More on today’s newspaper Twitter fail

I threw out a tweet today criticizing this Twitter post from one of my former employers:

 

 

What this tweet did for me was remind me that there was a State of the State speech, and I was interested in what the governor had to say (I’m originally from Wyoming, hence the reason for the interest). Unfortunately, it’s clear from this tweet that I’m not going to get anything about it on the WyomingNews.com website. And sure enough, as of 9 p.m., nary a word on the site about it.

But guess who did have a story? County10.com (no byline). And the Casper Star-Tribune (but only an AP version). And Jackson Hole Radio. And KOWB in my hometown of Laramie (shout out!).

I understand why this story isn’t online. Going back to six years ago when I worked there, print was very much king because it actually made money. Online didn’t, and thusly the philosophy was “don’t give the news away.” I actually LOVE that philosophy, because really, somebody has to pay to keep real news afloat. Journalists gotta eat, yo.

I would rather, however, that the WTE not use a medium that is only going to infuriate me because I don’t have access to their product. If I want that story, I have to get a copy of the print edition. No option for an online story, even one that might get me to watch an ad or pull out a debit card.

If you’re going to use social media to promote or share content, don’t be such a tease about it.

5 reasons why Document Cloud rocks

In the wake of the whole WikiLeaks uproar, this seems like a good time to talk about how we provide public documents to the public.

The folks behind DocumentCloud.org have been thinking about this for a while. You can read all about how the organization came to be here.

The biggest problem with the way most news outlets offer public documents is that they do so with no help to the reader. They get a big, fat PDF full of scanned documents, embed a link in the story telling readers they can see the documents for themselves, and that’s it. Here, dear reader, sift through these thousand or so pages and then tell me how awesome my report and analysis of these documents are, because we believe in transparency. Oh, and while you’re at it, I hid a needle in that haystack over there — see if you can find it.

With Document Cloud, you can easily provide your reader with a useful road map to the important information. Here are the top 5 reasons why Document Cloud is awesome.

1. Nothing to download — Everything shows up in a web browser. No worries about whether or not the file is safe to download, whether you have the latest version of Acrobat reader to view the content or trying to figure out where exactly your downloaded document is on your hard drive. Most importantly, keeping the doc in the browser means your readers can still access your navigation.

Here’s a shot of how it looks on the Missourian’s website:

Now isn't this much nicer than viewing in Acrobat? Especially if you want to keep your news organization's logo in readers' view.

2. Follow the yellow-tabbed road map — See those little yellow tabs in the image above? That’s the actual annotation. Let’s check it out in a different view:

The yellow tabs have the look and feel of Acrobat's comment system.

Readers can simply click on the yellow tabs to find out more information from the reporter. In the above case, you can learn all about the criminal history of the plaintiff in this particular lawsuit. And if readers click the annotation button, they can skip through the non-annotated parts of the document and just get to the stuff the reporter believes is important.

This view just shows readers what has been annotated.

So, it offers the best of both worlds. For readers on the go, you skip right to the annotation. For readers who have the time, you can still view the entire document (and serve that Fifth Estate role keeping the media honest, just in case the reporter forgot to highlight something or inserted an error in the annotation) in the browser. Document Cloud also gives the reader the option of downloading the original document without annotation.

3. Private notes (aka blue notes) — When you’re talking about big projects with lots of public documents, chances are you’ll have more than one journalist reading and analyzing documents at any one time. The private notes feature lets journalists leave notes for each other, like in this example (redacted email addresses are my own doing since they’re not germane to this blog post):

Use the blue notes to communicate with other journalists who you are teaming with on the project

Blue notes work just like yellow notes — except only the journalists can see them, not the public. Again, very handy for team assignments.

4. Ability to pull text — Say you want to copy a snippet of text to include as a quote in the story or as a pullout. Instead of opening Acrobat to get this done, simply go to the text tab.

Document Cloud will automatically pull all of the text from the document into a text-only window, which makes it very easy to copy and paste snippets of information

Just to see how well this worked, I tried putting a PDF of a print page created in InDesign into Document Cloud. All of the text from the page was there, though it wasn’t arranged in the most coherent fashion (i.e. breakout boxes were mixed in with the text of stories, and line breaks were arbitrary). So, if you’re looking to pull text from the PDF of a page proof, there are probably much better ways to go. And besides, Document Cloud wasn’t really built for this anyway.

5. Customer support — When we first got on board with Document Cloud at the Missourian, I was stumped as to how we’d be able to integrate it into our website. I’m no technical genius (and I’m definitely not a programmer), so I dropped an e-mail to Amanda at Document Cloud. She got back to me in less than 24 hours and has continued to follow-up with me and our on-site programmer ever since. Document Cloud also keeps a pretty robust blog that documents changes and bug fixes.

Lastly, one other great thing about Document Cloud: You can make the documents public right away, then add the annotations later without having to re-upload anything or update any embedded code. It’s not only great for transparency and enterprise reporting, but immediacy as well. Gotta love that.

Need to convert a video? Here are two easy solutions

We run into this problem at the Missourian all the time — a reporter, usually doing their first-ever video report, decides to save their movie as an .mp4, .wmv or .mpeg. The only problem is, the Missourian’s website only supports .mov files. (I could spend an entire blog post complaining about why I hate the .mov format, but that’s not the point here …)

Here are two pretty good options for converting a video file from one format to the other.

The first is Media Converter, a webware site that is so ridiculously easy and fast it’s almost too good to be true. Best of all, it’s free (or you can pay for a premium upgrade, the free version is pretty sweet).

It works like this. Upload the video you want to convert. Convert it to the format you want. Download it back to your desktop.

It’s that simple. No registration required. No menus with loads of confusing options for the video novice. You can convert up to five videos a day before you have to shell out for the premium site (prices start at $4 per week; the weekly rate goes down the longer you sign up).

There are advantages to premium membership, like the ability to convert bigger documents (up to 1GB in size vs. 100 MB for free) and up to 5 GB of online storage. So, if you have tons of videos to convert and they’re all huge, shell out the $4. Otherwise, enjoy the free.

Another option is Prism, from NCH Software. This little bit of freeware goodness is every bit as easy Media Converter, but it offers a few more bells and whistles, like the ability to resize videos. Oh, and if you’re without an Internet connection while playing with your videos, it’s handy to have the software on your hard drive rather than online.

Prism is available for both Mac and PC.

Contextfreeedits.com — because copy editors have a sense of humor too

Most people who spend any time on or working with a copy desk know that we can be a silly bunch. So, the next time you hear a good one-liner or retort to somebody’s editing suggestion, drop it in an e-mail to contextfreeedits@gmail.com or Tweet it to @cfedits. Just make sure it’s, you know, without any kind of context.

Like these:

“It seems kind of weird that we mention Muslim sex toys, and then we never go back to them.”

“I would have quit reading by now, but not if the exploding canary caught my attention.”

“You can have a bit more fun with the Smurf reference – just don’t refer to Smurf sex please.”

Have fun, writers and editors. I know I’ll be sending in my submissions.

Take a break from the “Apple is a closed system” meme

For just a second, anyhow.

This post was sparked by a discussion on an online group I belong to. Said discussion was itself sparked by this piece in Gawker, which trots out the predictable anti-Apple arguments (Apple is creating a closed ecosystem for its products, etc.) The discussion turned to journalism and the fear that Steve Jobs somehow has media “under his thumb.”

Warning: post has rant-like qualities.

Ahem.

1. Apple is a device company, not a media company. There’s a large misperception that iTunes and the App Store are the major way Apple makes money. And while the company does make money off the iTunes store ($1.1 billion in the last quarter), they made more than $5.3 billion in revenue in the same quarter from selling iPhones (which are hardware devices).

2. iPhones and iPads are a tiny fraction of their respective markets (if you count the iPad as a computer, that is, not as a new class of tablet device). The iPhone has captured about 25% of the U.S. smartphone market, which is about 20% of the overall cell phone market in the U.S. So about 5% of cell phones in the U.S. are iPhones. It’s very hard to argue monopolistic power when a company is leveraging such a tiny portion of the market.

3. Is Apple actually trying to create its own proprietary network where it’s a curator of content? Sure, to an extent. But this is highly overstated — if you’re smart enough to open a Web browser on your iThing (either Safari or Opera), you get the entire Internet.

The iBooks store will feature books from the Apple store … but you can already get Kindle, Nook, Stanza and Olive e-reader apps for the iPad and iPhone (plus a few others that I’m forgetting now). The iPod app on the iPhone and iPad features music from your iTunes library … which you can either buy through iTunes or by importing .mp3 downloads or even music from CDs. (I hear a few people still have those.) And, on the books front, Apple supports the ePub format … which the Kindle does not.

(If you’re looking for a completely closed format, the Kindle is an excellent villain … but no one seems to be going after Amazon.)

4. Even if Apple were to preapprove every bit of content that appeared on an iThing — down to individual news stories — it would probably still have a market for its devices. Which is the entire point. Demand for the iPod/iPad/iPhone operates in an open market. If people don’t want their stuff, they won’t buy it.

Linux is a completely open and free system for desktops. It has about a 2% adoption rate in the U.S.

In my job, I use or have recently used computers running Mac OS 10.5, Mac OS 10.6, iPhone OS 3.1.1, Windows 7, Windows XP, Debian Lenny, Debian Etch, and Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope. None of them seem to have a monopoly on the market.

Look, there are plenty of threats to journalism out there. You can read about some here.

But I have a hard time thinking Apple is one of them.

OK, end rant. For a cool look at the future of tablet computing, check out this piece from Wired magazine. I especially like this quote (emphasis mine)

Compared to other kinds of information that computers process today, text has an exceptionally small footprint. With the arrival of the tablet, we have crossed a critical threshold: Where text is concerned, we effectively have infinite computational resources, connectivity, and portability. For decades, futurists have dreamed of the “universal book”: a handheld reading device that would give you instant access to every book in the Library of Congress. In the tablet era, it’s no longer technology holding us back from realizing that vision; it’s the copyright holders.

(This was originally posted over at my personal blog. I’m thinking about doing a primer for journalists covering open/closed source topics. Interested? Let me know.)

THE DROID DIARIES: Apps I’m currently missing from my iPod Touch

I’m surprised I can’t find these in the Droid market, but here is a list of some of my favorite iPod Touch/iPhone apps that I currently can’t find:

  • ESPN ScoreCenter. Seriously, nothing from the Worldwide Leader for the Droid? There are a few third-party downloads, but they’re nothing compared to the iPod app.
  • LinkedIn. The iPod app is so stylish and easy to use, I started actually looking at LinkedIn as more than just a resume site. Nothing so far for Droid, though I found one third-party app that by far pales in comparison.
  • Tweetdeck. Nothing from my former favorite mobile Twitter client. But I’ve found a great substitute in Seesmic.
  • Calendar. I covered this in the last Droid Diaries, but I still don’t have a good solution for my calendar problem.

There are also several “fun” apps that I can’t find:

  • PW Torch. It’s a good source for professional wrestling news.
  • AllRecipes. Good source for dinner ideas.
  • Chipotle order app. Dear Chiptole: Droid users love your delicious burritos too. Make it fun for us to order and you won’t be disappointed.

But other than that, I really am enjoying the Droid much more than the iPod Touch for one simple reason: 3G. Being able to access the Internet anywhere is a huge plus for me.

    THE DROID DIARIES: Already had to hit the reset switch once

    I’ve finally joined the SmartPhone revolution and am now in possession of my very own Android phone. A few observations from the past 24 hours that I’ve had it:

    • When you first set up the phone, make sure the Google account you first sign into is the one you want for life. My wife got an identical phone as me, and we got them mixed up. In order to reset the Google account, you have to reset the entire phone to the factory settings. That wasn’t so bad for my wife, since she’d not had as much time to play with hers. But for me, I felt I was too far down the pike to reset.
    • The Google account problem is making it impossible to sync my Google calendar to the Google calendar app. While there is an option for adding another calendar, it doesn’t actually work within the app. Fortunately, the Google calendar is mobile-browser friendly.
    • If you’re into soundboards, the Droid Market has about a billion of them from all of your favorite movies and TV shows. I’ve already opted for Quaqmire quotes.

    So far, the most impressive feature may be the 5 megapixel phone, my first phone that actually includes a flash. Here’s a picture I snapped of my daughter after her pre-Easter binge on candy.