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The top 7 technologies that changed modern journalism forever

In the last few decades, the journalism industry has been rocked by an explosion of technology that has changed how news is gathered, reported, distributed, and shared. The following are the key technologies that have aided in the transformation of news:

1. Digital audio recorder

Before digital audio recorders, there was the reel-to-reel machine, a clunky device that required the operator to physically splice pieces of tape together to form an audio story. Fast forward a few years later and the digital audio recorders have made the machine obsolete and changed audio recording forever.

Digital audio recorders allow journalists to go wherever they wish with what amounts to a tiny recording studio in their pocket. Digital recorders allow for quick, off-the-cuff recording of a news subject or interview and drastically cut down the time necessary to edit and broadcast the recording. In addition, digital recorders also allow the user to connect to a computer and within minutes publish the audio to the web, a concept that decades ago was unimaginable.

 

2. Friendster

Before there was MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter, there was Friendster, the online community that popularized the concept of the social network. Even though the site has waned in popularity, it opened the door for hundreds of thousands of social networks. The number of social network users around the world totals in the billions, with Facebook alone comprising more than 500 million members.

For journalists, social networks enable reporters and newsrooms to interact directly with the people and the communities they cover. A large percentage of any online news operation’s web traffic comes from social networks as users recommend and share individual stories, rather than individual publications, with each other. Social networks have also replaced online news sites as destinations for news and allow audiences to shape and filter the news that reaches them.

3. iPhone


The iPhone, a device not without its flaws, is largely responsible for introducing the concept of applications to the public, eventually shaping mobile devices into mobile news readers. More than 24 percent of Americans now use apps regularly, more than half of which are news-related, according to a 2010 Pew study. The iPhone has accustomed audiences to paying for digital and mobile content and of course paved the way for a new generation of e-readers used for news consumption.

4. Google Maps

When Google Maps, and more importantly its API, first hit newsrooms, the technology was often used on a smaller scale to post small embeddable maps that accompanied stories. As newsrooms matured, Google Maps was used to create complex, location-based databases that not only categorized, but also visualized information. Google Maps in essence made data-driven journalism both the production and consumption — accessible to everyone and transformed what would otherwise be unsightly charts and graphs into more user-friendly ways of displaying information. Maps, to this day, remain an important component of multimedia storytelling.


 

5. YouTube

Who knew that a site that hosted videos of dancing cats and college pranks would become an online destination where an average of two billion videos are viewed daily and hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded every day. YouTube conditioned audiences to watch online video and more of it and opened the door for both broadcast and non-broadcast newsrooms to publish and share video content online. YouTube not only empowered average citizens to upload and share their videos with a worldwide audience, it also transformed news video from siloed broadcasts to content that is freely shared and embedded on the web.

 

6. Laptops

Attend any press conference, news event, or media gathering and you’re likely to see a crowd of reporters with laptops in hand documenting what is happening in front of them. The typewriter and the desktop computer both revolutionized modern journalism, but it is the laptop computer that freed reporters from the confines of the newsroom. As laptops become more powerful and inexpensive, they now often serve as a mobile multimedia production lab. Reporters can now write, record or edit video or audio, or broadcast live directly from a laptop computers and from anywhere around the world.

7. Wireless internet

A laptop wouldn’t be as revolutionary a tool for journalists if it weren’t for wireless internet. Wi-fi puts the library of information contained on the web at a reporter’s fingertips. Wireless internet also allows journalists to report from the field and file stories without having to physically return to the newsroom. As a Pew study notes, people are actually consuming more news than they used to and much of it is accessed online. There are many factors as to why this is, but it is likely due in large part to the pervasiveness of wireless internet and the many opportunities for news consumption the technology affords.

 
All of the aforementioned technologies were developed or rose in popularity within the last few decades. Who knows what knew technology will emerge that will also change the face of journalism?

Agree or disagree with the list? Was something left off that merits a mention? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 
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Get Schooled: 6 Education-themed news databases

After the release of the Los Angeles Times’ teacher database that presented information on the effectiveness of hundreds of area teachers, many journalists’ eyes were opened to the possibility of using databases for education reporting.

The Times’ project is one of many education-related databases produced in the last several years that have transformed publicly available documents into useful and usable resources for readers. The examples below share many things in common, including search fields for school, ZIP code, etc., simple interfaces, and eschew clunky tables that are used often for online news reporting, but are usually hard to follow or absorb.

Chicago Tribune: 2009 Illinois School Report Cards

The Tribune’s project is a straightforward examination of area schools that contains searchable information such as class size, test scores, household income, — the kind of information parents and other concerned folks are likely to search for.

The Washington Post: Fixing D.C.’s Schools

This 2007 project from The Post is still a model from which other news databases should be modeled. Its easy to use interface makes searching for the tons of available data on student and teacher proficiency, crimes, health code violations and more a cinch.

The Los Angeles Times: California Schools Guide

“Grading the Teachers” isn’t the first education-related database created by the Times. In 2008, the Times debuted Schools Guide with test scores, enrollment data, and a slew of other information on hundreds of L.A.-area schools.

USA Today: The Smokestack Effect – Toxic Air and America’s Schools

A schools-related database doesn’t have to focus exclusively on education. This 2008 project by USA Today illustrated how industrial pollution affected nearly 128,000 schools around the nation. Each school is ranked by percentile, indicating how many other schools have worse pollution problems than the selected school.

The New York Times: Diversity in the Classroom

This NY Times database takes a unique approach and examines the effect of immigration on American classrooms. The available charts show the number of students of color has changed over the years and readers can drill down information by state, county, and school district.

The New York Times: New York School Test Scores

Like the previously mentioned databases, this one has the standard search tools for county and ZIP code, but is also notable that it links to the largest schools in the region on the topmost page. This allows a large percentage of viewers to go directly to the test score information for that school. Once a school is selected, there is a plethora of information about how that school’s students fared on standardized tests.

Databases like the ones mentioned here take lots of time, effort, and resources to develop, so why should you endeavor to create one? Well besides the millions of potential page views, education-related databases provide information to schools, teachers, parents and students that is hard to find anywhere else and provides a public service.

 
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7 Ways you can improve your Facebook page now

Facebook is a major source of traffic for many news sites and it also presents a unique opportunity to interact directly with readers. Make the most of your Facebook presence and make your Page more engaging with the following tips:

1. Change your profile image

Your Facebook profile image is the first thing potential fans see when they on the arrive on the page. Is yours bold and enticing or a boring waste of space? If you’re looking for ways to liven up your profile image, check out 1stwebdesigner’s gallery of enticing Facebook Page Profile Images.

 

2. Get a vanity URL

Instead of a long URL like http://facebook.com/profile?65238628!!?ref=omgsolong the web address to your Facebook Page can be something simple like facebook.com/mypage. To shorten your URL, visit facebook.com/username or follow this nifty guide. You must have at least 25 fans to receive a custom URL.

3. Spice it up with FBML

Facebook Markup Language or FBML allows developers to add custom HTML or CSS to their Facebook page. You can even make your original content your default tab. For examples of what you can do with FBML, visit the Facebook Pages created by Louis Vuitton, Lady Gaga, and the NHL. For a step-by-step guide to using FBML, read this Mashable post.

 

4. Promote it on your own site

No man is an island and a Facebook Page shouldn’t be either. Make sure that your readers/viewers know about your Page by promoting it on your main site and including links on your individual articles. You can even add a “Like Box” to your site that displays people who are fans of your Facebook page on your site.

 

5. Stop having one-way conversations

A common mistake many news organizations who use Facebook make is they post articles or pose questions to their fans but don’t interact or respond to them. Social media isn’t a one-way conversation. Be sure to engage with your readers so they don’t feel like they are talking to a brick wall. Because talking to a brick wall is crazy.

6. Use third-party apps

There are many different third-party apps that you can use to enhance your Facebook page and better interact with your audience. These include Poll, which allows you to create a poll right on your page, YouTube Channel, which as its name suggests allows you to post YouTube videos to your page, and Docs, which enables the posting of documents to Facebook.

7. Create photo albums

Many newsrooms guard their photos like Buckingham Palace and this is understandable…photos can be downloaded and shared on the internet without permission. However, for those photos you do want to share, why not post them to Facebook as a photo gallery? You can even create a photo gallery with a link to where people can see more photos.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out California Watch (my former employer), who used the gallery feature share photos of California Watch staffers, scenes from a local tea party rally, and supplemental graphics that were paired with stories.

 
For more inspiration, check out App Storm’s list of the 35 best Facebook Fan Pages. If you don’t have a Facebook page yet, click here for information on how to get started.

 
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3 Unique ways to record, edit, and publish your audio

1. Myna

Myna, the online audio editing tool from Aviary, is perfect for audio editing on the go. The editing tool doesn’t require any software installation, yet it has many of the same features as popular programs like Audacity and Adobe Audition.

To get started, just upload your audio using the tool’s import feature or record your audio directly into Myna using a computer mic. Myna allows for multi-track editing, effects such as fades and echos, and you can export the final product to your computer. Check out a video demo of Myna below:

 
There are two types of people who use Audacity, the free and popular audio editing software: those who use it and those who use it, but secretly wish they were using something else. If you want to explore other options for audio editing software, check out this list of 25 free digital audio editing tools.

2. Monle

If you have a smartphone, you likely have multimedia capabilities like the ability to shoot photos or record videos. With Monle, an iPhone app, you can add audio recording and editing to the list. The app allows you to either record or upload audio into the program and edit it on a four-track system. It has all the features you need to create polished audio, which you can send wirelessly to your computer as a wav file.

Monle, of course, isn’t your only choice for mobile audio editing. There are several apps for mobile phones, including Showcase Net from Vericorder, which can also produce audio slideshows on a mobile platform.

 

3. Audioboo

AudioBoo, an application available for iPhone and Android, allows the user to record audio messages from a mobile phone and publish them online in what amounts to an audio blog. The tool has a growing user base including
Sky News Radio and BBC London 94.9 FM who use AudioBoo to share journalism-related audio clips that are free from the constraints of traditional broadcasts.

AudioBoo is perfect for sharing raw audio files with a large online audience. For journalists, think audio interviews, nat sound, and other standalone elements that would be interesting to the listening audience.

 

 
In the digital age, audio production is all about collaborative gathering and editing and is no longer confined to one or two producers. There are already several online tools like Audiotool that are geared toward musicians and allow several people to collaborate on a single audio project. Newsrooms can take advantage of this technology to allow several journalists to contribute to an audio story, even if they are using different computers or are stationed at various points around the world.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your collaborative audio projects, check out the video below of a choral piece constructed from 250 individual performances. For this unique project, each person seen in the clip submitted a video of themselves voicing a part of the composition “Lux Aurumque,” composed by Eric Whitacre. The individual videos were then edited together and the stunning result was uploaded to YouTube.

Collaboration and crowdsourcing… the future of audio is here.

 

 
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Location! Location! Location! How journalists can use location-based services

With the advent of location-based social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla, mainstream media newsrooms have been searching for ways to harness these networks. The results have ranged from brilliant to questionably outlandish, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible. Here are a few ideas and examples of ways to take location-based social media to the next level:

 
We, the people

To celebrate their 2010 graduation ceremony, the students of St. Edward’s University in Texas submitted photos, tweets, and Facebook posts with their mobile phones and aggregated them using the social, location-based service Whrrl. The result is a multimedia experience that showcases the ceremony from the viewpoint of those who lived it.

Mass aggregation of first-person media isn’t new and since the launch of projects like CNN’s The Moment, they have proved to have major newsworthiness. Using a site like Whrrl to make it easy for a large group to share a variety of media is something media organizations should explore and gravitate toward.

 
Movie reviews

The mobile application Flixster has many awesome features, one of which is its ability to find movie theaters near the smartphone user and instantly provide showtimes and sometimes ways to order tickets.

Newsrooms, especially entertainment publications, can capitalize on this idea by creating apps or check-in alerts that provide movie reviews from newsroom critics when the mobile user is near a movie theater. With a little extra tinkering, an app can also aggregate reviews from other locals or like-minded movie viewers.

 
Real estate listings

In the same vein, newsrooms can make better use of their real estate listings by creating an app that lists available housing near the mobile user, using the phone’s built in GPS. Imagine walking in a neighborhood and seeing a listing of apartments for rent, sortable by price and with comments from others. There are a couple of real estate apps already, including ZipRealty and Zillow that newsrooms can learn from.

 
Of course, there are several media organizations who are already making the most of their content — and their audience — to provide a valuable, location-based service. The Independent Film Channel recently solicited its membership for tips on quirky locales around America. Foursquare members can opt to receive these user-submitted alerts when they check in to select locations. Wall Street Journal readers who check in to specific restaurants can read restaurants the site has reviewed.

Sports fans should check out ESPN Passport which allows mobile users to check-in to sports venues and keep track of games they’ve attended. You can also use the app to take photos of a match in progress and share with others in the arena. The Scoop, The New York Times’ mobile guide to New York, is also a pioneer in marrying existing content with mobile and GPS capabilities.

Location-based services can do anything from report the location of local crimes to point out road hazards submitted by other users. So far though, the majority of those companies that are exploring and taking advantage of the technology fall outside of the journalism realm. Hopefully, as these services and social media applications become more mainstream, newsrooms will be more likely to adopt them for their own uses.

 
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