News Story–Reporting Techniques

For the final project of this class, we were asked to work in groups on a feature story that would include a written story, photography, and a video edited with Final Cut Pro.

My final project story will be posted here shortly, but before it goes up I wanted to take a minute to talk about the techniques that went into reporting for it.

My classmate Katie Fernandez and I decided to focus our story on a very interesting individual who is a champion for stray and abandoned cats in Chicago. She’s developed a program to help control the feral cat population called Trap Neuter Return, or TNR.

Because our subject worked with cats (highly photogenic!) and particularly feral cats (outdoors!) Katie and I used a variety of tools to get the story.

I used two types of handheld camera to videotape interviews with our subject, as well as get B-roll. The first, a Flip cam took some great B-roll at Tree House Humane Society, where our subject worked, but got a bit shaky when held in one place for the interview.

The second, a Bloggie Cam, too amazing B-roll and, when I mounted it on a tripod for the second interview, it took steady footage.

Along with taping the interviews, we also used an audio recorder. This enabled us both to have a copy of the full interview when we started putting the written story together.

We interviewed our story’s focus both at work and at home, and then we accompanied her on a “trapping” evening, where she and another volunteer trapped feral cats to be brought in for treatment. The trapping took place on a blustery, wet night in a relatively busy alley.

Since it was dark and the wind noise would have been immense, the video cameras were not a good choice. Instead, we took a still camera, a Canon Rebel to take photos of the evening. Katie did the majority of the photo taking and I took copious notes for interviews. Katie also used a similar camera when she visited the clinic where the feral cats were treated.

The topic for our feature story gave us the opportunity to use several different tools and techniques to best capture a story that takes place in several settings, indoor and outdoor. We are hoping that we used these tools to tell the story in the best way possible.

Converging with Other Emerging Media: A Summary

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This week’s summary focuses on some less publicized, but useful, journalistic technology: RSS feeds, email, and SMS (text).

RSS feeds, which enables you to “push” content to users is useful (subscribers can get your feed directly to their desktop if they want) and a bit cumbersome. It doesn’t publish on a set schedule, and relies on the poster to maintain a continuous cycle.

News sites often group their feeds according to topic as you can see here, which enables the subscriber to get feeds for the stories they want without sifting through stuff they don’t care to read.

Email, like RSS feeds, will bring news to the subscriber. It was used during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with newsrooms using it to update subscribers as events unfolded. This enabled people to stay informed even when news sites crashed under the weight of web traffic.

One consideration with email is whether to send full stories or a teaser with a link to the story. On one hand, emailing the full story means readers don’t have to leave their inbox. Conversely, an email full of files is bulky and may get caught by the spam filter.

SMS technology (which, here, also included electronic billboards and RBDS) has the same instant-use as email, but far less space: usually 140-160 characters. In these cases–whether to a phone, a billboard, or the car radio’s face plate–the rule of thumb is: keep it to important stuff, and keep it SHORT.

Newsrooms and micro-blogging sites like Twitter can attach links to the full story to the SMS. For billboards and RBDS using stereo face plates, the key is to mention where the reader can get more information.

In every one of these cases, though, the bottom line remains the same: not every technology will work for every story. Choose the media to fit the story, not the other way around.

Adding (Multi) Media to the Web: A Summary

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The really nice thing about the Internet is that one can basically combine all of our favorite news-acquiring methods (reading, watching, listening) onto one page. Chapter 10 of the text covers those different types of news-delivery systems (called “media”), as well as their various upsides and pitfalls.

The chapter emphasizes not just the different ways to incorporate media to a news site, but also knowing when is most appropriate to use each form of media. For example, footage of the devastating Joplin tornado, combined with audio recordings of interviews with survivors has a much stronger impact on someone searching for information about the disaster than a standard, text-only story. Similarly, poll graphics and interactive “vote” features have proved to be effective for communicating election news.

The chapter discusses the different tools for capturing great audio and video. They discussed different microphones, types of video cameras, and how to build graphics. Since many people are starting to multitask on their smart phones, a lot of companies are actually building tools and applications that you attach to your phone and turn it into a multi-tasking reporting tool. It just goes to show you don’t necessarily need multiple tools to capture a good story: as the chapter pointed out, sometimes the most compelling footage and audio is of the least-polished “shaky cam” variety.

It’s very easy to fill to a webpage with this gadget and that video and this endless loop of audio, but sensory additions for the sake of adding something alone can actually hurt your story and cost you viewers. The journalist or editor must judge which media can best “tell” the story–that is, in what way the reader can best absorb the news and feel compelled to return to the site for more information. Ultimately, the story needs to be the main point, not the media being used to bring it to the viewer.

Repurposing Content for Internet News: A Summary

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  The following is a summary for my class, Reporting for Converged Newsrooms. This is also a test of how to indent paragraphs on WordPress, which is proving to be difficult.

In chapter 5 of Principles of Convergent Journalism, the discussion of “repurposing” content for various news mediums (that is, from print or broadcast to the Internet) focuses on not just the technical side of transferring news to the web, but also the practical and aesthetic sides.

One of the main points was that the journalist must be able to discern what is a good story for the internet medium, and what would be better suited as a broadcast or print story.  In many cases, the same story can be packaged to work for all mediums: rapid updates via social media or SMS as a news event unfolds, with complete coverage and analysis at an appointed broadcasting time. The chapter used the example of a high-profile murder trial to illustrate this: the station sends out constant updates as the trial closes as the verdict is handed down, while the reporter is able to collect reaction interviews and other information to put together the story for the afternoon broadcast.

Another important point was that the way people take in news has changed dramatically with the rise of the internet. Now, rather than just take in the news in the form of reading or watching television, people want to DO something with it. As such, news tailored to go online needs to be presented in a more hands-on package, whether through imbedded links to related material, a slideshow, a graphic related to the story, or some other device.

Speed and frequency was touched on, as well as the issue of “multiple versions of the same story”. Certain types of news–a breaking event, a weather-related disaster, and sports–were items identified as needing frequent and consistent updates on a news website (this falls in line with the idea that if it’s important enough to interrupt scheduled programming on television, it’s important enough to put in a place of prominence on your website). For regular news, though, the best updating method to follow seems to be,  as the chapter says on page 86, “as common sense and time allow.”