ONA wrapup: been a long time comin’

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ETA: I also basked in some Washington and Lee awesomeness at this conference (me, Professor Artwick, my ONA roomie/fellow W&L alum Nicole.

This year, ONA set before me a banquet of food for thought (and for doing too).

Keynote with Lisa Stone, the started out bright and early–we missed some of it because we ran to get breakfast at the Starbucks down the street (of course, there would be a huge line at the one inside the hotel lobby), but the one thing I took away from that was how to be a better blogger: write what you know/like, become an expert in it and share it with other people. You’re there to build community (which makes sense, because if no one’s reading it then what’s the point?).

Then I went to a session on livestreaming video (very timely to know after my recent stint at a TV station) by Joe Ruiz. Main lesson: there are SO many ways to stream live video, as easy as from your mobile phone. Check out Qik, Kyte, Livestream.com, and Ustream.tv. This is something definitely worth picking up on. Case in point–Joe shared a time when his station was covering a fire at an apartment complex. They sent the reporter and the photog out there. Photog got the HD, high quality video, and the reporter also got video with his iPhone. The high quality video went on the 5pm newscast, and the iPhone video went on their site at 3pm when the story broke (a good 2 hours before other stations in his market got video of the news event up).

And where the hell are all the other TV people? There were like 3 people from TV, but you all have news online also. Online news isn’t just for print-based outlets! You need to know these things too.

Then I went to a session on SEO, or search engine optimization. Since all our content is online, SEO is something everyone has to think about. At this session, the main things I learned were SEO basics–changing up your news pages show up higher in search engine rankings:

  • include keywords in the article titles
  • full first and last names (or last name)
  • stay away from abbreviations and alternate spellings
  • include proper names
  • include locations
  • if the story has video, stick “WATCH” in the headline

Oh, and the guy who invented Google News was also there. 🙂

Next, I went to a session on design and data visualization, which are two things I love to see done well by news sites. At this panel, one of the designers from Facebook spoke about invoking emotions through graphics, namely joy. My favorite part of the panel was when someone from Adaptive Path, a user experience firm that worked on the redesign for CNN.com and NPR.org., took the floor. My roommate Nicole tweeted that she noticed that a majority of the journalists in the room ceased typing on their MacBooks to simply listen to this guy speak. I agree.

He spoke about how news consumption patterns vary. Some people want to know the news. Others want to apply it. Still others want to share the news and others consume news because they have an emotional attachment to it.

This is where news sites come in–they need to make sure they’re serving the different avenues people consume news. Not “this is the news, this is how we’re presenting it and here’s why you should care,” but “oh, you love politics? there’s an app for that!” Another thing that stood out to me was that the homepage gets all the attention, but really, every page is the homepage. People will access your stories not just through the homepage, but through search engines, links, Twitter, etc. so every page needs to be created with the same care as the homepage. Our headlines should also tempt people to want to read the story, not tease them and make them wonder what the story is actually about.

But what really got me was that news sites should be more than a publication, but an application for users to explore and make sense of their world. Interactivity only works when someone actually learns something new!

The last session I went to was one on more cool new tools for journalists, and my favorite one was Swivel, where you can make your own interactive graphics (data visualization at it easiest) without being a Flash developer. SO FREAKING COOL! Ahhh, I wish I had a news outlet to use this on.

The awards banquet that night was interesting also. Congratulations to all the winners, but really, all the nominees were spectacular. Apparently, Nicole and I sat at the Norwegian table (though we were there first) with Norwegians, who proceeded to talk to us about the weird stuff they’ve encountered in their travels in America (such as pentecostal church services) and talk in Norwegian amongst themselves about God knows what. Then there’s me, who foolishly brought up how much I loved studying abroad in Copenhagen and that I could say random words in Danish while forgetting the healthy rivalry between the two countries (Norway is a former colony of Denmark). One was incredibly handsome, but what do you expect from the same part of Europe that gave you Alexander Skarsgård?

Overall, this year’s ONA was groundbreaking. It was better the second time around also (last year, when I went I learned so much). Going there made me wish I took the job at KATU so I could share and apply what I learned on their site (and make it kick the asses of the other TV news sites in the market). But I’m confident I’ll be able to use all this knowledge soon–the right one always works out.

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Day 2 at ONA

What a whirlwind day of sessions!

Bright and early in the morning was keynoter Evan Williams, (@ev) the CEO of Twitter. He had some great insight, not only in Twitter as another tool for journalists (curating and sorting through information to find what really matters, breaking news stories, etc) but also from an entrepreneur’s perspective. He reminded us to embrace uncertainty, to trust our gut and to make things work. I think that’s maybe something we all needed to hear. Especially me. I know that I’m facing uncertainty right now (and not really feeling it), but we’re going to make it work. Somehow. Oh and I snapped some not very good quality pictures of him from where I was sitting. They have better ones up over at ONA’s Flickr pool.

Next up, I went to a session by Amy Webb (of Webbmedia group) on the next top 10 tech trends. SO EXCITING. She introduced so many cool and creepy things and how journalists can use them. Cool like Flock, where you can aggregate your RSS feeds and Twitter and Wikitude, for Android phones where you can move your phone around and little bubbles will popup full of text from Wikipedia telling you all about what you are looking at. Creepy like Face.com, which automatically tags you (thanks to face recognition) and another one (which I can’t remember right now) where you can enter a name in some search engine and it comes back with a satellite picture of your house and your address. I can’t wait to start using these things!

Ironically, the next one I went to was on metrics and using stats (clicks, comments, etc) and how you shouldn’t always rely on them. Unfortunately I didn’t pay very good attention during this session.

At lunch, another keynoter, Leo Laporte of This Week in Tech (podcast) talked about how he got started and how to straddle the old and new media (he was in radio before TWIT).

After that I went to the session on data hunting, which was good stuff. Main things I learned:

  • There is a grip of data out there, and some of it can be wrong and misleading
  • Data can show inequalities, but pure data may not be the only thing that’s (it could be policy)
  • DocumentCloud (from the NYT, OpenCalais) is the next coolest thing for journalism (in a nutshell: unstructured text becomes structured data –> better reporting and transparency)

At this point, my head was hurting from listening and dehydration, so I decided to take a break. But thank God for hashtags– now I’m hanging out in a comfy chair, charging my laptop and keeping track of the important points in the session on economy.

Fun trends at ONA this year:

  • the ubiquitous smartphone (mostly iPhones and Blackberrys, didn’t really see anything else out there–though some guy I was sitting next to in the last session had an HTC phone)
  • Macbook is king (at our table at breakfast/keynote everyone had one)
  • people from mostly print-based online operations (where are the people from local TV–you all have Web sites too!)
  • using Twitter really took off (yay hashtags to follow sessions)
  • broke the WiFi again

I can’t believe this is half over. Boo!

Can data revitalize journalism?

A great piece by Frederic Filloux at Monday Note (from forever ago) asks this same question.

I say, why not, especially with publicly available data? From what I’ve seen, reporters and producers go through massive amounts of data to write the story, discarding much to get to the heart and and bare bones of the story.

And it’s not like there’s a huge shortage of data either. Data.gov just launched, providing many datasets collected by the federal government that everyone can access. I also like this piece about the top committed crimes in the U.S. from GOOD mag, based on a 2008 data report from the FBI.

From what I’ve seen, (local) news outlets don’t have the manpower or the time to churn this data into something presentable and interesting to the average reader/viewer. While I interned this summer, one of our reporters was doing this huge healthcare package divided up over multiple casts (during the town hall crazyness that went on) and wanted something different and special which included video, charts and the like.

Normally, there’s only one Web producer that churns out broadcast copy into Web-friendly formats. That night, it was me, the intern, doing all of that while the producer worked on the reporter’s special project all night. And it wasn’t even a sweeps story.

Later that day, we talked about how it would be easier if there was another person who could handle all those add-ons to reporter projects (and create some of their own).

So here’s my new, made-up position that can handle that job, the interactives and data specialist. It’s a position that’s part news Web producer, part writer and part designer, which incidentally sounds like my dream job.

There are so many other stories that would be more illuminated and contextualized with infographics, timelines, links to previous coverage and related stories, Flash explainers for complicated issues. All of these can be built from data.

I’m not saying that data will save journalism singlehandedly (mostly because people have different definitions of journalism and opinions on whether journalism is even dying or already cold in the ground, etc). I’m saying it wouldn’t hurt it.

As for turning data into some sort of business model, Filloux gives Bloomberg as an example (first providing a grip of data in real-time for financial professionals from their Bloomberg terminals before turning into one of the biggest and most respected names in financial news).

I’m not sure if viewers would want to pay more for extra Flash graphics and such, but I think it would definitely generate more reader/viewership, because they’d be giving them *more* than what they might find in the pages or on the newscast. As a Web user, I’d go to the site that has all the cool graphics that help me understand and care about the story.

But maybe that’s just me.

I get high on breaking news

There’s just something special about working on breaking news, especially the anticipation waiting for something to pop up on the AP wires and the rush of knowing you beat all the other rival outlets to post the story first.

It feels kind of awesome, which is why I don’t think I could be quite as happy working for a magazine or something.

Maybe this is why although some journalists complain about the crappy pay, lack of respect in society and long hours, some still keep at it.

Local news, served fresh. Now pick your variety

In Portland, where I’m at, you can have your pick of news websites. You got your Oregonian, Mercury and Columbian. Portland’s a top 25 market, so you’ve got all four major network affiliates represented and ready to give you news: KATU (ABC), KOIN (CBS), KGW (NBC) and KPTV (Fox). Plus, Oregon Public Broadcasting rolls out news and so does Neighborhood Notes, a hyperlocal blog.

My automatic instinct would be to reach for a newspaper site. Blasphemous and traitorous, I know, since I’m interning at a TV station. But one limitation we have at the station site is our stories (and this could apply to most TV station sites) lack the depth that a traditional print site offers readers.

Either from quick VOs and VOSOTS in the newscasts or reporters’ 1:30 packages, the script is boiled down to only the essential bits of information, since there’s no time for anything else.

It’s just the nature of the medium, and the fact that web staffs on TV sites seem pretty lean across the board, so there’s not enough time nor energy to churn out a more in-depth version of a reporter’s story or a VO.  Or even sweet interactives. NOTE: this only applies to what I’ve seen in local TV outlets, not the giants like CNN and FoxNews.

But, counters my web boss, TV station sites have easier access to more visual elements than newspaper sites. Compelling video is literally a couple clicks away, which is great for the majority of the population that is visually-oriented.  Our CMS has 4 fields with each blank story for inserting whatever video you can possibly imagine. Plus, I don’t think newspapers would send out a photog with a reporter automatically.

Just something I’ve been thinking about, because I have time to do that.