaker found dead in a London flat. This seemed appropriate in this situation.
  • I also used images to highlight the fact that the lead singer of Killswitch Engage has the same name as 80’s pop star Howard Jones. By putting the WRONG picture up initially, then correcting it, it brought some humour to the report.

Uploading the Video

  • Initially I did not want to use a public video sharing site (Vimeo or Youtube) over concerns about using  images  and would ideally have liked to host the video on my site for assessment purposes. Unfortunately it was necessary to use one of these to embed the video into this blog due to the file size.
  • I used Vimeo, and embedded the video into this post (see below)

Thoughts

I found creating this audio slideshow a very fulfilling experience. Unlike video, which seemingly takes hours to edit, render and upload, this was JUST as effective and much quicker to turn around.

As usual, any feedback much appreciated

Thanks

Music news audioslideshow from caroline beavon on Vimeo.

22 Mar

Ian Huntley coverage (news and Twitter)

Following the news that Soham killer Ian Huntley was attacked in prison over the weekend, I decided to have a look at the reaction this story was getting online.

First, a quick look at how the story was handled in 2 very different newspapers.

Using the ManyEyes Word Tree visualization, I copied articles from The Guardian and The Daily Mail to see how the name Huntley was handled, and which words followed it in the articles.

Can YOU guess which visualization belongs to which newspaper?

Report 1 was The Daily Mail, report 2, The Guardian. The Soham Murders were a very “Daily Mail” story,  and highly emotive and accusatory language was used. The Guardian’s report was more factual.

I was also interested to assess the reaction to the story on the social networking site Twitter.

For sake of experiment, I created a spreadsheet of all the tweets mentioning “Huntley”. (I chose Huntley over “Ian Huntley” so the search would not be limited to the more formal tweets from news outlets etc. I hoped “Huntley” would give a more casual, public point of view.

  • I opened a new Google Spreadsheet
  • I inserted the following code in A1 – =importfeed(“http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=huntley”, “”, “”, 20)

This created a spreadsheet of the last 15 tweets containing the word Huntley.

I now have the option to use this spreadsheet in a variety of ways:

  • cut and paste the tweet contents into a web application
  • export the document as an Excel file
  • publish the spreadsheet
  • create an RSS feed from the spreadsheet

Now to visualise the text.

First, I decide to use Wordle – a site that created word clouds from inserted text, or an RSS feed.

I initially used the RSS feed from my published Google spreadsheet  – which created the following word cloud.

Unfortunately, this cloud was tainted with user names, and the subject of the true gist of the tweets were lost

(MTF)

  • Still trying to nail LIVE data ..
  • a quick news report (recorded and edited on Iphone)- probably from The Computers show on Wednesday night
  • a podcast
21 Mar

Producing a video report entirely on an Iphone

Ok, for my next trick (ok, uni project) I am going to look into filming and editing a video report all on my iPhone.

My plan is to record some stuff “to camera” (Ie me speaking and setting up the story), a clip of an interview and some cutaways or establishing shots.

My plan it so get something that is tv-news report like, but turned around quickly and uploaded to Youtube within minutes.

Has anyone out there tried this, or know of anyone elses work I can have a look at?

In terms of a subject, I am hoping to get along to Justin Willis’ album launch party tomorrow at JB’s in Dudley.(Justin’s GotSeeN profile and Myspace), interview him before the event starts, get some video vox pops and a few shots of him performing and have it all edited and uploaded within the hour.

Wish me luck!

18 Feb

Breaking Waves A Google Waves Experiment

Link to Breaking Waves: Birmingham Snow Wave

Breaking Waves A Google Waves Experiment

BACKGROUND OF GOOGLE WAVE

Google Wave was previewed to Google employees on May 27th 2009. Described as a “personal communication and collaboration tool” it was gradually rolled out from September 2009 via invitation. A combination of instant messenger and email, users could send messages to their contacts in a chain (similar to Google Mail) but then move back UP the chain, and insert text, images, video etc to add to the conversation.

The hype surrounding Google Wave had been immense, yet my initial experiences of it were less than favourable. I found the site restrictive, hard to navigate and slow. However, I was also clear to me that a tool that allows multiple people to edit one document and add content had some potential.

It had been widely tipped as a useful tool for businesses, and even education, when the process of the presentation or the lesson is the focus, but would it work for journalism, where traditionally the process is building up to a finished product ‐be that a bulletin, article or a report?

MY IDEA

In Gatewatching (2009) Axel Bruns described a new sphere of news that was the “publicizing <…> of whatever relevant content is available anywhere on the Web (and beyond)” (Alex Bruns “Gatewatching” 2009 p 2)

Today’s journalism is a conversation, not a lecture. I wanted to launch a crowdsourced wave, where people could publish information about a particular story, whether that was images, video, copy, quotes or maps. Most importantly, I wanted to encourage NON‐journalists to participate as well.

The number of content sites encouraging the public to get involved in the news process is increasing (e.g. Wikipedia) but I believed my Breaking Waves project was an unusual enough idea to gain some interest.Google Wave can be used as a live chat room, as a live‐blogging tool and as a content editor, and it was THIS final tool that I wanted to investigate further.

The focus was very much on news gathering, or rather, content gathering. I was hoping the experiment would take shape as people contributed and that a solution to how this content could be distribution (if at all) would present itself.

MY METHOD

I started by simply playing with Google Wave, getting used to the systems and experimenting with a few of the installed gadgets (maps and polls as well as the editing system).

This was, as I had hoped, going to be more than just a wiki. The fact that collaboration could take place in real time could, potentially, start debate on the site, and content could spring from that. This was not about many people editing one persons article, but users adding content to, essentially, a blank page. The possibilities were endless.

I launched the wave with a subject that I hoped would spark some interest and generate plenty of content. At the time Britain was suffering some of the worst snow storms in years, and what better a subject to get the Brits talking, than the weather.

The online community were already heavily involved in crowd sourcing postcode based snow updates via Twitter (eg. B18 3/10 light snow), which were being fed into a map. I was confident that interest in participation would extend to my site, with non‐journalists posting human interest content, and the journalists who were involved bringing a more  formal, news edge to it with news reports, comments etc.

The wave was launched in the Google Wave interface, but I soon embedded it into the Birmingham experimental news page Hashbrum and made it public. Once that link was “tweeted out”, people began to participate, adding pictures and video.

I decided early on that there needed to be some structure to the Wave, or it could, as I had seen with simple conversations, become quite chaotic. Below the title I loaded several pre‐defined wavelets entitled LINKS, MAPS, PICTURES, VIDEOS and MISC, I hoped this would sort out the data, and keep the wave organised.

The question remained, what to do with the content?

I set aside another wavelet, at the top of the wave, simply called COPY. My plan was for this to house the final document, a long form report bringing together all of the content posted by others. However, I soon realised that this was not the point of the project. Users were participating for the sake of participating, the focus was not a final article.

Browsing the many public waves on Google Wave, is it interesting to how it is being used.

The Chicago Red Eye blog holds daily Waves where readers can discuss the top story of the day with the editor. It is not dissimilar to a comments page, but is truly live, and takes place at the same time every day so people make an effort to join in.

Another interesting use of Google Wave is one pooling together information following the recent earthquake in Haiti. It contains a series of networked waves, covering topics such as food and water, nursing, evacuation and emergency care. Experts are sharing information, expertise and advice, plus there are plans to link up Twitter accounts to the site, so news of future disasters can be handled quickly.

The communication model has changed: in both cases both the company running the wave, and the “readers“, are part of the process, and the process IS the product. Chris Wade was one of the trainee journalists to get involved, despite his initial reservations about Google Wave.

“everything seemed to make quite a bit more sense. Multiple users contributed their pictures, maps and videos of the snow, and Google Wave was a brilliant way to bring all these together. It was ideal for a project like this”

Another contributor, Matt Walker, told me via Twitter:

“It has the potential to replace IM/Social networking/collab stuff etc.”

I decided to shelve the idea of a “final copy” section to the wave, and instead let the user submitted content be the article. There was already so much “traditional” news coverage of the situation, I hoped visitors to the page would prefer to browse a section of their choosing, whether it be articles, pictures or video.

I have also recently launched another Wave, this time with a music news focus. The welsh band Lostprophets (social media devotees themselves) have been on the promotional trail this week with the release of their new album, expected to debut at number 1 in the album charts. I wondered if this might be an interesting opportunity for young music fans, who are happy to share images and content online already, to get involved with this project and pool the extensive coverage that the band were already getting.

I was hoping to use an RSS feeder to bring in content linked to the band (with hash tags or Twitter feeds) but the current RSS Google Wave gadget (rssybot) is not functional. Once this is working, it would be a great addition to the feed.

I also need to properly promote the feed and get it out there to the right people.

FINDINGS

The Birmingham Snow Wave was successful in as far as people participated in the process, although the numbers of contributors were disappointingly low. It has received 14 content posts since launching.

As with any new project, it was hard to find the volumes of people who would be interested in taking part. Despite the hype surrounding Google Wave, it now seems there are invitations, once rare and coveted, going spare. It seems the initial interest has been limited to the technical and business world.

Struggling to find participants was also not helped by the subject matter. The Snow in Birmingham was far too niche a topic and several journalists from around the country said they would have participated, had it been a national focus. I think with Google Wave still in such an early stage, the broader the subject the better.

However, the participants that did contributed to the wave, 4 in all, seemed to enjoy taking part and liked the experimental and unusual take on news gathering.

It obviously appealed to journalists, with 2 young students getting involved. Another user was a friend of mine, who heard about the project and wanted to “have a play”. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, it is much harder to find interesting content. Instead I found that embedding the wave into a blog website and promoting that URL instead, sparked some interest and a few requests for Google Wave invitations.

My second Wave, Lostprophets Album Release, a very recent addition, may stumble for a different reason ‐ the audience. Google Wave, although causing a bit of a stir among the technology world when it launched, has not really broken into the mainstream, and certainly not into the younger market. However, I would like to pursue this line, and experiment with Twitter feeds to pull in and coverage online.

USABILITY

One of the resounding criticisms of Google Wave has been usability. One of the participants in the snow wave, non‐journalist Karen Davies commented:

“I found it really hard to use and navigate…I consider myself quite savvy when it comes to computers and to social networking sites. Google Wave is really ‘clunky’. I really like the idea behind it all but I think they haven’t put enough thought into the layout and interface.”

In the same way that many Twitter users do not access the service through the official website (instead, using an app such as Tweetdeck), so Google Wave would expand. We must not forget, however, that Google Wave is still in the beta stage, with no plans to make it totally public until the end of 2010.

LEGAL/ETHICS

One of the benefits of Google Wave is its non‐linear approach to comments. Blips can be added at any point in the wave which can spark interesting debate, but as with any user generated content, this can potentially cause problems with people posting defamatory, obscene or copyright material.

So who is responsible for making sure that doesn’t happen?

I am still waiting for clarification on this issue, but a recent Twitter conversation with
Birmingham blogger and social media expert Jon Bounds suggests that it is in Google’s hands.

A public wave is the responsibility of Google, as it sits on their site and not of the person that starts the wave. (In the same way you are not responsible for the comments to a video you put on Youtube.) Does this change if you embed the wave into your website or blog?

Google has taken down Blogger blogs before now, will they step in if Google Waves become legally unsound?

CONCLUSION

So does Google Wave work as a collaborative news tool?

I believe it does, but it takes another step away from the traditional news model as content is crowd‐sourced from the public, and the tradition of a “final piece of work” is removed. The content is simply organised and becomes a scrap book for people interested in the story.

Sites like Posterous, Dipity and Tumblr are already aggregating content and pull in feeds from Flickr or Youtube via RSS feeds or from email, but Google Wave allows for direct interaction. This can, in theory, be added to an RSS feed as well ‐ bringing the best of all worlds: user comments and automatically added content.

Once the service has been opened up to everyone, and new applications (a Tweetdeck for Wave for example), gadgets and robots are being designed for it, then we can truly see it’s potential.

07 Feb

Blogging: what is it worth?

Bloggers are often considering to be inferior to “proper journalists”.

Whether the argument is about training, responsibility, impartiality or audience, they are often treated as second class online-citizens, despite the fact many are competing with, and in some cases, filling a gap left by a declining traditional media.

However, there is a definite gray area when it comes to money.

Journalists are paid to do their job. They work for a title, receive a salary or a freelance rate whether the are writing straight copy or opinion pieces. Bloggers, however, are often seen as hobbyists – members of the public who have an interest and like to write about it.

So can you make a living out of blogging, and if so, how?

The problem is, perception. Surely a blogger asking to be paid is like a computer games nerd being asked to play World of Warcraft. They’ll do it anyway, so why pay them? More often than not, bloggers just want to get the word out there.

However, the difference between a games nerd and a blogger is exposure.

Yes, the gamer may tell all of his friends how great World of Warcraft is, but a blogger may tell thousands.

Hence, some advertisers will pay bloggers to talk up their products. Remember the much criticised Pay Per Post site, where bloggers earned money based on how many posts, links and positive comments they made. Why? because people believe blogs. In the same way advertisers PAY for full page spreads in magazines, that look like regular copy, so a blogger with a financial motive can be a powerful marketing tool. A concern about Pay Per Post was that bloggers were not required to admit they were being paid to review that product. Deceptive? More, a loophole in ever developing web that won’t stay open for long.

Are these bloggers actually bloggers? Yes they have blogs, that may, in the past have contained their personal opinions, but now they are writing to order.

Have these the bloggers become now become journalists, or copywriters? Surely copywriters, if they are being paid to write for the company.

Which brings me to my quandry.

How do you make that jump from hobbyist to professional moneymaking blogger? And do you have to sell your soul to the man in order to do it?

And should you ask a company to pay you, if they ask you to live-blog their event or product for it to appear on your own site?

27 Jan

It seems we can’t have it all … hand held video recorders

I am in a dilemma.

Sony Ericsson SatioI am the owner of a perfectly good (despite the reports) Sony Ericsson Satio mobile phone. The 12 megapixel camera (and other gadgetry) means the picture quality of video recording great for still interviews. The only downside, is the audio.

  1. the internal mic is terrible. It is useless for interviews, and makes the subject sound like they are down a mine
  2. the handsfree kit mic records excellent quality sound, but it gradually falls out of sync with the video.

Option 1 is, well, not really an option. 2 is “get-roundable”, if I have got 2 hours to spend muting the video, adding the audio as a sound file on a separate track in something like Movie Maker, and then edging it back in sync every minute or so. So much for a fast turnaround.

I have considered using the phone for the video (because it is so good) and getting a good digital audio recorder, then sticking the two together elements, but again, not incredibly practical.

So, begrudgingly, I am going to have to fork out for a handheld mini video recorder.

Thanks to a great blog post by @Podnosh (here) it seems to be between the Flip Ultra, Flip Mino, the Kodak Zi8 and the Zoom Q3.

I quickly ruled out the Flip MinoHD s it seemed all glitz and not much punch (and doesn’t take AA batteries). I spend my life battling against power. There are never plugs when you need them and to rely on main power (especially at festivals, where I will be using the recorder) would be foolish.

The Flip UltraHD, on the other hand, seems more practical on the battery-front but no external mic, something that is useful in noisier environments.

For better sound, the Zoom Q3 is an option – these guys know what they’re doing with sound, BUT there is still no external mic option – and I’m worried that at a distance, the audio will be lost

The Kodak Zi8 DOES have a plug in mic option but it is not compatible with Windows Movie Maker and needs some faffing around so it can be edited. I don’t really deal well with faff. This is putting me off. However the Zi8 does come with some useful features, including a imagine stabilization, face recognition, good quality video and stills so maybe I can forgo a smooth set up fora good finish.

Or maybe phone, Kodak AND laptop will end up out of the window. Tune in to Twitter later to find out …

22 Oct

Thomson Reuters: What Price the News: Live Blog #reutersethics

Thomson Reuters debate: What Price the News??

Intrusion. Payment. Scandal. Access. Ethics. Rights. Appetite. Celebrity. Obligation. Politics. Duty. Freedom. Harassment. Competition. Privacy. Security. Power. Press.

In the last few years the way in which we consume news has changed but so too have the practices of news gathering – stories of plagiarism, cash for news and harassment charges have all questioned the accepted principles of good journalism.

Panelists:
Ray Snoddy – BBC Newswatch Presenter & Journalist
Anne McElvoyEvening Standard Executive Editor
Joe Lelyveld – Pulitzer Prize Winner, Ex-NYT Journalist
Sean MaguireThomson Reuters Political & Gen. News

[liveblog]4[/liveblog]

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020