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.

Need a good notes tool? Give Evernote a try

Raise your hand if you’re a Mac user and you’re so totally over using Stickies.

Talk about a pain — handy for storing snippets of information, completely lame for desktop functionality. I need virtual pieces of paper in my face all the time about as much as I need the real thing junking up my screen.

My solution for a long time was Xpad, which was essentially TextEdit with an organizing system. But it was free, easy to install and didn’t hog any memory to speak of. But it wasn’t all that easy for searching, and eventually it just broke — it stopped saving files. I e-mailed tech support to no avail. I tried a re-install. Nothing worked.

Then, I found Evernote.

For the grand price of nothing, I am now able to save these notes into a handy desktop interface:

The only thing I don’t like about it is the ad, but you can get rid of that and take advantage of other premium content for $5 a month. Personally, I find the free version to be everything I need and more, but I’m also mostly just saving text files. Freeloaders like myself get 40MB monthly upload allowance; paying the monthly fee gets you 500MB.

Evernote will also do audio notes and allow you to post notes by e-mail, though I haven’t played with these services yet. The iPhone app is pretty sweet too for grabbing and saving items to yourself, even if you’re only using it on an iPod touch, like myself. And if you forget your mobile and don’t have your own computer handy, you can sign in via the Web site and grab whatever you need.

Another handy feature is the Mozilla plugin, which allows you to save copies of Web pages, snippets of text or photos in one click.

Keeping things organized is really easy too. You can search by file name or by keeping related notes organized through tags. You can also organize notes into several different notebooks.

Overall, Evernote offers a lot of bang for no bucks. And it sure works a helluva lot better than Stickies.

@FakeAPStylebook offers good lessons for journalists

I’m going to go out on a limb here and hypothesize that just about every copy editor in the world has now heard about @FakeAPStylebook on Twitter.

If you haven’t, you really should take a moment to check it out. Like any copy editor worth hers or his salt, @FakeAPStylebook is snarky, funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

But wrapped up within the 140-character-or-less zingers are good lessons for journalists, especially young reporters. Things like:

“Expat” is jargon and should not be used unless specifically referring to people no longer named Pat.

If spelling out an acronym such as WTF or FUBAR, be sensitive to readers who dislike cursing by writing “fuck” in a whisper.

I recently put together my own batch of @FakeAPStylebook to use in the classroom, and I thought I’d share them here as well. Enjoy:

Memo to journalists: Don’t steal stuff off the Internet

Just because something’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free. I tell students this all the time, but the story of a man who posted a photo to Twitter, only to have it used by Sky News, is a good cautionary tale for journalists.

You can read the whole sad tale here courtesy of OJB, but the summary is as follows: Joe Neale had taken a picture of a shooting at Waterloo Station, and posted it on his Twitter account using Twitpic. SkyNews grabbed the pic to use on their Web site, which violates the Twitpic terms of service, which of course means that Mr. Neale is entitled to payment for the use of his picture (and possibly legal recourse if he isn’t paid — or, for that matter, even if he is, because they took it without permission).

The ironic part, of course, is that Rupert Murdoch owns Sky News. Remember how he recently announced he wants all his media properties to start charging for content? Here’s Mr. Neale’s take on this, via the aforementioned OJB:

“I think this story is interesting because it points to the dangers of social media for the citizen journalist. I’m pleased that my picture has achieved good reach but I worry that the cooption of apparently free content from twitter by big media is something that may become endemic and devalue the rights in photography. Rupert Murdoch has announced people will have to pay to access his sites from 2010, meantime he doesn’t seem to mind not paying for material and happily infringes on other people’s work.”

Mr. Neale got paid partly because he started a successful hashtag (hashmob?) to take up his case, using #skypic as a rallying point. Which wraps the whole thing up rather neatly.

But the take-away point for journalists is twofold: don’t assume content posted online is free for you to take; and get permission from users before you steal their stuff. Seems like common sense, but we know common sense ain’t that common.

(Cross-posted from my blog)