Online Exercise: Write an FAQ

February 9th, 2009; 7:51 am

FAQs are a good way to introduce students to online news writing and editing for three reasons.

  • It gets them thinking about conversational journalism.
  • It gets them writing shorter.
  • It gets them using links.

The key to good FAQs — of course — is to formulate a good set of questions. A good question is at the start of all good reporting. And to formulate a good set of questions, the FAQ writer needs to have a very good sense of his or her audience. There are a few questions to consider when thinking about writing an FAQ.

  • Who is the audience?
  • What would they already need to know to get value out of this FAQ?
  • What search terms would they use to find this FAQ?
  • How would they use the information they find on the FAQ

Consider those questions and see if you can answer them for each of these examples of online FAQs that employ different styles. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Plan an Online News Project

February 6th, 2009; 8:01 am

If I had to pick only one difference between the mindset of print and online journalists, it’s the way they plan. Online journalists are more likely to have to collaborate with a large group, they are often working on longer time horizons on products that has longer shelf-lives. They are dealing with lots of smaller moving pieces and have to try to get management approval using static words and images to represent a project that will have a lot of animation and user-driven customization.

So, if you want to work online doing something other than breaking news you have to learn how to plan. In my experience, any online project — from an election returns database to a deadline explainer on the capture of Saddam Hussein — needs six things:

  1. A product concept
  2. A storyboard
  3. Asset management
  4. A clear workflow
  5. A financial budget
  6. A testing and quality assurance procedure

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Site Critiques and Story Ideas

February 4th, 2009; 9:03 am

Our Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class is transitioning from the first to second phase of the semester, and I’ve blogged about it a bit more over at http://www.ibiblio.org/newsdesk/apples/sp09/blogs/ryan-thornburg

In the first phase, we’ve been cramming on learning more about the topic of dropouts in North Carolina and also cramming on learning the tools and techniques of online journalism. We’re now starting to think about some of our initial content creation.

In two blog posts, I summarize our critiques of other online news projects as well as our initial brainstorm of story ideas.

Bootcamp: Data Driven Journalism

February 3rd, 2009; 6:23 am

So much of the training and retraining of journalists seems to be focused on getting them to be multimedia reporters, backpack journalists or one of the other buzzwords we use for collecting audio and visual content and presenting it online.

Multimedia is one of three things that make online journalism different from offline journalism, but the other two things — interactivity and user-control — depend largely on journalists understanding data driven journalism. This isn’t about numbers, but about structured data. Here’s a bootcamp that’s intended to introduce journalists to the tools and concepts of structured data and data driven journalism.

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If Wikipedia Says It Loves You, Check It Out

February 2nd, 2009; 8:24 am

The idea of using social media to report a story is appalling to some journalists. They have a certain germophobia when it comes to the Internet. Because it is littered with rumor and lies, they never use it as a source for a story, they say. They’re right, of course. Social media like Twitter and Wikipedia are littered with rumor and lies, but so are most city halls and almost every other place journalists ply their trade.

Social media, I tell my students who have been scared away from it by other professors and editors, are like all sources — a great place to start and a lousy place to finish.

Armed with the same skepticism and curiosity with which I treat any other source, I try to teach students to stop worrying and love the hyperlink.

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CQ and the Media Economy

January 30th, 2009; 10:46 am

News broke this week that the Times Publishing Company is putting my former employer, Congressional Quarterly, up for sale. This immediately prompted a small Twitter storm from current and former CQ staff about the need to protect and preserve … faithfully … the company’s mission.

It also prompted a small Twitter storm among online news gadflies about the future of the non-profit business model for news.

For me, the news was a reminder that the genius of CQ is that it has been able to turn a low-value commodity and resell it as a high-value service. To grow the business, its next owner will need to understand that and look for ways to evolve CQ from a service to an experience.

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Cooperating Across Newsrooms

January 29th, 2009; 1:23 pm

The newspaper partners for our Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class joined the students and I in Chapel Hill this week for a discussion about how a collaboration would work. I was interested in hearing about content ideas as well as logistics. I think we had an incredibly engaging and informative conversation about story ideas. Logistics seemed to be less of a concern.

Here are some of the angles to the dropout issue that our partners were interested in pursuing:

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How to Blog

January 28th, 2009; 11:54 pm

While talking earlier this week to a journalist about the future of news, I again heard the story of newsroom leadership that has issued an edict that all reporters must blog. While I believe there are many contributions that the blog format can bring to news reporting, I can think of no more certain way to kill their potential than by making them mandatory.

If you think “blogs suck,” then there ain’t anything I’m going to say here that will convince you otherwise. I never knock another person’s religious beliefs.

If you are looking for more evidence to arm yourself in the battle of whether bloggers are/are not journalists, then please stop reading now. I have about as much interest in the answer to that question as I have in debating whether figure skaters are athletes.

BUT… if you are a journalist who wants to start blogging or be a better blogger then welcome. And if you’re a blogger who wants to be more newsy, then read on, my friend.

And if you don’t have time, just check out the PDF one-pager.

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Case Study: Link Journalism With Publish2

January 27th, 2009; 12:17 am

I start every semester in my online news classes teaching students the fundamental concepts of HTML. Not primarily because I want them to know the technology, but because I want them to appreciate that for all the bells, whistles and buzzwords it is the lowly link that makes online journalism fundamentally different than offline journalism.

If journalism is a conversation, I tell them, the first key to being a good conversationalist is being a good listener. You’d never walk in to a party and just hijack the first conversation you come across. You listen, wait and figure out what you can add and how you can move the discussion. Putting this analogy in to practice with links from your site to another site is the first step in developing authentic conversational leadership.

After all, the man who invented the hyperlink also hypothesized this role for journalists.

This semester, we are putting this concept in to practice in the site we’re building for Public Affairs Reporting for New Media. Using Publish2, the students are getting to practice “link journalism.” The site is now live, and here’s how we’re starting to build it out.

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How to Cover the Dropout Issue

January 23rd, 2009; 8:33 am

Perhaps my biggest fear about the subject for this semester’s Public Affairs for New Media class is the danger of mission creep. We’re going to be covering the state’s dropout rate, which anyone who has spent any time with the issue will tell you is not a problem isolated to single moment in a child’s life.

Reading up on the issue, it seemed that people tackled the issue in one of two ways — either as a trailing indicator with roots in pre-kindergarten or as a leading indicator of difficulties that a person will have throughout his or her life staying out of jail, holding down a job, and maintaining a family.

So we run a real danger of trying to wrap our arms around a topic that seems to be correlated to lifelong problems that begin at birth persist throughout life.

On Monday, we’re hosting our newspaper partners in Chapel Hill. We’ll find out then how they see the issue playing out in their communities. But as I educate myself on the topic and have been discussing it this week with students, here are some of the questions I have.

My question to you: What would you like to know about North Carolina’s diploma dilemma? How would you like to see us cover the issue. I welcome your comments.

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