Sunday, October 15, 2006

Writing better blogs

As more of you consider getting into blogs we want to pause from time to time to look at what makes a good journalistic blog. I don't know, I'm learning as we go.

But I ran across a posting from the Media in Transition blog that gives 11 tips for better blogging that seems like a good read. Read it for explanation of these tips.
  1. A blog entry is a stub for conversation.
  2. Think about the perspectives of your audience.
  3. Write tight headlines that encourage interest.
  4. Make points or lists and make them scan-friendly.
  5. Link to the context.
  6. Quote indirectly and link
  7. Format long documents for print.
  8. Never delete anything.
  9. Troll the blogosphere for secondary conversation.
  10. Be active in your own conversation.
  11. Create buzz everywhere.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lists online

It is really great to see some of you incorporating bulleted lists online. It adds to the readability of stories, just like in print. But it is clear that it is time to learn the HTML code that will help your lists look more like the bulleted lists in the print edition.

Learning a few HTML basics is good for all the students in class to learn.

There are two types of "lists" that you may want to use online: ordered or numbered lists and unordered or bulleted lists.

In both cases you have to start with an HTML tag to start the list and then use a closing tag to end it when you are done. And in both cases the lists will be indented. If the item in the list spills over one line it will indent properly, just like we do with hanging indents in the print edition.

An ordered list looks like this:
  1. Item 1
  2. Item 2
  3. Item 3
An unordered list looks like this:
  • Item 1
  • Item 2
  • Item 3
To start an ordered or numbered list you use the tag <ol> at the beginning and end with </ol>. To create an unordered or bulleted list you start with <ul> at the beginning and end with </ul>.

Each item in the list must be designated with an <li> and end with an <li>. (Or you can take a shortcut and start each line with <li /> and skip the ending tag.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The right stuff

Job hunterAre you developing the right characteristics to find a job after you are doone with college. Here is an interesting blog entry from someone who hires students like you. He talks about some characteristics he looks for in students ... and it is not whether you can write a story: That is assumed, so be sure you learn that, too.

Instead he focused on personal qualities, thinking skills, online skills, knowledge of the world around you, willingness to read newspapers to stay current, attitude, and how well you understand your community and how it works. Check it out.

New ways to tell stories

The Talon Marks is still a print-driven operation like most newspapers, but we're trying to shift the focus off center to let the online edition dictate some of what we do. In class we've talked about deadlines and how the online should dictate deadlines and assignments rather than the print edition.

We're further along those lines than many other schools, but we can shift a little further yet. One way we can do that is to stop thinking that the best way to tell every story is with the written word. How about if we tell a story via slide show? We've got access to relatively easy to use video and slideshow software. But you've got to think about the video or slideshow concept as you gather news.

A good example of this can be seen in a blog entry from Ralph Braseth. He works for the University of Mississippi paper and sat down one Sunday to create a slideshow with audio background, only to find that he had not collected all that he needed. Over the next couple of hours he went through a learning curve, downloading needed software, and finding a new way to tell the story.

Only our imaginations prevent any of us from doing the same.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my!

Dorothy, the tin man and the scarecrowWhen Dorothy, the Tin Man and The Scarecrow went dancing down the yellow brick road and through the woods to Oz, she pondered the unknown mysteries out of sight in the woods. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

While we watch take some big leaps in growth this year we have some unknowns to ponder as well. Podcasts and blogs and videos. Oh, my. Will they come out of the woods and get us, or will we render them less scary? As of today, our web site boasts all three. The podcasts and videos (one each) are repurposed content; we haven't put our own together yet, but we will.

One of the things we can and should do this year to keep the lions and tigers and bears at bay is to develop policy on them. Policy? Remember that booklet we distributed at the beginning of the semester? It is a set of guidelines established by previous editorial boards of the Talon Marks to help provide of sense of continuity from one staff to another.

As we experiment with our podcasts and blogs and videos we need to write down what we learn. You can help by making suggestions as we go.

For instance, just this week an issue with blogs came up. Most staff members are using Blogger as the home for Talon Marks blogs., but one staffer wanted to create a blog elsewhere. In absence of editorial board developed policy, it was up to the editor to make a decision as to where we want to go with this. There are good arguments for keeping all blogs on the site with one template, but there are also good reasons for letting each reporter decide. This is something that should be codified in the policy. Here are some starting points for developing policy. Keep in mind, they are just thoughts, not rules yet.

PODCASTS: Our first podcast is a 58-minute radio program. It'll take dedicated readers to listen in that long. I suspect that two-minute to 10-minute podcasts are more likely to listened to from start to finish. And I think they probably need to provide content or a service that we don't alrey provide.

BLOGS: One reason to stick with one blog service is that we need to work on the code that will automatically pull headlines from the blogs and keep our front page up to date. Right now, Blogger is not the best host for that ability and College Publisher could better serve us with something like WordPress. But Blogger is where we started and CP will work to fix our problem. If we have multiple services, will we need multiple codes? Keep it simple. Also, we need to develop guidelines on whose blogs (current staff members, former other people?) will we feature on What kinds of topics? How closely should they follow our other content policies?

VIDEOS: Again, long videos won't be popular. Probably two minutes will be our standard. But what should videos contain? Just video from an event (a record) or should they be edited to create a self-contained story? Look at some interesting online videos that get lots of traffic at Rocketboom and Ze Frank's The Show. I also like the experiment by Los Medanos College's Curtis Corlew. And once we figure out length and content, we've got to figure out format. Quicktime, Real, Windows Media Player, Flash? College Publisher recommends Flash. But so far we don't have it or know how to use it. Oh, my!

And while Dorothy at first lamented just three dangers, there also were the flying monkeys out there. Our flying monkeys will be learning how to do photos for web, both single photos and photo slideshows. And Dorothy at first found the Great and Wonderful Wizard of Oz to be frightening, but he ended up being the best surprise. For us, that means multimedia storytelling that perhaps incorporates all of the above and more.

And all the while we have to remember that just like Dorothy, our real goal is to get home, not get lost in Oz.

(For a look at even more wonders ahead, listen to the hour-long podcast from Reinventing College Media.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Better leads: Accept the challenge

Perhaps the most important part of any story is the lead. You have to both inform the reader and entice the reader to read on, to be interested in the story.

We need to work on snappier leads. And one of the ways to do that is to not only focus on results, but also focus on people. Take the sports lead submitted this week about Cerritos' first football game of the season:
The Cerritos football team was defeated in a thier first conference game against Moorpark, which ended with a score of 14-17, Saturday.
First we need to tighten it up a bit and get rid of the noun-pronoun error. Remember, one disease I hope you DO get is what I call PPP, plural pronoun paranoia: Any time you write a plural pronoun (their) be so paranoid about it that you check to see what it refers to. In this case it refers to "football team." But there is only ONE team, so you can't use a plural pronoun. The pronoun has to be "its."

A tighter lead would look like this:
The Cerritos football team opened its conference season Saturday by losing to Moorpark College, 14-17.
Fewer words and I moved the "when" closer to where it needed to be. Note that I changed the passive verb "was defeated" into active verbs of "opened" and "losing."

But even this is a ho-hum lead. We focused on results, but can't we snap up this lead a bit more? Well, the story that was turned in then went to a chronolgocial discussion of the game, complete with editorializing that suggested that the writer was rooting for the home team. (Editors: Hope you edit it out.) Deep in the story was the fact that Cerritos field goal kicker Matt Striuksma missed a 37-yard filed goal late in the game (less than a minute to go based on another story I read) that would have tied the score. While this was late in the game, it WAS the game. it was the pivotal point in deciding who won and who lost. Why not put it in the lead?
Matt Striuksma missed a score-tying 37-yard field goal with less than a minute left to play as the Cerritos College football team lost its season opener Saturday to Moorpark College, 14-17.
Much better. Sports writers, take the pledge: "I will not start any game story off with the words, 'The Cerritos College ...'" Look for key performances, pivotal points, etc. and feature people in leads. But not only sports writers need to do this, we all do. People like reading about other people.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Notes on new online design

The new online site design is now active, sort of. The rest of it will require work by College Publisher on Monday. I just spent the afternoon tweaking things so the page looks the way it should. Here are some notes and thoughts you all should think about:

  • When a photo is wider than it is deep it is HORIZONTAL. What we need for the top photo/story for each section is either a SQUARE or a VERTICAL. This is imperative because the width of images on the front page is so little that a horizontal will leave the online editor with no way to make the page look nice. Actually, verticals --except for the top photo-- give the online editor more flexibility. Photos for non-lead stories can be horizontal if you wish.
  • Online photos are small, so really tight cropping is needed to make them most viewable.
  • Don't forget photo captions. And don't make them too long.
  • The online photo does not have to be the same one that appears in the print edition. Think about what will look best in color and small.
  • I noticed that a lot of the online photos (and some of the ones in print) had pretty dark faces. Faces are the most important part of most photos. Here's what I do to get better photos when pre-pressing.
    1. Crop the photo first. From the IMAGE menu select Adjustments: Auto levels. This does a good job of correctiing color and will almost always result in a photo where the mid-tones (faces) are too dark. So,
    2. select IMAGES:Adjustment:Levels. Slide the middle triangle (midtones) to the left while watching the faces. Make them light, don't worry about the rest of the photograph.
    3. Size the photo.
    4. Often times for online photos that have been shrunk so much I find that applying the FILTER:Sharpen:Sharpen filter makes the photo... well, sharper.
  • And finally, here's a big tip: Online photos cannot be any wider than 6 inches (or 432 pixals). Three inches (or 216 pixals) is usually easier to work with, but with a really good horizontal you might want the lead photo attached to a story to be six inches wide. But the front page needs the photo to be smaller. So when you upload to the site, you can determine what the thumbnail size (which is used on the front page and section pages) by typing the pixal width into the thumbnail size box. Note: There are 72 pixals per inch.

    upload photos box
    Rosali, Eric and Tanya, this is different than what I've told you before about having to upload multiple sizes and then manipulating their placement.

    The lead photo must be 215 pixals wide (thumbnail won't work). The lead photo for the various sections can be bigger, but the thumbnail should be 125 pixals wide. The thumbnail for the Arts/Life/Amped section must be 275 pixals wide.
  • The main story for each section MUST have a photo. The main story for each section DOES NOT have to be the main one in the paper. Pick what works/looks best online.
  • Summaries must be short.
  • Headlines should not wrap to more than two lines. Be frugal with words.
  • I found at least one story online (the editorial) that did not have double-spacing between paragraphs.
  • The online editor is going to have to work on the summaries for your stories. Note that the tool we use automatically chooses the first one or two paragraphs of your stories for the summaries if you don't write one manually. Think about those paragraphs. If the reader sees only the first one or two paragraphs of your story does he/she know what the story is about? Is the reader attracted to read on? We'll talk more about this during critiques. Leads are perhaps the most important part of your stories.
  • We've GOT to have more sports stories. For each issue there should be something for football, cross country, water polo, men's soccer and women's soccer. I filled in the gaps a bit by posting some sports schedules, but that's wussy for every issue.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Think links when writing

When you write a story for the Talon Marks we ask you to include multiple sources. Now is the to start thinking beyond sources and think links with your stories as well. Check to see if your source has a web site or public blog and include the link with the first use of the name. Look for web sites or additional stories on the subject and include links. Here's a good argument for including links. The idea is to add value to the story.

Now, of course, there is no way to include hyperlinks in the print edition, but it should not just be up to the online editor or other editors to think links. Every reporter and photographer should think links, too.

We'll have to experiment on just how to incorporate this because if you, the reporter, insert the hypertext markup for a link, it is something that page editors will have to take out for the print edition. But let's experiment and see what all is involved.

Don't know how to insert links? It's simple. At the beginning of the link you put the starting code for a link <a href=>. At the end you put a closing tag of </a>. After the href= you have to put the pathway to the link. The protocol is usually "http://server/folder/file". Remember to use the quote marks. For example::
<a href=""> Next you put the words that should be underlined, then you close the link </a>
There is more you can do with a link, but that's the basic. The simplest thing to do with the server/folder/filename part of that is to go to the web page you want to link to, select and copy the pathway in the field at the top of the browser, and then paste it between a pair of quote marks. Note that capitalization DOES count, so most people save their web pages in lower case text. Also note that some files end with .html (usually created on a Mac system) and some end with .htm (usually created with a PC/Windows system). It is important to pay attention to the suffix and follow it exactly. Computers are quite literal.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A new blog for Talon Marks

A new school year for the Cerritos College Talon Marks with a new emphasis on trying new things on the online site. So I thought I'd start a new blog just for the Talon Marks.

Students, I hope you will help develop a direction for it. I don't want to turn it into a bitch and moan blog or a comment-about-each-other blog. Many of you do that on your MySpace blogs already.

I'm sort of hoping we'll use it to develop a dialog of what the Talon Marks is all about, our experiences in learning journalism through the Talon Marks, and think tank on how to grow the Talon Marks.

Let me know. And I can open up blog post privileges to those who want to add to the discourse.