How to write a mobile news story

According to research from the Nielsen Norman Group, it may be nearly twice as hard to comprehend information you consume on a smartphone-sized mobile device. The limited amount of information displayed on the screen requires users to remember more as they move from screen to screen.

In addition, the act of scrolling is a distraction, and you have to do it more often on a smaller device. It’s important to keep this background in mind when you are creating content that you know will be consumed on mobile devices. Fortunately, many of the same rules for good Web writing apply to mobile as well.

  • The screen is smaller; write even tighter. Broadcast journalists are quite familiar with the need to eliminate unnecessary words and cut the fat from a story. Your mobile reader will appreciate the effort even more.
  • Front-load your stories. Not everyone will read your entire piece, so everything they really need to know to understand what the story is about should be near the top.
  • Break it up. Subheads and bullets are useful in making content easier to consume. On a small-screen mobile device, those techniques will also make it easier for someone scrolling through content to figure out where something is, if he or she tries to go back to look for something on the page again.

Whether you love or hate BuzzFeed’s “listicles,” there’s a reason why they get so much mobile traffic — the act of breaking content into bite-sized chunks of information in easily consumable lists has lots of appeal.

MATSWeb-MobileBBCany news organizations rely on their Web producers and editors to make decisions that affect the news outlets’ mobile content. Some, like the BBC, have mobile editors whose jobs involve selecting stories and sometimes rewriting them to make them more mobile-friendly.

This image includes the first screen of information displayed for a BBC.com story on an iPhone. Note the summary blurb at the top, which gives the mobile user the most important details.  It’s possible that someone may stop right after that one sentence, having consumed all the information he or she wants on the topic at that point, and that’s OK if the summary satisfies.

In addition, it’s also important to remember the rules on writing strong online headlines. Forget cute and clever, be direct and to the point.  Tell your mobile reader exactly what the story is about — don’t try to trick them into clicking — that practice gets old very fast.

And, of course, the best way to get someone to read what you’ve written for a mobile device is to write well.

This post is an excerpt from the 3rd edition of our book, Advancing the Story:  Journalism in a Multimedia World.

 

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Earning respect on the job

shutterstock_141019639You’re hired! Now what?

That first full-time job in a newsroom can be an intimidating experience. There’s so much to learn, and most of the veterans are way too busy doing or protecting their own jobs to help a newbie out. But it’s critically important to make a good impression; the reputation you earn early on will follow you for years.

Jennifer Nicole Sullivan, who remembers her first job at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, shared some terrific tips for new journalists in a recent edition of Quill, the SPJ magazine. (If you’re an SPJ member, you can read them all here.) Among the best:

Dress professionally. Always a good idea, but especially when you’re just starting out. It never ceases to amaze me that some young journalists show up for work looking like they’re headed to a cocktail party or the beach. Look at what your colleagues are wearing for guidance. Think “business casual,” at a minimum, Sullivan advises. “If you look younger than you are, dressing like a professional adds credibility,” she says. If you’re not sure what business casual looks like, you are apparently not alone. Here’s a guide from Business Insider.

Meet deadlines. That seems obvious, right? Perhaps just as important, come in on time and be ready to work. The early reporter gets the story, and it could be the one that makes your career.

Maintain excellent manners. Yes, many newsrooms are cesspools of bad language and rudeness. Don’t join in. And stay off your smartphone during meetings, unless you’re searching for the address of your next interview.

Stay organized. A messy desk is not the sign of an efficient reporter, Sullivan says. Keep things where you can find them, and “don’t be the Pig-Pen of the newsroom.”

Other tips include showing enthusiasm for every assignment, submitting clean work, and accepting criticism gracefully. I’d say that’s excellent advice, no matter how long you’ve been on the job.

 

Photo via Shutterstock

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Whatever happened to audio?

Figure 3.3-heistphotoIn television, sound is the other half of the picture. No matter how gorgeous your video is, its impact depends in part on the quality of the audio. Lousy sound can ruin even the strongest pictures. So if sound is so important, why aren’t more students being taught the basics of audio production?

The question comes from Pat Sanders, who teaches journalism at the University of North Alabama. In today’s curriculum, she writes in the SPJ magazine Quill, audio is “the forgotten one.” Like radio, she says, it’s been shunted aside and treated as an afterthought in most J-schools. But it’s never been more important for students to learn how to produce good audio, Sanders argues, because they need to know how to “do it all” in multimedia.

We agree, which is why our textbook puts audio first in the chapter on newsgathering for broadcast, and covers how to collect and use sound for TV, slideshows, podcasts and online video. To get really good at working with sound, it helps to spend some time focused only on audio. Forget the pictures and learn to tell a story with sound alone. If your audio isn’t clear, crisp, and cleanly-edited, your story won’t be worth much. Taking that sensibility into a video editing session will make your multimedia story shine.

If you want to practice, there are lots of free software options available for audio editing, including the one I use most often, Audacity. Learn how to use it by checking the tutorials Mindy McAdams of the University of Florida has posted online. And if that doesn’t work for you, Mashable has a handy list of free alternatives.

Perhaps the increasing popularity of podcasts like Serial from This American Life and Startup from Planet Money will put audio back on the front burner again. As a former radio-head myself, I certainly hope so.

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Tips for finding story ideas

Photo by Flickr user PolandezeOne of the most basic skills every journalist needs is the ability to come up with stories worth reporting. It may be basic, but it’s not always easy.

Some reporters have lots of ideas but they fail the “so what” test. Just because something’s interesting to you doesn’t mean it’s going to interest your audience. Other reporters become dependent on scheduled events or breaking news to fill their days and hardly bother looking for stories. But journalists who train themselves to find and follow potential stories are treasured in every newsroom I’ve worked in, and they’re also the best equipped to succeed in today’s media world, which relies more and more on freelancers.

One way to find story ideas is to listen, really listen, to what people are talking about. Begin with people you know–your family and friends. What are their everyday concerns?

I’ll never forget telling a news director about a story I’d seen in another market on how the disappearance of full-service gas stations was affecting the elderly and people with disabilities. His reaction was priceless. He put his head in his hands. Turns out his own mother had been complaining for months that she had to drive miles out of her way to get a fill-up, but he’d never thought of her problem as a broader issue.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you feature your family or friends in your stories. That would raise obvious ethical concerns. But if someone you know has a problem, find out if it’s part of a trend. If it affects others in your community, you might have a story idea worth pursuing.

Next, broaden your circle to talk to people you don’t know and who aren’t a lot like you. I know it’s not easy to talk to strangers, but it’s part of a journalist’s job. Might as well start now. But how to begin?

Take a look at these excellent tips from freelancer Beth Winegarner, who says she was “painfully shy” as a child and had to psych herself up for just about every interview she did as a young journalist. Here’s one:

Many people — from random citizens to seasoned politicians — would rather get a root canal than talk to a reporter…So if you’re nervous about asking them questions, remember: you’re probably not the only one with butterflies in your stomach.

The key to finding story ideas in these conversations is to listen, really listen, to what people say, and to what they’re not saying. Be prepared with responses that will elicit more information: “Tell me more about this.” “What do you mean, exactly?” “Why do you think that is?” “What bothers you about that?”

Give it a try. Let us know what works for you. And stay tuned for more story-finding ideas!

 

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Investigator’s Tip: Find the person behind an unknown email

What if you’re working a story and stumble across some good information in an email, but don’t know who the heck sent it?  Amit Agarwal on the tech site Digital Inspiration has a great primer on how to track down the source.

Google is a logical starting point, but if that turns up nothing, Agarwal has four more suggestions:

1.  Trace the IP address

Open the header of the email message and look for lines that say “Received from” and are followed by an IP address in square brackets. If there are multiple entries, use the IP address mentioned in the last entry.

Now paste the IP address in this trace route tool and you should get a fairly good idea about the approximate location of the email sender.

Email2.  Use Facebook

Just paste the email address of the person into the search box and  Facebook will instantly tell you if a profile exists with that email address or not.

3.  Try Knowem

You can use a service like Knowem to quickly determine if a profile with a particular username exists in any of the social networks.

4.  Plug into people search sites

Try a people search service like Pipl and Spokeo – both services let you perform reverse email lookups, but Agarwall says Spokeo has a more comprehensive database than Pipl.

We love these ideas and would welcome learning about other tricks of the trade, so please share your own tips.

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Using LinkedIn to get that journalism job

LinkedInThere are plenty of reasons for journalists to get on LinkedIn, but its not often mentioned as a place to create a broadcast journalism portfolio — until now.  Yumi Wilson is a manager for corporate communications at LinkedIn, and she also teaches journalism at San Francisco State.  She says the networking site’s relatively new option for embedding videos has made it much more relevant to broadcast journalists.

“As long as you have the link to the video, you can embed it right into your profile,” said Wilson.  You can use URLs from either YouTube or Vimeo.

Of course, you’ll want to use LinkedIn as just one tool in your job hunting toolbox, but Wilson says it can be particularly effective.

“I’m like a lot of people,” says Wilson.  “When I have extra time, I’ll spend it with personal networks like Facebook.  When people are investing time, they’re more likely to use LinkedIn.”

Wilson says there are about 331 million LinkedIn members worldwide, with about 100 million of those here in the United States.

In addition to adding your reel, here are more simple things you can do to improve your chances of getting your portfolio noticed.

  • Be sure to use the name you plan to use in your profession.  So, for example, if your friends call you “Skeeter” but you plan to be “Stuart” on the job, use the latter.  You’ll also want to go into the “Edit Profile” mode and customize your public profile URL.  Mine is www.linkedin.com/in/deborawenger/, for example, which should make it easier for people to find me.
  • The headline under your name should string key words together to show the job you want, too, not necessarily the job you have.  So, if you are looking for a newscast producing job, put those key words in that headline.
  • Join groups.  Something like LinkedIn for Journalists can help you in several ways.  You may find some great advice in the posts, but you can also send InMail to other members for free.  Plus, Wilson says that people who post in groups have their content viewed four times more often than those who don’t.
  • Be sure to include your photo and make it professional.  For the most part, it should be a head and shoulders shot with you dressed in the attire you’ll wear on the job.  Wilson says profiles with photos get 14 times the views of those that don’t.
  • Write your summary in first person says Wilson, and make sure it is at least 40 words long.  Wilson says people want to know who you are and first person narratives make that easier.
  • Give people multiple ways to contact you.  Since InMail isn’t always free, you’ll want to give prospective employers other ways to reach you.  Add your Twitter name or an email address for an account you check often.

Wilson says that 90 percent of recruiters use social media and they will typically use key word searches, so make sure your profile is loaded with the words people will use when looking for the position you want to have.  And be sure to keep your profile updated.

“Posting about a job change will increase your views by 12 times,” said Wilson.

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Using Vine app in the newsroom

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.43.47 PMIn today’s media environment it’s important that news organizations actively seek out audience, and with its 40 million registered users, Vine is a social media platform worth considering.

But who is using it well and what can journalists learn from their experience?  The Reynolds Journalism Institute produced a video case study on Mashable’s use of Vine.  Some of the takeaways include:

  • Use Vine promotionally.  At Mashable, the bulk of the Vines produced are intended to promote content.  These “teases” work particularly well for highly visual stories.
  • Vine can work for breaking news as Mashable’s Ashley Codiani found during coverage of protests in Ferguson, Missouri.  She captured snapshots of the demonstrators and edited them together for a :06 view of the intensity of the situation.
  • Mashable has also used Vine to promote engagement by creating “community challenges.”  They create a unique hashtag and then ask for the Vine community to contribute riffs on a theme, such as one asking people to document the world in slow motion.  Mashable has also had success in generating revenue by attaching sponsors to the challenges.

The second half of the video explores the Washington Post’s politics team and their use of SnapChat for engaging audience.

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How newsrooms should be using wearables

Using Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles to view the Des Moines Register's "Harvest of Change" project.

Using Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles to view the Des Moines Register’s “Harvest of Change” project.

When it comes to news gathering, USC’s Robert Hernandez says mobile phones just aren’t fast enough. Hernandez, who says he “hijacks tech for journalism,” is looking to wearables as a catalyst for the next big change in the news business.

“It’s not the device, it’s the content,” said Hernandez. “It’s actually the content optimized for the device. We were slow for mobile, before that it was social media; I’m trying for us to be proactive because this is a new form factor.”

It’s certainly a good time for journalists to be talking about these devices and new content forms with this month’s debut of the Apple Watch and more types of wearables popping up every day.

“I think the wrist wearable is the transition before we get over wearing technology on our face,” said Hernandez.

So, how do you define a wearable? He says it has six attributes.

  • Hands-free
  • Always on
  • Environmentally aware
  • Connected to the Internet
  • Gets attention without disruption
  • Open to third party developers

Hernandez says Google Glass is the “most mature of the wearables,” but points to the Oculus Rift as an indicator of what the future may hold. The system’s virtual reality goggles offer a dual-screen, full immersion experience, making you feel like you are there.

The Des Moines Register is one of the first news organizations to develop a project specifically for the Oculus Rift. According to the Washington Post, the Register’s “Harvest of Change” is an “interactive view of a farm in Iowa that was created to accompany a multi-part series of articles about the changing world of modern farming. In short, it’s what happens when you transform the news experience into a virtual reality gaming experience.”

Changing the experience of newsgathering and news consumption with wearables seems to be focused right now in these two areas:

  • News organizations are using them for new methods of video and image gathering. Wearables can be less obtrusive, creating opportunities for more intimate views of news events. Opportunities for live streaming what the journalist or another witness is seeing may make for dramatic breaking news coverage, as it did when Tim Pool of Vice used Glass to cover events in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • The hands-free aspect of wearables make alternative interview styles easier. They facilitate recording audio or video of an interview subject demonstrating, giving the audience a different point of view. Glass has also been used to document first-person experiences in a unique way, such as Victor Oladipo’s NBA draft day.

On a smaller scale, perhaps, the video translation or real-time mapping features of Glass and other wearables can become more useful to journalists in the field. CNN’s Victor Hernandez also speculates wearables could be the “next-gen IFB for feeding on-air talent information on the fly.”

Robert Hernandez says it’s too easy for journalists and newsrooms to avoid embracing technology trends, hating tech because in the beginning, it’s generally not perfect. But he says the profession will make a mistake if it doesn’t push to see the possibilities of wearable devices.

“We need to not fight this.”

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How to shoot good vox pops (MOS)

Whatever you call them, “man on the street” interviews are a staple of TV news. Done well, they can reflect public opinion on important issues in your community. Done badly, they’re just a waste of air time. So how do you shoot them well?

Start by thinking very carefully about where to go. Many stations tend to collect vox pops at the same location, day in and day out, because it’s close by, has lots of foot traffic, and they don’t need permission to shoot. The parking lot of a strip mall often fits the bill. But there’s no way of telling if you’ll find anyone who actually has something to say about the topic at hand. If you wind up having to explain the story at length before you can get anyone to comment, you’re probably in the wrong place.

Choose a location where people are likely to have some connection to the issue you’re covering. Public transit? Try a bus stop or a parking garage. The price of organic food? Outside a grocery store. You get the idea. Location matters!

As for the “how-to” part of shooting M-O-S interviews, here’s a video tutorial produced at Sheridan College in Canada (where they call these types of interviews “streeters”).

If you’re one of those reporters who finds it difficult to walk up to complete strangers and ask them to talk on camera, know that you aren’t alone. Keep trying. And when you need a pep talk, read this advice from Julie McCann of J-Source.

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