Personal Thoughts

Exploring emerging media

There isn’t exactly one single academic degree that covers all of my interests. However, this semester I am lucky to be taking four classes which together combine my interests in journalism, business, technology and entrepreneurship. Last week I had my first Marketing, Convergence Reporting and Emerging Media classes, and on Monday I have my first Principles of Entrepreneurship class.

One of the classes I am most excited about is my Emerging Media class which is an honors tutorial course. Each semester Mizzou’s honors college offers several honors tutorials that are meant to be focused on discussion with a very small group. The course is taught by Lynda Kraxberger, the dean of the journalism school, and has a total of three students. We will meet twice weekly to discuss new technology trends, app and products and their potential impact on journalism. Our group will also likely adapt our research into video blogs throughout the semester. This class has already made me love the journalism school a thousand times over! This week our group covered a lot in our two sessions:

Webbmedia Group

Webbmedia Group is not a piece of technology in and of itself, but rather a digital strategy company which works to help clients engage audiences using emerging media. The organization’s founder Amy Webb also publishes a yearly trend report for free. Our class read the 2014 trend report as a starting point for our discussion. Not every trend is directly applicable to journalism, but many of the trends suggest new ways publications may try to reach audiences. I was particularly interested in how the native ad trend may influence traditional marketing and how expanding definitions of publishers and platforms may blur the line between content created by readers and reporters.

Kinja

While perusing articles on Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab website, I came across a tool called Kinja. Kinja is a discussion platform owned by Gawker which is currently being used on Gawker sites. Kinja was designed to facilitate more valuable comment streams on websites. So often comments get tacked onto a story in a clunky, distinction-less string. Many comments are from trolls or bots, and any valuable comments are difficult to pick out. Gawker founder Nick Denton has been quoted in several articles about the importance of making commenters valuable again. When readers visit a Gawker site like Gizmodo, for example, they are prompted to sign up for a Kinja account. From there they can create their own comment stream which they then monitor themselves. They can delete any comments which reply to their comment. This system groups voices around conversation points about an article, making it easier to navigate discussion points. Kinja has also rolled out an even more unique feature in which users can rewrite the headline and first paragraph of a story and share this version with friends on social media. Kinja also has a space which features the most popular revamped article headlines. The possibilities of this tool excited me and our class. If Kinja expanded to other news sites, authors could easily find additional valuable information from experts and voices in the comment stream. Users have an incentive to share valuable information as well knowing that information has potential social sharing power. Our class decided to further explore Kinja in class next week.

Prss and Jelly

In addition to Kinja, my two classmates shared their thoughts on Prss and Jelly. Prss is a publishing tool helps publishers create and design magazines made exclusively for an iPad. The tool provides a number of templates for users. There are many low-budget publishing opportunities with the tool. Jelly is an app from a couple of Twitter’s founders. The app allows friends connected on social media to ask and answer questions among each other. This conversation tool also has potential to connect newsrooms to audiences.

These tools are just the beginning of any number of topics our class will discuss this semester. As I learn about these new technologies, I hope to embrace as many new tools as I can, share them on my blog and implement them in my reporting with the hope that I can be a voice in ushering journalism into an age of new media.

Final project thoughts

TidalVolume

Today a group of two other journalism students and I presented our final project for our Multimedia class. We were tasked to create a video piece, audio piece, photo gallery and text story that centered around one topic. Our group was then required to create a website for the project using either WordPress or Wix.

For the last several weeks, my group has been shadowing a band called Tidal Volume for the project. The band has been a lot of fun to follow this last month or so. They already have one recorded album out and are in the process of producing an EP to be released next Spring. Three of the band’s five members live in Columbia and are University of Missouri students. Although we had some challenges getting visuals for the project (see my last post), overall I think our project came together well. Granted, this project may not rival that of a professional website, but I feel like our project captures an interesting story about a young band trying to get a break.

I ended up writing the text story and taking some of the pictures for the final story. I was able to take what I had learned earlier in the semester and apply it during the project. I still get a bit nervous operating a camera, for example, but I feel like I would be comfortable taking photos for a publication if I needed to.

As a continue to take more advanced journalism classes- I will be taking a more advanced class called Convergence Reporting next semester- I feel like I will only be better able to market myself as a communicator. While having a specialty in journalism is important, many of my professors and past colleagues have emphasized how invaluable people who can “do it all” are.

This summer, I had an internship at Union Station in Kansas City. I primarily helped promote an event called Maker Faire by blogging and using social media. I tried my best to cover the event with the tools I had, my smartphone. I took point-and-shoot pictures and some quick videos of the event on my phone for the event’s Facebook page. I am proud of the communication work I did over the summer, but I am so glad to have gained more advanced skills that I can bring to a future internship or job. I can now confidently say that I could produce quality journalism and promotion materials across platforms including text, video, audio and photo. I can’t wait to utilize those skills.

Continued reflections on visual storytelling

Writing news stories is pretty formulaic. You write down a list of some open ended questions, interview at least three sources for 30 minutes and begin to write your story. Each story needs a 30-40 word lead, and each story should follow an inverted pyramid style with the most important information in descending order from the beginning to the end of the story. Granted, many news stories have unforeseen challenges, and some evolve into complex and unpredictable pieces. However, after four years of primarily writing news stories, I am confident in my ability to gather information and translate that information into a valuable written story in this basic formulaic way. Even when I write a sub-par story, I can recognize the mistakes I made or the information I lacked.

Earlier today I spent about 30 minutes taking photos for my multimedia final project. I still have no idea if I have a good story. Visual story telling is unpredictable. There is more to think about in the moment. There is equipment to set up, lighting to check and settings to manage before you even press the shutter button or the record button. There is also little room to tell a great visual story without, well, great visuals. My group is featuring a really talented band for our project called Tidal Volume. They’ve been fairly successful so far for a group of college students, and they even opened for the Plain White T’s last summer. The band’s story is very compelling, and my group got caught up in how cool the project sounded. Soon though it became clear that our project was a bit visually challenged. The band really only practices in St. Louis, and when they do get together in Columbia, which isn’t often, they practice in one of the band member’s dimly lit apartments. An apartment is not an ideal location in which to feature the energy and excitement of a band-Unpredictable and a bit poorly planned on our part.

It’s all a learning curve I guess. That, at least, is what my multimedia professor told our group after we explained our visual issues. For so long, I had become very confident and, honestly, complacent in my writing. At first I didn’t think I would enjoy visual story telling. I have always favored writing and sort of down played the skills and hard work it would take to produce any sort of video or photo story. My experience in this class has completely changed my opinion of this and has been invaluable for me so far. Tidal Volume is best portrayed by video and audio pieces that can highlight its sound in a way that text can’t. I would have most certainly overlooked this before.

I further realized that this week when I watched some of the winning multimedia pieces that came out of the College Photographer of the Year competition. One of my favorite stories, called “Waiting for a Miracle” captures a mother’s struggle to care for a daughter born with physical disabilities. Seeing the photos and video footage of the little girl pulls at my heart in a way that a text story never could.

Every story is given meaning by the way in which it is told. Journalists need to remember this every day. Every word has the power to capture a story in a truthful or inaccurate, emotional or apathetic way. Every photo, video and audio piece has this same power. When done well, these mediums deeply move us and teach us profoundly about the world and each other. I want to get it right, and I hope that my group can convey everything that Tidal Volume is about even through all of those photos I took in a tiny, dark apartment.

Exploring award-winning photography at the College Photographer of the Year competition

Mizzou’s journalism school has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities. Last year, I had the chance to meet Laura Ling and to interview Rajmohan Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. This week I got to meet Brian Stelter of the New York Times and Jason Kelly of Bloomberg. The highlight of my journalism-filled week, however, was attending the 68th College Photographer of the Year competition. Mizzou hosts the competition, which has thousands of entries from journalism students around the world.

This year’s judges came from some of the best news organizations in the U.S. I watched the judging for the feature and documentary categories of the competition. Watching professionals judge the photos was insightful. After awhile I found that I could intuitively predict which photos the judges would like the most. Here’s what I picked up on during the judging:

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1. Great photos tell a story

This year’s feature photo category had more than 1,100 entries. Judges viewed each entry for only one to three seconds before voting “in” or “out” on their clickers. After the first round, only around 80 feature photos remained. Before moving on to the second round, judges swept through the photos one more time in thumbnail view and occasionally made requests for any photos to be pulled back into the competition. The silver and bronze winners of the category were pulled back into the competition in this thumbnail viewing. It was clear that the photos were brought back in because the judges wanted to know more about them. The photo had told them the beginning of a story and now they wanted to know more.

In the documentary category, the importance of a story also became clear. The category asks for submissions which are “a long-form photographic essay or extended narrative story which portrays important contemporary concerns or social issues.” The judges quickly voted out entries that contained only a few photos. The winning entries also all focused on central characters; Each photo unveiled a new important detail about the subject of the photo story. The best entries didn’t need captions for the viewer to feel or to understand what the photos had to say. The gold place entry called “A Portrait of Domestic Violence” captured layered complexities of a family struggling to stay together through issues of domestic violence.

2. Photographers must be able to write

By the second or third round of judging for a category, the judges can ask for captions to be read for each photo. Time and time again, photos with a “bad” caption were voted out. One caption, for example, was a long paragraph written in first person about the photographer’s personal journey to take their photos. Several judges seemed frustrated, saying the caption should be about the subject of photo and not about the photographer. Judges also dismissed photos with captions that revealed nothing about a photo.

In contrast, they responded to photos with attention grabbing captions. The beginning of one caption read, “I’m going to kill somebody,” said Gage Winscott playfully as his mother Kayla sits nearby. The family lives with 10 other family members in Kayla’s parents two-bedroom house in Harrisburg, Missouri.” After the caption was read, all of the judges decided to keep the photo for the next round. The photo ultimately won second place in the feature category.

3. Some stories are better than others

The best documentary entries told a story the judges hadn’t seen before. A number of entries, for instance, followed a pregnant woman through birth. While birth is a beautiful thing in and of itself, the photo essays focusing on pregnancy didn’t reveal much about the subject other than that they were going to have a baby. My high school journalism adviser used to tell me that there’s a huge difference between a story about a dog biting a man and a story about a man biting a dog. Photographers have the unique opportunity of revealing something powerful about life through visuals. The winning stories ultimately showed the judges something new. Or showed something every day from a new perspective. The winning documentary entry seemed to tell the story of a typical family at first. Several frames in the entry though captured an instance of domestic abuse as it was happening. We have all seen families, we have not all seen what violence within a family looks like as it is occurring.

Every winner, the university also hosts the Pictures of the Year International competition. I can’t wait to attend and learn more about photography by observing the judges. I may not be capable of producing any photos that are remotely award winning now, but I can certainly learn about award-winning photography now and hope to apply what I’ve learned.

Mobile assignment: “My America” exhibit explores artist and community identity

Ron Thompson looked to his childhood for inspiration for his “My America” exhibit.

The exhibit which runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 8 at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery features seven large paint and graffiti covered paintings depicting black TV icons from the ’80s like Michael Jordan and Bill Cosby who challenged traditional depictions of African-Americans in media.

“I wanted to talk about my community, where I was from, my family,” Thompson said. “That kind of grew more into the general black community. I kind of used my own personal life to relate to a broader idea of what it means to be black in America.”

Thompson’s said his inspiration for the exhibit came from an undergraduate professor John Biggers. Biggers, who taught Thompson at Lincoln University, wrote a book called “My America” exploring African-American life in the 1940s.

“His America looks totally different then mine,” Thompson said. “I wanted to put a spin on ‘My America.'”

Thompson also looked to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness. Bois came up with the term to capture the struggle of confusion, anger and torment he went through in coming to terms with his identity as an African-American, Thompson said.

Thompson said he uses the idea of double consciousness in his work. A piece depicting an alter ego of a positive view of self hangs across from a piece thy represents a more tormented view of self.

This search for identity is universal, Thompson said.

“We’re all struggling to find this place in life of who you are,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he feels the exhibit has already brought people together. The opening exhibit reception drew a large crowd, and Thompson hired a DJ to create a fun environment.

“It didn’t matter what race you were,” Thompson said. “People were just being happy. That’s what I really wanted, is to bring a sense of community to the work, and I think I achieved that.”

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Curiosity and some code experience essential for journalists

Tonight I was trying to think of ideas for this blog, which led me to two articles which consider the value of journalists being able to code. At that point I could have very easily written a blog based off the thought provoking articles, but instead I spend an hour on Codecademy. I earned this HTML Basics badge:

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The time spent on Codecademy brought me back to some reflection on the articles I read earlier. The first article called, “Should journalism schools require reporters to ‘learn code’? No” by Olga Khazan at the Atlantic is a personal reflection from the writer, who learned to code thinking it would give her a leg up in the journalism job market. When the skill failed to do so, she came to the conclusion that learning to code was a waste of time. The second article called “Those required courses in journalism school are there for a reason” was written by journalism professor Robert Hernandez in response to the first article. Hernandez discloses that he was once Khazan’s journalism professor, which made comparing the articles especially interesting.

The two articles present two vastly different perspectives about code. Khazan writes about her very negative personal experience with learning code. She writes of her experience, “If you want to be a reporter, learning code will not help. It will only waste time that you should have been using to write freelance articles or do internships—the real factors that lead to these increasingly scarce positions.” Hernandez, in contrast, writes that though a journalist may not use code on a regular basis in a career, digital literacy and knowledge of some basics like HTML and web development are important. Learning code beyond HTML and CSS, however, are not necessarily essential for every journalist he writes. “A modern journalist needs to know how the web works, needs to be exposed to and respect all journalistic crafts (including code), and needs to know their role in working with others. And that role is an active role, not a passive one. They need to use these digital tools to produce relevant, quality journalism.”

I absolutely side with Hernandez after reading both articles. Journalism schools tend to allow students to pick specific areas of emphasis or areas of journalism specialization. For instance, I am pursuing an emphasis in Entrepreneurial Journalism. This means that I am required to take a few core convergence classes, in addition to 10 elective journalism hours and three basic journalism courses all journalism students take at Mizzou: Principles of Journalism, News and Multimedia. Mizzou’s j-school recognizes that having an area of expertise is important, but it also allows students to add relevant skills along the way. In today’s competitive journalism world, there’s no such thing as begin too digitally literate.

Earning the HTML Basics badge on Codecademy tonight was probably the highlight of my night. My work for Silicon Prairie News over the last few months has made me particularly interested in learning code. This weekend I finished up my article about Jim McKelvey’s new initiative, LaunchCode, which helps aspiring programmers get jobs with awesome companies. Not every journalist will be as interested in code, but it shouldn’t matter. The take away point for me reading these two articles is that the best journalists are the curious ones. Good writers compile the necessary amount of research article to article. The best writers are constantly striving to learn about anything and everything because they love to learn and want to teach readers something valuable. As Hernandez writes, code is tool that can help a journalist “produce relevant, quality journalism.” If learning code can help a journalist deliver content in a more meaningful way, why not learn as much of it as possible? This is the kind of question, a curious journalist – the best kind of journalist – asks.