How a small newspaper used iPads to bend the rules of reporting

York Daily Record NewsVroom

Randy Parker, image by Tim SohnWith the rapid migration of news and media onto the mobile platform, newspaper editors are finding all sorts of ways to keep up with the changeover and stay ahead of the trends. That’s why Randy Parker, managing editor of the York Daily Record put a tablet or smartphone into the hands of its top reporters. Further, as Parker explained at the America East 2013 newspaper conference in Hershey, Pa. they take those tablets on the road and into the community to experiment with news ways to boost reader engagement.

Parker explained that several years ago his newspaper hired Lauren Boyer for a new position to cover business news focusing on consumer issues, but he didn’t want her to stay in the office and instead tasked her with finding new ways to tell stories for the paper. York Daily Record gave Boyer the first iPad it bought, and she used it to shoot videos and tweet. Today she still finds new apps and tools to download and use on a weekly basis.

“It was one of the best investments I could have ever made because it absolutely energized her, and it accelerated her creative thinking,” Parker said. “I noticed every time I look over at her desk, she’s not there.”

Boyer’s tactics integrated social media use and traditional reporting – allowing her to venture into the community, meet new people and still stay connected with the newsroom. Often Boyer would send out a tweet that she was going to be at a particular location and invite people to stop by and tell her what she should be covering. Parker explained that a local public relations representative from Harley Davidson who was hard to get a hold of found her that way one day and chatted with her for around 45 minutes.

The second person on staff at the York Daily Record to receive an iPad was the paper’s senior reporter who covered the courts. The judge let the reporter use the iPad in the courtroom because it doesn’t break any of the court’s rules.

“[The judge] said, ‘Well, there’s no cellphones and no laptops, but this isn’t a cellphone, and this isn’t a laptop, so, yeah, I guess you can use that in the courtroom,’” Parker said. “This was a new judge. I think he was looking to bend the rules to new technology.”

The court reporter uses Scribble Live, which lets him live-blog the proceedings and sends his updates to Twitter.

Parker said he has gradually rolled out iPads to 14 staff members. In addition, the paper has purchased six Nexus 7-inch tablets for photographers, and he predicts the paper will continue to purchase Nexus tablets instead of iPads because they’re less glitchy, fit into “boy pockets,” and they are “dirt cheap.”

The paper has tried Kindle Fires and Windows Surface tablets, but they never caught on.

York Daily Record also created a “News Vroom,” an old newspaper delivery van that goes to sporting and other local events from time to time. Workers erect tents around the van that house six laptops, six smartphones, six iPads, and a WiFi router that allows connection to up to 21 devices. The paper uses the mobile connection to showcase the newspaper’s apps at events that draw crowds: its e-edition for iPad, its iPad app designed to focus on breaking news, photo streams, and methods for sharing information like Little League game scores.

Next up for the York paper: developing a pre-fall high school football tablet e-zine and a commemorative Gettysburg anniversary edition for tablet.

Photo courtesy of Digital First Media.

3 Options for Backing Up Computer Files

thumb drive

Everybody has a story about computer failure. It’s an all consuming, blood-draining scramble to restore work from whatever backups that you may have cobbled together or a search for an insanely expensive hard drive recovery service. It’s not a pleasant experience and yet most people that I know don’t have any safety net in place, especially follow journalists and technical writers. Fortunately, there are cheap and easy options that make backing up a painless process. I’ve detailed a few here.

  1. You probably already have a removable USB thumb drive. They also make cheap and fairly expansive backup systems that can be set aside, away from any possible corruption or virus problems that may strike your computer. They come in a range of capacities from 2 to 32 gigabyte (GB) which is enough to store work files, a number of high definition movies and even a bootable partition that you can restore your operating system from. I recommend paying a little extra for a name brand manufacturer like SanDisk or Lexar for the reliability and faster data transfer rates.
  2. Spreading the risk of data loss across multiple drives is the best local option that you can do yourself. Just install additional internal hard drives or plug in external drives. You can then either manually drag and drop files that you want backed up to the new drive or use the basic backup/restore software that’s built into Windows or Mac OS. There are also third-party software solutions like Norton Ghost ($19), Rebit 5 ($24) or Data Backup for Mac ($39) that can be set to do regular automated backups. Most external drives also come with some kind of backup software. I do recommend committing the new drive to backup duty only to maximize service life. In fact, I turn off my external drive until I need to update the backup so as to isolate it from any problems my computers may have.
  3. If you have a decently fast Internet connection, cloud storage is an attractive and seamless option. Websites like Carbonite ($59/year for basic plan), CrashPlan ($50/year) and SugarSync (5 gb free; $24.99/month for 250 gb) allow you to install a client on your computer that will sync your data and upload backups to their remote servers. All three services work with both Mac and PC and will even allow you to share files across different computers. They do not, however, allow you to save your system files or applications so you won’t be able to restore your entire system.

Overall, it’s best not to rely completely on any single backup solution. A power surge, for example, can take out all of your hard drives in one dreadful instant. If you’re a professional that depends on your computer and data, its worth investing in at least two of the three mentioned solutions and mating that with decent virus protection to keep your main data and backups clean. Having all three has saved me on numerous occasions.

Image courtesy of kongsky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Peter Eichstaedt on Technology and International Journalism

Peter Eichstaedt Head Shot

Peter Eichstaedt Head ShotPeter Eichstaedt is a veteran journalist with a background in local newspapers. After working for the Uganda Radio Network and the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, he became deeply interested in giving voice to international humanitarian issues. Eichstaedt has seen the rise of the internet, laptops, and cell phones, and he has an insider’s perspective on how technology has impacted his work.

“Personally, I’m excited about this technology,” Eichstaedt began. “I started off, in the early days, writing on a typewriter – everything was done on paper. If anyone wanted to follow serious journalism, they read newspapers and magazines.” Now, of course, a vast amount of journalism appears online (sometimes solely online, and not simply republished from print). In a sense, long-form narrative journalism – the kind of writing he has a penchant for undertaking – benefits from the web interface. You can not only embed links to sources to validate your conclusions and to promote further learning, but you can also make your stories come alive by adding photography slideshows and video.

“On the other hand,” he cautioned, “how many people really use this resource? It’s there, we have an amazing amount of information available right at your finger tips, and I wonder how many technical writers bother.” Part of the curse of the internet is that its expansion seems tied to a decrease in people’s attention spans. Not only does this mean that many, if not most, will not spend hours reading important news when they could be scanning Facebook, but it also has a direct impact on the opportunities to publish just the kind of journalism that is Eichstaedt’s bread and butter.

“Newspapers have really contracted, and even though there’s a lot more information on the internet, print information has shrunk.” What this means is that the traditional opportunities for long-form journalism have diminished tremendously. What an editor might have considered a “long” article 15 or 20 years ago could have reached 10,000 words. Now, “long” tops out somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 words. Because of the growth of the internet, and the reciprocal constriction of print media, it’s increasingly difficult to find work that goes into serious depth with issues that are undeniably complex and multifaceted. We have accessibility, but not depth and quality.

Counterintuitively, however, there may be hope. According to Eichstaedt, there the curse of the internet and web-publishing is that it has created a void of long-form narratives, and journalists like him are stepping up trying to fill it. In a sense, long-form journalism has become a niche market because it is no longer the norm – there is so little of it done anywhere. Consequently, it is incumbent upon journalists to try to turn the decline of print to their advantage by positioning themselves as capable of providing an important form of writing that is little practiced in the age of the internet.

Can Quora Help Journalists Crowdsource Stories?

question

Earlier this year, journalists and bloggers were buzzing about all the potential uses for Quora.com. Now, not so much. But that could change, because word on the street is that the Q & A site is in the midst of another big round of VC fundraising.

A Poynter.org article from January suggests using the site to crowdsource story ideas or sources. I put this idea to the test by crowdsourcing sources for this very post. After contacting a handful of journalists through the site (it is handy that you can message someone without having their email address), I received a chorus of “gee, I haven’t used it in awhile” and “I’m not sure how best use it for reporting.”

For instance, Rob Pegoraro, an Arlington, Va.-based journalist, says although he doesn’t use it specifically for developing sources or reporting stories, he sees Quora as “a way to come across interesting insights that I might not otherwise find … Some of this is purely distraction material, but others yield useful insights on things I write about or give me ideas for future stories.”

Thursday Bram, a Maryland-based freelance writer, expressed similar sentiments. “I’ve been looking at it as a way to find trends and bigger picture ideas early on,” she says. “If there are questions on certain topics, particularly multiple questions that are somewhat similar, I take it as a good sign that I should start thinking about writing about that topic.”

My quest for journalists’ Quora success stories didn’t turn up as many gems as I’d hoped, but I also used the site to find sources for my own series of articles on housesharing. Instead of turning to the usual suspects (PR people, HARO, searching blogs and news articles), I searched for Quora threads that discussed my topic.

Just as Pegoraro mentioned, reading the threads brought up some questions I hadn’t thought of. I also found people with strong opinions about hosting or being a guest, so I contacted a few potential sources and one host in particular turned out to be a great resource. (The others declined to give an interview for various reasons.) His Quora profile linked to his housesharing profile, so I could quickly verify that he was in fact involved in housesharing. It might be trickier to confirm that someone used it as a guest but not impossible.

I chose to use Quora as a springboard for conducting my own interviews, but in some cases, journalists quote directly from Quora posts. I’m not such a fan of this approach, but as Pegoraro points out, “this site has succeeded exceptionally well in getting influential dot-com types to testify about their experiences.” However, he recommends emailing the poster to verify that they wrote it and find out if they might have changed their mind since posting.

Curious about the interplay between journalism and Quora? Check out these additional resources:

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Blind Ambition: 6 Tools for Journalists with Vision Issues


I always thought it was a medical myth that an individual’s remaining four senses would take over to compensate for the loss of a fifth sense due to illness, injury, or disability. However, when deteriorating optic nerves threatened to sabotage my 25-year career as a print and broadcast journalist, I discovered that my disability ultimately improved my feature writing as I observed more sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, weaving them together to create an authentic sensory experience for my readers.

To put my disability into perspective, being legally blind means that, even with glasses, my maximum visual acuity is 20/200. I had to give up my driver’s license, but I still can read a book, newspaper, or magazine using a hand-held magnifier. Of course, covering breaking news was no longer practical, so I began concentrating on writing features, specializing in in-depth profiles and coverage of medical, social, and legal issues.

Technology has made all the difference in my ability to keep working as a journalist, currently as a feature writer for Naples Daily News, a Scripps-Howard publication.

These are the tools of my trade:

  1. ZoomTest is a screen magnifier computer software program developed and sold by Ai Squared, an innovative company based in Vermont. Zoomtext allows me to view any webpage at triple the normal size and is compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, and 2000. The software currently is sold in version 9.1 for $395, and an optional screen reader is available. I use the contrast features to customize my desktop and to enlarge and outline my cursor in bright blue. Zoomtext is available in 20 languages and is now sold in 45 countries. A less expensive version doubles the size of the monitor display. The downside: The Ai Squared tech support department closes at 5pm EDT.
  2. A large print keyboard prevents eyestrain by enlarging the size of the numerals and letters on my computer keyboard to 36 point bold. It costs about $100 from Ai Squared and is sold in a choice of two high-contrast color schemes: white on black or black on yellow.
  3. A hand-held video magnifier is a portable device I can use to read news releases and other printed material away from my home studio. While several manufacturers have entered this market, I use the $495 Pebble, which magnifies print up to ten times, features simple tactile controls, and weighs only 7-1/2 ounces. Its re-chargeable batteries last for at least two hours, depending on the brightness level I set.
  4. A digital camera usually does an adequate job unless my editor wants an artistic rendition of my subject by manually adjusting the lens aperture or shutter speed; in that case, a staff photographer does the shoot. Using the zoom feature to get a closer view, I’m generally able to capture an acceptable image using auto-focus and the largest and brightest LCD display screen possible to compose my shot.
  5. Task lighting helps by aiming a light source directly at my printed material using an OTT lightbulb or one of the others that capture more of the light spectrum. Many people think it’s enough to turn up the overall light in the whole room, but it’s better to concentrate the light source on my paperwork.
  6. My trusty sharpee is the only writing tool I use unless I’m signing legal documents because of its bold high-visibility lines.

While these tools are well-suited to any journalist or content writer challenged by a vision disability, the reality is that anyone over 40 is likely to experience some visual loss due to natural aging of the human eye. For example, presbyopia has probably affected many of you already; it’s a gradual loss in ability to read small print, and it’s normal as you grow older. Reading glasses typically fix the problem.

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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