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.

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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.

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.

    CASE STUDY: Using Twitter to report the recent Taser case in Columbia

    On March 18, around 5:30 p.m., a man was shot with a Taser on Ninth Street in Columbia. Here’s the lede from the Columbia Missourian report:

    Police shocked a man with a Taser after he reportedly assaulted a Columbia police officer during an incident at Lakota Coffee Co. on Ninth Street on Thursday afternoon.

    Unfortunately, the Missourian didn’t get this story posted until 6:39 p.m. March 19 — a full 24 hours after the news happened. The Columbia Tribune didn’t do that much better in its report — the first story the Trib published came at 12:51 p.m. March 19. It was later updated at 1:41 p.m.

    So why does it take the Trib 18 hours to turn a significant crime story? And why does it take the Missourian even longer? Easy: Both pieces are one-source stories from the spokeswoman at the Columbia Police Department.

    Full disclosure: I am the opinion editor at the Missourian, but I’m currently home on paternity leave with my second child. I’m pretty disconnected from the newsroom right now, though I’m still getting my usual load of news releases and inter-office memos via e-mail (i.e. I’m still on the listserv). I did not get in touch with the Missourian about this story or for this blog post.

    I first learned of the story through Twitter when I saw this tweet:

    He wasn’t the only witness either:

    She saw it, too:

    Clearly, there were witnesses, but none appeared in either story. That’s a shame, because Tasers are a controversial issue within the Columbia community and has been for a while. One group of activists is completely opposed to Tasers, saying they’re too dangerous and can cause accidental deaths. The other side sees it as a useful, justified and necessary law-enforcement tool. To both sides, this is news: It’s either another example of an unneccessary use of force, or it’s a good example of the dangers police officers face and a textbook argument for why we should be equipping them with the best tools for the job.

    Whichever way you lean, it’s news. So why wait to report it? Why not report what you know as you know it, like she did:

    And as for this one-source thing — why? Witnesses are clearly willing to talk about it:

    Plus, news spreads quickly over social media (check out all the retweets):

    Here’s how I would have done it if I wasn’t up to my elbows in diapers:

    1. Report what you know as you know it: Confirm someone was shot with a Taser. Publish that. Then, start contacting witnesses. Get to the scene ASAP and start asking questions. Start making contacts on Twitter and Facebook — ask them to call the office or to let you DM them your cell number.

    2. Continue publishing facts as you can confirm. If a witness saw a police officer get punched, put it in with attribution. You don’t have to wait for the official spokeswoman comment if you have an eye witness. But do be careful with the language — don’t make anyone guilty or a victim, just report the facts. Let the reader decide.

    3. When the official spokeswoman is ready to tell the official side, add it to the story. And while you have her ear, ask her to corroborate your witness statements. If the stories differ, be transparent about it.

    And most importantly — don’t just put the story on your site and hope people will come find it. Use those same social networks to get the word out that you have the story.