Note: This is the first in a series of posts that aims at getting you more familiar with BLOX, the software that runs our website. The idea is that — even if you don’t work in BLOX every day — the more you know about it, the better you can envision what digital components could go with your stories.
To the software that runs our website, everything is an asset. It doesn’t matter if it’s a photo, an article, a video or a table. All are assets.
So, if you work with BLOX very long, you’ll find yourself referring to article assets instead of stories and HTML assets rather than code snippets. It sounds silly, I know, but BLOX’s developer, TownNews, chose the nomenclature. I’m just the messenger.
In this first post on BLOX, I’ll take you through the 14 different kinds of assets (as of this writing) and tell you the basics about each of them. In 14 follow-up posts, I’ll go into the details of what you can do with each kind of asset.
So, without further ado, the list:
- Article – This is our bread and butter. All of your text stories are turned in to article assets. Of all the various kinds of assets, this is the type we use most of all. Articles can include all the standard text formatting, such as bold and italic text, as well as links to other things on the Web.
- Image – As the name implies, this type of asset holds images of all kinds. They can be set to display in different positions and at different sizes, depending on the image.
- Collection – Collections act differently depending on what they collect. At their most basic, a collection is a group of assets bundled together for the reader. If all those assets are images, the collection becomes a photo gallery. If they are a mix of different filetypes, they become sort of a topic page.
- Audio – This filetype accepts audio as .mp3s, the format popular on the Web these days. All of your little audio recorders create files that can work on BLOX with just a little bit of editing and tinkering. Example
- Flash – Flash is another piece of software made by Adobe, the company behind Photoshop and InDesign. Flash projects allow us to create all sorts of animation effects and interactivity. Ben Pierce can tell you all about Flash, and there is a 1,200-page book on my desk about it that I swear I’ll get around to reading someday. (We have used this asset type only twice — so far, that is.)
- HTML – HTML is the language that the Web is built on. An HTML asset is used to contain a little bit of HTML code, which can do pretty much anything. This kind of asset is like the wildcard of BLOX. When all other types of assets fail, there’s HTML to fall back on.
- Link – I already mentioned that we can add links into the text of article assets, but there is also a separate asset type just for links. The benefit is that a link asset can be used again and again as a companion to articles or other assets. Say, a link to the city of Bozeman’s website that we’d use every week with Amanda’s commission advance or a link to the YNP website to run out with every park story.
- PDF – If you don’t know what a PDF is, go learn. The PDF asset holds PDF files and allows our readers to download them for their own uses.
- Poll – The poll asset asks the reader questions and creates a bar graph or pie chart totaling their responses. We typically use these as part of the Opinion page, but we can also (and probably should also) do spot polls to go along with daily stories as a way to get the readers more involved.
- Table – Just as the name implies, a table asset holds tabular data. It could be payroll data from the county or simply a table of campgrounds in the Gallatin National Forest. Anything that would be clearly described in a grid format can go in a table asset.
- VMIX – VMIX is our video service — like our own private version of YouTube. It’s where your videos go when I upload them. The asset simply connects to the VMIX service and embeds your videos into BLOX.
- Video – Not everybody uses VMIX, so BLOX offers its own video assets. These work the same way as the VMIX assets, except that the videos are stored inside BLOX instead of inside VMIX.
- YouTube – If you’ve used YouTube, you probably have noticed that you can easily embed the videos in other places, like blogs and websites. The YouTube asset is a way to easily embed YouTube videos in BLOX and attach them to stories and other kinds of assets.
- ZIP – The ZIP asset makes .zip files available to our readers. If you don’t know, a .zip file is a way to take a bunch of other files and compress them so they don’t take up as much space. This is handy for shrinking large files down so people on slow Internet connections can easily download them. We have never used this asset type.
Well, that’s it, your basic introduction to the different asset types. Check back in the not too distant future for more details about each one.
In this tutorial, the author tells us how 15 different shots were edited into a single sequence. He goes through the shots, one-by-one, explaining each one’s purpose and what it does for the overall story.
Some tips to take away from this video:
- Sequences should have some sort of “opener” to get them going. In the case of this scene, the cameraman uses static shots of the flowers sold by the flower merchant.
- Sequences should generally start with a wide, “establishing” shot to give viewers a sense of the whole scene.
- Use a variety of medium and close-up shots through the sequence.
- Close-up shots can be used as good transitional shots. (Think of these shots like the actor coming on stage to talk to and distract the audience while stage hands change the set behind her.)
- Pans and zooms should have a purpose, a clear purpose. Don’t put them in because you can. Put them in because they help tell the story in some way.
- Keep pans short, less than 20 seconds.
- Each shot in the sequence should show the viewer something new or different that helps tell the story.
Angela Grant at News Videographer has listed some characteristics of stories that work well with video. These slam-dunk video stories should have:
- Lots of movement and action
- Something people just want to see
Of course, these characteristics are obvious, but Grant includes several examples of each kind of story beneath the list items. It’s worth checking out the list of links.
Originally published on another of my blogs on May 5, 2009
Recording moving images can be hard enough; you’ve got a lot of different things to think about when the camera’s on. But the sound that goes along with your video is just as important, if not more so.
Consider this, we have to compress the heck out of video to get it into formats that will play happily on the lowest-common-denominator computers out there. However, audio quality remains pretty good, even when it’s compressed. So, as the quality of the video decreases, we must rely on audio more and more to carry the project.
Put another way: Users will often tolerate poor quality video, but if that crappy video is paired with terrible sound, they won’t even give the video a chance.
So, here are some things to keep in mind about the sound you’ll be recording with videos in the field:
- Rooms are seldom as quiet as they seem. Even things like a running computer, the air vents and fluorescent lights can turn what you thought was good audio into unusable trash.
- Make small talk with your interview subject while you set up the camera and microphones. Not only does it help put the subject at ease, and you can get an idea of how loudly they’ll be talking and whether you’ll need to tell them to speak up.
- Be aware of the sounds you make.
- If you’re using a clip on microphone, ask your interview subject not to move around too much. The sound of a microphone moving against clothing can ruin an otherwise perfectly good soundtrack.
- Be aware of the different abilities of the microphones you’ll be using. If you’re relying on the microphone built in to your camera, realize it will not produce great quality in noisy situations. It may be best to ask the person you’re interviewing to step into the hallway or some other, quieter space.
I want to add one thing to this list (for now). Rooms with hard walls, like most of the cinderblock-built rooms on campus, tend to create an echo when people speak loudly and clearly. We kind of tune it out when we’re sitting there having a conversation with a person, but a microphone is not so forgiving — even a poor quality one like the one built-in to your Kodak cameras.
If possible, situate your interview subjects in a room with something on the walls, curtains or fabric or even wood. Just something that won’t echo as much.
How we should act on social networks has been a topic of interest for everyone in the newsroom, and apparently it has been for the Associated Press too. The AP has published a set of AP social media guidelines for journalists.
Some of the highlights:
- Journalists should have accounts at the major social networking sites. “These sites are now an integral part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. They have become an essential tool for AP reporters to gather news and share links to our published work.”
- The AP recommends having one account at each site that journalists use professionally and personally.
- Journalists should identify themselves as members of the media somewhere in their personal profiles on the social networking site.
- Don’t post political views and don’t post proprietary or confidential information.
- Monitor your pages to make sure material posted by others doesn’t violate AP guidelines.
- It is acceptable to friend or follow sources, but not to engage in behavior that indicates any sort of bias.
These are just a few of the guidelines. I encourage you to read them all when you get the chance — they’re not long.
For some response, check out journalism and social media consultant Steve Buttry’s post on the guidelines, which is pretty critical.
Mathew Ingram at GigaOM wonders, given some recent controversy over a Boston reporter tweeting from a public figure’s funeral, whether there are some things we just shouldn’t tweet about, not even if you’re a reporter.
All of these incidents may seem like classic cases of what Twitter critics call “over-sharing,” but the lines of what should remain private and what should become public (to the extent that a Twitter post is public) are continually being redrawn, and in many cases differ from person to person.
A few of you have expressed concerns in our meetings over what should and shouldn’t be tweeted. Given these examples, where do you think we should draw the line?
I was able to to go through one of the BBC’s excellent tutorial/training courses online, the “Guide to Good Shooting.” I recommend the course because it provides interactive exercises to help you figure out some of the specifics of setting up good video shots and provides diagrams to help explain some of theories behind lighting and composition.
- Like with everything else I’ve read so far, the emphasis is on planning, on knowing what you’re getting into before you start filming or recording.
- The course emphasizes the importance of having a checklist and getting all the shots you came for — but it also advises that you keep an open mind and adapt your plan when you notice the story changing.
- The course goes through tutorials on focusing, composing shots, capturing movement, setting up interviews, adjusting white balance and lighting.
Originally published on another of my blogs on May 1, 2009
I know I haven’t come along yet with the fifth and final installment of the Twitter series yet, but I came across this document tonight and thought it was too good to not post right away.
Vadim Lavrusik is an adjunct journalism instructor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also works with Facebook to teach journalists how they can put the social network to good use in their reporting.
The document embedded below is one that Lavrusik put together to help journalism instructors integrate Facebook into their curriculums, but it also offers a bevy of tips and ideas for how to make Facebook into yet another tool for your reporter’s toolbox.
Lavrusik describes it thus:
I’ve included some key aspects of Facebook that can be used by journalists in their reporting, as well as examples of assignments that can help familiarize students with Facebook as a reporting tool.