Sunday, November 2, 2008

Good bye Online Journalism II

They say all good things must come to an end. Saturday marked the last day of my Online Journalism II class. My classmates and I stepped into the course with open minds, yet slightly intimidated by the new software we would learn. After watching our final group presentations, which was a presentation of our multimedia website, I saw how far we’ve come.

The most important lesson I have learned is how to combine multimedia elements to create great journalistic pieces. I have summed it up in this philosophy; use print to explain, use multimedia to show and use interactivities to demonstrate and explain.

My group created a website focusing on the buying process for first time home buyers. There were four major multimedia elements that we added to the site. We used text because it is the foundation for any journalistically sound piece. The text portion of the site shows off our writing and reporting skills. Like Chet Rhodes from the Washington Post reminded us, great websites are no substitute for sound journalism. A podcast served to be an effective element on our website. The podcast featured two lenders and a real estate agent. It is my personal belief that podcasting brings in the “human element”. I feel audio creates validity when accompanied with a text story; you are getting the information right from the source. Videos and narrated slideshows were the last two major elements used to engage our audience. The elements worked well to show the home-buying process over time.

My class mates and I are at the half-way point in our multimedia program. If we take only one concept with us from this program it will be that a great story can be told effectively in many platforms, and still be great journalism.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

At the Washington Post ....

What luck! My VCU classmates and I all became “official” employees at the Washington Post on Friday. Well, at least for ten minutes we were. As mock employees, we were able to participate in a video reporting training session that is usually given to Washington Post reporters.

Chet Rhodes, our host for the evening, gave the brief tutorial. Rhodes is the Assistant Managing News Editor at the Though the concepts of the tutorial were basic, the skills he outlined were essential; especially for traditional print journalism looking to cross into the multimedia world.

There were a few skills that he presented in new ways that I would like share in this blog. One such unique idea was his formula for stand-ups. He believes that with this acronym you can’t go wrong:

WP – Who are we? (Washington Post)

WH – What happened?

WN – What next?

So by using this acronym as a guide, a Washington Post reporter what come up with a stand-up that would sound a little like this:

During my undergraduate broadcast journalism training, my professors drilled the “seven second rule” in our heads. That was the time limit for holding shots when shooting B-roll. Rhodes, however, recommended holding shots for the at least 30 seconds. He emphasized the importance of steady b-roll and urged us to only zoom or pan when not recording.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken. If you feel the urge to pan, Rhodes recommends holding the starting shot for seven seconds, panning slowly, and then holding the closing shot for seven seconds.

Though our “employment” was short-lived, our experience at the Washington Post will surely stay with us a lifetime.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Just be ethical ....

As a part of the Multimedia Journalism graduate program at VCU, we are required to take a course in media law and ethics. During a class discussion, one of my classmates asked if one can truly plagiarize ideas. As she put it, “it is possible for more than one person to have the same idea, is it not unfair to punish someone for having the same creative thought as someone else?” To answer her question our professor gave a local example.

Style Weekly and the Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) both decided to do stories about a candy making company that returned to the area. The Style Weekly article was written and published before the RTD began work on their article.

Trouble brewed after editors at Style Weekly began to compare the creative photography of the RTD to their own. There were two striking similarities. For one, both photographs displayed a stack of three candy pieces against a white background. Secondly, the headline for the Style Weekly article was “Sweet Return”, the headline for the RTD article was “A Sweet Return”.

When Style Weekly informed RTD of the resemblance, the RTD photographer was fired for plagiarism and for breaking the company’s code of ethics.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethics as the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession. To govern the practice of journalist, many media professionals turn to the Society of Professional Journalist code of ethics as a guideline. The code has four basic tenants:

1. Seek truth and report it
2. Minimize harm
3. Act independently
4. Be accountable

I applaud RTD for strictly enforcing ethical standards. If instances such as these were able to fall through the cracks, credibility would be lost. As journalist we must do everything to uphold the integrity of our profession.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Internet Savvy: Obama's Secret Weapon

The internet has been one of the key tools used to launch Barack Obama’s historic campaign. The internet has been used before in political campaigns but for Obama, using the web successfully was essential.

He had little name recognition and needed the internet to quickly gather support and money. In fact, when Obama announced that he would be president his website was already fully developed and ready to go. It included on the functions that would allow supporters to meet form groups and of course, it has a tool for online donations.

During the primary season, the Obama campaign’s internet savvy gave Obama many advantages. First off, it was used as a networking to get more volunteers early off. This became very important in caucus states like Iowa. After each small victory, more donations came in which gave him an advantage over direct competitor Hillary Clinton in advertising time and space.

Obama’s campaign has also been able to capture youth support through social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. On the facebook website, Barack Obama has over two million listed supporters. John McCain has a little over 500 thousand supporters. Obama’s internet strategy has proven successful and will surely be used as a diagram for politicians in the future.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The National Press Club discusses the future of journalism

In the past ten years, the field of journalist has evolved. The online platform has changed how audiences retrieve news. On Monday October 6th, Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications and the National Press Club presented a panel discussion about the future of news media with the emergence of the new platform.

Panel members included:

Nancy Kent, news director at NBC 12

Reid Ashe, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Media General

Bob Sullivan, technology correspondent for

Jeff South, VCU School of Mass Communications associate professor

The hot topic during the discussion was the emergence of citizen journalism and free access to information. Like many industries in America, the field of journalism is taking a hit from economic pressures. These pressures and declining newspaper subscriptions has effected how and what stories are covered. Jeff South told the story of a journalist who had to pay for information about the cost of the new Segway’s used by the Richmond Police Department. He used this example to show how investigative pieces are being reported by bloggers because of costs.

Bob Sullivan encouraged students to blog but felt citizen reporting such as the I-Reports launched by CNN can potentionally pose real dangers to the industry. He believes that false reports by untrained reporters launched on web sites sponsored by news organizations can hurt the reputation of the supporting news service.

Nancy Kent believes legislation that puts limitations on the Freedom of Information Act poses a serious danger to society. The limitations placed on the act restricts the media's access to information. Kent said that citizens do not know that allowing corporations and government entities to disclose information permits these organizations to act in secrecy.

Reid Ashe said that citizens helping journalist is a trend that will not go away. However, he also believes that traditional journalism will not die. This view seemed satisfactory not only to Sullivan’s fellow panel members but also to the future journalists sitting in the audience.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Defamation and the online platform

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment of the Constitution is a gift that mass communicators in America should never take for granted. With our freedom to freely communicate, there are law put into place to keep communicators from committing defamation. Defamation is an expression that tends to damage a person’s standing in the community through words that attack an individual’s character or professional abilities. There are two types of defamation: Libel which is written defamation and slander which is spoken defamation. Now that online platforms as means of communication has gained popularity, the United States judicial system has seen an abundance of cases regarding online defamation.

One such online defamation case that I recenly came across was Scheff vs. Bock (2006). Carey Bock hired Sue Scheff’s company to help get her kids out of a boarding school in Costa Rica. Scheff referred Bock over to a consultant to get her kids out. The consultant was successful, but apparently Bock was not satisfied with how Bock handled the situation. So to “get her back”, Bock posted defamatory comments on an online forum, calling Scheff a con artist, crook and fraud. So, Scheff sued and was awarded 11.3 million dollars!

This case must be used as a lesson to all mass communicators. Though the internet may be viewed as a more relaxed platform than traditional broadcast and print news, the same defamation laws apply. Many journalists maintain blogs, but it should never be used to propel personal attacks against people they disagree with.

Below is a YouTube clip that explains how to avoid online defamation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

CNN and Convergence

Never before in the history of political campaigns has voters played such a pivotal role in the presidential election process. This new role was made possible by various multimedia tools available online. During the democratic primaries, CNN held the first ever CNN/YouTube debate. During this debate, the candidates answered questions directly from voters via YouTube. According to YouTube, the candidates answered 39 questions from the 3000 received. The questions were sometimes personal, comical and heartfelt. Most importantly, it gave the candidates the chance to look beyond their campaign and into the eyes and heads of those voting for them. Some believe these YouTubers stole the spotlight and asked the questions “real” people wanted to know, in place of political jargon that most often feels this debate.

I believe CNN seized the popularity of citizen involvement. During the RNC, protestors rallied and CNN were able to keep up with the protestors’ plight by subscribing to the twitter account of many of the organizations protesting. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer read the “tweets” on the air.

CNN also encourages citizens to report their thoughts on the political campaign through what they call I reporters. This past weekend CNN contributor Roland Martin hosted “What they didn’t say at the debate”, a show focused on the plight of middle class Americans. The show featured some of CNN’s top I–Reporters. Instead of shunning the work of bloggers CNN is taking advantage of the new medium and using it to create a convergent brand.

Do you believe Michelle Obama is Proud to be an American?