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Rebekah Monson

Rebekah Monson is the Business Community Manager for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Follow her on Twitter as @RebekahMonson.

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Five New Year’s resolutions for better multimedia reporting in 2012

multimedia2012The year 2011 has been an exciting for how we practice journalism. In fact, I think this year finally marked the tipping point in which every journalist became a multimedia journalist. The old silos have crumbled across even the most venerable and well-funded newsrooms, and written reports, videos, graphics and photos are now expected from every newsgatherer, regardless of title.

Multimedia content has become so integral to breaking news that the Pulitzer Prize breaking news criteria were changed to emphasize real-time reporting after no breaking news prize was awarded in 2011. The Arab Spring and the Occupy movement have further driven home the essential role that social media plays in modern newsgathering and dissemination, and the widespread adoption of smartphones has made immediate, dynamic web content and access to journalists an expectation among news consumers.

As you resolve to make personal changes in 2012, consider these changes in our industry. As resources shrink and media companies are sliced up and re-formed, strong multimedia skills can keep you doing what you love. Here are five New Year’s resolutions to keep your multimedia skills sharp:

1. Be more human online. There’s a persistant attempt from many reporters — many of whom I respect and admire — to try to choke off their own personal information from public view. I think that’s impossible, and it even strikes me as a bit hypocritical since we spend so much time and energy writing about others’ personal information. Your readers know who you are, and as any good reporter knows, information about your family, your job and your life is likely already out there waiting to be found. I have learned by experience and example that being honest about your interests and your life online builds trust and makes you more relevant to readers. Of course no one needs to know when you go to the bathroom or when you eat your daily bowl of oatmeal, but, really, no one wants to follow a robot either. Let go of the tired hyperbolic excuses, and start sharing your experiences. As a journalist, your expected by your employer and your audience to be active online anyway, being authentic makes it a lot less of a chore.

2. Focus on relationships. After you finally decide to open up, it’s time to get to work on social media relationships. Set the technology aside emember that basic, shoeleather reporting concepts still hold true in social media — repeated, personal contact builds good source relationships. If you’re not using Twitter and Facebook effectively, they’re not helping you tell stories. The simplest and best way to strengthen your social media relationships is to engage. Search Twitter and Facebook for your location or keywords related to your beat, and reach out to people who are already involved. Ask questions of specific users, rather than shouting at everyone and no one. When someone reaches out to you, answer promptly. This work has paid off for me and many others who invest in it tenfold. The social media sources tend to be ready at the drop of an @ to share information, and they’re often a lot easier to track down quickly.

3. Use your tools. If you have a smartphone, use it. Heck, even dumbphones come with cameras and text messaging these days. Take a photo. Shoot a short man-on-the-street video. Tweet an interesting quote. With all the technology we carry in our pockets, it’s hard to buy excuses for filing only text when we leave the newsroom to report.

4. Learn at least one new multimedia skill. Whether its basic video editing, HTML and CSS, mapping or database management, make a point to pick up one new line for your résumé. You won’t even have to pay for the knowledge, just check out one of the Reynolds Center’s free workshops or one of the many other free training resources available online.

5. Get involved. Making connections with others and working together usually pushes me further than I would push myself. As mentioned above, the Reynolds Center offers a lot of free or inexpensive and interactive training both online and across the country. If you can afford it, or if your news organization is still assisting with professional development, go to a conference or apply for a training session. If not, ask your local Press Club, SPJ chapter or minority journalist organization if they offer affordable training opportunities, or volunteer to organize one. You can also take advantage of the tech community’s open-source ethos at a Barcamp or the next Social Media Club meeting. Or, drop in on the weekly Wednesday night #wjchat to stay connected to other web journalists. After all, we’re all web journalists now, and most of us could use a little help.

Programming note: This will be my last recurring post for BusinessJournalism.org. Writing about multimedia skills here has been a wonderful experience and has inspired me to take on some new challenges of my own. I’ve taken a new position editing a magazine and developing multimedia content for the University of Miami, where I also plan to attend graduate school. I wish you all a successful and exciting 2012, and if you ever have questions or just want to chat, contact me at RebekahMonson.com or on Twitter, @rebekahmonson.

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Four Google+ features that impact businesses

After months of waiting, Google+ finally launched business pages last week. If you haven’t gotten into Google+ yet, it’s time to dive in. Most brands aren’t breaking new ground on the network just yet, and some even think that Google+ is already dead.

Google+ hangout

A 10-person Google+ hangout can get pretty busy. Photo: Flicker user Steve Garfield

I think the death knells are a bit early considering the distinct advantages Google+ offers businesses for search-engine optimization, direct search and targeting consumers. Clearly, the search giant does need more users invested in the network.Most users, myself included, are not using Google+ as their primary social media tool, and it likely won’t topple Facebook in the short term. But, the fledgling network’s unique features and their impacts on businesses should interest reporters:

Hangouts. Businesses are already kicking around how to use Google+ Hangouts, the larger-scale video chat tool, for customer service issues, product launches or to communicate with specific consumer groups. Tracking and getting into Hangouts gives reporters a whole new way to mine what’s happening with a brand’s user base and monitor a company’s customer interaction.

+1s. Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, wrote an interesting piece for CNN Monday that points out that the value of Google+ is capturing social data from the +1 widget. Even if Google+ never gets as many active users as Facebook, the sample size of active users is still large enough to give valuable statistical insight when Google is tracking +1s as a metric to rank pages, sites and topics. So, +1s are a valuable trend-spotting tool for businesses and reporters.

Collaboration. Google is pitching Google+ as a potentially transformative collaboration tool for business. If businesses (other than Google itself) start relying on Google+ for document collaboration, project-planning and meetings, that’s an interesting story. But, advanced web collaboration eventually could allow reporters more insight into decision-making.

Real identity. Google+ already had its first big brand-jacking incident with a fake Bank of America page, but the speedy shuttering of the page demonstrates again just how serious Google is about real identities. Facebook has been pushing fors too, but users are wary. The upside for reporters is that increased emphasis on real identity should make it easier to find sources who interact with certain businesses.

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Five Twitter techniques to take from sports journalists

By Rebekah Monson

I’m a diehard college football fan, so at this time of year, my Twitter feed is littered with snippets of conversation about teams, players, games, stats and standings. My unhealthy obsession has led me to follow a lot of sports journalists, and in the process I’ve noticed that they often get more traction out of their Twitter accounts than their colleagues in the business section.

sports twitter folks

Imitation truly can be the greatest form of social media flattery.

Here are some to follow to see how they do it. Muckrack: Sports Journalists on Twitter

If you spend a little time following sports journalists, it’s easy to spot a few techniques that really work for them on Twitter:

STAY CONNECTED: Their Twitter feeds suggest that many sports journalists watch sports all the time. That’s not true, of course, but I think they do a better job of staying connected during odd hours than business journalists. If they’re off-duty, they tweet on other games, injury reports or stories related to their beat. But, engaged reporters of all types spend a lot of off-duty time cultivating relationships with sources, reading stories that relate to their beats, watching relevant movies or T.V. shows, checking out new businesses and generally thinking about work when they’re technically off-duty. Constant curiosity about our work is sort of a journalism job hazard. Share those interests on your Twitter feed as they happen. Twitter followers opt in because they’re curious about the same things we are, and curiosity doesn’t stop at deadline.

OFFER ANALYSIS: Sports journalists have thoughts about every player, every play, every staff member on a team. They’re encouraged to pick winners and losers each week, and their job is to analyze performances.  at every level of a game. I know that we can’t afford to be quite so opinionated on the business side of the newsroom, but raising questions of businesses and analyzing a company’s performance is definitely our duty. Still, many reporters fear putting their reasoned, researched thoughts out into the world on Twitter because 140 characters affords such minimal context. Here’s the secret: Tweet more. If it takes five tweets for clarification, use them. If people ask questions, answer them. Your analysis is valuable to your followers. Like the sports reporter who gets to ask questions of the guy who dropped the ball, you have access to businesses that your followers lack.

PROVIDE LIVE COVERAGE: Many sports journalists get a boost from live coverage, because a lot of their audience watches the game they’re working. But, some of my favorite tweeters are the local high school sports reporters who sing the praises of kids who may never get on T.V. When you get an opportunity to cover something live — a meeting, a conference, a product launch or a big event — don’t pass it up. Giving your audience live coverage gives your Twitter feed immediacy and exclusivity. Not every event is the next Apple launch, but that little local trade show has valuable information for your audience too.

EMBRACE DEBATE: Every reporter expects that readers will disagree with angles and coverage, but Twitter allows them to do so publicly. I’ve noticed that sports journalists are often really good about responding to questions and retweeting their critics, but i often see news and business writers shy away from engaging in this way. Embracing debate rather than ignoring it demonstrates  that you’re listening to your followers and that you respect their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.

DON’T TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY: Of all the journalists I follow, the sports journalists seem quickest with a joke. Having a sense of humor about yourself and your work helps your followers remember that a human being lives behind the avatar. When you take joy in your work, share it with your readers.

 

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Four new Facebook and Google+ features to help you reach readers

September was a whirlwind month for social networking changes. Facebook rolled out a series of features, including a profile overhaul that drew both praise and criticism from users. Meanwhile Google+ opened up to the public and launched a few new features of its own. As the two networks compete for users, journalists and readers are bound to benefit. Here are four exciting new changes that arrived last month:

Facebook Subscribe demonstrates that Facebook is actually listening to the problems that journalists and other media professionals have had with the network’s structure and jargon. First of all, subscribe solves a lot of the old problems journalists had with “liking” pages and becoming “friends” with public figures. Second, it allows journalists worried about separating their personal and professional lives to share from a single account rather than maintaining a personal page and a fan page — as long as you have fewer than 5,000 friends.  Visit the subscribe page to allow subscriptions on your profile. When you allow subscriptions, be sure to set your notification and comment settings too.

Facebook Timeline is going to change the way your profile is organized, and re-position the network as a personal archive in addition to a social network.  This has big implications for journalists, because it may allow us to organize our shared content both contextually and chronologically and find older content more easily. Timeline  is being rolled out for everyone, but you can go ahead and get it now if you’re impatient. For more on the Facebook changes, check out Vadim Lavrusik’s post on the changes for Nieman Journalism Lab.

Google+ +1 buttons have been improved to allow direct sharing from the web. The +1 button previously shared content to a separate tab on your profile, but Google changed the functionality to allow sharing directly with those in your circles from the +1 button. 

Google+ circle sharing basically brings the functionality of Twitter lists into the Google+ network. You can organize your circles and share them with others. The only catch is that the shared circle won’t dynamically update. So, if you share a circle, and later update its members, the new members won’t show up in the shared circle. Google is attempting to avoid privacy concerns later, but it means that you may need to re-share the circle as it changes.

 

 

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Ready, Set, Sprint: How to work fast and loose to improve your work

I spent last weekend helping out a group of college kids take over the second-largest homeless newspaper in the United States. They swooped in without knowing each other, the community or the issues within it, and they managed to produce a robust website and print edition from scratch in just a couple of days. Helping with the project was nerve-wracking and exhausting, but I left feeling invigorated about my own day-to-day journalism work and with a good list of new story ideas. That’s the power of a sprint.

Working fast and loose on something outside of your normal job duties every now and then can elevate what you offer your users. Writers can use sprints to shake off writer’s block or launch new projects. NPR recently gave their developers a single day to fix problems and create new features.Google builds employee’s pet projects and ideas into their company culture, because doing so ultimately makes their company better. Dan Pink sums up why setting aside a little time for pet projects is good business in a great TED Talk:

Even if you can’t get support from higher up the corporate ladder in your organization, here are a few tips to help you start innovating with a sprint of your own:

Set a goal. If you have a big idea kicking around, set a specific goal to accomplish. If you can’t dedicate long periods of time to it, break that big goal into smaller increments that can be tackled more quickly.

Stick to a schedule. Whether you set aside 30 minutes or a day to the goal, stick to a schedule. Outline. Plan. Research. Write. Develop. The only rule is that you have to use the entire session to work on your goal. No exceptions.

Shut out the world. Forward your phone to voicemail, close the browser and exit your email program. The fewer distractions you allow in, the better you’ll be able to focus on the goal.

Stop. What makes a sprint really work is a limited time frame. You’re forced to simplify and drop dead weight quickly. Stopping your sprint on time is as crucial as starting it on time.

Repeat. If you make sprints a regular part of your work process, you train your body and your brain to be more efficient. Accomplishing a goal in a short amount of time is its own reward, but doing it regularly reinforces positive behavior, and makes you better at the rest of your work.

Want more specifics? Check out this helpful guide to setting up your own 20 percent time.

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Six LinkedIn tips for business journalists

Linkedin

By Flickr user smi23le

I’m a very active social media user, but I still make basic mistakes. Over the past six months, I let my LinkedIn profile go largely untended. I have a million excuses, of course — I’ve been busy, I’m not looking for new work, I’m investing in networks with a bigger audience. But, the truth is I’ve been lazy about monitoring my profile and putting it to work.

I decided to slack off at the worst possible time. LinkedIN traffic jumped after the company’s IPO in May, and some media companies have seen referral traffic from the site boom in the past year. Even without the traffic boost, LinkedIn is a high-value social network for business reporters and editors. Corporate types and hiring managers love it and use it often, and it offers free insight into companies that is hard to find elsewhere.

Below are a few tips to help you stay in the Linkedin loop and get the most out of this social media tool:

  1. Keep your profile current. Don’t repeat my mistake. Clean up your job history, contact information and web addresses. Add new colleagues and seek out a few recommendations. LinkedIn profiles often rank fairly high in search results, so it pays to manage your profile. Making sure your profile is up-to-date is in your best interest for your own career, and it shows potential sources that you use the network.
  2. Connect your Twitter account. If you’re already using Twitter professionally, connecting your account can improve your online visibility and create new connections to potential sources. One note, LinkedIn’s default Twitter settings only share updates tagged with #in or #li on your profile. You can disable that if you click the edit link beside your twitter handle on the edit profile page.
  3. Follow companies. LinkedIn’s companies pages offer unique insight into personnel at businesses on your beat. Following companies can keep you apprised of job openings, new hires and senior-level management changes that you may not find anywhere else.
  4. Search for sources. LinkedIn’s advanced search functionality allows you to search for sources by company and job title, making it easier to target the perfect source at a company. If you’re a paid premium member, you have even more options to filter, and you can contact potential sources directly, but the price is steep — $20 a month for the lowest tier of service.
  5. Get Answers. LinkedIn’s Answers is the network’s version of a mass Q&A service. Answers on LinkedIN are largely business-centric, simply because of the network’s professional nature. You can perform a simple keyword search to see potential sources who have weighed in on a topic, or ask and answer questions yourself to start building new connections.
  6. Check out Groups. LinkedIn’s Groups are also helpful for sourcing, and many are organized geographically. After a quick search for South Florida, I found active local groups for professional organizations, networking and even specific job sectors.

A few additional resources:

LinkedIn for Journalists group

LinkedIn’s Learning Center user guide for journalists

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Crowdsourced maps: How to get started and stories to consider

crowdsourcing map

Readers submit their favorite bird-watching spots in New York City for a crowdsourcing map at The New York Times.

As the ranks of journalists at news organizations shrink, one of our biggest news-gathering assets is our audience. We increasingly rely on users for tips and information via social media, and some companies are working overtime to make crowdsourcing news easier. One of the most interesting emerging uses for all that crowd sourced news is in mapping.

Applications like Everyblock have demonstrated the power of mapping news, but all kinds of individual stories can include mapped components. NPR’s “The Takeaway” set up a national gas prices map. The New York Times and WNYC asked users to share bird-watching spots. Following Haiti’s earthquake, users all over the world cobbled together a map of earthquake damage and relief sites to assist aid workers.

When  selecting a topic or story for crowdsourced mapping, remember that the story should have longer-term potential and a strong geographic component. Setting up a crowdsourced map requires some legwork, so it’s worth making sure it has some kind of shelf life. In disasters, crowdsourced maps can locate damage or indicate where to find supplies and aid, but you should set them up and test them in advance. If you’re looking at crowdsourced maps for disasters make sure that they’re mobile compatible, and set up submission by sms or email.

For a very basic and fast crowdsourced map with a shorter shelf life, you can create a Twitter search map on uMapper. Just chose the Twitter template, center your map on your region and type in a search parameter. Twitter maps come in handy for recurring events with established hashtags or participants — like meet-ups, conferences or other events.

Crowdmap is a great platform to start crowdsourcing more complicated maps if you have limited programming knowledge. It’s open source, and easy to use. It accepts text, photo or video submissions via a web form, or over SMS, but you’ll have to do some extra work for that. Once you’ve set-up SMS integration, Crowdmap is a great choice for reporting emergencies. If you’re a bit more tech-saavy, you can dive right into Crowdmap’s engine, Ushahidi, to unlock more functionality.

If you prefer to set up your own submission system with a customized database, for example, check out Geocommons. You have more fine-grained control with how things are displayed in Geocommons maps, but you’ll have to do more setup to get started. You’ll also have to keep your data current. Geocommons is great for mapping recurring data or overlaying data sets, but it’s less flexible in breaking news situations.

Whether you’re trying to map something as simple as a Twitter search or reams of user-submitted data, mapping is a great way to aggregate individual users’ knowledge into an informative story.

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Google+ first impressions, unique features and tips for getting started

google+

Photo credit: Google

Google launched Google+, its latest attempt to grab a piece of the social networking market, a couple of weeks ago. It’s still in limited release, so we won’t exactly understand all of the journalism implications here until Google+ is opened up to everyone.

The big complaint about Google+ so far is that it’s too similar to Facebook, but without all the people. The biggest draw has also been that “it’s not Facebook,” but the similar interface may turn out to be a strength if Google is aiming to squeeze out the market leader. (If you’re interested in the Google+ backstory, give Wired’s “Inside Google+” a read.) The interface is so familiar that even if you’re not exactly attuned to the lingo, you can start using Google+ right away. I don’t think there’s enough added functionality yet to get people to switch from Facebook, which has their photos, videos and, well, people already engaged. Google also made some really ill-fated social media moves with Buzz and Wave, so even enthusiastic adopters are a bit wary of getting on the bandwagon just yet. But, Google+ offers a few game-changing features out of the box.

First off, Google+ makes it easier to selectively share content. Facebook does have the functionality for users to broadcast a message to a limited group, but it’s clunky and limited, and few people bother to set it up. Circles allow for simpler, infinitely-targeted sharing. I have created Circles of friends, local friends, co-workers, journalists and comic/sci fi friends, just to name a few. So, if I wanted to share a story about journalism, I could just share it with my co-workers and journalists circles, and my comic/sci fi friends wouldn’t have it cluttering their stream. This targeting ability could have obviously huge implications for businesses and advertisers in the long run, some of which may bleed back into media outlets that provide content being shared.

Google has asked businesses and organizations, including news sites, to refrain from setting up profiles for the time being. They are running a trial and say they are creating a specific business profile. Once that rolls out, Google+ may be valuable to business journalists tracking companies like they do on other sites.

Google+ also offers a feature called Hangouts, a group chat with video integration. Facebook immediately countered this by partnering with Skype, which demonstrates what a potential game-changer it is. With a few more tweaks and full Google Docs integration, it could become the tool that Wave never was. If users were able to view the same slideshows and edit documents in real-time, Hangouts could become an industry leader for webinars and project collaboration.

Sparks is the third Google+ feature that could launch it into a leader. Sparks allows users to select their own interests, and Google+ serves up a feed of news and posts related to that interest. It’s similar to having all your topical Google Alerts integrated into your social network, a feature that search-engine-less Facebook could have a tough time emulating.

If you don’t have an invite yet, don’t fret, Google+ isn’t going anywhere in the next couple of months. If you can get in the door, here are a few helpful posts to get you started:

Lifehacker’s video tour of Google+

Business Insider’s Google+ guide

Mashable’s Google+ cheat sheet

8 quick tips and tricks from PC World

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Neat Tweets: Techniques to expand your coverage on Twitter

Twitter will turn five in July, but we’re still finding interesting new ways to use those 140 characters as a launchpad for journalism. Here are three unique Twitter techniques that business journalists can start implementing into their stream:

Sparktweets

If you’re a fan of charts, sparktweets allow you to visualize data within the body of your tweet using unicode characters. There are limitations as far as the size and complexity of the data you can present, but sparktweets offer data at-a-glance that could interest a reader in your story.

Zach Seward, outreach editor of the Wall Street Journal, explains how they work and offers a few best practices:

  • Place the chart at the beginning of a sparktweet to minimize how often it breaks over two lines. You might even try a line break after the chart, which will render in some Twitter clients.
  • Six unique values can be visualized in a sparktweet. because the current iteration makes use of these characters: ▁▂▃▅▆▇ Any more than six and the differences begin to blur.
  • It’s possible to view Unicode in TweetDeck: Go to Settings > Colors/Font and choose International Font / Twitter Key. Almost no TweetDeck users enable this option, however, so it’s worth writing sparktweets to be legible without the visual.
  • People really seem to like sparktweets, but it’s unclear how much of the reaction is due to novelty. Like Facebook profile hacks, Twitter art succeeds by expanding the creative boundaries of a medium while adhering to its strict rules.

There are several tools online to help you create sparklines, but here’s the one that Zach used.

Ustream and mobile video apps

ABC 33 40 video tweet

Meteorologist James Spann and the news team at his station, ABC 33/40, used their Ustream, mobile-video and social media accounts to alert residents during the Alabama tornadoes.

Ustream and mobile-video apps are portable and immediate, and in emergencies, people have access to mobile technology when their power fails or when they can’t be near a computer. The ABC 33/40 team focused heavily on mobile distribution, and got incredible response from its audience in return.

Ustream is also mobile-friendly for reporters. As long as you have a video-capable smartphone, you can live stream press conferences or news events without any extra equipment.

Tweet the behind-the-scenes extras

nickbilton NYT front page tweet

The death of Osama bin Laden presented unique opportunities for distributing behind-the-scenes content that never would have made the traditional media cut. Three of the most popular tweets in my stream after the news itself were the account of the IT consultant who unwittingly live-tweeted the raid, the White House Situation room photos and the original front page of the New York Times.

Social media has helped identify a growing appetite for behind-the-scenes coverage. The next time you’re handling a big story, fill your audience in on what happened “off-camera.” Snap a photo of a press-conference or interview set-up. Tweet an interesting tidbit about a subject that didn’t make your story. Provide key documents used in a big investigation.

Transparency in our newsgathering and decision-making processes builds trust, and  providing extra content gives your followers added value.