Archive for the ‘Multimedia’ Category
As we celebrate our freedoms this Fourth of July, it’s ironic that I had a very un-freedom-of-the-press experience last week. A government official asked me at a public meeting to stop snapping photos with my iPhone.
Ever since I got the phone last year, I’ve been hearing how useful it can be as a reporting tool. Over the last few weeks, I’ve actually had the opportunity to put what I’ve heard into practice.
In early June, I covered a conference on big data at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. While I understand the basics of big data, this was a conference geared for scientific researchers who are used to playing with supercomputers, and I was quickly in over my head. I used my phone to photograph some of the slides these propeller heads presented. The pictures were helpful when I went back over my notes, trying to extract the most meaningful information to include in my stories.
Then last week I covered another conference, this time on counterfeit electronics. While it also had its share of deep technical papers, the most newsworthy parts of this were presentations given by industry and government folks on efforts to eliminate counterfeits from the Department of Defense supply chain.
On the program was an assistant U.S. attorney who led a couple of major counterfeiting investigations. The organizers of the conference, which was held at the University of Maryland, had helpfully included the slide decks of participant presentations in a book that was handed out at registration. But when we got to the U.S. attorney’s panel, titled “Government and Industry Perspectives on Counterfeit Microelectronics,” which featured several government representatives, there were no slides printed in the book. Instead, the page read: “Per panelists’ request, presentations are not available.”
Good thing I had my trusty iPhone! The attorney started telling how the government’s investigations had led to the prosecution and conviction of a couple of people last year on federal charges of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and to commit mail fraud. She showed photos and included juicy details that I had not seen or heard elsewhere. For example, she characterized the conspirators as heavy drug users, noting that they and their employees “smoked reefer” and “snorted cocaine off of toilet seats.”
I took notes furiously while also using my phone to snap shots of some of the slides she presented. Then she fixed me in her gaze, stopped her presentation and asked me to stop taking photos and recording audio (which I wasn’t doing). “Also, please erase what you already have recorded,” she added, then proceeded with her presentation. Surprised, I put down the iPhone, but of course I continued to take notes.
Maybe she was just caught off guard and overreacted when she noticed that her presentation was being recorded. She may not have known that I was a reporter. The topic is so geeky, maybe she never expected a reporter to be in the room. But it was a public meeting, at a university no less, and she had no authority over whether I recorded her. During the rest of the presentation I wondered what would happen if I kept taking photos. I did take one more picture of a slide during the presentation of a U.S. Customs representative on the panel.
I wondered if the attorney would approach me afterwards, but she never did. Now I wish I had approached her and asked her why she wanted me to stop recording. There was never any mention of information from the conference being off the record. The organizers knew I was attending as a reporter. The slides she showed were not marked confidential or classified. Presumably, it was all public information. But her being a tough prosecutor and all, I guess I was afraid of a confrontation. Maybe she’d confiscate my iPhone or try to have me arrested . . .
I don’t specialize in investigative reporting and the information she presented, while very interesting, probably won’t end up in my coverage. But the incident disturbs me nevertheless. Although she requested that I erase the photos, I did not. And of course I am not going to destroy my notes. They just might come in handy someday.
Postscript: Apparently, incidents of law enforcement denying reporters and citizens the right to record in public is on the rise, according to a recent speech at the National Press Club. Thanks to fellow NPC member Jack Williams for the heads-up.
Neal Augenstein is a one-man multimedia news crew. But the reporter, who works for Washington, D.C., talk radio station WTOP, does not schlep heavy, expensive video and audio equipment as he drives around the metro area covering breaking news. Instead, he uses his iPhone. With his phone, a charger, a few apps, a $2 piece of foam and some practice, Augenstein says he’s able to produce fairly good quality audio and video reports for the station’s radio station and website.
Augenstein explained how he does it at a professional development session on “iPhone Reporting” last week at the National Press Club. As technology brings radio, TV, print and web together in one big mess of media, journalists are increasingly called on to do a little bit of everything, like it or not. And don’t expect any training, even if you are a full-time employee. Augenstein took the initiative at WTOP, educating himself on the capabilities of the iPhone (and later the iPad), and then producing reports that convinced WTOP of the viability of the iPhone as a sort of reportorial Swiss Army knife.
Augenstein makes it sound easy, but of course for most of us it’s not. For a print reporter like me, audio and video are intimidating. I couldn’t even figure out how to get my iPhone to record audio during his presentation, and was too embarrassed to ask. And who has time for the “practice” part, when our priority is meeting the next deadline so we get paid?
I did manage to snap a photo of Augenstein (right), the quality and composition of which will convince editors that I should stick with words. I even used one of his tips on how to edit the photo on the spot and e-mail it to your editor. After taking the photo on the iPhone, size it and crop it on screen using your hand (pinching or spreading your fingers). Then take a screen shot by simultaneously pressing the on/off button and the home button. The newly cropped photo appears in your camera roll, and from there you can e-mail it to your editor (or in my case, to myself so I could put it on my website.)
A few other things I learned:
• YouTube isn’t the only online broadcasting platform out there. Check out Ustream. While YouTube is more commonly used to store and show recorded videos, it appears that Ustream is more like live TV, showing events as they happen in real time. (When I tuned in, the Arena Football Club of Des Moines was broadcasting a game between the Iowa Barnstormers and the Chicago Rush.) With an app called Ustream Broadcaster, you can tweet your broadcasts.
• Augenstein uses SoundCloud (which he called “YouTube for audio”) to store his audio clips. It has a free app that allows you to tweet your audio clips.
• The iPhone is sensitive to wind, even light breezes. You can solve the problem by slipping a standard microphone wind sock over the mic end of the phone. Augenstein says it worked so well that he was able to cover a hurricane using his iPhone.
I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the sound quality of the iPhone’s built-in mic. Augenstein admits the quality isn’t as good as using a professional mic and high-end digital recorder, but says it’s good enough. If you put professional equipment audio quality at 100 percent, he estimates iPhone quality rates about 92 percent in comparison. And he expects that new equipment add-ons for the iPhone, specifically an external mic due out in April, will improve that to 95 percent.
I’m not exactly a roving reporter, and probably won’t be using my iPhone to record audio and video. Honestly, I barely remember to tweet when I’m at an event. But it was fascinating to learn what Augenstein can do with the technology in the palm of his hand. More of his tips can be found on his blog on iPhone reporting.
I’m probably one of the only people in my neighborhood that hasn’t upgraded to a flat-panel TV. There, taking up a good portion of my living room, is the big-old-honking Sony.
Why haven’t I gotten rid of the beast? For one thing, it still works fine. And besides, I don’t watch that much TV.
OK, the real reason is fear. Setting up a new TV has become more complicated and intimidating than setting up a computer. I remember the days of having to reinstall software, update drivers, and doing dozens of other things by trial and error to get PCs to work. It didn’t take hours; it took days. But the computer industry has improved the process immensely. It’s still not idiot-proof, but at least I don’t need a degree in computer science to do it.
Meanwhile, TVs have moved in the other direction. Rather than just plugging them in and turning them on, you have to be an electronics engineer to get everything connected and playing well together.
My sister’s experience is a perfect example. Last spring, she and her husband bought a 46-inch flat-screen HDTV. With a beautiful picture like that, of course they wanted to complement it with the best audio and video components. But integrating all the components – Blu-Ray player, stereo receiver, CD player, cable and Internet – turned into what she calls her “high-end nightmare.”
The Best Buy salesman assured them that the Geek Squad could do it all. The Geeks came, they installed and connected everything, quickly demonstrated how everything worked, and then they were gone. But the head geek reassuringly left them his card, so they could call him personally if they had any problems.
An hour later, they had problems, and thus began “six months of hellish trial and error.” There was finger pointing between the Geek Squad and Comcast, then the head geek simply ignored my sister’s voicemails. Comcast came and switched out the cable box several times before one of the technicians finally admitted that the Comcast remote didn’t communicate with several of the new components. My sister and brother-in-law were on their own.
Once they got the BluRay player hooked up and tried to play a BluRay disc from Netflix, an error message popped up on the TV screen saying the BluRay player required a software upgrade. They hadn’t planned to connect the TV to the Internet yet, but now they had to in order to get the upgrade they needed. But the TV wouldn’t connect with their WiFi network. They had to call in a home multimedia specialist, at $140 an hour, and even he had trouble making it work.
Now, six months later, they’ve mostly figured it out. But they need four different remotes, depending on what component they’re trying to control. They keep notes near the TV so they can remember how to turn various components on and off. And they can’t play a simple audio CD without the TV monitor booting up and running rhythmic patterns of color to illustrate the music.
The total cost of the TV, components and fees for various technicians: more than $2,500. The time spent tinkering in frustration and chasing after the Geek Squad, Comcast and other technicians: 50-plus hours. “The sheer mental anguish – priceless,” my sister deadpans.
Who needs that? That’s why I’m buying a new computer this year. In fact, I may even throw out the old Sony and put the new PC in the living room. After all, with the PC, it’s easy to watch movies and TV shows, listen to my music and tune into the radio. Oh, and did I mention it can access the Internet, too?
When people get all their news from Facebook, Twitter and blogs, how will they know what’s factual and accurate? Will it even matter to them?
If those questions alarm you, then check out the News Literacy Project, a program that tries to teach students “the critical thinking skills to sort fact from fiction in the digital age.” Indeed, the organization’s tag line – “how to know what to believe” – sums up its mission succinctly.
The worry: that in the age of Google, Wikipedia and seemingly limitless online information young people are losing the important skill of discernment, that they view all information – regardless of source or bias – as equal in value, and that they will therefore be incapable of making well-informed decisions. Not only will journalism suffer, but such a citizenry could damage, even ultimately destroy, our democratic society.
I had never heard of the organization, even though it has a pilot program at a local school – Walt Whitman Senior High School in Bethesda, Md. I discovered it when a fellow journalist forwarded me an e-mail announcing that the project was sponsoring a panel discussion at Whitman on “The Future of Journalism in the Digital Age.” That would be my future, so of course I went to hear what they had to say.
On the panel were seasoned journalist Ray Suarez, senior correspondent of the PBS NewsHour, and the heads of two major news organizations – Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of NPR, and Katharine Weymouth, publisher of The Washington Post. Although they talked about journalism’s present and future, they didn’t say anything we in the profession haven’t heard before or experienced first-hand. Ironically, the panel served as an exercise in critical, analytical thinking for those of us in the audience. The News Literacy Project teaches kids to question what they read (or hear) and to consider the bias of the source. Both Schiller and Weymouth insisted on extolling the virtues of the digital age of journalism, while refusing to discuss the downside, such as how it has decimated the staffs at most news organizations. Suarez, the moderator, tried to raise these issues, but got nowhere. In fact, they flat-out ignored a question from an audience member about whether either of them planned to farm out research and basic reporting to workers in India, as some news organizations have already.
They kept stressing the importance of quality journalism, the value of good reporting and the crucial need for students to appreciate these values and learn how to pick the wheat from the chaff. All the while I kept thinking, “OK, but who’s going to pay for that quality?” I could barely contain a chortle when the Post’s Weymouth said she tells aspiring young journalists that the most valuable skill is “to be a good reporter.” The Post has laid off hundreds of staff in the last few years. It essentially killed its business section last year. I’m pretty sure they were all good reporters.
Nevertheless, the News Literacy Project seems a worthwhile endeavor. It may not save our jobs, but it may save our society. To learn more, take a look at this video.
As a writer, I believe strongly in the concept of copyright, retaining the rights to the work by which creative professionals earn their living. But I have a confession to make. Ever since I launched my website, I’ve been operating in a gray area when it comes to the copyright on images.
I strongly suspect, however, that I’m not alone. How many of you out there – yes, you writers and bloggers – verify the copyright and obtain permission if required for every image you use from the Web?
I thought so. Me, too.
Initially, I was concerned about using the magazine covers on my website. Still am. But the images are so small I’m betting these publishers won’t give me grief about it. At any rate, it’s probably fair use.
But I faced another copyright challenge once I figured out how to add images to my blog posts. I’ve tried to be careful, but it’s not easy – in fact it often seems impossible – to figure out whether images are copyrighted. A Google search for mountains, for example, yields more than 37 million images. If I start clicking through these, a few are obviously copyrighted – they carry the familiar copyright symbol, ©. But most do not. Of course, the law no longer requires a work to display the © symbol for copyright protection. In fact, when I click on any image, Google warns me that “This image may be subject to copyright.” When I click further to go to the original source – which may be a commercial website, someone’s blog, or even a variety of websites that claim to offer “free” images, it’s never clear whether the image is copyrighted. There is no copyright notice on the photo, although there is a copyright notice at the bottom of the website. Presumably this copyrights the website, but not the photo.
When I attended the Future of Freelancing conference last summer, one presenter mentioned that a good way to find images available for legal use was to search Creative Commons (CC). I’ve tried, but remain baffled. Right off the bat, the home page tells me:
“Do not assume that the results displayed in this search portal are under a CC license. You should always verify that the work is actually under a CC license by following the link. Since there is no registration to use a CC license, CC has no way to determine what has and hasn’t been placed under the terms of a CC license. If you are in doubt you should contact the copyright holder directly, or try to contact the site where you found the content.”
In addition, Creative Commons offers a confusing array of different types of licenses that specify different conditions under which I may use the work. So even if I figure out it’s licensed under Creative Commons, I still have to decipher exactly how I’m allowed to use it.
All this means that locating and verifying an image often takes as long as writing the blog post. Sometimes longer. Occasionally, I actually discover the copyright owner and ask for permission. The outpouring of gratitude tells me how widescale this problem is.
Here’s what Richard Krzemien, the author of the cartoon I used in last week’s post, told me about copyright infringement: “I used to keep close track of copyright problems, but honestly it can become a full time job. That’s why I took most of my comics down from the site. And all that’s available are the low resolution versions online. I figure it’s the cost of doing business. So I greatly appreciate you contacting me for permission.”
I’m sure what I’ve run into is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of copyright infringement on the Web. Come to think of it, that would make a good illustration for this post. There are 1.5 million images of iceberg tips on Google. I wonder which ones are legal?
I didn’t learn much about art in journalism school. The professors who taught reporting, writing and editing focused on gathering information, checking facts and writing a story that answered the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why. The art – if there was any at all – was someone else’s job.
When I was reporting for newspapers, editors started asking me to gather art as well as information. Ask your sources for mug shots, they’d say. It was the 1980s, and USA Today had defied the critics who called it a cartoon newspaper, making the then-unfamiliar concept of infographics popular. Suddenly editors were demanding that I get statistics the art department could use to make fancy, colorful charts. I, and my reporter colleagues, considered it a burden.
I didn’t learn the value of art until I became a magazine editor. And it didn’t come easily. I butted heads with more than one art director who demanded we sacrifice text in order to make room for a photo spread, illustration or graphic. In the art director’s mind, a picture literally was worth a thousand words. The worst was when he wanted neither words nor pictures – he wanted aesthetically pleasing white space. To me, white space was nothing more than a hole that needed to be filled, preferably with words.
Gradually and grudgingly, I began to appreciate the role art can play in journalism. I became the dreaded editor who demanded that reporters gather good art material along with the facts and quotes for their stories. Some great art directors taught me how important the presentation of a story can be. They showed me how art can heighten the impact of a hard-hitting piece of investigative reporting. How a good custom photo of a CEO can reveal character and pique interest, thus pulling the reader into the article. How a well-designed graphic can convey more information than paragraphs full of tedious statistics. How unusual typography can convey the mood of a story. I even started to like white space.
By the time I left that magazine, I was a complete convert. I had grown to love art and respect the creativity of art directors. One of the favorite parts of my job was the art meeting for each issue, where we brainstormed what kind of art to develop for each feature and what we should do on the cover.
That type of collaboration – the union of great writing with great artwork – seems rare today. For one thing, there aren’t many magazines left that can afford to invest in expensive photos or illustrations. Second, as print has waned and the Web waxed, tasteful art designed to support the story seems to have fallen into the background. Indeed, on the Web the layout of stories is still awkward, much less artistic. I rarely see anything comparable to a two-page magazine spread that pops out at readers and demands their attention. (Although Gannett’s experimental online magazine, The Bold Italic, is an interesting attempt.) And magazine covers? Sort of an anachronism, although publishers still reproduce on the Web what they’ve done in print.
But as more online magazines experiment with multimedia, that’s starting to change. Designers are using new types of art, including video and audio, to illustrate stories. (Hmmm, I can think of lots of different sounds and music that could accompany a story on, say, the BP oil spill, but what about an article on the latest wireless technology?)
Editors are asking for podcasts and even videocasts of interviews. With all this new technology, journalism is going to become much more than just reporting and writing. We journalists are going to have to loosen our exclusive reliance on the written word and learn how to use other media creatively. For those who do, journalism will become more art than craft. And for some of us, it just might become more fun than work.
At the Future of Freelancing conference in June at Stanford University, Richard Koci Hernandez, a Ford Foundation Multimedia Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, gave an excellent presentation on multimedia reporting.
It essentially boiled down to “teach yourself.” That’s nothing new for freelancers. But doing all the research to find out what we need to get started and where to find it – that can be a real time-suck, assuming you can even find this information. And that’s what was so valuable about Hernandez’ presentation. In one hour, he ticked off his recommendations of audio and video equipment as well as software programs we’d need to get started. All of it is geared for beginners and carries a price freelancers can afford – most of the equipment is under $200 and much of the software is free. He recommended websites where we could learn the basics. He pointed us to sources of audio, video and still images to illustrate our stories.
Many of us were amazed at how magnanimously he shared his knowledge. With Hernandez’ permission, I’ll continue in that spirit and “pay it forward” by passing on some of the golden nuggets.
Pocket video cam: Kodak Zi8
Low-cost tripod for video cam: Gorillapod
Digital audio recorder: Edirol R-09HR
Microphone: Sennheiser MD-42
Produce a slideshow with sound: Soundslides
Edit your sound files: Audacity
Edit your video: YouTube’s recently-launched online video editor
Illustrate your stories with maps: Umapper
Create graphs, charts, word clouds and other types of visualizations: Many Eyes
Best site for online tutorials: Lynda.com
Get tips on online storytelling from Ira Glass on YouTube