Monday, October 26, 2009

Using Google Wave as an interview tool

Last week, I may have conducted the first ever news interview using Google Wave. At least the first interview in Wichita, KS.

Google Wave is currently being tested and accounts are available by invitation. No, I can't send you an invitation, because I wasn't one of the cool kids first invited to use it. I believe most were web developers. They got the invitations to distribute, and local web dude Viktor Tarm sent me one.

I was doing a story on a guy caught posing as a 19-year-old woman on Facebook in order to get nude pictures of teen boys.

I wanted to interview a web savvy parent, and I knew Viktor had a teen daughter. I would have interviewed Viktor anyway, usually by phone. But since Viktor had sent me the invitation on Google Wave, I knew he was one of about a dozen locals on there. I sent him a DM (direct message) on Twitter asking him if I could interview him. When he agreed, I told him to meet me on the Wave.

This was simple. I set up a private wave with just me and Viktor and began asking questions. One of the cool parts of Google Wave is that you can see the other person type. Sometimes Viktor would begin answer my question before I could finish typing it. Other times, I began my follow-up question as he was typing.

It was a bit clunky and slow. But at this point that's just been my experience. As Google gets the bugs worked out, every wave can be slow. But really, it was not much different than a phone interview. When it was over, the notes were all there and in context.

I see Google Wave as being a great collaboration tool. Reporters could join a wave together and work on a story in real time, seeing edits and additions as they happen. One discussion about the Wave and the future of journalism also has folks talking about its potential in crowd-sourcing and developing ideas from live interaction with people in the community.

The weird thing, is after I left Wave and began typing my story, I kept imagining that Viktor could see me typing.

Maybe we should call this Post Traumatic Wave Syndorme.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Links for WSU Class

Today I'm speaking to two journalism classes at Wichita State University about multimedia journalism, what I'm doing and ideas about what they should explore. Here's the list of links I'm using for future reference.

The basics

Print? Broadcast? Social Media Journalism

Student blogs and pages

My blog

Example of a personal site


Some hot journalism tools (of the moment)




You Tube: Journalism Contest

The next thing you should learn: Live Streaming

Livestream -

Create a channel and then broadcast. Easy as that.

Qik Live streaming from your phone.

Seesmic Share your work


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Size doesn't matter: Why metrics are no longer important to my beat blog

John Ensslin and I were talking over lunch at the National Journalism Conference last month in Indianapolis, pondering why the numbers on our news blogs weren't soaring as they did on the daily stories we posted off the crime beat.

We're both courthouse reporters. John produces " for the Colorado Springs Gazette. I do "What the Judge Ate for Breakfast for the Wichita Eagle. Like most news sites, we get metrics reports each day -- the kind that can drive old newspaper reporters nuts.

"Most of my stories are usually in the top three each day, but my blog isn't getting that kind of traffic," John said.

Neither was mine.

We discussed ways we might drive more traffic to our blogs.  Then when I returned to the home newsroom, I asked web guru Katie for advice.

"Stop looking at the numbers," she said.

Katie does know best.

Used to be, back when we banged on typewriters, circulation was the only number that counted. We just figured people were reading, because we were providing important information. Now that we know who is clicking on each story, and how long they're staying, we've become disciples of pageviews. We've also learned that the weird or salacious stories get the numbers -- not always our best work.

John and I both had revelatory experiences since our visit in Indy

A courthouse source called me with a story tip. This is someone I like and value, who had never called me with a story tip in my 10 years on the beat.

"I love your videos," the caller said, talking about the 2-minute documentaries from the courthouse I produce several times a week.

I received an email from an acquaintance from the Criminal Justice Department at Wichita State University saying a professor there was using those same videos in class.

I'd call that useful content.

John had a similar story, when we reconnected via email:

I was watching a verdict in a drug trial. It wasn't a big enough case to make the print paper, so I went ahead and posted it on my blog within a minute of the verdict.

Within one minute of posting, the judge in the case stepped out of his chambers and says "I see you've posted the verdict on your blog."

That made me realize that, in a very immediate way, the blog is my connection to the court house beat. Sure, it has all the candlepower of a kitchen nightlight (to borrow a line from David Carr) but it's also my way to own this beat online.

Not that we've given up on numbers: I'm confident that the people who read daily stories off the news pages will eventually find the little extras we do. Lori O'Toole Buselt, our web content editor at the Eagle, began linking to my blog from my daily stories and printing refers to the blog in the print edition. I'm also working to add some of the best practices I've read on

But I'm also reminded what a good friend of mine, Michael "Supe" Granda told me years ago about his life as songwriter in Nashville. In any given club, on any stage, Mike said you'll see singers and bands playing their souls out, even if there's only a handful of people in the audience.
"Because in Nashville, you never know who's out there," he said. That small audience might include the music reviewer for the Tennessean or the executive with a major-label recording contract.

Sometimes it's who's paying attention, not how many.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Getting videos even your photographer buddies will think is cool

Face it, as reporters we are still on the low end of priorities when it comes to video.

Yes, it's now a requirement for us to know how to shoot, capture and edit video stories in a multimedia world. But try arm-wrestling for equipment, and you're going to lose to the real photographers in the newsroom, whose jobs are increasingly dependent on video expertise. And they should.

I'm not one to sweat the small stuff.  Online video is still an open adventure, and to be truthful, most web surfers would rather watch "On A Boat" (33.8 million views and counting) than any serious piece of news you're going to produce (200 views and hoping for more).

For the new video series, I'm using a Canon Elura 85 that our newsroom bought in 2005.  I don't think they even make the model anymore.  Our photo department long ago graduated to Canon HD cameras.

So I'm using the old camera no one else wants, and I'm okay with it. But it's funny, when I started asking for feedback from people I know and respect, everyone complimented the production values of the new courts vlog.

My main mentor, Stacey Jenkins, who taught us video two years ago, said I've got my lighting right. One of our most prolific videographers, Jaime Oppenheimer, said it was "awesome."

That's the beauty of this DV camera:  you have control over the settings, so I can adjust exposure to the low-light situations that sometime plague the courtroom. No matter what the price, try to get one where you can switch to manual in a pinch.  Also important is a jack for an external microphone. If you've got those, you can really do some good work.

What is most important for reporters shooting video, is capturing decent audio.  And let me just say, the audio on your beat is better than mine.  Courtroom acoustics tend to really suck. Even the television guys, who've been doing this for years, complain about courtroom audio.

I'm still working on perfecting the audio, but for the meantime, I've got a wireless mic set on loan from the photo department.  It was one they're not using. Scored on that. Another tip, show an interest and work hard, and you'll have friends who will help you out, such as pointing out the good equipment that no one else is using (thank you, Jaime)

I'm still also carrying the $10.99 Nady microphone I bought two years ago. It still works great for interviews. I also pack an Azden shotgun mic I found collecting dust in a closet, which can pick up sound from across the room. My next experiment will be to use both the shotgun and the wireless to collect even better audio from court hearings.

I'm hoping not using this camera forever.  We're holding out hope for some more higher resolution video cameras for reporters in the next budget. In the meantime, I'm using what I have.  And I'm not complaining.

I'm finding it matters less about being a gear head and more about what you're collecting with the equipment you have. I mean, in the old days, I don't remember ever hearing good reporters complain about what kind of pen they had.

What are you using to shoot video for your stories?

Monday, September 14, 2009

So then I started this video series to expand the coverage of my beat

After the Twitter experiment worked, I began searching for other ways to expand my court beat online.

What I really wanted to do is reach past the types of cases that usually made news. There's so much that goes on in the courthouse everyday, you can't cover it all.  But I figured the web enabled me to go beyond what I used to do when I only had the newspaper, and its limited space, as a venue.

I always quipped that I could walk into any random courtroom and come out with a good story. Here was my chance to prove it.

So then I started this video series, which we would eventually call, Common Law.

As with most online experiments that have worked for me, Katie, was heavily involved in the initial development. My then-editor, Jill Cohan, gave it the go-ahead.  She even wrote the development of the series it into my goals for the coming year.

In future posts, I'll follow my work flow and how I try to get everything done.

What made this a little easier is getting regular sources follow.  That's served as the foundation for the series: I have a judge, a public defender, a prosecutor and two courthouse guards. I have to credit these folks for agreeing the jump into something that's so new.

I regularly check in with what their doing and produce 2-minute video segments which run several times a week.

I then asked for critiques from friends and colleagues, many of whom I've met through this blog.  They all gave some great tips and were very positive about what I'd done.  This fueled me to keep doing it and improve it.

Among them, Angela Grant, whose blog News Videographer has served as one of my main learning tutorials over the past couple of years.  With this series, I got to put everything I'd learned from her posts, and her past critiques of my work, into practice.

One of our concerns in all this is that while courts offer the height of human drama, it's often delivered in the sterile, clinical confines of people talking in court.

Wrote Angela:
Usually, talking heads are boring and do not make compelling video. But I think the way Ron is using the talking heads here is actually very compelling. Maybe it’s because the subject matter is naturally interesting. Maybe it’s the easy-to-digest format: One graph of info, followed by a short video. Whatever it is, I think it’s successful because I was able to watch like 4-5 of these in a row and I stayed interested the whole time.
Taking what is usually a 20- to 30-minute hearing the editing it down to 2 minutes helps keep the most compelling information about these cases.  I'm often checking back with the judge and lawyers, to make sure I'm keeping everything in context and portraying the gist of the hearings.  So far, so good.

The reason we called it "Common Law" (Jill's title) is because we deal with the everyday type of cases that come to the courthouse -- the stuff you normally wouldn't see.

The video views are comparable to others being produced for our site, and several people have stopped me in the elevator and the hallways of the courthouse to tell me how much they're enjoying them.

But I'm always looking for feedback. If you can watch a few, when you get time, leave a comment and tell me what you think. I'm always looking to improve.

I can also see a variety of beats lending itself to this kind of treatment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

60 sites in 60 minutes: stampeding the SPJ Convention

Jeff Cutler and I were overwhelmed by the response to our session Saturday at the SPJ National Convention.

"Site Stampede: 60 web sites in 60 minutes" drew a large, lively crowd anxious to learn what we'd linked to around the web.

You can download a copy of the links (.doc) and Mitch Davis posted a series of videos, for those who couldn't attend.

We're hoping to do it again next year in Vegas. And if you come across any sites we missed or want to explore more, let us know.

And now I return to where I started as a multimedia reporter

I come back to this blog, and really I realize I never should have left. This is where I started my journey into a new era of journalism that many my age found frightening.

I feel like I've come a long way in the past two years. I made many new friends.  I discovered Twitter, which brought me to a new level of reporting and may have saved my career.

I've talked to journalists around the country about how I use multimedia and social media to do my job.  I've sought out others and tried to learn from the best.

My experiment with SPJ that moved me to leave this space was so successful the organization made that blog their own for a new committee on digital news that I was proud to help initiate. It's great when something that started to just chronicle my learning has such value for others. It was sad to leave that blog, but that didn't mean leaving blogging.

So I return here, where I started.

May others find this and jump in, because one part of this new era of journalism I've really learned to enjoy is not writing for an audience, but having a conversation with friends.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pushing Twitter trial coverage a step forward: federal court

In less than a year, covering trials via Twitter has gone from an experiment to one of my regular reporting tools. With each new trial, I've gained about 100 followers - both locally and even from other countries - and that doesn't count the people who watch it from our news web site or on my work blog.

The reaction has been stunning at times.  Other news sites, notably the Orange County Register, has also picked up on this kind of coverage for the courts.

But this week brought a giant step forward when a federal judge in Wichita gave the go-aheadfor me to use Twitter there.  I don't know if it's a first, as some of the legal bloggers think, but it is a big step in expanding live coverage of the courts.

See, federal courts don't allow cameras or video or audio recorders.  The federal courthouse in Wichita doesn't allow cell phones, so I had to get the judge's permission to bring my smartphone and Bluetooth keyboard into the courtroom.

The trial, which begins testimony Monday, surrounds federal charges of racketeering aimed at accused members of the Crips street gang.  Federal prosecutors around the country have used racketeering laws for years to try and curb the problem of street gangs.

But to see these trials, you had to go to the courthouse. Twitter will allow people to follow the trial in real time and learn more about federal courts and how they work.

Follow the trial next week. After it's over, I'll report back with an update on what I learned in this new venue.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

To be a journalist: to publish, to benefit a community

Used to be, we needed people who owned big printing presses or big towers in order to be journalists.  But today, when most people are getting their information online, anyone can publish content.

The business of big media is watching their stocks fall, while watching the rise of citizen journalists.  But what is a citizen journalist, and what makes them different from professional journalists.  Even SPJ, the largest organization of professional journalists, struggles for that definition.

Serena Carpenter gives the best one I've seen: 

“An individual who intends to publish information meant to benefit a community.”
Serena even explains her definition, by reaching into decades-old First Amendment law, then concludes:

"This means citizen journalists and traditional journalists fall under the definition of a journalist," Carpenter says. "Not every person is a journalist, but any citizen can become one."