Category Archives: ideas

Staying alive

Me, over a year ago. Now I have curtains.

It’s been a while. It seems it took some life changing decisions and a global pandemic to get me back here. Not isolation though. The current state of affairs has just complicated my shopping and eliminated cafe life. Apart from that, all is well, actually.

Those who followed me knew my subject of choice was online journalism. Due to career reasons, external factors and personal issues, I quit journalism long ago. It’s a shitty job made by wonderful, interesting people sadly obfuscated by shitty professionals, by cheap manipulators, the wannabes and the clueless. Business as usual. Journalism is not the glamorous profession I thought it was when I was younger and only the hard working, honest few keep my respect for the job.

It’s not the cesspool it was once, but it is still a people grinding machine, in which I never belonged, so I quit. I have a story to write about this, maybe someday.

I moved to Science Communication, worked as communication officer for a botanical garden, and took on copy writing. Best choice ever.

I’m not getting rich doing it, but I manage. I get to work from home, avoid office people, commuting and life in a far too expensive city. Quality of life is key, and my ambition for a long time has been to live well, at peace, enjoying the small things.

Now that I’ve got you up to speed, I’ll move on to the purpose of this post.

Since RSS feeds became something complicated to automate to blogs and Facebook became a egotistical, profile data mining, moronic soap box from which rivers of stupidity spurt out in cascades of mental diarrhea, I gave up curating the amazing content I found on my daily readings.

My Twitter profile still works as a curation tool but, sometimes, Twitter smells even worse than Zuckerberg’s den.

But I miss blogging, and sharing my ideas with others. The Internet changed my life for the better. What we’re going through now is something we can deal with and survive because we have this amazing tool at our disposal. So I want to get back on it and have a space where like minded people can riff on the stuff I share.

Another reason is that I need a place to reflect publicly about a lot of concepts, thoughts, ideas. Why publicly? It’s all about accountability. Anything I share is published in result of a committed effort to reflect on it and developed upon.

Blogging to make thoughts clearer. That’s what Dave Winer does on his blog, and I miss that process of public note taking and comment. Social networks are not the best option for that.

I also have some parallel projects going on: I’ll be starting a long due podcast about words and writing (now that I’ve announced it I can’t but to stop postponing it) and create an online presence for my copy writing activity.

I also have the need to write more stories, which is odd for a guy who already spends most of his day writing. You see, it’s always words for others, never for me.

I feel we are at one of the most exciting times of all human existence. Yes, there’s a plague, we have buffoons and fascists in high places, people are still dying in power/money/hatred fueled wars. But we can do this: to connect beyond our most limited geographical space.

Communication is my thing. The plan is to do it here again, whenever I need it.

I’ll be back soon maybe with a few suggestions. For now I don’t believe a newsletter is something important, but it is a possibility. Still working out the potential blogging can have for me now it didn’t have when I started doing it in 2007.

Yeah, the time when phones weren’t that smart. See you soon.

Comment is free, adding value is hard

When I was training journalists from one of the biggest media groups in Portugal in the wonders of online media, my favorite strategy to take a break during sessions was to launch debate. And none was so prolific as the discussion about article comments.

The divide was strong, and the general feeling was of frustration: all publications were understaffed, so there were no real comment moderators; most of the comments were nothing but personal disputes between commentators, agressive rants towards journalists, personal opinions on unrelated issues; grammar was a nightmare, the language was fowl; they complained about the usual patrons that tried to pass as experts but were far from it. Hell, they even had poetry posted in the comment box. And it was awful.

So, why have open comment boxes? Most agreed it drove audience numbers up: when one of the group’s websites decided to shut down the comments, visit numbers slumped. The comment box was the poor man’s social network, fed by negativity, stupidity and hatred. Management decided to profit from it by making the feature available again, even though it casted an ugly shadow below the byline. Freedom of speech was also debated.

While I was catching wind for the next bit, I listened to their personal frustrations towards this or that specific commentator. I started this game called “who’s commenting”, in which – with the available data – we would find who they really were. Shock and awe ensued, since the people that were harassing them for months -even years – were not quite what they expected.

Journalists and commentators had little respect for each other.

I said that in a everyway communication environment there are risks, and they should be handled to steer away from damage and into added value. They replied :”How?”

How to find value in the free manifestation of the common citizen, perched on his device delivering his two cents of personal spew, mostly uninformed, irreflected and useless? No wonder we love social networks, those personally crafted echo boxes where we can hide dissent with a click of a button.

This question is raised again in this Journalism.co.uk’s post that starts off with the decision of Reuters shutting down comments throughout their website. And they’re not alone:

Other news organisations have done the same, including the Chicago Sun-Times which described comments as “an embarrassing mishmash of fringe ranting and ill-informed, shrill bomb-throwing”

There are arguments in favor, though:

“It’s a very contentious issue. It’s something people feel very strongly about. My argument is if you have a website at all, why wouldn’t you give people the ability to comment on your content?”

The ecosystem has changed: opinon shifted from comment boxes to social media posts. The engagement arithmetic of links from external blogs or users replies to the articles became derisive. And publishers are no longer in control, either by this new logic or by negligence. Understaffed, remember?

We can never hope all our readers are smart, engaged people. But we shouldn’t dismiss most of them as solitary loons that use the comment feature as a soapbox for their diatribes. Thus, it’s up to publishers, and must be weighed section by section of their websites.

My non biliary two cents on this is if you don’t have a system – and the people to implement it – that doesn’t monitor and reward the best commentators, forget about open comment boxes. They are distracting and useless, and make intelligent readers nauseous.

If you do, allow (restricted) time for the article to be commented on and let the author join the discussion. Many don’t, and they should participate in the same way they write their stories: based on facts and in a impartial, non personal fashion, ignoring the trolls. No fight is worth picking in a comment box.

Get those pesky commentators out of the online anonimity and offer them a tour to your newsroom, enact live forums where they can be face to face with their targets. Make them show up or shut up.

Of course, this last suggestion is a bit idealistic, not to say impossible. But leave your comments below.

Interactive: Des Moines Register’s game like feature story

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The Des Moines Register recently produced an interactive feature called Harvest of Change. Designed with Oculus Rift in mind, the newspaper partnered with Gannet Digital to “to tell the story of an Iowa farm family using emerging virtual reality technology and 360-degree video.

The first of this five part series makes the user explore the farm to find icons that tell fragments of the story and unlock extras through special objects hidden in the scenario.

It wasn’t a thrilling experience for me, and though they add a 360º video to download, its 1.2 gb are taking too long.

Update: After downloading the file, we can watch a 360º video intro that will lead us to the farm setting and instead of pics  – like we have in the Des Moines Register website – we have videos. The navigation is a bit buggy though, and it sent me back to the intro more than once.

Probably the full series will be worth it, and this is definitely a great effort to bring virtual reality into news games and storytelling. But after unlocking all the photos and going through all the icons I can’t remember the story.

Was I too focused in the goal that somehow forgot to learn? This is a risk with this type of narratives. It must have some sort of challenge to be engaging:

“Games are about decision making, about consequences of actions. And while you are playing, you are picking up facts, pieces of the puzzle, learning tactics, because you have to, and want to, in order to progress to the next level.”

News as games: Immoral or the future of Interactive Journalism?

Maybe we’ll meet the farm boss in part 5. Until then, let’s stroll around and see what we can find.

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Best of me

 

I just updated my “Best of” page with these links. Check them out.

Is this a journalism job?

Are you a student? Contrast this to your course. Are you an editor? Do you have/need these skills in your newsroom?

There are some journalism job ads that could be asking for  Superman rather than for old plain Mr.Kent, but this one seems to be reasonable enough, if not only for the impression it gives that someone has a strategy.

Candidates should describe their success conceptualizing and building news apps, data visualizations, and interactive graphics. If you are a visual storyteller, someone who sees the narrative in numbers, and thinks in code, this is your opportunity to make a mark. Expect your journalism skills to be as important as your programming skills.  This editorial position will ask you to tell stories differently and inspire others to do the same.

The work will require advanced experience with HTML5, CSS, JavaScript (jQuery); an understanding of responsive design and proficiency with interaction design and user interfaces; familiarity with mining and manipulating data and Web scraping. Light Ruby or Python helpful.

The goal:

Create storyboards, wire frames, page layouts, prototypes, emails, landing pages and other Web assets and deliverables needed during project development.
•   Publish interactive graphics, data visualizations, news apps, multimedia and other digital content with an excellence that matches the reporting it supports.

Basic requirements:

  • College degree
  • Minimum of 2 years programming experience
  • Advanced command of HTML5, CSS, JavaScript (including jQuery)
  • Light Ruby or Python for data mining, Web scraping
  • Comfort with data analysis
  • Understanding of responsive design
  • Familiarity with Final Cut Pro and Adobe InDesign

For most journalism students and editors that I know this could be a job offer for astronauts. But it is not. Mindy McAdams puts it right:

This is a very reasonable list, in my opinion, and the ad copy is good overall. It is not the kind of “computer jesus” job description that Sean Blanda blasted in 2008. What’s the likelihood that the McClatchy Company (which publishes 30 daily newspapers) will find a perfect person to hire? I’m not sure. And will the salary be good enough? Washington, D.C., is an expensive area to live in.

Those concerns aside, what does this list say to journalism educators? And to journalism students who love design?

Is this a job for a person who has a degree in computer science? Absolutely not. You will not learn those skills in a computer science program.

I have this problem when people ask me what I do. I say “digital content producer” which is a mouthful of nothing. Sometimes I sprinkle it with “multimedia/interactive” but it sounds empty and a bit esoteric and neither potential employers nor civilians get it. I do a bit of HTML5 and CSS3 coding, deal well with video and audio, know how to write for the web, can design and create interactive multimedia narratives, and possess other assorted skills that can come handy for the high expertise environment of the digital world. A jack of all trades, master of none.

In my last appearance before a journalism students audience I did my informal poll and asked them in which medium they wanted to work in. TV and print got a full room of arms raised, radio had a few, but the internet – the medium they use more than any other – had none. It’s hard to change the game when the future players don’t know about the new rules.

Is this a journalism job? Hell, yes.

My advice for students: try to learn these skills and you’ll do fine, someday (maybe not here in Portugal).

My advice for editors: consider why you’d never put out an ad like this and understand why your business is tanking.