An article written for the Radio Television Digital News Association, RTDNA:
Sep 20 2011
By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger
As the Excellence in Journalism conference looms closer, ask yourself: “Am I ready?”
Yes, you have registered and hopefully already figured out where you are staying, but what about the other details? Have you contacted people to re-connect? Have you made time network with the other thousand or so journalists that will be there? Do you know which sessions you are going and what you will be doing in between the sessions?
Registration and booking a flight are only the first steps. Here are some more ways you can prepare for a conference where journalists from around the world get together to learn, provide advice and most importantly talk business!
A story written for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Generation J committee and the Radio Television Digital News Association:
Aug 17 2011
By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger & SPJ Generation J Committee Head
Are you a multimedia journalist or a video journalist? Or are you a multimedia producer? Or maybe you consider yourself a digital journalist?
As the technology in the newsroom continues to change, the responsibilities of each person in the newsroom is also changing.
A reporter may now also be considered a photographer, an editor, a web producer, etc. More and more of us do more than just write stories or make the phone calls and do the research for the stories. We are also responsible for taking the pictures, shooting video, creating an online story and more, all while still reporting.
Aug 09 2011
By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger
As news consumption and delivery continues to change, your role in the newsroom probably continues to change too. Sometimes probably more quickly than you would like.
While you cannot always control what story you are covering on a particular day, you can work to help shape the topics and stories you become remembered and known for.
I think the best way to do this is to think about what you want to become an expert in. Think of it as the go-to person in your newsroom when someone needs a source, story idea or advice about a particular story.
You could be an expert in almost anything. Maybe it is a particular beat (city council, the local school board political races, etc.) or maybe it is a type of reporting (investigations, consumer, breaking news, etc.) You could also become an expert based on mastering certain skills (mobile reporting, creating multimedia and interactive web tools, public information requests, etc.)
Make Reporting Life Less Hectic: How to Manage Story Ideas & Keep Your Quotes
By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger
While I am not sure anyone can ever have all of it “under control” there are some ways to make small tasks like phone calls more manageable. This is the third of a series of tips I use to help keep my life a little more orderly and less overwhelming. First was phone calls, second was FOIA requests, and the last is story ideas and background information.
7 Tips For Better Mobile Reporting
Jan 20 2011
By Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
Working for a news organization means more than obtaining interviews and writing stories. For most of us, we are also writing content for multiple media platforms, expected to keep a social media presence, shoot video, take photographs and interact with our readers and viewers. On top of all of that, a lot of the content we produce happens instantaneously through the Internet and social media networks.
While it can be overwhelming, the great thing about technology is that while it keeps changing it also finds ways to get easier to use and more portable. Using a laptop is great, but even the smallest ones can get in the way when you are shooting video, live tweeting and taking notes.
It is for that reason, that I am thankful for my iPhone. It’s small, extremely portable and does more than I could ever imagine. Here are some tips on using your iPhone to produce content for your news organization.
1. It’s all about the apps! You are expected to do a lot but luckily there are a lot of free applications that make your life a lot easier. From Twitter to Facebook to photo-sharing sites, be sure you have applications downloaded and are familiar with them before you head to the story. Here are some I cannot live without:
Facebook: Great for posting stories on your own page or your news organizations page. The key is to share information that will get comments from viewers and readers and to keep them informed.
Seesmic for iPhone: I use this to monitor my Twitter accounts. There are lots of options out there but this one works best for me, especially if you are going to be doing a lot of live tweeting. It’s great because you can have different windows for different accounts, different users and different search terms. I have windows for my personal account, my news organizations account, #HISD for the school district I cover, all school board members and other reporters covering education in my area. I have my personal account logged in and my organizations account so I can tweet from both if I have to (Seesmic always give you an option to choose which one before you tweet). It also allows you to do share pictures very easily.
Ping.fm bookmarked on Safari: This site, if you are not already using it is a truly a technology blessing. You register all of your social media accounts with the site and when you post something through the home page, it updates all of the sites at once. Another great feature is it allows you to send information through text messages, which can save the battery life of your phone.
Instagram: This is a picture-sharing site that allows you to edit pictures and make them more artistic while also allowing you to share them. It is gaining a lot of users and most recently was featured on the site Mashable for its use by NPR.
UStream, URecorder and Qik: These are all live video streaming applications that will allow you to broadcast live, save video for later and even send notifications to social networks that you are shooting live video on the web. What I love about these is that they work even if you are not connected to a WiFi network.
Cover it Live: A great live blogging tool to use. I have seen most people use it with their laptops but I think the mobile application is pretty easy to use.
2. Reserve the battery and always keep a charger on hand. A dead phone can really set your day behind, so always have your charger on hand. Also, prepare your phone for a longer battery life by trying these suggestion in this article by PCmag.com. I have done all of the suggestions and it really does work. Plus, all of the notifications can just get in the way some times. Live Tweeting can really drain the battery too, try texting tweets using ping.fm to save some of the battery.
3. Inexpensive accessories. The great thing about the iPhone is that it is so small that it is usually easy to keep steady while shooting video. But, to make it easier there are lots of cheap ($10) accessories you can buy that connect your iPhone to Tripod. Along with steady video, sometimes sound quality can be an issue, try getting a microphone. For more information on some inexpensive accessories worth trying I would check out this article by Mashable.
4. LIVE video streaming is a great tool. The great thing about the iPhone is you can stream video live using many different applications. This gives viewers instant access which they love. It also provides you and your station with content a lot faster. If you are streaming the live video to the stations account (which I would recommend) anyone who has access to the account can online and download what you recorded. The video can then be used in newscast or posted immediately to the website and you have a little less to do and can continue talking to people and gathering information.
5. Time management is key. Balancing the amount of time you are live tweeting, sending photos, shooting video and responding to comments can be the hardest thing. For me I find it easiest if I do it all in a certain order. For example, live tweeting is something our viewers respond to, so I focus most of my time on that. But, I have to remember to not just continue to send out tweets, I have to look at the account and respond to viewers and answer questions as well. I reserve live video streams for when I am talking to one person and not while they are talking to a meeting. Pictures a great way to show who is at the meeting, what is going on, etc.
6. Be flexible. The great thing about reporting from your phone is that it is so small; you can have it your hand while you are working a camera, taking a picture or recording audio. When I am covering an event or a meeting or working on a story, I always have an audio file recording sound. I use a video camera to record video, but if I move the camera or stop recording for some reason, I always have the audio file in its entirety. For still photographs, I use my iPhone for the most part, but also have a digital camera on hand too. Use your instincts, but the more options you have the more you will be able to offer and take advantage of reporting from your phone.
7. Be organized. When reporting on a story and posting updates on social media it is important to be organized. With the iPhone updates, you can create folders where all of your video applications are in one spot, all of your photography applications are in another, etc. I also recommend keeping e-mail inboxes separate so it is easier to find mail and you are not searching for something in a mail folder that has your personal and professional accounts linked. Keeping push notifications off will keep you more focused and be less annoying (you won’t be interrupted by a friend asking you about dinner plans on Facebook while you are working).
It can all be overwhelming but it actually is also really fun. You get to use so many different tools to connect and inform your audience. The great thing about it to is that since you are sending a lot of things electronically, you have created a trail, that can be used for your reference later on while writing the story.
5 Ways to Use Social Media to Enhance Live Coverage
Jan 27 2011
By Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
Social media and online communication tools are providing journalists with endless opportunities to create more and better news coverage. New technologies also allow us to interact with our viewers and have immediate discussions about the stories we cover every day.
Posting to Twitter and Facebook while covering a meeting or after a story has been published is just the beginning though. What about using social media and online interactive tools while reporting live from the newsroom or in the field? Below are some ways to use social media tools to enhance live reporting.
1. Location-based services. On the scene of a big event? Or maybe there was a big drug bust in a neighborhood? Big stories draw a lot of attention from viewers, especially those living on the same block of the story location. With so many people logging onto websites like Facebook and Twitter from their mobile phones it is easy to see where a tweet or post on those sites came from. Sometimes people do not want to go on camera, but they may share their opinions about the safety of the neighborhood or heavy traffic in comments on social media sites. Look to see where the comments are coming from and if they are close by say that. Think of how much more meaning a comment from someone that is 100 yards from the story has over someone who is on the other side of the city. (I would be careful not to share actual usernames, etc. because you are identifying the persons location.) Try iPhone application Layar, Facebook Places, Foursquare.
2. Behind-the scenes. On top of populating your website, you know have Twitter, Facebook, and lots of other sites to keep active. What goes on behind the scenes during a live broadcast in a newsroom or out in the field is something most journalists see every day, but viewers do not. Use this to your advantage and have someone take pictures, record short videos, etc. and upload them to the station blog, Facebook account or other social media outlets.
3. Don’t tell them, show them. Graphics and pictures of people are great. But what if you can show someone the actual Facebook picture of an alleged criminal? Instead of just taking the picture on the profile and making it into a graphic, why not use your phone, a computer screen or a tablet to scroll through their profile while you are talking about the story? People are so used to doing more than one thing at once that it will seem natural to them. If a story is gaining a lot of buzz online, show your viewers that. Show them how many people have shared it, show them the comments, show them how many people have “liked” it on Facebook. Use the popularity to your advantage because when people think something is popular they general want to know about it too.
4. Record more often. At times, especially when covering a beat, it can seem like there is so much information to share and so many stories to do. And realistically there is, but some are more important than others. Instead of trying to cram all of it into one story or do too many stories on the same subject, try recording shorter, simpler videos about it or writing short blog posts or even uploading documents to the web and sharing the link to them. Then when you are reporting live send your viewers to these resources. Tell them you were live tweeting from the meeting and they can view all of the tweets on your Twitter page for a play-by-play review.
5. Answer Questions. As clear as we think we are sometimes there are always more questions to be asked. Use this to your advantage. Before going live, ask viewers what they want to know about the story and if you do not address it in your story use it in your introduction or your tag. And be sure to say the question came from Twitter or Facebook so viewers know you are monitoring the sites.
Nobody Is Talking On Camera, Now What?
Feb 10 2011
By Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
A camera can capture great moments, making stories more interesting and realistic for viewers. But, video as a medium can also make a reporters job a little harder, especially if no one is talking to you.
As an investigative video journalist for Texas Watchdog, I run into this problem more often then I would like, but, along the way I have learned to prepare in advance for these situations. Whether it is a phone call that is never returned or an e-mail that goes without a reply, here are some tips on creating video elements even when people refuse to talk with you or are ignoring you.
1. Record all phone calls. I cannot stress this enough. While it may just be audio that is recording, it can quickly be turned into video using still images of the person you are calling or b-roll from a previous story. Just remember to begin recording as soon as you pick up the phone to dial. The sounds of the buttons dialing, the ringing on the other end of the call, the voicemail greeting of the person you are calling and the message or in most cases messages you leave are all important elements in the story. Whether it is used for nat sound at end or turns out to be the main SOT’s in your story, you will be better off with all of it than without it.
2. Put the camera on yourself. Instead of just telling your viewers you tried over and over again to get the answers. Show them. Set up a video camera and record yourself leaving the messages. Use these as Nat pops in the story or as major elements.
3. Use the e-mails. The same goes with e-mails. If you sent 50 different e-mails and never received a response, why not print them out and use them as b-roll or in a stand-up. You could also set up a camera and record yourself sending the e-mails from the beginning. Sometimes you know right away that you may not get a response other times you do not, but why not be prepared for it just in case?
4. Use the audio from the phone recordings. There are countless ways this can be done, but think of the impact it can have on a viewer or listener? You are not just telling them you called them, you can let them listen to the messages you left or the phone that just kept ringing and ringing. Sometimes you may leave a message with a secretary or assistant, include that, even if there was a conversation involved. In some cases, the conversation and the run-around that people in an office give you make the story even more interesting and can even become the story.
5. Bring the camera to them. Public officials attend a lot of public events and sometimes hold media time after certain meetings. Show up and ask the questions you want answered then. Just because it wasn’t on the agenda, doesn’t mean it cannot be asked while they are heading into or out of the meeting. If they do not answer or you have to follow them down a hallway with the camera because they will not stop, include that in the story. This shows viewers you tried to find out more and it provides more insight for the public into who the individual is.
Be sure to keep in mind that some people you talk to are public officials, some are elected and others are private citizens. Make sure you are clear about your news organizations policies on how far it believes is “ok” to go in order to get in touch with someone.
‘Bad Weather’ Is Such a Relative Term
Feb 15 2011
By Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
In a newsroom the words “bad weather” often mean long hours, overtime and lots of live coverage. It is the sort of thing that as journalists we dread but can wind up loving.
For most of the country recently, “bad weather” has meant cold temperatures, snow and ice, which for many parts of the country is nothing new. But in other parts (like here in Houston, Texas, where I live) it’s an uncommon and unwelcome occurrence that shuts down cities and leave viewers and listeners glued to local weather coverage.
Being from the north and having previously worked for television stations in the State of Ohio winter weather and the stories it brings with it from icy roads to school closings are just part of the daily news rundown.
Anyone who has worked at a television station where snow and cold temperatures are the norm for parts of the year, would probably agree with me when I say it can get a little overdone. From the wall-to-wall coverage of “snowmageddon” to live newscasts that extend hours-beyond what is normally scheduled, weather stories eat up valuable story-telling time in newscasts.
How many stories can a viewer really consume and enjoy about the snowy road conditions, tips to prevent pipes from freezing and how to keep electric costs down? The coverage of winter weather becomes even less of a novelty when promised “10-12 inches” arrive in dustings of less than two.
So, you could imagine my reaction, when at 11 a.m. on a Friday morning, the local television news stations in Houston are still live on-air with wall-to-wall winter weather coverage — here we go again! (To set the stage: the promise of snow in Houston did not turn into much more than some icy roads for most of the city, except in the outlining areas where there was some accumulation, but nothing that came above your tennis shoes.)
The stations were doing the usual cold weather coverage: roads, ice, cold temperatures. After watching the live coverage continue in dismay, I noticed that not only did I need to reconsider my initial negative reaction but that the people around me, Houstonians, actually were getting into the coverage.
At the gym, people could not take their eyes off of the televisions — some were even stopping their cardio routine to get closer to the screen to listen. Not only were they listening, but they seemed genuinely entertained and interested in what the reporters and the anchors were talking about: ice, cold temperatures and some snow.
I was shocked! Until I remembered, I am not in Ohio anymore. I am in Texas where winter weather is not common, where people may not have experience scraping ice from their cars or driving through snow.
This is when it hit me, unusual weather, like temperatures in the 20′s in February in Houston, is something people are interested in. Having to walk on icy sidewalks and even bundling up to wait for the bus stops are not tasks that come as second nature to them.
The non-stop local news coverage of weather that can be overdone and exaggerated in many markets, was in this case warranted and it seems well received.
Have you seen something similar to this while jumping across the country as a journalist? I would love to hear about! Contact me Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com or on Twitter @LWalsh.
8 Simple Ways to Improve Your Web Writing Today
Feb 24 2011
By Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
Writing for the web. It’s not TV, it’s not newspaper, it’s not magazine and it’s not radio – it’s all four!
Online journalism combines video, audio and writing into one medium providing endless storytelling possibilities for journalists and a more enjoyable experience for the audience. However, with more media platforms comes more information and more sources, making it harder for your story to get clicked on.
And just copying your newspaper story or the script from your television package and pasting it on a web page is not going to cut it. Audiences read news online differently.
Scanning not reading. As interesting as you think your article is, if it online people are probably not reading it word for word. They are scanning and trying to absorb as much information as possible before moving on to the next thing.
Searching for something. The internet is not the Sunday paper. Readers tend not to scroll through every word or story until something catches their eye. Most of the time they already know what they are looking for and if it’s not what they are looking for they will not stay long!
More impatient. With so much information online people aren’t spending valuable time searching a page for what they are looking for. If they do not see it right away they will most likely go to the next search result.
Most likely multi-tasking. When is the last time you only had one internet browser open? Well, you are not alone. People enjoy the internet because it is fast and provides opportunities for doing many things at once — reading news is not an exception.
From writing the story to sharing it on social media sites, here are some tips to make sure your story doesn’t get lost in the online universe or worse yet buried on page four of a Google search result page.
1. Keep it short and sweet. Keep sentences short. Omit unnecessary words. Only include one idea per paragraph. Keep paragraphs short: tell the reader to “read me.”
2. Subheads are key. Remember readers are scanning — make it easy for them! Use subheads to show them where to go in the story. Use keywords that make sense in the subhead titles.
3. Lists and bullets are your friend. Use whenever possible! It makes keywords stick out.
– It breaks up content
– It looks more readable
– It seems more manageable
That reads better than: “It breaks up the content, it looks more readable and it seems more manageable.”
4. Be conversational. Use active words. Actually talk to the reader. This is a lot more like broadcast writing style then print. Use words like “you” and “we.” Use words that people know — even if spellcheck says they don’t exist!
5. Remember the inverted pyramid. Keep the most important information up top, but do it because it is important not because of space issues. On the internet you have as much space as you need — use lists and subheads to highlight that information up top, then go into more detail.
6. Links are crucial. They provide readers with more information. They can help move your article up in searches (if the links work). They also make certain words stand out to readers.
7. Bold, italicize, uppercase. In lists, in paragraphs and in subheads. Be careful to not do it to much though — it can look messy. (Also, always be sure to check with your news organizations policy on this!)
8. Be direct. Web readers are there for information — GIVE IT TO THEM! Do not dance around the subject.
Once the story is written it is time to share the link. From Facebook to Twitter and every site in between, how you share a story can really make a difference.
Always include a link. If a story can be told without a link in less than 140 characters, then why write a story at all. If you don’t have a link people don’t know where to go!
Don’t just re-type the headline. People have most likely already seen the headline from your news organizations account. Re-write it. Don’t be redundant.
Try asking questions. Instead of boring statements, why not raise questions? Social media is supposed to be social — start the conversation!
Engage and grab their attention. Be personal. Tell them why this is worth reading. Make it interesting. Even if it is one or two small facts you are pulling from the article, highlight what is interesting and different because most likely there will be several other news articles on the same story for them to read.
Type how you search. What would you type into Google to find the story? Use those keywords in social media posts.
All social media sites have their own tricks. But in general, people are on them to see what is fun, interesting and new. They are on these sites to be social and vocal. Use that to your advantage.
Audio Tweets: The Future of Online Reporting?
Jul 29 2010
By Lynn Walsh, Texas Watchdog
A little bit of social media heaven revealed itself to me this week: audio tweeting.
It showed up as most social media news does, through my Mashable iPhone application.
But, this article on the technology and social media website is more than just a first look at how to send audio clips over social media sites. It reveals yet another tool journalists can use to better connect communities to the stories being reported every day.
Whether it is a quick sound bite or a descriptive audio clip-they can now be shared instantaneously with audiences across the world with just a few clicks.
While the possibilities of how journalists can use these services is endless, in my opinion; the greatest part is the ease of use.
Most reporters are already tweeting throughout the day as they run to and from interviews, press conferences, events, etc. Sometimes the messages are timely and deliver breaking news as it happens-other times the messages prepare the audience for what to expect in a story coming later that day or night.
Now, instead of describing the noise of the construction site or quoting a school board member during a meeting, journalists can actually share the sounds with their followers as they happen. No more typing out quotes in 140 characters or less-just hit record and the 15-second sound bite can be shared on Facebook and Twitter in less than a minute.
Some may argue sharing a compelling interview clip or providing too many details may reveal too much of the finished product-leaving listeners and viewers with nothing new to see later. I disagree.
Think about how many times you have been forced to choose between great sound bites, leaving the “leftover” sound to just be recorded over the next day. Now you not only have a way to let your source tell more of their story in their own words, but you can create a compelling, interesting and multimedia story that ropes listeners and viewers in throughout the day.
It could be an informative, day-long teaser for your audience. Plus-it is interesting, innovative and provides more levels of engagement for the community.
Another great reason to audio tweet: the possibility of increased transparency for the public. They are not just reading quotes you heard someone say, they are actually hearing the same sounds and comments you are, just a few seconds later.
As journalists across the country are expected to do more with less, new technologies can be overwhelming; I encourage you to not give-up. New technologies are allowing journalists to tell better stories that make a bigger impact in communities everywhere-embracing the changes and new technologies can help the world become more engaged and better informed.
The five services Mashable suggests are:
The services all offer web-based platforms and AudiBoo also has both iPhone and Android applications. Short and longer recordings are both possible with the above services (Twaud.io will allow around 30 minutes of audio to be recorded and uploaded.)
Lynn Walsh is an investigative video journalist at Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit online journalism organization focusing on government accountability and transparency in Texas.