SND in St. Louis only a year away!

So, you probably already saw this, but in case you didn’t…

The promotional video for next year’s Society for News Design annual workshop in St. Louis has been posted, and it’s super adorable. Credit goes to St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffers Brian Williamson (animated illustrations) and Christopher Ave (music).

I’ve been excited about this workshop ever since I found out about it a few years ago. I’m from a suburb of St. Louis, and will never turn down an opportunity to return to my hometown. My parents, aunts and uncles are all still there, as are some of my closest friends from high school.

As someone who knows St. Louis, I find this video particularly rewarding. All of the things you see in there are based on real landmarks. That “Design” sign in the style of the Amoco logo? That’s based on the Amoco sign near Forest Park. The original Amoco sign in the location was built by my great-grandfather’s company. The thing in the video that looks like a power plant is the original St. Louis Science Center, which is connected to the “new” Science Center via a bridge on the highway. (The “new” Science Center is more at least 15 years old by now, but then again, the “new” cathedral is way older than than that, and is still called “new.”) And even the Schafly Bottleworks is referenced in this video. If you go to SND in St. Louis, a trip to the Bottleworks is in order. And the Taproom, which will be closer to the workshop.

I could go on and on, but the point is this: this workshop looks like it will be a lot of fun, and will be worth checking out because of its connection to Brian Williamson and Erica Smith alone, not to mention all the other great things sure to be there. It’s a year away, but you can be sure I’ll give you suggestions between now and then. And maybe a few web comics on the topic.

Web Comic: 10 Reasons You Should Hire a Journalist

In March 2009, Jill Geisler of Poynter wrote an open letter of recommendation to potential employers with 10 reasons why they should hire journalists. Specifically, the letter was aimed at getting jobs for those who had been laid off.

I don’t have to tell you how it hasn’t gotten better for the newspaper industry in the year and a half since that was written. Paper Cuts tracks layoffs, furloughs, cuts, etc., and after a while, they’ve all seemed to blend together.

Thus, I had some motivation to dust off Ms. Geisler’s words and turn them into a web comic. If you were recently laid off, here’s some ammunition to use with your potential new employer. If you’ve got a resume from a former journalist, here’s why you need to hire this person yesterday.

Jill Geisler writes:

When journalists volunteer for church, school or civic organizations, they are inevitably asked to work on communications projects. Their writing is clear and succinct; their photography and design skills make whatever they’re working on look more polished and professional. They’re sticklers about copy editing and will raise the quality of even your internal memos.

Journalists are anal-retentive perfectionists who can’t turn off their brains. Try watching a documentary with a reporter. Show a designer a menu with Comic Sans and count how many seconds it takes her to cut you. Ask a copy editor what his favorite word misuses are. These are people obsessed with quality and correct execution of their crafts.


Jill Geisler writes:

Their work lives have been defined by deadlines. Blowing a deadline is a cardinal sin in the newsroom culture. Tell them when something is due and you’ll get it — or you’ll get a bulletproof reason from a nonetheless-contrite employee.

Journalists will eat at their desks – or not eat at all – if they’re worried about a deadline.


Jill Geisler writes:

In recent years, journalists have been required to do more with less. Reporters and photographers took up videography, editing and blogging. They file stories for print, broadcast and online, some while also tweeting.

And journalists are always working on at least two or three projects, all while having to answer to editors and interview sources.


Jill Geisler writes:

Imagine a job in which you have to learn things every day, then turn around and teach those things to others. That’s exactly how I’ve described the challenge and absolute joy of journalism at student career fairs. That skill set demands that journalists take in and process information with extraordinary efficiency and clarity, a benefit in any line of work.

By necessity, journalists have to know at least a little about a lot. They have to take complex tax laws and condense them so that people can process the issues in the time it takes to read 20 inches. And they have to do this while also figuring out how to explain proton therapy, red light cameras and new council regulations. All for stuff due in the next day or two.


Jill Geisler writes:

They’ve been trained that “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Journalists know that asking why and why not, looking at multiple perspectives, digging beneath the surface, challenging conventional wisdom, discerning patterns, finding context and thinking about “what’s next” improves any story. Just as it improves job performance in most any field.

Journalists have to call “bullshit” on conventional wisdom. They have to be able to explain every choice they made in their story in case a news editor calls at 10 at night with a question about some quote or arcane piece of legislation.


Jill Geisler writes:

Even in social situations, you’ll find friends rely on their journalist buddies to gather information. Scout the restaurant. Get the background on the car I’m thinking of buying. Vet the new school superintendent. Help me find the best doctor for my condition. Journalists know how to do research — fast.

They can Google-stalk potential boyfriends like nobody’s business. Give them a name, and they’ll be able to get you a list of every traffic ticket that person has ever had. By the second date, my friend Joe knew more about his now-husband than Chris probably knew about himself.


Jill Geisler writes:

Your organization may or may not have embraced all of its online opportunities, but journalists know firsthand why the Internet matters. Sure, some news folks adopted an online mindset more slowly than others, but now many are well-equipped to help you execute online strategies — blogging, creating video and audio, connecting through social networks. They’ve been brought up to speed in the past several years as their newsrooms expanded their horizons.

Remember how we said journalists are multitaskers and quick studies? They’ve had to become web Jedis without the help of a Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Many of the web skills you’ll see out of these people were gleaned from newsroom experience. These were things they had to learn, whether it be because someone else left, or because they wanted to make themselves indispensable the next time layoffs came around.


Jill Geisler writes:

If you’ve ever complained that your team has a 9-to-5 approach to the job, hire a journalist. Some may think they’re crazy, but they’ve often followed stories, not schedules. They’ve dropped everything for breaking news. They’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to catch a perfect picture of the moon or listen to a source who could talk only in darkness. They took on the work of laid-off colleagues while still doing their own, for as long as they could. And they still have energy.

I know journalists who’ve canceled vacations because of breaking developments in huge stories. There have been times when I’ve seen editors in a newsroom on every day of their vacation. I’ve seen reporters come in multiple times on weekends, just to double-check things and answer questions for the copy desk.


Jill Geisler writes:

Imagine signing on to a job where you promise not to accept gifts that others could, must take pains to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest, should keep your opinions to yourself, are expected to question authority while respecting the law and to recognize that your work carries the opportunity every day to do good or harm.

Journalists didn’t just sign some statement saying they’ll comply with the organization’s policies, file it and forget it; they chose a profession that embraces a code of ethics and wrestles with its obligations daily. You might think they’ve fallen short over the years. But if you want to ask a great job interview question, ask journalists about some of the ethical minefields they’ve successfully walked and how they made it through while minimizing harm.

You would think you’d get into writing about sports or entertainment to get free perks, but a journalist would rather starve than do something he thinks would compromise his integrity. Some journalists don’t even like accepting a soda from a source.


Jill Geisler writes:

That’s why they’re hurting right now. The journalists you may hire have been faithful to their vocation, even when the going got more than tough. They’ve adapted, learned new skills, added duties, taken pay cuts and furloughs, mourned the loss of colleagues and coverage, and kept on doing work that mattered. What does that mean to you? Speaking as a management coach, I say it means this: hiring journalists presents you a terrific opportunity. Give them a job they believe in and they’ll work like hell to help you succeed.

Journalists have taken jobs in towns you’ve never heard of just so they could work in newspapers. They have skills applicable to many jobs where they could make much more, but they’ve chosen to stay in journalism, even when it meant working weekends and odd hours. They’ve missed birthdays, weddings and other important milestones because of their devotion to journalism. They’ve lived hundreds of miles away from family and dragged spouses across the country just so they could continue working in journalism. This is not a job, this is not a marriage, and this isn’t even a vocation. To a newsie, journalism is something much bigger than all of that.


UPDATE: Congratulations to Lisa, who found the typo in #6. See, everyone needs a copy editor.



Web Comic: The conversation many journalists hate having with strangers

“It Gets Better”: Being A Gay Teenager

Sex columnist and gay icon Dan Savage has created a project to let LGBT teenagers know that while life may be difficult now, “it gets better.”

Savage started the “It Gets Better” project after 15-year-old Indiana teenager Billy Lucas hanged himself in his family’s barn after enduring bullying from his classmates. In the weeks since Billy’s death, Savage has written about the incident in his Slog, inspiring multiple comments.

One comment struck a chord with Savage: the commenter expressed regret at not being able to tell Billy that things get better for gays and lesbians after high school. Savage explained on his podcast how this inspired him and his husband to create a video. They wanted to share their stories of how they were able to experience happiness as openly gay adults, despite the bullying they received as kids. Their hope is that other gay and lesbian adults will upload similar videos so that LGBT youth can know that despite how tough things might be now, it gets better.

I hope more LGBT adults will post videos to the “It Gets Better” channel. I’ve always said that it’s incredibly helpful for people to be open and accepting so that others will feel less isolated. Dan and Terry endured some difficult things in high school, but they got through it, found each other and have great lives. Hell, even I was inspired by their stories, and I had a good high school experience and come from a very accepting family. I can only imagine how helpful this could be for someone whose high school experience and family sucked.

Side note: If you’re a longtime Dan Savage devotee and groupie (like me), then you’ll relish the opportunity to finally see Terry. I’ve read almost every Dan Savage book, so I feel like I know Terry, D.J., Judy and the rest of Dan’s family. Terry looks nothing like how I pictured him to look.

Anywho, check it out. It’s an interesting use of the Internet and a hopeful event in an otherwise sad story.

Twitter’s acting the fool; use TweetDeck

So, after writing that post about “gay,” “homosexual” and the like, I thought, “I’ll tweet the link.”


Apparently, there’s some sort of security flaw redirecting people to third-party sites. I can’t even put into words what happened to my screen without sounding like a grandma who doesn’t understand that she has to turn the computer on if she wants it to work. So I defer to Mashable:

The bug is particularly nasty because it works on mouseover only, meaning pop-ups and third-party websites can open even if you just move your mouse over the offending link.

The flaw uses a JavaScript function called onMouseOver which creates an event when the mouse is passed over a chunk of text. We’ve seen the flaw being abused to launch simple pop-up windows, redirect users elsewhere (including porn sites), and we’ve also seen it used in combination with blocks of color, covering the true “intention” of the tweet.

OMG! What to do? How do we go thiiiiiiiiis looooooooong without LOLZ, kittehs, JKs and LMFAOZ? IDK!

For now, the best course of action is using only third-party apps such as TweetDeck  to access Twitter, as the bug only seems to affect Twitter’s web interface. Also, if your Twitter account contains a message abusing the flaw, you can delete it using a third-party app.

Oh, Thank God.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: “Gay” vs. “homosexual”

Between “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Prop 8, there are lots of gay issues (and terms) in the news. These issues tend to be difficult for many media outlets to cover, as no one wants to offend anyone. Not the same-sex couple who traveled to Canada to get married. Not the fire-and-brimstone pastor who thinks all “homosexuals and sodomites are going to hell.” Not the average guy who might not “understand the lifestyle” but nevertheless says, “I love my dead gay son.”

In some cases, pastors and randoms are interviewed for stories in which they have no real stake. There could be a series of vignettes about same-sex couples who’ve been together 17 years and fought for benefits and survived illness after illness. And then, an awkward transition…. “While these couples want to get married, not everyone agrees. Just ask Joad Cressbeckler….” To be sure, not all of these are tacked on, but it makes me wonder: How did the media cover Loving vs. Virginia back in the 1960s? How cringe-worthy would that coverage appear if we looked at it now? How similar or different is it from how the media is covering these current civil rights issues concerning gays and lesbians?

Not only are the topics controversial, even the terms are hotly debated. A 2005 Gallup poll surveying moral attitudes placed onto the lives gay and lesbian Americans showed that “homosexual” has negative connotation to it compared to “gay”:

Proving the power of language in the debate, survey responses were nine to 10 percentage points higher when the term “gay and lesbian” was used instead of “homosexual.”

Earlier this year, a CBS News/ New York Times poll found that wording was key when asking whether Americans support allowing gays to serve in the military.

In its analysis of the 2005 poll, Daniel Gonzales Ex-Gay Watch pointed out the “right of any minority group to self-determine their own descriptive terminology.” It’s no longer acceptable for black people to be referred to as “negros,” Gonzales pointed out, so gays and lesbians should not be referred to as “homosexuals,” he argued.

For what it’s worth, here’s what’s in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide:

OFFENSIVE: “homosexual” (as a n. or adj.)
PREFERRED: “gay” (adj.); “gay man” or “lesbian” (n.)

Please use “lesbian” or “gay man” to describe people attracted to members of the same sex. Because of the clinical history of the word “homosexual,” it has been adopted by anti-gay extremists to suggest that lesbians and gay men are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s.

And from the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association stylebook:

homosexual: As a noun, a person who is attracted to members of the same sex. As an adjective, of or relating to sexual and affectional attraction to a member of the same sex. Use only if “heterosexual” would be used in parallel constructions, such as in medical contexts. For other usages, see gay and lesbian.

How the 8 million Terry Jones stories became stories

When I listened to the national weekly round-up shows the last few days, there were lots of cries that the media had been played by Terry Jones. Many of these journalists said that the media elevated the story to something it wasn’t, and that they were effectively encouraging him.

In hindsight, there were some things about this story that were most definitely newsworthy and needed to be covered. There were great features pieces that explained Muslim culture in ways that the culture hadn’t been explained before. And, most of all, this story and its myriad stories/non-stories demonstrated that through social media, comment boards and the viral nature of the Internet, many “non-events” are going to get attention.

Look at all the stories that came out of this:

Before this week, how many people had him on the radar? How did this guy get to enjoy press conference after press conference?

According to The Washington Post, Jones first tweeted his plan for “International Burn a Koran Day” on July 12. The Council on American-Islamic Relations got wind of that, The New York Times published something and by September 6, protesters in Kabul were burning an effigy of Jones, chanting “Death to America.”

The news here was not that this guy was going to burn a Koran or even that he’d do it on 9/11. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church takes part in all sorts of stunts and those events have become non-events. The news angle, in my opinion, was that Gen. Petraeus intervened in a domestic matter with the warning that this could have severe international consequences. American troops would be threatened in areas where extremists have been known to carry out attacks. In other words, Jones was doing the international equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre: his free speech could endanger others, and people cried shenanigans.

Note that in the Washington Post timeline of events, it took more than a month and a half for a news outlet to acknowledge this event. The tweets and Facebook page communicated this, and through the viral nature of the Internet, people in the Middle East were long aware of this before the The Times posted something. If not for Twitter or Facebook, would these people have even known? Hard to say, but the fact that Jones could broadcast these plans on his own is a key factor in how this became the story that it did.

The guy’s striking look and odd conversational style probably didn’t hurt his chances of getting on TV. The speculation of “will he, won’t he?” got lots of TV play. And then the readers, callers and viewers who chimed in helped continue the story. Many people were talking about it, even if they weren’t saying anything of substance. On the radio this week, I heard one guy who said he wanted to rip page after page out of the Koran and feed it to his goat. The more that these people got to comment on air and online, the more they became part of the story. The story was no longer just that some guy was going to burn the Koran, or that Petraeus was intervening. The story became, “Holy shit, this guy is not alone in his beliefs about Islam and he’s become a poster boy for these people.”

As for the story about Jones being from the same Missouri town as Rush Limbaugh, that story was inevitable. I think it has less to do with a “liberal agenda” or more to do with the practice of localizing. Like it or not, many news outlets localize stories. So, the “could this happen here” and “what our local imams are saying” stories were inevitable, and in many instances, justified stories. That he’s from Missouri doesn’t mean anything to me (though it is my home state), but I’m sure there are people who feel a certain connection to stories knowing one of the key players is from there. It’s the same reason papers write multiple stories about local kids who make it onto “American Idol.” And the coverage could have been worse. I was really expecting every town where Jones had stopped to fill up his tank and grab some food to run some interview with the gas station attendant, asking her to speculate on what Jones’ gas choice said about his character.

Thus, I’m proud of how Times-Union colleague Jeff Brumley approached this story. So many people had asked, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a Koran. People burn the Bible and the American flag all the time and no one cares.” Jeff explained that while it’s commonplace for people to use markers to highlight their favorite Biblical texts, many Muslims would be horrified to do that to their Koran. Jeff explained the differing cultural attitudes, and I hope that people would say, “Shit, we don’t want to piss off anyone, especially extremists who’ve been willing to blow people up over less.”

Arcade Fire teams with Google Chrome to make video about your childhood home (yes, YOUR home)

You probably saw this last week, but its implications are far-reaching enough that it bears bringing up again.

Indie rock band The Arcade Fire released an interactive music video for their song “We Used To Wait,” from their album, “Suburbs.” At the beginning of the video, you’re asked to enter the address for the home where you were raised. Once you type that in, it processes for a few seconds and then tells you you’re ready to start.

And then your mind is blown.

The video begins with a guy running down the street, and other windows pop up showing the street and the sky. Those windows collapse as new ones appear, all as this guy keeps running down the street. As he progresses, the bird’s eye view of the town in which he’s running becomes clearer, and you start to see familiar settings…

He’s running to your childhood home, or what Google Street View has on file of your home. Or, in the screen grab above, my childhood home. And then you’re given the chance to write or draw a postcard to your childhood self.

You’re hooked now, and totally want to do this for every home you’ve ever lived, right? You should know: This video requires a browser that reads HTML5. It was designed in partnership with Google Chrome, which you can download for free, but can also run on Safari.

Journalists of all crafts, take note:

  • This is truly interactive. Sometimes we’ll call things “interactive” when the interaction is rolling over or clicking. Those types of interactives have their place, but this is an interactive that requires a few levels of input from the user. First, the user needs to type in the address. Later in the video, the user moves the video along by writing or drawing a postcard to his or her younger self. Thus…
  • You can do this over and over before getting bored. You will never have the same experience with this video. Even if you type the same address, you’re still going to be asked to write or draw a postcard to yourself. And even if you write the same text, the experience won’t be the same. (I won’t tell you much more, except that your text begins to move.)
  • This shows some cool things HTML5 can do. Sure, you’re not going to make videos like this, per se, but if you’ve been trying to convince people in your department why you should be paying attention to HTML5, this will help your argument.
  • This works because it’s so personal. People love to look for themselves and loved ones in things. It’s the reason why people spend time with county-by-county maps, whether they’re for election results or home prices. It’s why searchable databases get so much attention. This video’s use of technology and interactivity really work because of the connection to the user. I typed in the house where we lived when I was born, the house where I spent most of my childhood, my friends’ houses, etc. This will entertain me (and you) for hours.

The nebulous intersection of media and Foursquare

The news that Foursquare is partnering with MTV in September to give virtual badges to Foursquare users who get tested for sexually transmitted infections is news for many reasons, one of which being that it reminds us that many media companies are still trying to wrap their minds around Foursquare (and all social media).

If you’re a newbie to this whole social media universe…

Foursquare and similar services use smart phones’ GPS capabilities to locate where users are and what’s around them. Users can then “check in” to a venue by tapping it on a list — or typing in their own.

Foursquare users already receive scout-inspired merit badges for a range of check-in accomplishments. These include “Gym Rat” for hitting the gym 10 times in a month or “Crunked” for checking in to four or more places in a single night.

Why would you want to advertise where you were? Some businesses are offering specials to people who check in, and others offer discounts to “mayors,” the Foursquare user who has more checkins at a given location than any other user who has checked in there within the last two months. And, the game mentality of the app drives users’ desires to earn as many points and badges as possible. I know a couple here who would check into funerals if they could.

The businesses who do offer incentives for people to check in there seem few and far between. Some of the businesses of which I’ve become mayor have said, “Foursquare? Like whatchoo’d play in grade school?” It’s nowhere on the radar for them, and when I explained the potential rewards, they’d say, “Wow, the things you can do these days.” But, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, there are businesses trying to embrace it.

When The Wall Street Journal unveiled its metro section for Greater New York, it included some Journal-specific Foursquare badges. When the Journal “checked in” near Times Square in May when the area was evacuated for a bomb threat, it was the first time the Journal had used Foursquare to break news. In the months since then, there have been musings as to how reporters can use Foursquare to find sources. In places like New York, you might find enough people on Foursquare at a given moment who will see your alerts and find you. But in smaller places, it could be hit or miss.

I’m curious as to how media companies will gauge success with Foursquare. Until there’s a model for how to integrate it into a media company’s mission, I think the best way to judge it will be reminiscent of the Supreme Court’s obscenity statement in the ’60s: “I know it when I see it.”