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Multimedia workshops often include Adobe’s Flash as one of many technologies that digital journalists must learn. Call me an old dog, but that’s one new trick I don’t think I’ll become proficient at anytime soon.

I do speak from experience. I’ve taken a couple of Flash courses through BAVC and have overseen (read: directed others to do the work on) a number of Flash interactives, including these on the Great Quake by my talented friend and former colleague Gus D’Angelo.

But I’ve seen what these guys do, and it takes a lot of practice and consistent effort to get good. Sort of like learning a foreign language — if you don’t find a way to at least dabble in it throughout the week, you’ll likely forget most of what you’ve learned.

But not all interactives have to be done in Flash. You can use Google Maps to do one, like this simple interactive I made. Simile’s Exhibit API also allows you to do the trick. But one of the simplest ways is to use YouTube’s annotations feature. Granted, it’s not that elegant or flexible (you’re limited to YouTube content), but for those wanting a quick way to produce something that’s video-centric, it’s a pretty cool solution.

Here’s one I threw together in about an hour.

A simple example, but think about its potential, such as using it as an interactive table of contents that fast-forwards to a single, long interview with some VIP. Perhaps there’s a gaming element to this. No, it’s not as flashy as Flash, but this is something even an old dog like me can easily do.

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During a recent class on digital audio, I mentioned Jamendo as a site that Justin Beck, former podcaster and colleague, thought could be a good source for free music for use in multimedia projects.
Adding to that: Cnet recently did a post on “Online places to find public-domain multimedia,” including photos, video and audio. Check it out. In this economy, free is the right price.

Thrilled student

Kudos again to one of my students, Lauren Crabbe, who was published again on SFGate. This time, she covered Thrill the World, a global effort to break the world record for largest simultaneous dance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” She wrote a short intro to it and produced a gallery of nearly 50 images.

Oh yeah, the homework

(Due by next class)
  1. Bring 15-20 digital images
  2. Bring audio (interviews, narration, natural sound) ready for editing
  3. Gear this for publication on our hyperlocal site

(I was asked how this assignment is different from the previous homework — it’s similar in that I want students to produce another audio slideshow; it’s different in that I want this one to incorporate a variety of audio such as natural sounds or interviews, as opposed to just the student’s narration. Also, the first assignment was really just practice; this one is meant for publication on the hyperlocal site. In the end, this assignment is really just another opportunity to become more proficient in this medium. Practice makes perfect.)

There are loads of free tools for the online journalist, as we all know. One of my favorites, which has been around for awhile, is Gimp (for editing images).

gimpI’ve probably edited hundreds of images using Gimp (including transparent images for customized icons displayed on Google Maps and Simile timelines).

For my students: The design of the WordPress theme we’re using, Arras, relies on a very horizontal “thumbnail” to accompany each post. Your homework, DUE BY END OF DAY NEXT TUESDAY, is to create this thumbnail, which will automatically appear on the home page of our site along with a headline from your post. You can see what I’m talking about on the site. If you didn’t do the original homework assignment from two weeks ago (creating your first hyperlocal post for our class site) nor try to make it up during last week’s homework assignment, you won’t be able to do this week’s homework (so start thinking about extra credit projects to make up for that).

Also, as a reminder to my students, bring an audio recorder and a well-developed idea to pitch for your next hyperlocal post to next week’s class (that’s Oct. 13).

Now, back to this week’s homework: Create an image that, at a minimum, is 632 pixels wide and 251 pixels tall, at 72 dpi. The image size can be bigger than that, and at a different proportion, but the theme will auto crop to make it fit, which sometimes works well and sometimes creates an awkward picture.

So how do you go about resizing/cropping an image for this exercise? You can use Photoshop, which is installed on the lab computers. A basic tutorial on how to use Photoshop to resize an image is here; a separate tutorial for using Photoshop to crop an image is here. If you choose the Photoshop route, skip the Gimp section and go to the WordPress tutorial at the bottom of this post when you’re done editing the image.

If you choose to use Gimp (which I like) to edit your photos, you can follow the tutorial below that I put together. Gimp is not as powerful a program as Photoshop, but it’s totally free and does the trick for most basic needs.

Gimp tutorial on resizing/cropping images

For a basic tutorial on sizing and cropping an image in Gimp for the purposes of the hyperlocal.sfsu.edu/j395 site, follow these steps:

1. Open up your image in Gimp (File/Open/(select your image)

2. Check the size of your existing image (Image/Scale Image).

If your image is too small, that is, not at least 632 pixels wide or 251 pixels tall, you can do one of two things: enlarge the image by typing in either “632” for width OR “251” for height (the image will resize proportionally). The downside of doing this is if you enlarge the image too much, the sharpness of the image will noticeably diminish. The second option is to find another (bigger) image to use.

gimp-cropIf your image is too big, that is, bigger than 632 pixels wide or 251 pixels tall, you can do one of three things: shrink the entire image by typing in a smaller number in the width or height box. You could also crop the image to the appropriate size using the rectangular tool in the Toolbox window (see image — it’s the rectangle in the upper left corner of the Toolbox). After selecting the tool, draw a rectangle around the portion of the image you want to keep, then choose Image/Crop to selection.

Or, you could leave the image alone and let the WordPress Arras theme auto crop it (a bit risky, but it might not be so bad).

One more thing: In the “Scale Image” box, the x and y resolutions should be 72 pixels.

gimp-save3. Finally, once you’re happy with what you’ve done, save the image (File/Save as). Keep or change the name, make sure you’re saving it to the right location (desktop is fine) and make sure you’re saving it as a jpg (or jpeg) file type. You shouldn’t typically have to worry about the file type if the original image was a jpg. If you’re not sure, just click on the “select file type” option in the “Save image” window (see accompanying image) and choose “jpg.”

Now, to WordPress

Now that you have the large thumbnail ready, you’ll want to add it to your WordPress post (NOTE: You can also use this large thumbnail as an image that appears directly in your individual post; it can do double duty, if you so choose).

wp-upload1. Open your post in the edit mode in WordPress. Upload the image by clicking on the box right next to “upload/insert” (see image). Select the image you want to upload.

wp-upload022. Copy and paste the URL generated after the image has uploaded — it’s called the “Link URL” (click the thumbnail to the left for a large screen shot). In this step, you also have the option of inserting the same image into your post (choose the alignment and the size, then click on “insert into post”).

3. Go back to your post in edit mode and scroll down and “add custom field.” If you click in that window, you should get a drop-down menu that includes “thumb” — choose that. In the field to the right of that, paste the “Link URL” that you had saved. Then click the button “add custom field.” Publish or update the post and see if the large thumbnail shows up on the  home page. (Click the screen shot below for larger view.)

wp-custom

Students hard at work in my class.

Students hard at work in my class.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good article on how enrollment is up in J schools despite the continuing turmoil in the media industry. Of course, we’ve heard some of this before. But one point in the article that really resonated with me:

Any technological skill you teach them in 2009 will be obsolete by 2012, but we want them to understand that this is the beginning of a lifelong process they need to be open to.” (A quote from Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism)

Couldn’t agree more.

Or, as American social writer and philosopher Eric Hoffer once wrote/said:

In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

Sound familiar?

And to be fair, this doesn’t apply just to the journalism world — many industries have had a tough time adjusting to technology (Record labels? Meet Napster. Blockbuster? Meet Netflix. Brick-and-mortar retail? Meet EBay, Amazon, etc.).

This lifelong learning process … I suppose you could view it as a never-ending burden. I prefer to think of it as a discovery that doesn’t end.

A scene from last night's class.

A scene from last night's class.

Congrats to my student, Lauren Crabbe, on getting her photos published (and featured on the home page) of SFGate.com. It’s a direct result of her jumping on an opportunity mentioned during my class last week. The gallery of 57(!) images of 49er fans attracted about 46,000 page views and was one of the most popular features on the site on Tuesday.

Crabbe

Crabbe

During last night’s class, Lauren mentioned how receptive the tailgaters were when she mentioned she was shooting for SFGate. She also said she shot about 500 photos, which puts the size of the published gallery into some perspective.

Opportunity knocked, and she kicked down the door. That’s the kind of response that will serve any journalist well.

Other opportunities

The Online News Association conference is coming to SF Oct. 1-3. Volunteers can attend for free (networking is free, too!). If interested, students should contact Yumi (ywilson(at)sfsu.edu).

Meanwhile, Salon is looking for interns. Those interested should check it out and then contact Yumi ASAP. Also, there are intern opportunities at KQED radioTikkun magazine, the Nation Institute, the Public Press and the Associated Press.

The Wall Street Journal is also accepting applications for interns.

Max Garrone, senior news producer at SFGate

Max Garrone, senior news producer at SFGate

I couldn’t think of a more relevant speaker for our Intro to Online Journalism class than Max Garrone, senior news producer at SFGate.com, the Bay Area’s leading news site. I’ve worked with Max on a number of projects and he has always impressed me with his knowledge of the online sphere and collaborative nature.

During his hour with us, he shared a number of things that the casual SFGate reader may not know, including:

  • The typical weekday reader is looking at the site while at work; peak times are 7-9 a.m. and 12-2 p.m.
  • The fact that the home page features links to stories by “competitors” is a significant change in strategy that occurred this year.
  • There’s a reason “Daily Dish” and “Day in Pictures” are featured “above the fold” on the site — they’re consistently the most popular features, which tells us something about the audience.
Typical times when traffic peaks at SFGate

Typical times when traffic peaks at SFGate

Max also spoke about the opportunities for aspiring journalists; in particular, he’s interested in photo features (and two students expressed interest in pursuing this). As for writers, he suggested trying to become a contributor to an established blog/hyper local site as a way to get some experience. Of course, a personal blog, if done well, can also help open doors.

When it comes to applying for a job, he also touched on the importance of what some call the invisible resume. That means making a great impression on teachers, anyone you have worked with professionally, even fellow classmates.

If students aren’t already in that mode, they need to flip that switch now. Or as I put it during class, “The tryout began yesterday.”

My students prepare their Street View presentation

My students prepare their Street View presentation

The word “innovation” is often mentioned as a key ingredient in the recipe for survival in journalism. But do newsrooms really have the stomach for innovation?

In my experience, innovation happens two ways: behind management’s back or right in front, with their full, unwavering support.

The Chronicle was one of the first newspapers to podcast. That was accomplished because my colleague Benny Evangelista and I taught ourselves how to do it and began creating audio content without anyone at the company really knowing (we posted the podcasts on an external site).

When we finally got around to telling the big boss at that time — Phil Bronstein — to his credit he fully embraced our effort and cleared a path for us. With his support, our endeavor flourished and many in the newsroom felt encouraged to join in.

But a year or so later, with a different editor (who is no longer there), our efforts to innovate weren’t as easy. It was the year of a record number of homicides in Oakland, and a few of us decided to launch an ambitious multimedia package: audio, slideshows, video, a Flash interactive (most of which was considered innovative back then). I recall visiting the staff in the Oakland bureau, brainstorming with them, and heading back to the office excited and inspired by their willingness and enthusiasm to try something entirely new.

That fond memory is quickly followed by a morale-crushing one, in which I was later told that we couldn’t pull off this multimedia package because of the lack of resources.

In the end, we did it anyway (you can read more about that here). And it won several awards. But more importantly, it told a tragic story in a way that connected with many readers (based on the e-mail feedback).

The effort to innovate, amid shrinking budgets and staffs, can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Innovation takes time. Resources. Commitment. And the payback isn’t immediate, if there’s any return on investment at all. Oh, and there’s plenty of failure. Believe it. More than I care to admit.

But that’s the nature of innovation, and if the industry truly wants to take advantage of technology (and not be victimized by it), it has to find the time.

In that spirit, I spent about half of my class last night on a team exercise: come up with innovative ways to use Google’s Street View. Although this feature of Google Maps has been around for awhile, I still don’t see many news sites taking advantage of it. So I asked my students to develop their own journalistic uses of it. Each team of 4 was given an hour to research it, brainstorm and produce a Google Docs Presentation that they would narrate (live) in front of the class.

What they came up with was impressive. Their ideas included:

  • Using Street View to scope out photo assignments
  • For editors to check locations and descriptions of certain areas
  • For comparison, be it before and after pictures or to compare the living conditions of one neighborhood with another
  • To use as an interactive info graphic, by embedding markers on Street View with pop-up info
  • To showcase crime areas (such as this popular robbery location and this homicide hot spot)

You can view one of the presentations they created below (I’ll try to add more when I have time):

Related to what was mentioned about the kidnapping case, check out this Mashable video of Street View that purportedly shows a van from the Antioch home of the kidnapper following the Google vehicle that’s taking photos of that neighborhood.

Separately, for my students …

Homework is due at midnight on Wednesday, Sept. 9 (put another way, it’s due by end of day Sept. 8). Please do the following:

1. Read these links:

SF Chronicle article on real-time search

NYT on study that measure chatter of news cycle

Old but I think still relevant Buzz Machine post on links

Michael Bauer’s blog on SFGate (esp. read the comments)

2. Comment on this blog post your ideas/reaction to readings (re: Bauer’s blog — tell me why you think it’s so popular, and garners so many comments).

3. E-mail me your pitch on what beat(s) you want to cover for the SFSU site. Describe how it will be distinctive from what other news sources do and include at least 3 specific ideas related to that topic. Include in the e-mail a sample blog post (make it good — pretend you’re applying for a job). If you’d rather put the sample post on an actual blog, that’s fine. Just include the link in the e-mail.

And remember, I’m almost always available for questions.