Now appearing on Herald Radio

On Monday, I will be debuting as co-host of a new show on Boston Herald Radio called “NewsFeed.”

Have you ever wanted to know how a newspaper approaches its newsgathering process? How the front page of a newspaper comes together? What decisions go into playing up certain stories over others? That’s part of the conversation we will have on “NewsFeed,” but through the lense of the Boston Herald. Joe Dwinell and I will be attempting to push the conversation forward on the news of the day while keeping this in mind.

It’s my hope that both new and faithful readers of the Herald as well as listeners of Herald Radio will get an inside look at how we operate and an opportunity to engage with us in a more direct way.

We’ll be broadcasting “NewsFeed” 1-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Listeners can call in at 617-619-6400. Or text us at 617-286-5633.

For those unaccustomed to how I get down, I expect this to be an interactive experience. So whether you call us or text us, or just hit me up on Twitter, we’ll be as responsive as possible.

ESPN’s redesign targets 5 important keys for a successful digital news enterprise

I have always been enamored with website redesigns. I’ve gone through a few myself and I’ve never walked away without feeling a little sore about something.

The issues tend to come at you sideways in a redesign launch. Most issues are only revealed after the publish button has been pressed. Adding to the difficulties of a redesign launch is often the numerous stakeholders. Even at the smallest of companies, they can (and sometimes do) veer a project off its intended path. I saw this happen with Boston.com when it relaunched in April 2014. (They’ve rebounded nicely in the past year.) So there are many issues to combat just to get off the ground, let alone launch. And that’s all before readers rip the final product to shreds. Because, you know, the Internet. I’m pleasantly surprised to see there have been few issues with the redesign of ESPN.com today. The sports behemoth has more news, info and commentary than any other website imaginable (and readers, too, with a self reported 91 million users in January), and yet it somehow figured out the shadowy pathway to handle this truly immense project with an unknown number of people likely shepherding it through today’s unveiling. Hats off to their digital team.

I think what is reflected in this redesign, which deserves some outside studying, is that despite competing interests for a wide range of verticals and subsections, there are some basic tenets that digital organizations are going to focus on no matter what. Tenets that I believe are key to any successful news operation today, regardless of size or scope. Here are five:

1. Mobile first — ESPN says 61 percent of their visitors came from a mobile device. This is in line with the overall trend for digital news enterprises. More and more readers are accessing content via their mobile devices while declines are being recorded for “desktop” only users. So it’s no surprise that ESPN focused on making a responsive website. (There appears to be three tiers, one for the full fledged site, another for the middling tablet and the last for mobile devices).

2. Real-time updates — Again, ESPN has more daily content it can possibly ever use being pumped into the Bristol brain trust. I’m sure, like it is for most major websites, the fight to get on the homepage is intense. What we’ve seen is that news organizations that have developed a stream — like Boston.com, for example — are able to quickly display new content on a site’s homepage without ever having to involve a curator of the homepage’s content. Readers will see more content this way, with links to articles, tweets from writers, videos, etc.

3. User experience — No website can ever underestimate the user experience. There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into this particular redesign, the flow of the site and its navigation. I’m sure with the changes made this will also be the top source of ESPN’s complaints. Designers can remark better than I on the pluses and flaws they see. But for the purposes of this post, it is extremely important to take care and respect the sensibilities of your readership. Digital savvy readers expect beautiful, modern and easy to read websites. Oftentimes that’s tough to do given all of the competing priorities. I would say that ESPN has successfully adhered to this tenet.

4. Video — The redesign’s emphasis on video smacks you in the face. More and more publishers are making the costly investment in video production, hoping to bank on increased ad spending on mobile video. With its vast array of digital properties, ESPN was already in a position to take advantage of the two concurrent trends at play here, and this redesign represents another step toward that.

5. Personalization — For ESPN, that means surfacing content on its users’ favorite sports teams. Translated for smaller news organizations, that means news your readers can use from their community. It’s certainly easier to address the personalization problem with sports and much harder for any general news organization, both to find and target content for fragmented audiences. The easiest way you already see this being done is with localized weather forecasts based on the location of your IP address. There’s certainly opportunity for innovation here.

I certainly expect ESPN to make some tweaks and changes in the days and weeks to come. Hopefully, they won’t take six years for another redesign. But I’m almost positive they will adhere to these five points of emphasis because that’s where the trends are heading. All news orgs would be wise to acknowledge as much in their next redesign.

What’s the next digital disruption for journalists? It’s gotta be the CMS

The other day I did a Skype session with students at my alma mater Chico State to discuss what a web producer does as well as my path from college to where I am now.

It was a productive conversation that allowed me to break down what still is an mystifying position for much of the public. It’s not anyone’s fault they don’t know, the job is dramatically different from one shop to another. And it’s kind of nice to explain it to at least a few graduating seniors who will quite likely have their first opportunity in the business as a digital producer, given the way hiring is happening nowadays. And of course, I love the questions students ask. They’re varied and well thought out, ranging from how I could pull off moving to the east coast and what it was like covering the Patriots. But then I got hit with a question that I think I’m going to continue to ponder for quite awhile, which is what I want to explore here.

I was asked, and I’m paraphrasing, “what are some of the tools that I’m seeing out there that are really going to change the game for digital journalists going forward, and what can those going into the job market do to prepare themselves for the inevitable changes?” In the moment of the conversation, I deferred to a couple of fairly new search tools and devices, including Geofeedia and Banjo, both of which allow users to find social media posts in specific locations as they relate to news events. They’re both on our radar at my news outlet. Large scale news events (at least large in the sense that they draw a ton of people) definitely require greater attention and resources, which is why tools like these two can be immensely helpful in tracking down images and video. (Just take a look at our Keene State coverage from Saturday, which includes photos scrounged up from users on the ground using Banjo.) Other than that, I told the students storytelling is the most important factor of any new digital tool and how that storytelling is woven into the digital space matters. But I almost feel like those two shiny items and my thoughts on storytelling really aren’t sufficient for what news organizations really need going forward.

Later on, when I really thought about it, I kept circling back to this crazy idea of an elections tool. That would be cool. And useful for news orgs without the dev resources to build their own. Unfortunately though, that wouldn’t really fix some of the intrinsic problems for digital journalists. For instance, how would a massive data oriented tool, like one for elections, be implemented on different websites? The question is what drives me to write this.

Of all the things that come to mind, the bellyaching seems to unnaturally revolve around the content management system in place. And while most CMSs do an outstanding job of compiling stories, wire feeds, video, etc., all while making the stew appear presentable, there are consistent deficiencies for front-end users that keep popping up. You know it’s a sad state of affairs when some organizations are in a battle over rich text editors within their CMS that won’t allow for easily embedded HTML. Or woe is the org that decides to compile some data, in table format or otherwise, and there is no means of displaying it on the site because the CMS doesn’t support it. Don’t even think about inserting a table of data within the body of a story. The headaches can be endless, especially for those who want to be creative.

These are things that web producers deal with on a regular basis. Finding solutions for these problems has become an integral part of the job. Support is often barely in place. That’s a frustration I think many individuals in my position have because you end up wasting time figuring out what you can do vs. figuring how to make awesome content. And if you can, is it easy to do? (Working in Methode while at Boston.com, the process for dropping embeds into stories was a lengthy one.)

The CMS, the most basic and often complicated tool for digital journalists, is where the disruption is needed in the industry. It’s where the advancement is both called for and necessary. It’s where news orgs can win back disillusioned digital natives, who often have to muster along with early 2000s technology. And it’s where, in its most basic form, the creativity can either thrive or die.

Have you seen the re-designed mobile site for Boston.com?

A screenshot of the new mobile site for Boston.com.
A screenshot of the new mobile site for Boston.com.

As part of the change that is occurring at Boston.com and the Boston Globe, the site is going through a re-design.The mobile portion of the site launched last week. You can catch a glimpse of it above or visit mobile.boston.com.

The cool thing is the site also has responsive design, just like BostonGlobe.com. So it’s built in the mold of new-ish sites BetaBoston.com and BDCWire.com.

Here’s some sample screenshots.

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Talking convergence journalism

On Monday I gave a talk to the staff of the Berkley Beacon, the student newspaper at Emerson College in Boston. The talk/workshop was about convergence journalism, or backpack journalism. While making my way home, I realized I only touched on maybe half of my notes on the topic. So I wanted to share here what I wrote down in its entirety, including the powerpoint I brought along with me.

Intro

Convergence journalism… or as many in the industry call it: backpack journalism.

A lot of what backpack journalists do can be traced back to the resources they have at hand at their news organizations. But I like to think that a good portion of multimedia journalists are just extremely hard workers.

There are certain traits I see in others that do the job. Some I have myself and some I hope to attain. And then there are specific skills necessary, a lot of which you are learning right now at Emerson. So I’m going to run down what I believe to be the skills necessary to:

  1. Cover live events
  2. And put yourself in a position to do video well

But first, let me just fill you in on who I am and my background to give you a sense of where I come from and how it is I have come to do what I do.

Times-Herald

I was a freelance sports correspondent with the Vallejo Times-Herald in 2004 back in California. Prior to that I had worked on my school newspaper at City College of San Francisco, a junior college. I did everything at City. Write, edit, and paginate pages. It was the first time I used Quark. At the Times-Herald though, I got my first taste of non-student or peer editing. But I was solely a reporter and didn’t have any other responsibilities but writing my story for the day.

timesherald

Chico State

I went to California State University, Chico where I was a sports reporter, sports editor, and online editor for the Orion, the student newspaper. I sat in critiques like yours so I know the process of getting your lunch handed to you after a bad week. But it was around that time that blogging was really just kicking off in newsrooms. And there was this sorta new thing called WordPress. Long story short, I blogged the hell out of a trip to Hot Springs Arkansas to cover the women’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament. That was my introduction to rapid reporting. We also did podcasting and “quick updates.”

theorion

Oakland Tribune

I had internships at the Oakland Tribune and the Marin Independent-Journal. I was a general assignment reporter for the Tribune, covering cops and doing small features for the metro section. There was a bit of politics added in their too. I interviewed the Honorable Ron Dellums once. He was the second person I had ever known that wished to be called Honorable before their name. Anybody know the other? The Honorable Minister Louis Farrahkhan. Yeah. That’ll throw you off. Anyways, the Tribune was my first opportunity to be edited by a major metro desk. I learned a lot from one of the best cops beat writers in the country.

oaklandtribune

Marin IJ

At the IJ, I was thrown into my first professional sports coverage. I covered NASCAR, I covered my first criterium. (Anybody know what that is?) I did some features on the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers, both my hometown teams. So I built up some good experience to that point, both in professional locker rooms and in the breadth of work I had done.

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The Union

Not too long after that, in August of 2007, I got my first job at The Union, a community newspaper in the Sierra Foothills of California, as a sports reporter. It’s a small town in Grass Valley, California. Only 10,000 people about 2 and a half hour drive from San Francisco.

Anyways, I got to cover one of the bigger high school football programs in the state in Nevada Union. It was a great team that ran the Wing-T. It was fun because I got to cover them like a beat, which is not really what you do when you cover high school sports. Everything is pretty general. That’s when I first joined Twitter, true story. I am one of those few people that can say they were on Twitter in the first year of its existence.

But I didn’t know what to do with it. So I left it idle while I focused more on all the things that you guys are going to get thrust into: designing newspaper pages with InDesign, figuring out photoshop for something more than just re-sizing an image, and utilizing video for the very first time.

I would, whenever the football team got near the end zone, whip out the company camera and record the rest of their drive while taking notes. I was able to put together some pretty cool highlight reels of just the touchdowns from each game.

But the problem I ran into was I didn’t have any formal training editing video. And I didn’t have an appreciation for the time it took to process GOOD video. So I took a class at a community TV station. I thought it was important enough at the time to learn how to use Final Cut Pro. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Now, while at The Union. I took on multiple jobs. I went from just being a sports reporter to being a reporter and the paper’s online community manager. And then I switched from the sports desk to the city desk. I actually started doing my first live coverage using CoverItLive of a Nevada City Council meeting. The big issue of the time was whether or not the city was going to allow a marijuana dispensary. The news went out in the live blog as the vote occurred.

theunion

Boston.com/ The Boston Globe

And then I came to the Globe not too long after. My technical title is Content Producer, which means to say I provide content for the website Boston.com. I was hired specifically to help the Globe compete with ESPN Boston.

I run our live coverage of the Patriots and high school sports, and help elsewhere as needed. I shoot video. I put together features for our website. And I’m always seeking out creative ways to tell stories on our website. But I understand the premium is on the three core assets of a good news organization: Great copy, great photos, and good video.

Skills

So the necessary skills to do my job now, which many people want, basically reflect the tools and skills I picked up over time and through a ton of experience.

  • Rapid reporting
  • HTML and CSS
  • How to lay out newspapers*
  • Broad experience in news and sports
  • Professional decorum
  • Video editing
  • The ability to edit others, both copy and video
  • On air and camera experience
  • The ability to move quickly doing it all

Patriots work

So where does that leave us?

It all gets summed up in a work week of mine. Because I help cover the New England Patriots at Boston.com, I get the opportunity to do some traveling. I was at yesterday’s game in New Jersey as the Patriots lost to the Jets, 30-27. You might have seen that there was some controversy. Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3-B.

The great thing about a live blog is you look can up the rule on the internet and have it on your website in no time. For the Globe, we utilize the tool ScribbleLive. It is not a free tool. But it’s highly customizable and it provides us with some flexibility.

For myself, I was able to gather some quotes from players, including the now infamous Chris Jones, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and others on the team. Those quotes, along with the rule and other reactions, were added to the blog as they came in. The nice thing about a tool like ScribbleLive is there are apps for smartphones, on both iOs and Android. So when I leave my computer in the pressbox to get some quotes, I can update the blog from my phone. Which is coincidentally why I don’t use my phone as a voice recorder.

But to really understand the convergence, to really grasp all of what I do, consider my work day: I get to the stadium 3 hours before kickoff. I write a wrapup for each offensive and defensive series in the live blog. And in addition to that, I add at least four entires to our Patriots blog. By the end of the day, I’ve typed more than 5,000 words.

And then I do video. I appear on camera with CineSport, a video portal that has partnerships with news organizations across the country. My work day ends up being close to 11 hours. The game is just a fraction of that.

Different types of live blogs

Now, stepping back, what I’ve described is how you would use a tool like ScribbleLive, or Storify, or Twitter, or even just a regular old WordPress blog that you keep updating, for one event. But there are times in which you need to have rolling updates for a number of events. Not everything is broken down into quarters and periods. The Government Shutdown comes to mind. Be mindful that as long as you’re getting content up in a timely fashion, and updating continuously, it’s quite OK to stretch the definition of live for your blog.

But also consider that there are breaking news situations where the information is coming faster than is humanly possible to disseminate and discern. That’s how the first moments of the Marathon bombings were. I was on the desk at Boston.com, doing a pretty cool photo map interactive of runners that you’ll never see. I got my first confirmation of the explosions on Instagram, a picture I’m sure many of you have seen.

I’m proud to say that my colleagues and I were able to cobble together some fine reporting during those horrific hours by exercising patience, particularly when it came to the areas of taste (bloody pictures) and the number of casualties and injured. Actually, on Sunday, the Online News Association awarded us with their breaking news award. So consider again that going live, no matter the tool, is a huge part of being a backpack journalist.

Video

Now as I noted, doing video is a huge part of all levels of journalism. At the Globe, we do it on a number of levels, economically speaking.

When I chat with CineSport, I do that via Skype in what I hope to be the quietest area of the press box.

But we also do shows like Globe 10.0, Boston Sports Live, Take 2, and the Tech Lab. And then we do stand-ups, which are usually one or two talking figures discussing an issue or news event, like the Patriots game or a case at trial. Our Big Story video series would fall into that category. It’s the easiest kind of video to do, because all you need is a camera, a tripod, a microphone, and some decent light to get it done.

On a much lower level, you can always just use the camera in your laptop, smartphone, or digital camera. Just make sure to consider, again, your light and your background noise.

My one piece of advice: It’s better to have bad light than it is to have bad sound. A good mic is your friend.

Recap / Social media

So we’ve gone over the skills you need, the experience you should try to attain (everybody’s journey is different), some of the tools that I use that help me do my job, and some short and sweet tips on video.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss social media with you. It’s such a huge part of driving traffic. Understanding the social ecosystem and search engine optimization and then capitalizing on it is a point of emphasis for every content producer. My only point to you is embrace it. It’s apart of the present of journalism and it will be apart of the future. Be open to new platforms and new tools. I’m sure when you’ve all landed your first jobs, there will be something new for us all to consider.

Questions.

RadioBDC Sports: Patriots power rankings and preseason preview

RadioBDC Sports: Patriots power rankings and preseason preview – RadioBDC blog – Boston.com.

I joined RadioBDC’s Adam 12 to talk some Patriots ahead of their first preseason game Friday against the Eagles. This should be a somewhat regular segment, with the Globe’s Chris Gasper filling in when I can’t and vice versa.

Just on a side note, I find the entire concept of RadioBDC awesome. We have an internet radio station. The Boston Herald just launched their online news talk station. These are some cool endeavors. Check it out.

Wow, we’re through March already

As much as I hate going so long without posting to my website, this period of inactivity happens to occur every year around this time for a particular reason. Why? Because of March Madness. Unfortunately I’m not talking about the men’s college basketball tournament. I’m talking about the Massachusetts high school Super 8 hockey tournament, the boys’ and girls’ basketball state championships, and the end-of-winter projects like All-Scholastics at the Boston Globe. It makes for quite a rigorous month, with many days logging 12, 13, 14 and 15 hours. So in a nutshell, I can only handle so much blogging at work before neglecting my personal site.

It’s a give and take I’m still working on.

With that said, it’s been quite an enjoyable month because of the work my colleagues and I have done. We’re going into the month of April having navigated another demanding season by providing dynamic, timely, and news-oriented features for our readers. Our live blog on Boston.com of the Super 8 tournament was wildly successful, as was our live coverage of the state high school basketball championships. The tool of choice, Scribble Live, has certainly made our lives easier for event coverage.

In April, I get to turn the page a bit and focus on the Patriots more before the NFL draft. I’m currently in the throes of a month-long series scouting prospects that would be a good fit for the team. You can find my entries on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog. But I’m also developing some other features that I think will be awesome for our offseason coverage.

What’s great about all of this is that I’m back to writing every day. Not just every other day or some days of the week, but every single day. I’m at my best when I’m writing often. And that means April looks good too.

Trying to prepare myself

So I’m out on a limb saying the Patriots are going to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship and will advance to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. I’m not just saying this flippantly. I’ve went out and purchased my tickets to New Orleans and now I’m trying to prepare myself for the inevitable breaking news/multimedia moment during Super Bowl week.

Last year, I was dependent on my iPhone (which held up for the most part) in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl. But I dreaded lugging around my MacBook, at almost 8 pounds, which is what I used to do the brunt of my work. This year, if the Patriots win, I’m traveling lighter with my iPad. I just bought a new Bluetooth enabled keyboard to go along with it, so I’ll be able to type normally and with the same speed I’m accustomed to doing.

I still have worries though. For one, my iPad is a wifi only tablet, meaning if there isn’t any wifi, it isn’t worth the trouble of lugging around. Similarly, my iPhone 4S has terrible battery life. And it sucks typing on it, too. However, between the two I figure I can be as mobile as possible. I’ve discovered that my phone also can link with the Bluetooth keyboard and in doing so keeps me online at all times — so long as I have battery life.

Thank God I keep a charger close by.

All of this yammering will be worth it if the Patriots win. Then I’ll be able to test everything. For some reason, that makes me excited. And that’s how you know I’m a nerd.