Monday, December 6, 2010

Posting Wikileaks info on social media could ruin job prospects

Career services at Columbia University sent an email out this week warning students to refrain from posting links or comments to any of the recent Wikileak documents on Facebook or Twitter because it could ruin their job prospects in the future. Although leaked, the documents are still considered classified and any online comment or posts about the documents could damage the chances of jobs for those wanting to work in the state/federal sector.

Interesting. If I don't link to the documents, but a CNN article, am I ruining my chances of one day working for the state department after law school? Can I give an opinion about the organization? Is this post going to ruin me?

WikiLeaks, part II

Doug wrote an earlier post about Wikileaks, so I'm here for some recent updates that happened in the last several days, and some important implications the leak of these documents on journalism today. The Columbia Journalism Review has a great rundown of some news outlets' coverage of the documents.

Here's the break down of what has happened since the release of more than 250,000 confidential U.S. State Department documents last week:
  • It's been has been hit with denial-of-service notices, and kicked off the servers in the U.S. and France
  • On Friday, U.S.-based Paypal cut off Wikileak's account, a major source of income
  • Amazon has cut Wikileaks off its server service, it has now hired a Switzerland-based company to host its site
  • As a result of this censorship, WL has been using its Twitter account to request followers to start "mirror sites"
  • WL's founder Julian Assange is now wanted by the Swedish government on allegations of sex crimes, including rape

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Some shocking facts about social media

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think everyone is tired of reading yet another post about Facebook and Twitter so I'll keep this brief. This video has some shocking facts about the revolution of the internet and its implications on our way of life. To be honest, I was a little scared after seeing it. Let me know what you think!

The Expansion of Topics Pages

I think something great that has come out of several news organizations is the idea of a topics page for their online editions. A topics page typically contains a brief background of more general topics, such as The Debt Crisis, The Board of Education, the War on Iraq, and archives of stories, articles and links related to that topic. I think this is an amazing reference tool for current readers and an introduction to new, young readers who might not be familiar with certain topics, such as the Texas Ethics Commission or the history of abortion.

I first was introduced to Topics pages last year when I stumbled on the Texas Tribune's site when it first started. As its progressed, the Tribune has amassed an impressive list of topics related to state agencies, political races, current issues, and so much more. Even better, it has a list of editor's picks that link to hot topics.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The need for quality websites

By: Amber Genuske

To supplement my previous posts on shovelware (and why not to do it) and the importance of stellar multimedia, it is impossible to ignore the need for a great website for publications to implement these practices. The shift from print to online has many publications maintaining the print-purists ideas, often applying to their website with an exact replica of the front page of the newspaper as the homepage, or worse, the blog format with a running list of stories, like The Daily Texan.

Newspapers and magazines tote the circulation of the physical paper, ignoring that the largest readership is online, where anyone with access to the internet can look at their website. While the design of the printed publication should still be slaved over, it is what catches people's eye when they walk past a newsstand, the website has the potential to have an even greater impact.

Of course, there is the discussion of how to receive funding for a website and how to convert from a free to a pay wall system, but maybe people will be more inclined to pay for an attractive website with beautiful content than a blog roll.

The New York Times has the largest online readership and it's understandable with the website they have. Though still traditional as the Times will always be, there is a wealth of multimedia content on the front page, begging people to click and explore.

Clever and stylish design has always played an vital roll in magazines and there websites reflect that. New York Magazine and GQ's front pages are full of graphics, videos, photos and colorful links, while still maintaining the ever-important ease of navigation.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mobile Phones & Journalism Education


80% of Americans now own a cell phone. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans own a smart phone.

Although this isn't much information, what does this mean in immediate terms?

It means that the majority of Americans have access to a mobile device, and nearly a third have access to a mobile device that has full computer capabilities. This in turn means that the majority of people are consuming information in a very different way than ever before.

The mobile device as a media platform is much more immediate and is also much more location-based than any other media.

For as often as we download apps, look up directions and access social media through our phones, how much have student journalists explored the mobile territory?

It is important to look at a mobile device for all of its benefits. What can a smart phone realistically do? What is it not so good at?

But to focus a little better on what multimedia journalism students should already be learning about mobile devices

1. Apps
  • Obviously, everyone knows what an app is. Every person with a smart phone downloads apps all the time. Any business, organization, or other establishment with a heavy presence (and a lot of times even not) has many apps out on the market. EX: Google has apps for almost all of their desktop counterparts.
  • What many students don't know however, is how to create and execute a highly successful app.
  • Apps, despite oftentimes seemingly simple and easy to use, generally have a fair amount of work put into them. It takes good design and user friendly concepts to create a good app. This is important to teach to upcoming multimedia journalism students.
2. Different Services Can Be Offered Via Phone
  • Although many would view mobile devices as limited modes of communication, there are actually an infinite amount of ways to maximize communication.
  • This can happen through emails to phones, texts to phones, implementation of hyper-geographic content, and mobile-specific deals or information.
  • Because so many different services can be offered via mobiles, the content must naturally also evolve. People are purchasing smart phones in increasingly large numbers, so this mobile audience will only continue to grow in the near future. People have already adapted to the cell phone. It is now up to journalists to continue adapting to cell phones.
  • Multimedia journalism students should be able to adapt to these differences.
3. Packages for Mobile Version of Sites
  • As mentioned earlier, as a new and successful medium like mobiles is introduced, an evolution of content or packaging becomes inevitable.
  • Mainly, websites should create their mobile compatible version at the very least. The next step is the app. After that is adding mobile specific content.
  • Some smart phones do not use Adobe Flash, for example. This is a problem that all multimedia journalists should be aware of.
  • Journalists should also not just use the everyday shovelware. This is a sin committed by even the most well-known of news organizations but really should not ever have the chance to happen.
  • Mobile journalism has so many hyper-specific benefits that they should be fully used, and not just stocked full with junk already sitting on the desktop page or physical newspaper.
As multimedia journalists, it is important to stay on top of trends. Currently, mobile is where everything seems to be going. Increased traffic is to be found, as well as many opportunities to connect with readers in a way never thought before.

Keeping Up With Your Inner Journalist: A Brief Memo on Maintaining and Improving Skills


Some of us multimedia journalism students are graduating this weekend, and some of us are sticking around for another semester.

No matter what the case is, keeping up with journalistic skills we acquired at UT will prove to be extremely beneficial in any school or career path.

This is because journalism requires critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a vital component of surviving and thriving in the real world of internships, jobs, and graduate schools.

Journalism is best simplified as the gathering and sharing of information, two topics every productive society must pay attention to.

Researching stories, shooting video, organizing a photo shoot, prepping interview questions, and creating marketing plans all require the analysis of various factors others might not immediately think of.

These abilities are not only valuable for reporting but are also useful in other fields. To know how to effectively gather and share knowledge is an invaluable tool to harness and nurture.

Here are three things you can do to sustain the freshness of your talents.

1. Make sure you own the tools you need to efficiently gather and share information.
  • While the terms "mojo" and "backpack journalism" seem silly to some, the concepts they describe are not.
  • The ability to capture events and send them to contacts is important. If you cannot achieve this on your person, competing in the future will more difficult. This is because with the increased popularity of handling all business via cell phone (calls, messages, photos, document sharing, etc.).
  • This can be achieved by remembering what the essentials are: your smart phone, a laptop if possible, and a USB port or SD card to store the things you capture.
2. Maintain a contextual perspective on journalism by reading a healthy dosage of blogs dedicated exclusively to the topic.
  • By even just scanning a variety of journalism or tech blogs on a regular basis, your mind will automatically pay attention to key words it recognizes, and consequently be able to recognize the overall trend and what it means.
  • For example, usage of the word "tweet" exploded in the past year. This indicates how embedded social media has now become in our culture. This is pertinent information to everyone, not just news makers.
  • Keep up with these to start with: Mashable, Media Shift, and CyberJournalist.
3. Multimedia journalism is relevant to your life, no matter what. Challenge yourself to encourage it!
  • This is the hardest thing to do, not just for recent graduates. As people become distanced from material they learned, the less relevant it becomes.
It really is important to maintain these skills we have learned, even if they are just the basics. You never know what people or future employers might be impressed by. Be knowledgeable about your crafts. Yes, even the ones you thought you forgot, or think will be unimportant.

Crowdfunding and Journalism: Problems and Solutions

Crowdfunding can be thought of as crowdsourcing with a professional twist. Instead of harnessing Web 2.0’s ability to turn the audience into the producers, it turns the audience into the financiers. This isn’t a new development; public radio has asked for donations from it’s viewership since it’s inception. Only a few weeks ago, Wikipedia founder Larry Sanger made a public appeal to Wiki users to donate money in order to keep Wikipedia ad-free and running. But, as with any revolutionary idea, a beta phase is needed to discover problems and tweak. Crowdfunding in journalism is in its beta phase, some sites are more successful than others, but all are experiencing a fly in the ointment: who pays and who plays (writes)?

The most notable example is the nonprofit start up of the Center for Media Change. According to the creators is, “an open source project to pioneer community powered reporting.” Through Spot.Us the public can commission and participate with journalists to do reporting on important and perhaps overlooked topics. Upon opening the site, the top stories that may or may not be show status bars of how much has been donated by interested readership and how much is still needed to make this story a reality.

Advantages of this model are obvious. Crowdfunding cuts costs by more than just the salaries journalists are paid to do their jobs. It saves green through efficiency; a journalist does not have to waste time, energy, or money on a project until the seed money has been secured. Less obvious though is the improvement in quality of crowdfunded content. Many of the pieces of the modern newspaper (even new site) are designed and written to appeal to the lowest common denominator. A piece featuring violence or celebrity gossip usually attracts more attention that a re-imagining of the San Francisco’s waterfront (a November piece). There is no greater indicator of people’s support and interest than the dedication of their pocketbooks. Great, interesting stories garner funding and rise to the top.

Critics of this model have questioned the role of the professional journalist in this model. Does the writer of the piece matter? Other criticism has asked crowdfunding stories to make their donators available to public scrutiny. There is a concern that big corporations could infiltrate these sites and turn stories into fluff, PR pieces. Global For Me has been another notable example of crowdfunding per se, as it provides reporters for multi-national partners like Fox and BBC.

5 Myths about Digital Journalism: Recent Grad Style

I have always said that if someone is willing to argue for or against a list of myths post them on the Internet, there are plenty of people who have no problem throwing in their two cents. So that's what I'm going to do too.

A little over a week ago, Mark Luckie of 10,000 Words published an article titled "5 Myths about digital journalism," issuing some statements that are certainly against the grain, especially if you have taken a multimedia journalism course or two in the past few years.

Mark received a few (Andy Boyle) responses (Robert Hernandez) back (Michelle Minkoff) in return. (Major kudos to Mindy McAdams for compiling these. She also had something to say.)

Here's my take.

Multimedia journalism and the Internet commenter

Over the past few years, the bourgeoning field of Internet journalism has also become associated with a somewhat more unsavory aspect of the internet: the internet commenter. Formerly relegated to chatrooms and forums in the 1990’s, the opening up of comments to the public on most journalistic blogs and news sites has changed the public’s perception on the national discourse in recent years. What was once treated as an anomaly on the internet, as well as a source of mostly negative opinionating, is now a commonality that has changed the way some stories are reported or filtered, for better or worse. The intention of many sites in opening up comments is to act as a kind of instant form of crowdsourcing, but sometimes this plan can backfire.

A recent NPR story dealt with the kind of people that feel it necessary to make their opinions known to complete strangers about even the most remote of topics. The NPR story mainly dealt with an enterprise that began with the literary-based website McSweeney’s to do regular feature stories on certain Internet commenters and their online habits. Another recent article on the tech blog Gizmodo outlined an etiquette guide for commenters to follow if they are to remain in a civil discourse with the journalists and authors that they regularly engage in conversation. With all of this interest taken in the behavior of the readers, it seems essential to stop and take stock of the communities that form in these environments.

When most people think of the typical internet commenter, our society has cast the average commenter on YouTube as the nadir of Western Civilization, where comments can range from borderline illiterate, to overtly hostile, to openly racist or misogynistic. In other more journalistic-leaning sites, such as conservative news aggregate, the contributors are certainly more literate and most likely older than the average YouTube commenter, however the comments tend to lean towards the vitriolic in regard to the viewpoints of opposing political parties. On The Huffington Post, comments can become so overwhelming in their numbers that keeping track of various trains of thought on the threads becomes impossible. And then on top of that, you have the notorious “trolls” who just show up to make everyone mad and contribute nothing to the conversation.

Despite these intimidating, impenetrable networks, there are still some areas of the internet where commenting is still useful and mostly a positive experience. The political website,, features well-moderated comments that identify contributors by political affiliation. The Awl, a New York-based news and culture blog, has a fairly well-informed and intelligent commenter base. Several of the offshoots of the Gawker empire, such as the sports site Deadspin and the aforementioned Gizmodo, have informed and sophisticated readerships. The comedy/viral video website Videogum, has an especially active and witty community where comments on viral internet videos are jumping off points for debates on literature, science, religion and philosophy. If journalistic sites want their content to be taken more seriously by their audience, they would do well to imitate the commenting communities in these examples.

The New York Times Twitter Beast

By Eric Pickhartz

The New York Times claims itself as the largest seven-day newspaper in the United States. It’s Monday through Friday circulation checks in at 1,039,031 readers, and the Sunday edition reaches 1,451,233. However, the Twitter monster has claimed a grand total of 2,753,510 followers for the New York Times account. That’s nearly twice as many readers than those of the hard copy of the newspaper. What exactly does this mean?

The Rising Use of Social Media in Politics

By Luther Xue

Social media has reached the point in today's society that it has become a huge part of politics. Take for example the latest elections in 2010. This post here details just how social media affected the elections. The talk on Facebook and Twitter has an exit poll-like quality in that they were able to predict who was leading, and would probably win elections. They provide an outlet for the regular people to be able to communicate more effectively with the people that will be leading them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Freebase Gridworks hits 2.0, earns the new name Google Refine

Google Refine, the revamp of one of Google's summer acquisitions Freebase Gridworks, reached version 2.0 last month, adding an extension backend to the already powerful open source database cleaning software.

Freebase Gridworks gained a significant following within the data journalism community due to ease of use, particularly with the implementation of algorithms.

Of course, "ease of use" is very much a relative term. If you have no idea transforming regular expressions means or what n-gram clustering is, well, this isn't going to do much for you. But for journalists and programmers whose job is to make data friendlier on a daily basis, Google Refine is a godsend.