Skills for journalists in print and digital media

Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Data visualization as “story”

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There are a lot of discussions about how best to present data effectively on a newspaper web site. One of the most intriguing of late, mentioned by Mindy McAdams in her Teaching Online Journalism blog, is this academic study from Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer at Stanford University, titled, “Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data.”

Segel and Heer set out to:

“…further our understanding of narrative visualization by analyzing and contrasting examples of visualizations with a story-telling component.We then generalize from these examples to identify salient design dimensions. In the process, we hope to clarify how narrative visualization differs from other storytelling forms, and how these differences introduce both opportunities and pitfalls for its narrative potential.”

Through a variety of good examples and their own analysis, one of their conclusions is the value of making data interactive, even in the context of a larger story. Let the story unfold, they say, but provide opportunities for readers to stop and work with the data.

“Generalizing across our examples, data stories appear to be most effective when they have constrained interaction at various checkpoints within a narrative, allowing the user to explore the data without veering too far from the intended narrative.”

One implication for multimedia story forms and training reporters and editors to plan them more effectively is to factor into a storyboard not only the right data to include, but how to make that data accessible and interactive in a way that does not interrupt the story.

Here is one example, a playful way to compare economic indicators among a set of cities that puts complex data in chart form for easy reference. It’s from a series on key economic indicators and what they say about the future of the Phoenix economy. The interactive chart was created using Adobe Flex.


Written by mroberts8

01/22/2011 at 1:04 pm

Interview skills: Share the destination with your subjects

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Lisa Mullins, chief anchor and senior producer for Public Radio International’s “The World,” recently talked about interview tactics and skills with Andre Pizer for the Nieman Storyboard. Mullins had a lot of good tips to share. But the best was about how to begin, how to give your interview subject a sense of where you wanted to go. Mullins explained:

“I tell them ahead of time what I might want. If we’re on deadline, and the person we’re going to be talking to is what we call a kind of ‘normal person,’ maybe part of a couple in Dublin who is talking to us about how the seismic financial cuts are affecting them personally, they may be reluctant, they may be shy, they may be reticent to reveal too much. If I say, ‘What I’d like to leave the audience with is an idea of what your life is like right now,’ then they will start telling me the information I need in the form of a story.”

That is one of those simple but rarely done parts of a great interview. Too many reporters feel they have to lead a subject down a path. Instead, engage the person in leading you down the path by taking the time before you begin to sketch where you would like to go, what you hope to write about, and, perhaps, how their story will likely affect readers. That also means a reporter, and hopefully their editor, have talked about the focus of the story ahead of time to make the most of each interview.

And this is not just great advice for broadcast or video pieces, but print as well.




Written by mroberts8

01/03/2011 at 9:30 pm

Print perspective in the digital age

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Rem Rieder, writing in American Journalism Review, arrives late to the realization that traditional morning-after hard news stories seem stale in the wake of real-time online coverage hours earlier. He observes, correctly, that:

With instant access to information available for so many people, an old-school hard news story looks pretty silly the following morning. In a world where so much information is widely available in real time, it’s imperative for news organizations to provide added value: analysis, perspective, context, narrative. And to make it interesting. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That’s been the case for years now.

The alternative for newspapers is “continuous coverage,” meaning a stream of coverage from the first short online post on through a growing package of online news during the day to the next day’s print story or package that provides the analysis and perspective. For newspapers trying to remain the number one news source in their communities, this has been the game plan for some time.

To build this kind of approach into the culture of your newsroom, it is important to settle on a set of online approaches that everyone is familiar with and can turn to as news unfolds. This can include the basic tools and clear standards and practices as to how to use them. There is also an editorial function, an aggressive but still  measured approach to rolling out the news through the day online. Then, most importantly, it also means breaking off someone, or allowing the primary reporter the time, to report and write a print story that takes the basic news and explores impact and context.

Done well, continuous coverage provides readers with the emerging facts as news happens online and then provides the perspective and wrap-up the next morning in the paper and online.

Written by mroberts8

12/02/2010 at 1:23 am

Hazy vision of a new media ecosystem

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J-Lab has completed a study of the Philadelphia news media scene and proposes a new scene comprised of many different sources of news all working under one collaborative umbrella. The collaborative effort is dubbed “news work,” and is intended to represent an “investment strategy” in the future of public affairs coverage.

News work is more than reporting and publishing stories. It involves curation, aggregation, data-gathering and visualizations, interactive opportunities for the public — and a mission that doesn’t just cover community, but helps to build it as well.

The report’s analysis of the present finds a fragmented and floundering news scene that disappoints many people.  Daily newspapers and TV news are given pretty low marks. The many and varied online news start-ups score points for ambition but not much for clout or, in some cases, substance.

The goal of  “news work,” according to the study, should be more and better public affairs reporting through collaboration and aggregation through one mega web site.

We recommend that this collaborative be anchored by an independent news website that would both curate and aggregate some of the excellent reporting originating in many of the city’s new media sites as well as provide original reporting on a half-dozen key topics and serve as the connective tissue for the partners. This should be a supplemental, rather than comprehensive, news enterprise. It should not try to cover everything the city’s daily newspapers do.

Like many visions of a happier digital media future, the report skips over who and how “excellent reporting” will be produced, and the skills, training, and resource that “media makers” would need. The central web site, too, rests on the news-wants-to-be-free assumption where content just sort of appears for the taking.

Without taking those mundane but essential operational elements into account, any investment strategy is incomplete. “When operational issues are ignored,” Marlene Caroselli of the Center for Professional Development once wrote,  “vision remains in the realm of potential.”

Ken Doctor on the study:

Written by mroberts8

04/21/2010 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Newstraining, Training

Newspaper videos that flop

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Colin Mulvany offers a sharp summary of all things wrong with newspaper videos, coming off the annual NPPA Best of Photojournalism Multimedia contest. High on his list is storytelling.

Many still photographers have not transitioned their storytelling skills effectively to video. Editing a video story is different from editing still photos for a newspaper picture story. With video, you have to master the fundamentals of sequencing and audio before you can tell an effective story in video. Too many still photojournalists have dipped their toes in the video world with limited training and it shows.

He also cites poor structure and takes a second look at the power of good scripted narration.

Structure and especially narrative structure are among the core skills to be taught as any part of storytelling training.

Earlier, an ongoing series of posts on storytelling.

Written by mroberts8

04/06/2010 at 7:16 pm

Watchdog reporting tips from ProPublica

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ProPublica has posted a “reporting recipe” with how-to advice and resources for investigating how states regulate medical professionals.

This comes in the wake of ProPublica’s own investigation, with the Los Angeles Times,  into how poorly California regulates registered nurses. And it’s an extension of ProPublica’s desire to work through collaboration with other journalism organizations.

Editors Paul Steiger and Stephen Engelberg explain why they are sharing the recipe:

ProPublica was created two years ago to pursue stories that would spur change. As part of this mission, we make our finished work and its underlying data available to all. Other news organizations are free to republish stories posted on our site. …Now we are taking this principle a step further, giving away the recipe for what has been one of our most powerful reporting efforts to date. We are doing this because we believe there are many ways to prompt change through journalism.

The step-by-step breakdown of the reporting process provides a great training opportunity for reporters in any state, and for editors who would like to help their reporters develop more sophisticated skills.

Written by mroberts8

03/11/2010 at 5:54 pm

Try a NewsTrain workshop in 2010

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I’ve been working with APME’s NewsTrain workshops since the beginning. After seven years of them across the country, we’ve worked with thousands of editors. And now we’re drawing and working with an increasing number of journalism educators. If you’ve never been to a NewsTrain, here’s a taste.

More background, the schedule, and how to host one in your town.

Written by mroberts8

02/22/2010 at 7:45 pm