Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The right accent

Does your online publication have this problem?
Paragraph with errant special characters
Sorry to pick on Cypress College, but the example was convenient. There are a number of community college papers experiencing this problem. Sad thing is, the CyChron.com staff is trying to do something good.

Editor & Publisher online this week posted a story about whether papers should use accent marks or other special characters. most commonly with Spanish words. In some cases, leaving the accent off changes the meaning of the word. For example,
The name Pena, without the tilde over the "n," means shame. The Spanish word for year without that squiggle becomes anus.
Many papers blame The Associated Press for going accentless. The wire service‘s 2006 stylebook says accents shouldn‘t be used "because they cause garble in many newspaper computers."
It's nice to see college papers picking up the trend of including the special characters as needed, especially in multi-cultural California. The problem is that modern word processors have spoiled us with the most common ones. Know the right keystroke combination and it is easy to type in the correct character and include it in your print edition.

But web sites are not WYSIWYG word processors. And those codes get misinterpreted by most browsers. You end up with examples like above. I've worked with some content management systems that make the conversion for you, but most, including College Publisher's don't. Some browsers will convert the characters on the fly, but most do not. Instead, you have to insert special HTML code to get the desired effect.

A quick Google search on "HTML" and "special characters" will yield a number of sites where you can find charts that will help you. I kind of like this one, but this one actually has a list of characters you click on and it generates code you can copy and paste into stories.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Web Watch 8: The Missing Link

In last week's Web Watch I outlined five stages college publications go through to create an online publication. In brief, they included:
  1. Get online. Start a site and get used to updating it on a regular basis.
  2. Shovel content from the print edition to the online edition.
  3. The online becomes important. You start to produce some web-exclusive content.
  4. The online is fully integrated into the process. Stories are told in forms designed for online
  5. The online prevails.
Innovation in College Media's Bryan Murley caught my post and suggested that something was missing. You might call it the missing link. It is linking to other sites.
It would take very little to encourage (student journalists) to turn in stories with a “for more information…” addendum at the end of the story that could be converted into URLs on the site. Likewise, scanning or otherwise putting original source documents onto the web site doesn’t tax the definition of “web-exclusive” in my mind.
Good point. A simple path to get away from shovelware is to start adding value. Add links.

Where is the missing link?

But this is a problem plaguing the entire industry, not just the college media. Online journalism guru Steve Outing, who writes for Editor & Publisher, has been harping that for years. Only recently have a few publications been risking sending their readers to another site with links.

I searched California community college sites and even expanded my Web Watch to California State University sites (private schools and UCs to follow) and had little luck finding ANYBODY linking to other sites. Admittedly, I did not check EVERY story on every publication, but I looked for likely stories.

My web experience shows me that bloggers have been fastest to adopt the concept of linking to other sites. Let me point to the work of my students' blogs as examples: No Man's Press Box or General Education and the Community College Try.

But blogs are not the only place for links. Do your students use web sites as sources for their stories? Add a bit of code to the online version and make it easier for the reader to check the site. Any movie review, music review, book review, etc. could probably find a site to link to give the interested reader more information. Start there. But don't limit efforts to entertainment. The web is a treasure trove of information. Sure, you might direct your reader away from your site, but if you're good enough, the reader will come back. What's the old saying?
If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was, and always will be yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with. -- Anonymous
If you've built reader loyalty, the reader will return.

Also try to add other source content.

Those of you doubting whether your students can/will do this, I like Murley's title for my five stages. He refers to them as the five stages of grief.

Getting beyond shovelware

Few California community college publications are beyond the shovelware stage. In fact, the five California community college and two California State University sites that continue to post PDF-only versions of their print publications are the epitome of shovelware. There is nothing wrong with posting the PDF of the print version as an option for the reader, but when it is the ONLY option, that is not an online pubication, it is a publication online.

But most of us are firmly entrenched in the shovelware stage with our online publications, too. Only a few schools are breaking out of the mold with content in new story forms: video, slideshows, podcasts, etc.

Even more important than these new story forms --at least given our stage of development-- is the mid-issue update. Very few of the community colleges are doing that, and first glance at the four-year schools looks like few of them are doing that either. This is especially egregious with those schools that publish the print edition every other week. Two weeks and nothing new of importance has happened on your campus? At the very least, post updated scores on sporting contests. And feature those updates prominently.

You might not have the staff or money or energy to publish a print edition more often, but news does not take the week off. Why does your coverage? Train students to update sites regularly. Yeah, I know the arguments for and against scooping yourself. Get over it if you want to make your online publication relevant.

Lecture v. conversation

Murley made another good point about my five steps that we can discuss later: changing journalism from lecture to conversation. Most people might put that in my fifth step. He suggested it needs to start in Step 2.

Observed this week

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Papers should stay offline

The worst decision newspapers ever made was giving free access to their articles online. The best decision they could make would be to yank them off.
Orion front pageSo says Greg Finley of the Chico State Orion. Read his arguments online.

Some of his reasons are things we should think about as we develop strategies for our online publications.

I'm working on my next Web Watch and this time around I'm also looking at some university publications. Chico State has a pretty good publication with some interesting stories.

The Game of Life 2

On the edge of the universe, a tiny speck of light catches the attention of a Sarbonian colony ship. But then the unexpected happens, and now the economics of survival is all that matters.
Image from the gameThat's beginning narrative of a new class on microeconomics that just started at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. From there, the students jump into a video game. The entire class is a video game! NPR's All Things Considered reported on the class today. The page has an audio link to the story that requires Real Media Player.

I've been intrigued with the idea of a game as a class or as part of a class since I first wrote my City Council newsgathering simulation in 1989. The web version that I still use as part of my beginning newswriting class, and is used by a number of instructors across the country in college and high school journalism and political science classes, is quite crude with compared with a game like this one, or even the Second Life game that I wrote about here the other day.

I wish my imagination and energy would take me to the level that would develop an entire newswriting or mass media survery course in game format. It probably would be highly marketable and popular with students. I write here often about the online publication associated with our newspapers. But I'm also interested in the concept of distance education. My online mass media course that I've been teaching for the last eight years was one of the first online journalism courses in California. I wish more instructors would look at distance education. While it clearly is not something for all students or teachers, we could serve a larger audience if more instructors would try. Indeed, you'll recall that one my earlier posts on this blog suggested focused distance education as a solution to our ever-increasing problem of community college students struggling with math courses.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Game of Life

In some of my previous posts and in a lot of my lectures I speculate that if young people are spending so much time playing computer games then perhaps the media will have to inject their content into games. Seems like the folks at Reuters have the same idea.

CNet news service is reporting that the wire service is opening a virtual news bureau in the popular online game "Second Life."

I've been so busy living my first life that I haven't delved into Second Life yet, but it keeps coming up in the news. Even politicians with presidential aspirations have held news conferences in this make-believe world. For those unfamiliar with the game, it is described as "An online society within a 3D world, where users can explore, build, socialize, and participate in their own economy." (Here's the Wikipedia entry on Second Life). I think of it as Sims on steroids.

The Lost Remote blog reports that you can see the Reuter's virtual news without joining Second Life by going to http://secondlife.reuters.com.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Web Watch 7: Not enough time, not enough design

I've had the pleasure of talking to a number of California community college instructors and their students in the last couple of weeks about their online publications. I've visited schools (and have more on my schedule) and hobnobbed with folks at the recent JACC NorCal conference. I got a lot of positive feedback on these Web Watches.

Not enough time
The No. 1 excuse I hear from advisers as to why their student publications have not gone online or are AWOL in updates is lack of time. Their students are spending all their time simply putting out print editions. But when I talk to students and share the concept of having staffs submit their stories THROUGH the online site --something you can do with a content management tool such as College Publisher-- and cutting the online production effort in half, they totally get it.

Tearing hands off the clockIf you treat the online publication as something you do AFTER you do the work for your print edition then, yeah, I understand not having time. But if you make working on your online publication something the whole staff does as part of the whole production process you'll find that you have lots of time.

Of course, that is difficult for those schools still producing HTML sites. Then you have to find someone, usually just one person, to handle the online site alone. I'm still amazed to hear of schools without online sites still planning to go that direction.

Not enough design
I figure there are several stages we have to go through to get our online publications to the stage where we are effectively training our students for the future.
  • Stage One -- Get online. Start a site and get used to updating it on a regular basis. I've identified 48 California community colleges that have made it to that stage. Twenty-six either haven't or used to be and have abandoned their sites. Six of those 26 are in the process of re-establishing sites, most through College Publisher. Of the forty-eight colleges online, 31 are through College Publisher. Of the eleven of the 48 that are inactive thusfar this semester, three of the College Publisher sites and eight are independent.
  • Stage Two -- Shovel content from the print edition to the online edition. This is where most of us are. It is how we manage to stay online.
  • Stage Three -- The online becomes important. You are comfortable enough to consider design (as opposed to those in Stage One where design draws the techies and journalism takes a back seat). You start to produce some web-exclusive content.
  • Stage Four -- The online is fully integrated into the process. Stories are told in forms designed for online, including blogging, podcasting, videos and more. Updates, exclusives, etc., are common.
  • Stage Five -- Who knows? At this stage the online prevails. Some suggest that it will replace the print edition. I don't think so. But clearly the online publication dominates the thought process in story-telling. Print becomes a convenient way to reach other audiences instead of being the main audience.
Let me talk a bit about that design issue, because it is an area I think many of our colleges can start working on, once they've acheived stablity, that is. Too many of our colleges apparently are not looking at their own publications. Photos don't fit, they're either too big or too small. Odd ASCII characters appear in stories because they did not translate well or errant HTML codes. They've forgotten to put extra space between paragraphs to improve readability. Etc. To see a well-balance front page design see Cerritos College talonmarks.com. Okay, it is my students' work, but its an excellent example of design balance, horizontally and vertically. They still have a bit of problem with making headlines fit, but we're working on it.

One of the first things online editors need to do is watch the design of their front pages. Make sure that you avoid large open white spaces you would never consider in your print edition. This is caused horizontally by undersizing online photos for your page design. It is caused vertically by College Publisher sites by editors not balancing lead story columns and feature story columns; they either have too many featured stories or too many lead stories.

Other thoughts
  • Do you include links in your online stories? Not many of us are doing it. Start with simple links, such as to official movie sites when you do movie reviews.
  • The De Anza La Voz publication has a nice video about the opening of a new student success center on campus.
  • The Oct. 11 issue of the Fullerton Hornet has a number of provacative and interesting headlines: "Verbal Masturbation," "Pop and Circumstance," "A Side-Splitting Store," "A Prayer to God," "Science vs. Romance," "Utopia Lost" and "Double Plus Bad."
  • Glendale's El Vaquero contains a story on tattoos that includes nude photography, though the print edition has more photos than the online edition.
  • LA Valley's Valley Star tackles the issue of students and teachers having sex.
  • Long Beach's Viking continues to followup on a story about a motorcycle-car collision that happened within site of its newsroom. Long Beach has had several opportunities this semester to cover big stories with followup stories many of our papers might not cover. Good journalism!
  • Mt. San Antonio College hired 42 new fulltime faculty this year. Yikes! That's a lot, even for the state's largest community college. One of the new hires is the journalism instructor, who has been given a 100% load advising the student newspaper. (The story, at least the online version, should list the 42).
  • Orange Coast College stinks, literally, according to a story in the Coast Report.
  • Congratulations to the NorCal schools that won Online General Excellence Awards this last weekend: Cosumnes River, De Anza, Sacramento, Skyline and Yuba. I won't spoil the secret naming the SoCal schools that will be named in a few weeks.
View the sites yourself on a regular basis. Look for story ideas. See what's working and what's not. The JACC site has a pull-down menu that links to all the California Community College online publications. We try to keep it up to date.

Update: Bryan Murley of Innovation in College Media has added some interesting comments to my arguments above. I especially like his analogy of an HTML-based site to printing a print edition with hot lead.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What is the most important thing to learn?

genieDanny Sanchez needs your help. The author of the Journalistopia blog will be addressing freshmen journalism students at the University of Florida this Friday and asks the question:
What are the top three things a freshman journalism student should do or know to be a competitive job candidate three years from now?
I haven't commented on his blog yet because I am having a problem narrowing it down to just three. I'm like the guy who frees the genie from the lamp and is granted three wishes. At least one of them is going to be to ask for three additional wishes.

Help him out if you can.

I decided to turn the question around and ask my newspaper students what are the three most important things they feel they have learned in my program. Hey, I'm working on department-level learning outcomes and it seemed like a good idea. Some of my students are taking their first-ever journalism class and some have been around for three or four years --yeah, we're a two-year institution, but that's another story. Moses did not come down off the mountain with "Thou shalt finish community college in two years" carved in stone.

To alleviate the fears of the newer students, I broke them into groups of four and asked for consensus on the most important three, but encouraged them to write extra ideas in the margins if they wanted. I also asked them to list some things they don't feel they've learned well enough that they wish we could focus on more. Here are some of their answers:

Most important things they have learned
  • How to present that which you are writing in an effective way.

  • How to interview and question people and know what kinds of questions to ask.
  • How to think objectively about the subject matter.
  • Know hat you can and cannot do. What are your rights?
  • Being true to your story (your job is to inform the people, to tell them the news!)
  • Be well-rounded (complete a variety of tasks around the newsroom)
  • You have to be informed, passionate and cynical. (they all misspelled cynical)
  • Presentation matters; it is important to be well-rounded in all types of formats.
  • You can't be afraid to ask another question.
  • Ask the right question; get beneath the cliched answers. (obviously one of my sports writers)
  • AP style, writing and copyediting
  • Communication is key
  • Media law
  • How to use a Mac computer and how to meet deadlines.
  • AP style and pyramid writing
  • Media ethics
  • To check facts for accuracy.
  • Hands-on experience is the best way to learn, one learns from mistakes.
Things we need to focus on
Perhaps just as interesting was what the students want more training with. Note that some overlap with what some say they've learned.
  • Copyediting
  • Headline writing (repeated a number of times)
  • Bylines
  • Offer friendly advice (am I too harsh?)
  • Multi-media skills
  • More power over my own story.
  • How to use the computer for the online edition; how to use it to fullest extent.
  • HTML
  • What are the right questions?
  • How to write a sprorts story (especially terminology and jargon)
  • How to edit videos and create podcasts
  • Politics of the business
    AP Style
  • Getting jobs after Cerritos
  • Learn more computer applications
  • InDesign concepts

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The death of the editorial

Is the common editorial worth keeping alive today? Jeff Jarvis at Media Buzz says no.

When the JACC Board of Directors last met and reviewed contests that might be eliminated from the long list of mail-in and on-the-spot/bring-in contests, one of the contests thrown on the table for discussion was editorial writing. We already have opinion writing and column writing (a collection of opinion stories by the same writer). The argument was made that most students today, indeed most commercial publications, do a weak job with editorials. I haven't seen a real dinger from my students for a very long time. They don't know how to come up with interesting topics and when they do, they repeat their point three to five times without hitting a homer.

Jarvis says:
In this age of open media, when every voice and viewpoint can be heard, when news is analyzed and overanalyzed, and when we certainly are not suffering a shortage of opinion, do we need editorialists? No.
There are some good followup comments on the blog site, too.

He accuses editorialists of leaching off others' work rather than doing real work themselves (sort of like I'm doing with this blog entry).

What do you think?

Related Note: The students at the University of Illinois Daily Illini, who suspended editorials a couple of weeks ago because of repetitive errors, has resumed them with a new policy.

The nation's first online only college student publication

The bloggers at Reinventing College Media have moved to a new blog called Innovation in College Media and one of the first posts is a lengthy interview with James Patrick Gibson, editor of the Eastern Connecticut State University Campus Lantern. The Campus Lantern is thought to be the first college publication to stop its print edition in favor of online only.

That's a bold move. And one I think we in California community colleges are a l-o-n-g-g-g-g-g way away from. Well, maybe one of us (Cypress) is close to making that move.

Batman and RobinThe interview covers the thought process and impact of the decision to scuttle the print editIon. The paper went from no online presence to completely online. Holy cow, Batman!
"We realized that as future journalists, we could not ignore the facts and trends that the industry is showing. It's hard work out there for newsprint...," Gibson says.
The interview also includes the strategy the publication used to introduce the change to the campus. Clever idea. But the changeover has not be received well universally.

While Gibson says that students are reading the online publication, I doubt it. It seems to me that the hardest part of going online is getting the readers to follow you. A panel from the recently completed Online News Association conference suggested that it is hard to catch the attention of the younger audience even with web pages and blogs. When I look at the site stats for our Cerritos College Talon Marks I see a whole different audience. While it is easy to go online (and hard to do right), it's a big Internet out there and our brands might not draw readers away from the MySpaces/Facebooks and YouTubes out there. Our print editions are handy to pick up when students are wandering campus and are away from their computers.

I still believe we have to marry the print and online editions. Use the print edition to drive an audience to the online edition. And to do that you are going to have to tell stories in compelling new ways, not simply shovel content from the print edition over to the online. That's going to be tough for us all to swallow. We've got to learn those new ways and they are still being invented. But we have the means to be on the cutting edge of the industry. Because of the subsidies many of us get from our campuses, we don't have the same financial contraints as the industry, which is is a do or die position. We can lead the way in training tomorrow's journalists.

Yes, we have to hold true to the basic tenets of good journalism, but we have to start embracing the potential of the new technology and start experimenting with the new story forms.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Web Watch 6: Photos and other add ons

Front and center of virtually all print editions of student newspapers is a great big photo. Photos break up type, but they also attract readers. But take a look at your online edition. Any photos there?

Will Sullivan's Journerdism (yep, spelled correctly) blog article Ripe, low-hanging fruit — How news sites can make dynamic photo galleries that rock is an interesting read. It also gives tips for optimizing photo presentation in web publications.
Don’t tell the print reporters (although they probably know due to the whole, “if you get a photo with your story it’s more likely to get on the front page” theory) but if you watch Web traffic, you can clearly see that visuals exponentially control traffic.

Unfortunately, most newspapers drag their feet on optimizing their photos for readers to enjoy quickly and easily.
The whole industry is weak with online photos. Sure, their front pages may have photos, but click on a story and you'll see few photos illustrating the story.

A scan of California community college publications shows that most sites could do a lot more with photography online. I often talk about a lot of new media extras that we can do online, such as podcasts, blogs and video. But photos is something most print publications already include: Why aren't more photos online? (I know, but will address it below.)

Most JACC schools include at least one photo on the front page, but most stories go unillustrated. And those who do include photos usually choose the same ones they print in the print edition (and most often the same lead photo). But your photographers probably are taking many more photos for every story than are being included in print. If you can't fit them into the story, think about slide shows or photo galleries. You can even make money by posting quality prints on some sites like Flickr, where readers can purchase prints.

Selecting and preparing online photos takes more care. Because online photos often are displayed much smaller in print, they need tighter cropping. That long shot that looks good in print when run five columns wide really sucks when shrunk to web sizes. Different photos need to be selected. Oh, and the web handles color even when you cannot afford it in print, so simply shrinking your black and white print doesn't look good either.

Three JACC papers that did a good job this week include Orange Coast, Santa Barbara and Cerritos.

Channels Channels talonmarks.com
  • Orange Coast uses a special HTML code on the front page that pops the smaller photo into a new window with a larger view. Additional photos appear with stories.
  • Santa Barbara's lead photo is a copy of the print version's front page, but other photos on the front show good color and cropping. And if you click through to stories you'll be pleasantly surprised with more photos.
  • Cerritos' front page design demands a variety of photos. But click through to stories and you'll find slide shows and videos retelling the stories in different ways. See the Marine Band and Hotel Workers' Protest stories.
Honorable mentions go to Long BeachModesto (Measure E and blood pressure stories), LA Valley (rich colors), Bakersfield (smoking photo), Pasadena (yucky looking thumbnails, but good tight cropping), and Ventura County (b/w football photo is exquisite, but displayed two levels in as thumbnail.) College of the Desert hasn't updated since spring, but has an interesting slide show on the front page that shows info about a new building on campus.

Why don't more schools post photos? When I talk with advisers about their web sites they almost universally say that their staffs are too busy to update the web site. That's why the web has to be considered part of the whole process and not an add on. Involve the WHOLE staff in the online AS THEY WORK on the print edition (or before the print edition). Photographers should work prepressing photos for online along with the versions for the print edition. And if you use College Publisher, they should be responsible for uploading photos to the web site just as reporters should post their stories online to await editing. Advisers can lead the way by talking like full involvement is expected. Some I talk to fear giving their students access to upload stories and photos.

Bonus Tips for College Publisher users:
  • If your photographers are in the habit of pre-pressing color versions for your print edition, be sure to have them switch back to RGB (instead of CMYK) before saving. CMYK jpegs will display pure black.
  • If you use more than one photo with a story College Publisher defaults to stacking them along the right side of the story display (see Modesto's Measure E story). You can control placement of photos within the story by inserting the following HTML tag at the proper location in the story: <cp_showmedia position="1" align="right">. Change the position number to correspond to the photo's position and the alignment to "left" if you want it to show on the left side of the page.
Final note

San Mateo has joined the ranks on online publications getting a start this fall and I've missed the Chabot publication (sorry), which has been publishing. That brings to 35 the number of California community colleges publishing. Twenty-six are part of the College Publisher network.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Making the case for student media

Making the case for why student media matter, as if readers of this blog need to be convinced, is Aaron Sussman of AlterNet in his recent article "Why student media matters" in the site's Youth Wiretap section. Among the reasons the article caught my eye was its mention of the shutdown of Evergreen, Ventura and Oxnard student newspapers, three newspapers in the California community college system.

The lead:
As the mainstream media -- and even alternative media -- become more corporate and consolidated, hundreds of campus publications are reporting the truth about student life and training news leaders of the future.
If you visit the article, take time to check out some of the interesting links within the story.

Disturbing sidenote: The article lists three sources for lists of student publications. The most exhaustive of the three includes NO California community college publications and the other two include only a small handful of them. We gotta do something about that! We can add another 50-60 to the lists.