Chopper video online

Air Fox LiveTake one news helicopter, stir in some GPS data, add a Google map, and what you get is a mash-up that TechCrunch calls “uniquely informative eye-candy.”  It’s from the Fox station in Chicago, which is now streaming video online from “Air Fox Live” during the “Good Day Chicago” morning show and any time the chopper is up during breaking news.  The helicopter’s GPS data plots its location on a Google map.  And there may be more to come.  “We want to create a map that shows all the Fox helicopters and all the live feeds at once…but this is a good beginning,” says news director Andrew Finlayson. The station previously set up LiveNewsCameras, where you can watch live video feeds from stations all over the country (not just Fox stations).


Student journalism ethics

I’ve argued for years that journalism students need ethics training to prepare them for the tough calls they’ll have to make on the job. Jerry Ceppos, now the journalism dean at the University of Nevada, Reno, thinks so too. His school requires students to take a journalism ethics course and a First Amendment class that covers ethics. But this year, Ceppos writes in the Reno Gazette-Journal, his students also taught him something about ethics: “You don’t have to beat it into them.”

Building on an honor code that one senior developed on her own, students developed an ethics pledge that the Journalism Student Advisory Board is now asking all graduates to sign:

As a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism, I will uphold and apply the highest standards of integrity and ethics. This includes helping others by minimizing harm and showing compassion. As a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism, I will act independently and be accountable for my actions.

Cortney Maddock, who worked on the pledge, tells Ceppos she expects every graduate to sign the pledge. And she’ll be happy if it stops “just one person before falsifying a contact or plagiarizing or lying or not contributing to the common good.”

The pledge cites the basic principles of the SPJ and RTNDA ethics codes but what I really like about it is that it’s a personal statement, short enough to fit in your wallet.  I’d suggest that the grads who sign it might want to print the pledge on the back of their new business cards to remind themselves and the people they deal with of their commitment to ethical journalism.

TV investigation online

MyFoxDC--FBI FilesThe Fox station in Washington, D.C. has a terrific online supplement to its two-part TV series, MIsmanaged Secrets, about FBI record-keeping. The Web extras include .pdf copies of FBI files on famous Washingtonians, along with a brief bio for each person. There’s also an annotated page that decodes FBI symbols and shorthand, instructions on how to request your own FBI file or someone else’s, and an explanation from reporter Tisha Thompson, “Why we did the story.”

“Locative” news

Add another acronym to your journalism glossary. Students in the New Media Publishing Project at Northwestern University’s j-school are testing LoJo, or “locative journalism” and blogging about it at Lojoconnect. As students Ki Mae Heussner and Amy Lee explain it on MediaShift, “locative storytelling provides multimedia content that enhances a user’s connection to a given place.”

How does it work? Sort of like an audio tour at a museum, the students say, only more mobile. If you have a GPS-equipped cell phone, for example, your location could automatically trigger news and information developed specifically for that place.

After doing some research, the students decided that “the kinds of stories best suited to this approach are tied to locations with historical significance or idiosyncratic characteristics.” The team is now working on stories related to Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Among the technical issues they’ve encountered:

Tall buildings and wind can cause GPS drift and jitter, which makes it difficult to anchor and trigger certain points along the tour…

If there’s too much lag time between locations, participants will see an empty black screen on the GPS device until they enter an area with multimedia content. Extra content is pivotal to keep people engaged while they’re moving between locations.

Other technical problems include software incompatibility and screens that are hard to see outdoors. As for content:

While much of the emphasis, so far, on content for portable devices has been on video, audio might be a more valuable format for mobile storytelling because people use portable devices while doing other things (walking, driving, etc.).

So how would a newsroom use this technology? The LoJo team suggests that GPS-based storytelling could supplement blogs and hyper-local news sites “as a way for people to become more engaged with news that’s directly relevant to them and their communities.” But the students concede that GPS technology raises a few concerns, including privacy issues and tracking by advertisers.

A Web producer’s story

How do you get to be a Web producer at a major market station? For Sam Kosmas, it took a little luck and a lot of hard work. He’s 28 and works the early shift (starting at 4:30 a.m.) for the Fox station in Washington, DC.

When I visited the newsroom yesterday, Kosmas was dealing with a breaking news story. Police had made another arrest in the murder of Washington Redskins football player Sean Taylor. It was a big local story, but the arrest was made in Florida. The Web team headed by Rich Murphy needed to post a picture of the new suspect as well as a video update, but it wasn’t a simple process. While Murphy worked the phones and email trying to confirm information, Kosmas used multiple software programs to pull and convert video from the midday newscast and to resize a full-screen TV graphic for use online.

When Kosmas was a student, he says he never considered becoming a Web journalist. But now that he is one, he has some advice for anyone who’s interested in a Web journalism career.


News as a game

MSNBC has unveiled some innovative ways of getting the news at NewsWare, its “laboratory for news-infused games, tools and other experimentation.” Among them: two “immersive” news apps (a customizable newsreader and a screensaver), a couple of news widgets and two news arcade games.

The idea is to make news more accessible and fun. I’ve just started exploring them and here are a few reactions:

The colorful Spectra newsreader isn’t hard to set up but it’s a little confusing. I’d expected to be able to click on a rotating headline box to get more information about that story, but instead the stories pop up in a pre-determined order.

The news scroller widget seems to be easy to customize and embed in all kinds of pages, including blogs like this one on, but when I used the “post” button all I got was a link to a generic widget page. The real “embed” function requires Javascript, which doesn’t support. For PC users, the desktop version only works on Vista, which I don’t have and don’t think I want to have. Disappointing.

Then there are the games. The intended audience undoubtedly isn’t my demographic, but I have to say the NewsBlaster arcade game left me cold. Blasting “orbs” gets you headlines in a box, but unless you really want to hit pause to read them you could play an entire game without absorbing any news at all. NewsBreaker gives you more chances to actually see the headlines; they float down inside the game screen itself while you’re blasting “bricks.”

I’m not sure they’re for me, but kudos to MSNBC for experimenting.

Who invented investigative journalism?

Does the name Ida Tarbell sound familiar? At the turn of the last century, she wrote a series of stories for McClure’s magazine that led the U.S. Supreme Court to dissolve one the country’s most powerful companies, Standard Oil. Steve Weinberg, who wrote about her stories in the book, “Taking on the Trust,” says his reporting led him to a conclusion he never expected: “Ida Tarbell invented what today we call investigative reporting.”

Nobody had combined paper trails and people trails as Tarbell did…[she] located lawsuits, court opinions, legislative hearings, executive branch agency studies, correspondence among business executives, seemingly insignificant clippings in obscure local newspapers, magazine articles and relevant books. She interviewed past and current sources from withing Standard Oil, despite the resistance of founder John D. Rockefeller. She also found hundreds of outside sources who had viewed the behemoth from every angle.

Tarbell certainly wasn’t the only standard-setter during the so-called golden age of muckraking, but Weinberg makes a persuasive argument in her favor.

Using FOI on the FBI

Al’s Morning Meeting just featured a “how-to” for requesting FBI files on the famous and not-so-famous. WTTG-TV reporter Tisha Thompson is working on a series of reports involving the files and she shares what she’s learned so far.

If you want your file, you need to file a Privacy Act Request using the FBI’s form. You should put as much info that you feel comfortable giving out as you can to help them search for you: every name you’ve ever used (including maiden and nicknames), date of birth, Social Security number and any event you think the FBI would have interviewed or investigated you for.

If you want someone else’s file, you need to file a Freedom of Information Act request using the FBI’s form. Once again, put as much as you can on the form. If it isn’t someone super-famous (and I mean REALLY famous), you might want to include a copy of their obituary to save you about a month’s worth of time. Otherwise, they will automatically send you a letter asking you for the obituary.

Thompson also says you have to write a lot of letters – 56, in fact. Because the FBI organizes its files using an antiquated system, Thompson suggests you contact all the FBI field offices that might have the records you’re looking for.

And don’t be surprised if you get nothing for your efforts. According to Thompson:

The FBI says it has “no records” for 60 to 70 percent of the requests it receives. But critics, like the National Security Archive, say many of those files exist — the FBI just doesn’t want to work very hard to find them.

Network news on campus

In a move that could be a winner for both journalism students and the network, ABC News plans to open bureaus this fall on five college campuses. The “digital” bureaus will offer on-the-job training in multimedia journalism to students who will report on local stories for ABC News outlets, mostly online but possibly on the air. In the process, ABC hopes to learn more about 18-25 year olds, the demographic every network wants to reach. And, of course, to recruit talented new staff for multimedia journalism jobs.

The participating schools are Arizona State, Syracuse, Florida, North Carolina and Texas. And here’s the really good news, according to Broadcasting & Cable: “In each bureau, one student will be hired as “bureau chief”—and unlike many news internships, participating students will be paid.”

Video misconceptions

In a post entitled “How not to do newspaper video,” the folks over at Digital Journalist say newspaper managers don’t understand what it takes to do video well. Rule number one, according to the DJ editorial: “You are not in the television business.”

Can’t argue with that. In fact, TV newsrooms need to learn the same lesson when it comes to online video. You can’t just shovel your TV product online and think you’ve used the Web to best advantage. But I would argue with some of the distinctions the DJ column makes between the way TV and newspapers handle video.

A TV cameraperson can “turn” three or four stories a day, because he or she hands off the raw tape to a producer who takes it to an editor to complete. Newspaper photographers on the average have a much less strenuous schedule. On the average, they will do one or two stories a day. Now, they are being asked to do multitasking, shooting both stills and video. The good news is they can. But it is going to take much more time.

First off, most TV photojournalists I know edit their own stories. They might hand off a VO/SOT here and there for someone else to edit, but certainly not everything they shoot. In my experience, the producer-editor system only exists at the networks.

Secondly, photographers do need more time to produce both stills and video but not as much time as the column suggests. “Most successful video storytellers will spend weeks working on a piece,” it says. Some, perhaps. Certainly not most. Sure, TV photojournalists would love to have more time to craft their stories, but lots of them do amazing work in a day or two.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that the “crank it out” approach of “do more with less” TV newsrooms is the way to go. But I do think it’s important to recognize both the pros and cons of that system while we all try to figure out what works best in online video.