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.