Gone CAMPing

I just arrived in lovely Essex, Vermont for the Journalism and Women Symposium’s Conference and Mentorship Project (CAMP.)

Such an awesome group. Here’s what I saw when I walked in the door:

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A really great trip to Chicago

Photo/Meg Heckman
Photo/Meg Heckma

I spent last weekend in Chicago at the inaugural conference of the Local Independent Online News Publishers, aka “LION.” (That’s the group mascot, Boot Strapper, in the picture.)  As I wrote about in this piece for NetNewsCheck, these publishers work long, solo hours covering communities across the country, but they remain optimistic about the future of local — and locally-owned — news organizations.

Also notable: Nearly half the publishers on LION’s membership roster are women. Throughout history, women have found small (and, often, rural) news organizations more welcoming than large, urban newsrooms. Are we seeing this trend repeating itself online? Or are these female publishers on their way to restructuring the demographics of the American press in a way that will help it better reflect the communities it covers?

Leap and the net will appear

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This is Hamilton Smith Hall, home of the University of New Hampshire’s English department and the journalism lab where I wrote my first ledes. Come January, it will also be the site of my new office.

It’s been nearly a year since I quit a perfectly good job at a great local newspaper to pursue a master’s degree — the credential I need to teach journalism at the college level. It was, without doubt, a big gamble. Higher education is grappling with many of the same disruptions that are rocking newsrooms, but I believe that the best way to serve journalism is to support its future practitioners. So I took the risk — and it’s paid off.

In January, I’ll be joining the UNH faculty as a lecturer in the journalism program. Although I don’t start teaching for a few months, I attended an orientation for new employees earlier this week. The picture above is one of several I took while wandering around Durham Monday evening.

Ham-Smith is one of the oldest buildings on campus, so she’s a little rough around the edges. But it was there, nearly 15 years ago, that this kid from the woods of New Hampshire learned how to understand the larger world through writing. So much has changed since I took that introductory news writing class all those lifetimes ago, but I’m excited to help today’s students shape how stories will be told in the decades to come.

And, of course, watch the Wildcats crush Maine. Often.

Welcome to summer tech camp

Source: WikiMedia Commons.
Source: WikiMedia Commons.

For the next couple of months, I’ll be leading digital storytelling workshops at Northeastern University’s journalism school. We’re calling them tech camps because a.) it’s summer; and b.) learning new skills is always easier if it’s fun. (It also leaves open the possibility of commandeering the microwaves in the student union to make s’mores.)

The first workshop, which meets this afternoon, is focused on ThingLink, a web-based tool that allows users to to turn photos into interactive hubs. In a shameless genuflection to Northeastern’s mascot, here’s one for people considering adopting a Husky puppy. The portrait of the dog forms the backdrop, and each button — or “tag” in ThingLink lingo — leads to more information. ThingLink images can be embedded in other websites or shared on social media platforms. (It doesn’t seem to work on WordPress, though, so you’ll have to click here to see my inaugural ThingLink project.)

Puppies and food pictures aside, journalists around the world are already using ThingLink to tell serious stories. Here’s how one German paper used it to give readers more information about the iconic Situation Room photo on the night of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Washington Post turned a static map of Syria into a media rich explainer, and Forbes made an already information-packed graphic even more useful to online readers.

This type of storytelling isn’t new, but ThingLink makes it accessible to newsrooms with limited technical resources. It could be especially useful for web editors tasked with making lovely print graphics suitable for digital readers.

Users can link to any website, but ThinkLink has special display features for YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and dozens of other sources.

There’s also a social component to ThingLink, which has a community structure similar to Twitter. It looks like some newspapers are using ThingLink accounts to promote their content by creating a quasi e-edition based on an image of the day’s front page. Here’s one example from the Patriot-News and another from USA Today.

ThingLink plans to release a mobile app sometime soon. In April, Washington Post reporters were allowed to test it at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April. How else might journalists use a mobile version of ThingLink?

A break from our regular programming…

For the last several months, I’ve spent many hours watching the fine examples of video journalism available here, here and here. I’ve also been working on a few projects of my own, including this one. It’s a fun little feature about a trend called slacklining. For those of you who care about gear, I used a Nikon D5100 with a stock lens and a Zoom H1 recorder with a wind sock. I produced the piece with FinalCut Pro X.

Speaking of breaks, I’m taking a bit of time off from blogging to catch up on a few other projects. See you in early May.

Building civic engagement online

Nicest conference room I've ever used. Photo/Meg Heckman
Nicest conference room I’ve ever used.

I spent the weekend at a lovely hotel in Saratoga Springs where the New York Press Association held its annual convention. Hundreds of staffers from papers all over the Empire State were there to receive awards, eat great food and listen to speakers like me.

My lecture explored how local newspapers can use digital tools to foster civic engagement. It’s a talk I’ve given before and was happy to repeat because it allows me to challenge something I hear too often from newspaper journalists. The web, they say, is best suited for fluffy features and photos of kittens, not the kind of stories that support democracy.

That’s just not true. This handout includes some examples of meaningful online journalism, as does the presentation below:

The crowd that attended my lecture was full of young, smart journalists starting their careers at New York’s many weekly papers. They asked great questions and shared how they had used digital tools to engage readers in civic life. Like this election night blog from the Riverhead News-Review. Using CoverItLive, the staff mixed strong reporting and a bit of humor with fantastic results.

564515_10151392314772913_662473472_nAnother example of online civic engagement came from the Home Reporter, a Brooklyn paper with a very active Facebook account. The staff told me how they routinely receive news tips and reader questions through the page.

What other ways are local papers using the web to foster civic engagement? Tell me in the comment section below.