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Archives: November 2010

8 Creative ways to use RSS feeds

Create a book

If you have a blog created with WordPress, TypePad, or Blogger, you can use Blog2Print to create a book directly from your blog’s RSS feed. The book can include photos, comments, and be printed in black and white or color.

Create an interactive timeline

You can create an embeddable, interactive timeline in minutes using Dipity‘s RSS feature. To create one, copy the URL of the RSS feed and select RSS as your input source. The resulting timeline can be embedded in any website much like a YouTube video.

Catch up on the tweets you missed

You ever got the feeling that you’re missing important Twitter messages when you’re away from your computer? By adding the RSS feeds for individual Twitter users or lists to your RSS reader you can make sure you never miss a tweet. Just select the orange RSS icon on any Twitter page and add the feed address to your RSS reader of choice.

Catch only the best tweets

Even if you archive your favorite tweets using an RSS reader, you may quickly become inundated with the number of tweets coming in. The Twitter Tim.es has a solution. The online tool aggregates the most shared links among your Twitter friends and presents them as an online newspaper. Using the site’s RSS feature, you can make sure that the most interesting links being tweeted are sent directly to your reader.

Read your RSS feeds in your email

Sometimes a feed reader isn’t the most convenient way to stay on top of your RSS subscriptions. Feed My Inbox allows you to direct your RSS feeds to your email, which is especially convenient for those sites that don’t have an automatic email delivery option. The first five feeds are free.

Create a custom newspaper

The big word in digital news is customization: readers want to be able tailor their reading experience to just the content they are interested in. You can do the same by creating your own FeedJournal. Simply give the site the RSS feeds you want to read and it will output a printable newspaper that you can read either online or off.

Spruce up your reading experience

Some of the most popular RSS readers were built with functionality rather than aesthetics in mind. Helvetireader is an extension/plugin (depending on your browser of choice) that will turn Google Reader into a Helvetica-inspired reading environment.

Listen to your RSS subscriptions

The audiophiles out there will appreciate BlogRadio, a service that will collect your RSS feeds and read them to you in the natural-sounding voice you choose. BlogRadio is available as a downloadable desktop application or as an app on your mobile device.

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What 10,000 Words is thankful for this year

1. Blackbird Pie

Twitter made it easier than ever to embed tweets in blog posts this year, thanks to the introduction of Blackbird Pie. Blackbird Pie is simple: In goes the URL of the tweet you’d like to embed and out comes CSS-formatted HTML.

More recently, Blackbird Pie was enabled on all WordPress.com blogs. A plugin called Twitter Blackbird Pie brings that functionality to self-hosted WordPress.org blogs.

For so many reasons, embedding a tweet in HTML definitely beats posting a screenshot in a blog post. For that, I’m thankful.

Ethan Klapper

2. #wjchat

Tools are useful, but I think one of the most valuable ways a journalist can spend his or her time is exchanging ideas with others. I’m thankful for #wjchat, a weekly Twitter chat in which web journalists discuss all angles of a topic that influences their work. Last night was kind of a potluck of questions, but below are a few examples of recent topics. They all link to the chat’s transcripts, and are worth a leisurely read while you’re digesting your turkey.

(As a sidenote, congrats one of the chat’s co-creators, Robert Hernandez, newly elected Online News Association board member. He’s a professor at USC-Annenberg, has the keys to the coolest Twitter handle, and if you were at #ONA10, you’d recognize him as the guy who asked if Patch was evil).

The #wjchat takes place every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EST. I recommend using TweetChat if you plan to participate.

- Kevin Loker

3. Path’s foray into photo networking

Last week, a new style of networking emerged in the form of Path.


What makes Path different? For one thing, it’s a photo-sharing network app for your iPhone (Android and Blackberry apps are apparently in the works). For another, it limits your network to only 50 “friends” who can see what photos you upload.

And why, even though I don’t have an iPhone (or a smartphone, period), am I thankful for Path? Because it’s new. It’s different. Having to limit your network to only 50 people could induce anxiety, but it’s nevertheless refreshing to see a network in the news that’s not Facebook.

Chris Dunn

4. WordPress 3.0 and the Twenty Ten Theme

WordPress 3.0 launched this year to include some of the following awesome features:

  • Menus – no more editing files to exclude categories and pages — just drag n’ drop!
  • Merge of MU and WordPress, making it possible to run one blog or ten million from the same installation
  • Bulk updating of plugins
  • Custom header and background APIs
  • Improved Custom Post Types and Custom Taxonomies including hierarchical (category-style) support.
  • Support for Shortlinks.

With arrival of WordPress 3.0 “Thelonious” was the launch of a brand new default theme called Twenty Ten, which was built to make the most of all WordPress’s brand new features.

The theme is an amazing foundation for both those new to WordPress and to advanced designers. After its launch was the first time I had ever dabbled in WordPress child themes.

As a lover of open source and a WordPress enthusiast, this release was a huge milestone and a testament to what can happen in an open, collaborative community of great minds.

Lauren Rabaino

5. Our readers

Thank you for your continued support of our blogging. It’s because of you that we can keep doing what we do to try to help you be better at what you do. So whether you’re a producer, photographer, videographer, editor, former journalist, designer or just someone who loves storytelling, we appreciate your readership, comments and tweets. Keep ‘em coming!

5 Myths about digital journalism

by Mark S. Luckie

1. Journalists must know everything


 
One of the biggest fallacies in the new era of journalism is that a journalist must be a jack-of-all-trades, a Swiss army knife of multimedia tools, and a master of all areas of reportage. While having multiple skills is an improvement on having none at all, the likelihood of one journalist employing a variety of skills by themselves is low. This is especially true in medium to large newsrooms that have whole teams dedicated to video, audio, interactives, web development, etc.

The trick is not to be a master of everything, but to be knowledgeable about the tools at your disposal. This way, you can both be aware of the possibilities these tools offer and also be conversant with those people in the newsroom that are in place to develop advanced forms of media.

2. Social media is the answer

We’ve all heard it before: Twitter, Facebook, online commenting, mobile check-ins and the like are what’s going to save journalism. The truth is nobody knows what’s going to save journalism. Nobody. Not even the social media gurus.

What we do know is that social media can help augment and improve the distribution process of news stories. It also makes news audiences more invested in the development and discussion of news, something that wasn’t possible before the rise of social media. Is this the money-maker that’s going to stem the tide of red ink? That remains to be seen.

3. Journalists must have database development skills

As more and more high-profile news stories are released that include expansive and intriguing databases, the call for journalists to have data skills has become louder and louder. While CAR skills are nothing (relatively) new, the push for reporters for develop database-building skills has and increased and in turn left many scrambling for training workshops or online tutorials.

Unless a journalist has a knack for computer programming and web development skills, the quality of work they can produce cannot match the level of expertise of a dedicated programmer or developer. Simply put, a one-week or one-day training workshop is not enough to surpass years of experience. While this should not discourage journalists who want to take this route, most should leave the technical aspects of high-level programming to those who do it well and concentrate on collecting, organizing and filtering the information that can be contained in these databases. This first step can elevate the collaboration between journalist and programmer.

More on the subject at this previous post.

4. Comments suck/ Comments are essential for democracy

When it comes to online comments, journalists usually fall into one of two camps: either they think they are a blight on news sites and are a waste of space and energy or they believe comments are important part of letting readers have there say about a news story. In reality, it’s a mix of both.

The truly civil and engaging comment threads that news sites strive to cultivate are few and far between. History has shown us that many comment sections will eventually degrade into back-and-forth arguments or inflammatory statements without some sort of moderation in place. Even though they comment sections can be a pain in the arse, it’s important to not throw the baby out with the bath water and to use all the moderation tools available to foster meaningful conversations.

5. There are no journalism jobs

If the recent increase in job postings and hiring announcements is any indication, there are plenty of journalism jobs to be had. However, there are several issues at hand for journalists seeking a new position in the industry. First, the journalism jobs that existed decades ago are often not the jobs that are available. Journalism applicants are increasingly required to have some technical skills or experience (whether its blogging, multimedia, CAR, social media etc.) and those applicants that don’t are often pushed to the side in favor of a candidate more knowledgeable of the digital space.

In addition, the throngs of unemployed journalists left in the wake of the economic recession, plus the horde of college students graduating from universities every year means there are many people applying for the same few jobs. It is not unheard of for several hundred people to apply for a single position.

All hope is not lost, though. Make sure you set yourself apart from the pack by developing diverse and unique skills (which don’t always have to be digital). If you’re unemployed, use the opportunity to learn or develop independent projects that demonstrate your ongoing commitment to journalism.

5 opportunities for dynamic curation tools

by Kevin Loker

Dozens of newsrooms have jumped to use the social media storytelling tool Storify this fall. It’s great for crowdsourcing and making stories out of content floating about in the social web.

The tool also received praise last month at the Online News Association conference in Washington, D.C. Amy Webb, the CEO of Webbmedia Group, an international consulting firm that advises various organizations on emerging technology, highlighted the tool at her Ten Tech Trends in ’10 talk. She also called it the interface the “future of content management systems.”

Webb’s onto something. We’re not quite there, but here’s a rundown of how you can use curation tools. Some you may have seen or tried; others may be something new to keep in your toolbox for later.

1. ‘Standard’ coverage (recaps and storytelling conversations)

We’ve written about this at 10,000 Words a few times now, but to recap, several journalists are using Storify tell stories by how they unfold on the Web. The Storify Twitter account does some lovely retweeting of those who use it. Here are a few recent, great examples.

The tool works well to replay reactions and events, from sports games to arrests. There are current limitations, however, for it acting in real-time.

2. Breaking and developing news

Storify is great for recaps and reaction pieces, but as of right now, it’s better for telling a story once it has already happened. It’s hard to get users to continually refresh a page to see updates.
Meet Qrait. You could consider it a real-time Storify.

Cool, huh? The platform is in alpha testing right now, but it looks like a step in the right direction for curation. Like Storify, Qrait allows you to pull in bits of information from the across the web — including feeds — and display all in one location. But, as the video shows, the updates occur and reload in real-time in a viewer’s browser, something that could potentially keep your audience from wandering away to another website. Before it goes public, it’s also expected to have the ability to incorporate pagination and place anchor links.

Those two features should be reason to rejoice if you consider yourself a curator. Anchor links allow you to link to specific content on your feed when you distribute the page through social media, and pagination helps segment your coverage for the same purpose (not to mention, it can make your content look cleaner and eliminate the endless scroll).

Will Storify have some of these features when it goes completely public? It’s a good guess. But since this new product is being promoted as a real-time curator, I’ll use Qrait for examples under the next items.

3. Contextual content during live coverage

With a reliable real-time curation tool, web journalists can bring events coverage to a whole new level. Yes, you can more easily keep users on your page — say during an election or a breaking story of a nightclub death — but you can also add contextual information alongside something like a video stream of a live event.

The concept here is very similar to another tech trend that Webb spoke about at ONA10: interactive TV. People are working on ways to drive relevant information related to what you’re watching on TV to mobile and tablet devices at your side or on your lap.

For instance, let’s say I have a Google TV and an Android tablet and am watching a news report on Afghanistan. I may not know who the Tajiks are. Since the devices are tied together however, there’ll soon be ways that background information on Tajiks could display on my tablet. I’m still watching the TV, but I’m getting additional information that enhances my viewing experience, and I don’t have to go out of my way to get it.

It should be just as easy to do this on a single computer screen. Computers do it (a la Qwiki), or we can keep a human layer and use a real-time curation tool like Qrait.

4. Curating feedback

Write for a blog or website that gets a lot of traffic? Maybe you wrote a controversial post that’s getting a lot of buzz, and you want a nice way to display the conversation around your piece? Why not use Qrait or Storify to display that feedback alongside your post?

The ideas not much different than #1, but it’s a concept that I haven’t seen put into practice. It could be a nice way to highlight parts of the conversation that you think may most benefit your readers. Storify works for this just fine, but the element of real-time updating that Qrait currently is promoting would be a nice touch.

(Qrait’s Help page inspired this one).

5. Research, sharing and collaboration

Remember how Webb said she considered Storify the future of content management systems? That future can begin by managing your own research for a post or story.

Perhaps it’s time we consider using these tools for our own use in the newsroom. If it’s useful for displaying bits of information in one place for our viewers, it can be just as useful for organizing content during brainstorm sessions or production.

David Somers, one of the creators behind Qrait and the creator of Twitterfall, said that collaboration features within Qrait are “certainly a possibility” and if it were something that people requested or discussed, he’d take it into consideration feature-wise. To Somers, real-time curation is such a new space that it is “naive to lock down to one path.” Curation tools need flexibility.

And so do we. If the ability to let multiple users easily contribute to curation project exists, then Qrait becomes even more practical. The same would be true with Storify. Beyond being pretty and easy ways to display information for readers, maybe these handy tools can evolve into prettier, more useful versions of Google Wave.

Preferably, of course, with a brighter future.

Four major sins of news design

by Lauren M. Rabaino

Let’s be honest: In general, news site design isn’t pretty. I know I’m not the first or last to say it, but I do have a theory about why. It starts off innocently enough — an article, navigation, some ads. But as new tools, gadgets, buttons, widgets, extensions and plugins are introduced to the news consumption scene, that once simple design becomes cluttered with bells and whistles that hold the content hostage.

The plague of news design is upon us and although the average news organization has dozens of corporate hoops to jump before being able to implement a full design overall, these are four simple starting points.

Sin No. 1: The swamp of “share” buttons.

Like this on Facebook. Tweet it. Stumble it. Digg it. Bookmark it to Delicious. Who can blame a news org? Although those options should be easily accessible, they shouldn’t detract from what’s important: the content. We want our content to be shareable across multiple platforms. But there’s a nice way to do it. Take a look at this article page from my local TV news station:

There has to be a better way. Share icons should be integrated into the design of the site as a native functionality, rather than as buttons plopped into a template.

LA Times’ Hero Complex blog takes an interesting (but imperfect) approach at integrating social media icons, although the use of Comic Sans is highly unfavorable. My favorite integration is The New York Times, which presents the icons very subtle and unobtrusively:

Sin No. 2: Layers and layers of navigation

You have the typical print sections (news, arts, sports, etc). Then you have the money-making sections: jobs, real estate, classifieds, cars. Then you have the subscription options: sign in, subscribe, register, Facebook connect. Not to mention the ever-growing trend of displaying hot or trending topics beneath the nav and subnav (see the LA Times or Washington Post). When did navigating a news site get so complicated and how can we tone it down?

Let’s take a lesson from one of my favorite news navigation designs, the Spokesman Review. Instead of forcing the user to navigate based on a print-centric system of topics, the user can navigate in a way more usable to the web: by time, location, or media type.

Another idea for simplifying news navigation can be stolen from Recovery.gov, which has a “looking for?” button that allows users to choose either who they are or the type of information they are seeking.

If we were to use this in new design, the “Who are you?” could be broken down by profession:

  • Working Professional
  • Student – College
  • Student K-12
  • Parent
  • Retired

Choosing one of the options would filter the news down to what’s relevant to that particular age group.

You could also do the “What are you looking for?” concept, which for news could be something like:

  • Events
  • Data
  • An overview of today’s news
  • Editors’ picks
  • Set your own topic filters (which would allow for customizability).

Sin No. 3: Cluttered sidebars, embedded divs

I don’t want my reading experience to be disrupted by boxes of related stories, forcing my content into a little sliver of a column. And I’m not alone. This reason is why people use Instapaper and RSS to read the news. Extra context is good (related stories), but not when it makes for a disjointed reading experience.

This is where news sites can learn from blogs. For example, I stumbled upon this post the other day (which is a good read for anyone in the business of agile development), and was in awe at how clean and readable the content was:

Imagine if this design was applied to a news-intensive website (of course, a news site is inundated with ads, but as design gets cleaner and more usable, perhaps ad quantity and pricing can be rethought too):

Sin No. 4: Avalanche of links on the homepage

Every single new article on a news site doesn’t need to appear on a homepage. Every section and microsite doesn’t need to have a subhead seven scrolls down the page.

The fix? Put less stuff on your homepage. Simple enough, but also easier said than done.

A quote from a former colleague and recently hired Washington Post content producer Greg Linch comes to mind: “Context isn’t just about providing information, it’s about how you present it.”
I like Greg’s point. Throwing a bunch of facts together into a story with no organization and no clear path to understanding would be poor journalistic practice; news design functions in the same way. It should provide a clear path to understandability by being digestible.

Will Davis, web editor of the Bangor Daily News, elaborated in a separate conversation by explaining the purpose of homepage design: “Really what you need is to make it easy for people to make decisions: What is the story I need to know right now? Don’t show me a story that’s five hours old if it hasn’t changed and I’ve already read it, or if I’ve visited the site five times since it’s been up and I haven’t clicked on it.”

In my mind, what Will describes would look something like a mesh between Twitter’s “unread” count and Gmail’s ability to “mark this as read” after you’ve either clicked an email or chosen not to read it.

If you have a favorite site or fresh idea for news, please share in the comments.

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