So this is it. My last blog of the semester. Gather some Kleenex and Ben & Jerry’s.  

Let’s journey back in time for a moment, back to January 27 of this year, when I wrote my first blog of the semester. I talked about my journey to MU from Florida (where I will drive back to on Thursday) and my experiences in my journalism classes.

I figured that J2150 would be my most important class in the J-School, and, while I’m not sure I want to make that kind of value judgement now (they are all important in their own way), I can say it was my favorite journalism class of the four I have taken. J2150 has been fun and interesting and not a class I dread going to late in the afternoon. A general rule of thumb for me is that if I do not dread the class, it has to be good! And J2150 was certainly a good class.

Aside from having fun, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to use Final Cut, learned how to improvise, learned how to blog, learned how to tweet (more like how not to tweet), and learned how to build a website, among other things. J2150 is really a sampling of everything and I look forward to delving deeper into each element as I move further into the J-School.

Assuming I move further that is. I still have to pass Spanish. Cruzas tus dedos!

I think one of the things I liked most about J2150 as compared to, say, J2100, was the relative latitude we had in reporting. This is not to say it was a free-for-all, of course we had to maintain journalistic standards and ethics, but being able to use MU sources, for example, and not filling out those godforsaken source sheets was nice and allowed me to put more into the story itself, rather than the ancillary details.  

That being said, I still had issues with source fatigue (as mentioned in my first blog), but it was not quite as bad. I can understand why we have such a hard time as journalism students; I am just one of hundreds of students (and three newspapers, and three television stations, and so on) scrounging around this small town for scoops. I, as a student, am pretty much at the bottom of that pecking order, so I just get the scraps. But as a journalist, sometimes you have to make due with scraps. I would like to think that I turned said scraps into something whole, something substantial. 

Of course, what’s substance without style? I added some of that too, and I think it showed in the final project, where I found an awesome template for our website on Wix and customized it to suit our project’s needs. I was so happy with how our project turned out, and it was great working with Abbey and Andrew, who each made fantastic contributions to it. 

All in all, it was a blast. I had awesome classmates and an awesome instructor in Chaz Maddi who made the class into what it was. 

Here’s to junior year! 

Blogging About Lecture, Part VIII: The Final Lecture Blog

Hey, reader(s)! 

This blog is coming to you much later than intended because yours truly just plain forgot to do it last week.  

Our last official lecture featured Kevin Quealy from the New York Times over Skype. Quealy is a graphics editor at the times, and has made some really neat, eye-catching infographics. But there is more to them that meets the eye. They are interactive. 

Take, for example, this infographic. It shows the finishing times of every Olympic sprinter who won a medal in the 100 meter dash. The video and the interactive chart allow the Times to convey more information than a simple print infographic would. The infographics also tell a story; explaining visually just how much faster sprinters have become over the years. Text alone would definitely not work in this case, and it just so happens that very little text at all is needed aside from labels to tell the story.

Personally, I have always admired the great work that infographic artists do. There are so many talented artists who come up with innovative and eye-pleasing ways to convey information…not all of whom work at big city newspapers. I saw a very well done infographic in none other than MU’s very own Maneater.

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I really like the concept of “graphing” some of the school year’s biggest stories and assigning reaction values to them. I think that David Freyermuth, the designer, did a good job of choosing appropriate colors and fonts that aren’t too busy. I like the humor element too. 

That’s all I really have to say about infographics. Keep an eye out for my final blog post of the semester, which I will post by tomorrow. 

In last Monday’s lecture we discussed how journalists covered the Boston Marathon bombing. In particular, we focused on social media’s role in how the bombing and the subsequent manhunt were covered.  

I for one was glued to Twitter as the events unfolded, particularly during the manhunt. I am a total night-owl, so I was up refreshing my feed constantly, trying to get the latest information. 

But not all of that information was correct. In fact, a lot of it was dead wrong. People were quick to proclaim “old media” dead and crown Reddit as the new disseminator of information after they supposedly correctly identified the perpetrators of the bombings. But Reddit was 100% wrong. To borrow from Mark Twain: the reports of “traditional media”‘s death are greatly exaggerated. 

Another source of misinformation came from scanners. The internet has given the public unprecedented access to police and fire/rescue scanners, but the public seems to take scanner chatter as gospel, something which it isn’t. Some journalists tweeted scanner traffic as well, while others refrained from doing so. I admit, I was tempted to (and may actually have before I realized how problematic it was) retweeted journalists who reported scanner speculation. After all, when a journalist reports speculation without clearly stating that it is speculation, how are we to know that it is speculation and not fact? To be trusted by the public, we need to avoid tweeting scanner chatter just to be “first” or “current.” Being right is much more important than that.  

I think the best coverage came from local media. The Boston Globe and Boston television stations really shined last week, both through traditional and social media. And I liked how those two elements were combined. I watched online streams of local coverage from WHDH and WBZ in Boston, and paid close attention to the Globe’s Twitter feed and website. I like how the internet has made local media accessible to the world, because during major news events like this, local media are usually the ones who know their area best. 

National media did not do as well. CNN was lampooned by Jon Stewart (among others) for its error-filled coverage. The New York Post was rightfully criticized for its poor coverage.

But it was not all bad for national media. NBC’s Pete Williams was widely praised for his coverage. I liked how NBC and CBS (the two networks whose coverage I watched on TV) integrated local affiliate coverage into theirs. I think it showed that they were more concerned about getting information out to their viewers rather than worrying about being the ones to give that information out, if that makes sense. Deferring to local affiliates was, in a way, an “ego-less” move for the networks.

I’ll (kind of) repeat what I said a few paragraphs back. As the journalism adage goes: “No one remembers who was first, but everyone remembers who was wrong.”

Looking at you, CNN…

Storytelling. It’s the art of telling stories. In fact, if you put a space between the “y” and the “t” you get “story telling.” Mind-blowing, isn’t it? 

That is what our lecture was about, specifically video storytelling. We watched behind-the-scenes clips of a documentary about mountain climbing called “Shattered.” 

Take a look at the clips:

It was interesting to see the meticulous work they put into the film, especially how they managed to get such breathtaking visuals.  But it was not just the visuals that made the film; good natural sound helped tell the story as well. 

I think the main takeaway for me was that you have to put a lot of effort into the “little things”. Getting a few really good shots and a few really crisp sound clips can make an average story  into a visual and aural masterpiece.

Obviously, deadlines mean that film-like precision and planning is not a realistic option, but some planning, extra effort, and a little bit of creativity can go a long way to tell a story visually. Start thinking about your video and sound opportunities before you do a story. Maybe those opportunities may not come to pass (after all, what journalist hasn’t been in a situation where conditions are totally different than expected?), but it never hurts to be prepared for them.

A later-than-usual blog, you say? Blame my forgetfulness and my no good, very bad weekend. 

Anyway, what did we discuss seven days ago today? The old journalism standby, ethics.

Steve Rice spoke to us about multimedia journalism’s ethical standards in multimedia journalism. One of the biggest ethics breaches a multimedia journalist can make (aside from basic journalistic no-nos like plagiarism, conflicts-of-interest, etc.) is digitally manipulating an image to a point to where it significantly alters its context. 

That’s what Brian Walski, former Los Angeles Times photographer, did in 2003. He used Photoshop to combine elements from two pictures into one. 

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(pictures and caption from The Washington Post)

I’m not quite sure I understand the temptation. It’s quite easy to tell if an image has been significantly manipulated, and even if you think your Photoshop skills are superb, there will always be someone out there who has an eagle eye and will notice. And there goes your credibility. 

How worth it is it to make a story marginally more interesting? Comparing Walski’s Iraq War pictures, I don’t see anything particularly remarkable about the edited picture versus the second picture, for example. So it baffles me that anyone would do something so stupid.

However, as a journalist, there’s always a temptation to make the “uninteresting” seem interesting by “spicing up” details. Photos can be “spiced up” in the same manner and both are equally wrong. So don’t do that. A boring true story is more valuable than an entertaining fake story, right? 

Maybe that’s a value judgement, but my values as a journalist say that’s true. And it’s my blog, so, on here, my truths rule. 

Speaking of truth, it’s true that I only have a few more lectures to blog about! Hooray! Maybe I will be on time…

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Those walking on the University of Missouri’s Lowry Mall could not ignore the prominent anti-abortion displays set up in the middle of one of MU’s busiest areas. Anti-abortion advocates from the on-campus Students for Life teamed up with the anti-abortion Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) to advocate their viewpoint.

Gene Garrett, a volunteer with CBR, is from Birmingham, Ala., and drove to Columbia via Newport, R.I. to advocate for the cause. He said he sees abortion as a human rights issue that everyone can relate to.

“We all look the same at that stage, when you look at a child developing in the womb, you can’t tell if they’re black, or they’re white, or they’re Indians,” Garrett said. “At 21 days after fertilization, (the fetus) has a heartbeat. At eight weeks, it has every organ that you have right now.”

The display took place on a significant day: Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some of the graphic images compared abortion to genocides throughout history, including the Holocaust. Pro-abortion rights counter-protestors, like MU senior Alison Schwartz, decried this comparison.

“It’s appalling, it’s offensive to actual genocide victims,” said Schwartz. “It’s not comparable.”

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Schwartz is part of MU’s Feminist Student Union, which organized the counter-protest. She said the organization heard about the group coming via social media, and moved quickly to counter-protest it.

“We move fast when we care about s–t,” she said.

So our lecture this week was about Interactive Storytelling. That can mean a lot of things, but our lecturer, Charles Minshew, gave some interesting examples. 

I think my favorite example was using maps (a specific example was Google Maps) to help tell a story. It makes sense that I liked this, because I have always enjoyed looking at maps. I was in my state’s geography bee in middle school. I think a map is one of the best ways to convey information. It allows your audience to visualize the place of a story and can provide crucial context to a story. Readers and viewers have to know where something is, or else a story is useless (or not quite as useful) to them. 

I also think using maps more often could help combat geographic illiteracy. Over the years, quite a few studies show that Americans suffer from the inability to locate basic places on a map. These studies weren’t asking people to locate Equatorial Guinea (though I think the ability to locate Equatorial Guinea is important too, but that’s for another day). They asked people to locate Louisiana, Mississippi and Afghanistan. Not a seemingly difficult task, but for some it was.  

So the more people are exposed to maps, the more I think it could help people understand their world. It is embarrassing to me how little we know about the world around us. It is our responsibility as journalists to impart knowledge. So why don’t we use maps more to help us do that? 

Of course, using maps does not always inform people. Take this map from Fox News:

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Who knew Egypt bordered Iran? Clearly, a producer at Fox thought it did. I suppose that is supporting evidence of our geographic illiteracy problem, but it was from someone who should certainly know better! 

Anyway, back to the lecture. I think Google Maps is a good tool for journalists because it allows your audience to explore locations on their own and gives them many options for doing so. They can use a street map, a topographic map, they can use Street View, it is up to them. 

Minshew also discussed the importance of learning basic coding (like HTML) and I must admit a lot of it is was very foreign to me. I may look like a total nerd, but I am not at all proficient in coding or really anything technologically “deep.” I have had nowhere near the patience to learn it, as anything really complicated looking tends to frustrate and befuddle me. To work in today’s new media environment, I will have to change that.

A well built website can help tell a story and can make the delivery of the news more visually appealing, even if said news is a simple text story. 

For now, I’ll stick with the somewhat (with emphasis on the “somewhat”) user-friendly WordPress.