Category Archives: Digital Journalism

Digital journalism

Why Every Journalist Should Go See Rosewater

In case you poor souls don’t watch The Daily Show, TV comedian Jon Stewart wrote and directed a just-released film titled Rosewater.

Right to left: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.
Left to right: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.

Rosewater is the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was imprisioned by the Iranian government for 118 days in 2009. After pressure from human rights activists and international leaders, Bahari was released just days before the birth of his first daughter.

I’ll leave criticism to the critics. Rosewater is emotionally powerful, wildly hyped and sometimes utterly hilarious. Star actor Gael Garcia Bernal is pretty convincing.

It’s also the most important movie you, as a journalist, could watch this year. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. Because you probably cover tons of utterly boring stories each week, probably some against your will, and there’s probably been some points where you felt like a glorified press release writer. This movie will remind you that journalism isn’t just a job – it’s a life choice that gets people kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered, all because they tried to tell the truth.

2. Because in 2013, 211 journalists were incarcerated worldwide, the second worst year on record. For many, this is just a number on paper. You need to watch Rosewater to be reminded of how your fellow journalists around the world suffer, to see what they experience firsthand. Unlike Bahari, many of these journalists will die in prison, getting life sentences for something as simple as a letter.

3. Because journalism is the vassal of democracy, and at some point while writing a story about a goat running wild in small town Missouri, you might have forgotten your job is a sacred one. Witness firsthand how totalitarian governments, losing control of the flow of information in our modern age, become terrible, desperate entities.

4. Because Rosewater is a single anecdote in a wave of happenings around the world. From the Arab Spring to the Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong and most recently the uprising in Mexico, the free flow of information empowers the people. Cellphones are becoming the ultimate tool of democracy, making every citizen a witness. The internet makes it impossible to conceal the truth. The youth of the world, aware of the oppression around them, are finally standing in revolution. Free information and the chokehold of regimes cannot coexist, and we can tell who is winning.

5. Because you need to see Jon Stewart’s first movie so that he’ll make more. He’s an advocate of powerful, intelligent journalism, and Rosewater is advocacy embodied. Go see the movie and support relevant journalism.

And while you’re at it, every episode of The Daily Show is posted on Hulu the day after it airs. Get watching.

Why you should learn Dataviz now

The other weekend I sat in on a Data Visualization introductory class taught over three days by three professionals in the business: Chris Canipe of The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Garcia Phillips of ChartBall.com, and Leah Becerra of the Omaha World-Herald.

In a quick and dirty 16-hour sprint, we were introduced to programming a variety of tools, including HighCharts, D3, and various text editing software.

Using these tools, we built a basic interactive graph using raw sports data. Numbers go in, beautiful pictures come out. This stuff is cutting edge – peep some gorgeous examples here. One of Mizzou’s own used these kinds of data visualizations to win a Pulitzer, and these graphics are common at the New York Times and The WSJ.

The weekend was crazy. Basically, a whole bunch of journalism nerds got together and did nerdy journalism stuff. And it was exceedingly awesome, and you should feel bad that you missed it.

But fret not – you can learn these highly demanded skills on your own with a little determination. Here’s why (and how) you should.

1. Because it’s part of the future of journalism. Take a look at journalism’s history and you’ll notice the people on the cutting edge are always the most successful, whether it’s Ben Franklin and his printing presses or ABC and color television. Take a lesson from the greats and secure your spot in journalism’s shining future, or something like that.

2. Because it’s a wild storytelling tool that helps audiences process the internet’s infinite stores of data. Journalists are no longer “gatekeepers” – if people want to know something, they can find any information they want on the internet. The flipside? There’s so much data, so many websites, that people get turned off by the gushing stream. Data visualizations help people process and explore vast amounts of data. All you do is hold their hand through it.

3. BECAUSE YOU CAN LEARN IT ON YOUR OWN FOR FREE. Like, seriously. Programming is becoming an easy skill to learn on your own, and all the journalists who taught this course taught themselves first. Explore sites like CodeAcademy, TreeHouse, Github, and W3 schools and you could know as much as anyone with a computer science degree. For D3 specifically, start here.

4. Because if you’re a Mizzou student, we just started a data visualization club, and there might potentially be a class in the spring. Jump on it.

The Journalist’s Creed: Revisted

The Journalist’s Creed is a document written by Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism. Gender-specific pronouns aside, this is one of the most important manifestos ever written about journalism. In fact, it’s worth revisiting with a few annotations. The Creed is in Bold. 

The Journalist’s Creed

I believe in the profession of journalism. Before journalism became a paid profession, it was a moonlight hobby. Many writers had jobs in politics and government, creating natural conflicts of interest. Having full-time journalists ensures excellence and intelligence. 

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust. The journalist is betrothed to their readers; the very nature of our industry outlines our responsibility to protect and preserve the public good. 

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism. Naturally. 

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true. Many journalists will tell you they cannot write things that are not true, and many more have resigned to protect these stout personal values. This is the mark of a great journalist. 

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible. Democracy cannot function without the checks of the 4th Estate.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends. This echoes a previous point. Journalists should be fully and deeply committed to their ethical values. To corrupt the public trust with bribery and excuses is to betray the responsibility of our industry. 

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service. This outlines standards for the relationships between advertising, opinion and editorial, but notice it doesn’t define that relationship for publications. How much of a public service does your publication provide?

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world. This needs no interpretation. As you go forward, let the lessons of Walter Williams echo in your work, and someday you may be a journalist as great as he. Wise shall be the bearers of light. 

6 tips for new, drunk journalists

Just a few quick tips today for sharpening your reporting skills. Practice these and you’ll be a total news reporting badass.

1. Remember people. Master the art of actually meeting people. Use whatever strategy works for you, but genuinely remember people’s names, their interests, their work. Focus on details. If you’re at a party, meet as many people as you can. Then half an hour later, mentally quiz yourself. Do you remember their names?

2. Practice “photographic listening.” If you’re listening to the radio and you hear a song you’ve never heard, commit yourself to remembering a verse. Then find a piece of paper to write it down and check yourself. Do more than just songs – memorize and write down what that weird dude from across the hall just said, or some offhanded comment your professor made. Eventually you’ll find yourself remembering even casual conversations verbatim – a powerful skill for a reporter.

3. Don’t use your laptop to take notes. When you need to remember anything, physically write it down. For one, you won’t be Facebook creeping instead of taking notes, and two, science has proven that physically writing something helps you remember it. Go low tech, bro.

4. OBSERVE. Life is happening around you at all times. Do you actually see what’s going on? When you’re in a group, notice the dynamic: when everyone in the group laughs, who looks at who? When interviewing someone, what does their body language reveal? Your brain is automatically wired to notice these patterns. Embrace it and your ability to communicate will deepen.

5. Learn how to ACTUALLY talk with people. Even people who speak the same language as you talk totally differently depending where they’re from. Learn to enter their spirit. Cultivate tact. Is your conversation partner deeply sarcastic and cynical? Match their tone. Are they shy and directly literal? Don’t come out with sarcasm. Understanding how to adapt to conversations will make you a powerful communicator, both near and far.

6. Do all of the above while you’re drunk. If you can teach yourself to practice tact, conversation, and memorization after waaaaaayyy too much PBR, you can do it totally sober. This will also increase your drinking discipline. When you’re at an open-bar networking event (of which there are many) you’ll be sharp enough to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere. Serious work relationships, business deals and awesome promotions are often sealed by how you handle yourself at social events. Practice at bars, clubs, frat ragers, pool parties. Then when you meet a drunk Wall Street guy in the St. Regis and he rattles off the names of two dozen inside traders, you’ll be ready – even if you’ve had four martinis.

Five ways to find a journalism internship

So it’s about the time of year that journalism students start looking for internships. I find myself digging for them, even as a graduate student.

Unlike business administration or finance majors that can find well-paid internships relatively easily, journalism majors can struggle. The struggle is worse for high-achievers (I see you) photography students or digital-first students.

Historically, journalism internships are like hazing rituals, horrible unpaid rites of passage necessary to climb the ladder. Ask anybody who interned at a NYC fashion magazine. Coffee runs, emotionally abusive editors, and a total lack of any real-world experience.  Some serious The Devil Wears Prada shit.

devilwearsprada

Pain and suffering doesn’t cover every internship out there, naturally. Some are extremely positive and can lead to full-time employment. So how do you find the right internship out there for you? 

1. Decide what you want from the internship. Do you need to develop your writing skills? Are you trying to break into a certain type of journalism? Do you have the skills, but you need a gold star on your resume? Knowing what you want will help you find a place.

2. Take stock of your resources. Do you need to stay close to home at a well-paid internship, or do you know somebody in Chicago who will let you crash on their couch for the summer? Does your school give scholarships for internships? Can you afford an unpaid position? Sometimes you should think about internships as an investment – just make sure you’re making a smart choice.

3. Apply for every internship that interests you, from the dream spot to the easy catch. Rank your internships from 1 to #OHMYGODISTHISREALLIFE and apply for them all. Hold out as long as you can for the highest rank one on your list. You never know if you have what it takes to get your dream internship.

4. Consider the obscure. If you’re looking for skills, consider taking a position at small publications you’ve never read. At larger publications, interns are often grouped together for menial tasks. Yeah, you might have interned at GQ, but if all you did was organize ties, was it worth it? Small publications have tighter budgets and will give you more work. You’ll have the opportunity to shine.

5. GO BOLD. This is the opposite of #4. Screw it, I say: apply for the wildest, most high-profile thing you can find. Hiking across Africa with Nick Kristof? Who cares about Ebola.  Foreign affairs reporting in the heart of Jerusalem? l’chaim! Anna Wintour’s personal slave? Don’t mind if I do. If you’re good enough to be her coffee bitch, you’re good enough to get hired at any journalism outfit in the country. Gold Stars look great on resumes, just be sure you have the skills to back them up. And be sure you’re okay regularly crying yourself to sleep. 

Good luck!

Why I pay for Adobe Creative Cloud: A Manifesto

This post originally appeared on my old blog in 2013, but is still relevant. 

I did it. I just subscribed to the Adobe Creative Cloud, and as I type this, I’m downloading Illustrator and Photoshop.

For what I have done, computer gurus and broke graphic designers everywhere will scoff and criticize me. They will turn their nose up at me and say:

“Why pay for Adobe when you can torrent it for free?”

Yeah, why? *heavy breathing*
Yeah, why? *heavy breathing*

ndeed, their question is relevant. Why would I, an already struggling college student, voluntarily choose to pay for software? Out of the people I know who use Adobe, literally all of them have pirated versions.

So yes, why would I choose to pay for Adobe?

I didn’t do it just because I wanted the best design software on the market, I did it because I stand for something. Below I justify my decision.

Someday, I want to be paid for what I create. A few years ago, I used to sell class notes online through a now-defunct service, and I was actually making some money. It helped defer my living fees and relax a bit – students who didn’t attend class could buy the study guides I made. For the final exam, I spent hours creating a 15-page guide and sold them online for $3, advertising them through emails to classmates.

The day after I put the study guide online, a guy bought it, attached it to an email, and sent it out to everyone in our 400-person class. The email said:

“Some douchebag is trying to charge us for notes, so you’ll find them attached.”

Good Guy Greg?
Good Guy Greg?

I was crushed. I made no money off that final study guide. Upset, I emailed him and attempted to explain his wrongdoing, but he didn’t care. He held me responsible, saying I was trying to “screw over the class for money.”
It was after that I realized: this is how artists must feel when they see their music pirated. After that I swore off pirating music – now I use Spotify to get all my music and stay legal. I do the same with my software. (The argument about Spotify being good for artists is one for another time.)

I respect Adobe. Adobe has been in the game a long time, and there’s a reason they’re the best – they work hard. For their intense influence on the business (and my own work) I have the utmost respect. To continue to produce their software regularly with a relatively lax approach to internet pirates is impressive and admirable. I’m glad to see they’ve finally taken a step and offered financially-challenged people a hand.

I want to obey the law. More and more of our lives are spent online, and the lines between our corporeal identities and our digital ones are blurring. In that respect, we are becoming more transparent thanks to the internet. I will not steal something on the internet – soon, it will have the same impact as theft in real life.
Yeah, laugh at me. But see what happens after you download that last season of Breaking Bad and your Internet Service Provider knocks on your door with a subpoena. I think you’ll change your tune.

I believe in a respectful internet economy. Since Napster took off in the 90s, the internet has been a hive of illicit software trading, from music to movies and the aforementioned Adobe software. The people who share these files think nothing of the original creators, the true heroes who wrote songs, filmed movies, developed software. Sharing files adds a sense of rebellion, of refusal to participate in the Fat Cat’s scheme – I know, I’ve felt it. Adobe software typically costs thousands of dollars – beating the system and getting them for free wasn’t just a rush, it was practical.

But times have changed. The rampant downloading of illegal software has caused corporations to crack down on downloading. One only needs to look at SOPA and CISPA to see that the entertainment industry’s copyright lobby is hard at work in Washington. Thus we’ve created a warring dichotomy – the torrenters keep finding new ways to hide themselves and share their files, and the corporations are battling to shut down the free internet almost entirely.
But I believe in something different. I believe in an internet where, out of respect for the creators, people pay for software, music and entertainment. It’s not that they can’t pirate something – it’s that they don’t want to. The future internet purchaser understands how much time it took to develop software, film a movie, or create a piece of art. They empathize with the creators because they too probably create and sell things it online.

If the internet was full of more people like this who respect the law and respect the economy, the dichotomy between copyright warriors and renegade torrenters wouldn’t exist, and the free-internet-dissolving talks of industry leaders wouldn’t be happening.

I believe in a future where we can trade information freely and pay respectfully for the hard work of others.

/endrant.

 

Behind-the-scenes at Vox Magazine

So I’m a first-semester graduate student in Convergence at the University of Missouri (Mizzou.) I’m also the Digital Managing Editor of Vox Magazine, which means some crazy person put me in charge of the magazine’s website. 

The website got a redesign back in the spring of 2014 to a WordPress custom platform, an iteration of the Genesis theme.

The theme itself is beautiful. The website (while not responsive) is easy to navigate, clean and coherent. It also presents content way better than Django, our former CMS. WordPress is arguably the best CMS out there for a variety of reasons. In most cases, young people have started their own angsty blogs on WordPress, so they’re familiar with the layout. It’s also free and comes with tons of customization options. Even the New York Times uses a WordPress CMS, and if it’s good enough for the Gray Lady, it’s good enough for me.

Like all websites, Vox has equal helpings of success and problems. On this blog I’ll be posting behind-the-scenes views into the efforts of our Digital Editorial Team, sharing strategy, content and solutions.

Expect Vox Magazine to become an even bigger force in Columbia’s digital news scene.