Archive for September, 2010
29 Sep

I did not do this alone

Next week, I have the honor and privilege to speak to some journalism students at Cal State University, Northridge. They’ve asked me to talk about Web journalism and my career.

NOTE: This is where the journalism stops in this post.

I have to get this out… I don’t know if it’s inappropriate… or TMI… or too whatever… but here goes.

In my life and in my career, I’ve been incredibly blessed. When I stop and think about my roots, my parents, my support network… and where I currently am… a professor… a professor at USC, such a prestigious institution… it is… amazing.

But I did not do this alone.

I get reminders of that all the time… one hit me the first time I walked into this great campus’ food court. And it hit me again realizing that I am going to speak to students at CSUN.

I’m fighting back tears as I type this.

You see… at one point, my mom worked at a pizza joint on the CSUN campus to get by. I had completely forgotten about it until I was ordering food on campus and was speaking in Spanish to the person taking my order.

In a flash I remembered visiting my mom and talking to her co-workers – Latinos also trying to scrap a living. I remember them being supportive of my education and wishing me the best, as they gave me a free slice of pepperoni.

They, like my mom, were struggling so I wouldn’t have to.

I got back to my office and let the overwhelming emotion flow over me. It was intense… my mom’s hard work put her son on the other side of that counter. Not as a student, but as a professor.

I cried like a baby, y’all.

I grew up a few blocks from CSUN. My parents are perfect examples of the American Dream… the good and the bad.

My dad has been running an auto repair shop for more than 30 years. (Y’all, give him your business because like every small business, he needs your support.)

There were times in my life where we had money… lots of it. And there were times in my life where we had none… a whole lot of nada.

But all that struggle… all their sacrifices… put me here. And put a lot of responsibility on my shoulders… one of the many reasons why I got into journalism.

Man, so many different people have done things for me… some things they could never have imagined would have such impact on me. Organizations like NAHJ, CCNMA, ASNE and others. Some institutions like CIIJ, SFSU, LA Pierce Community College.

I am soooooo blessed.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… this is cheesy. Okay, this is a damn cliché. But it’s my reality, y’all. And one I don’t take lightly… especially when I see my toddler growing. He’s going to know my parents’, mi gentes’ and my struggle to advance him.

Because he too, isn’t going to do it alone.

Um…. personal post over. Hopefully this wasn’t too awkward.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , ,
28 Sep

Web Journalism’s rules of tech engagement

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NOTE: This originally was posted to my professor/class blog: Seeing that these are a constant in many of my posts, I am re-publishing them here and on the Online Journalism Review site:

For some time now I’ve been preaching the Real-Time Reporting gospel, harnessing not only social media but all tech to advance journalism.

And while it, for me, is based on core journalistic values, it was clear a handful of folks were thinking my message was attempting to replace the way we did reporting.

So, that prompted me to whip up the rules I present at nearly every talk I give. This is a list of guidelines to remember when you engage with constantly evolving Web Journalism.

These are the rules I work under.


Rule #1. Journalism first, technology second

Technology is, and will always be, changing. Our journalism core values do not. News judgment and ethics are key no matter if journalism is in the form of pixels or paper or whatever.

The point to all of this – printed word, Flash interactives, video documentaries, visualized data, social media, etc. – is not the tool. Let’s be clear, the point is serving the community by helping them be informed citizens in a democratic society.

It’s the people and their stories, not the databases and Twitter followers.

We use these powerful tools to help advance our journalism, not replace it. Got it? Good.

Rule #2. If your mom says tweets she loves you, check it out

This is basic Journalism 101 and it applies to old school and new media alike. Whether you get an in-person tip or a Twitter message (it’s okay to call it a tweet, y’all), it is not fact… it’s the start of the reporting process, not the end of it.

If you get lazy and not fact-check, you’ll get burned. Remember, all we have is credibility… our word… it takes a lot of time and hard work to build up credibility, but no time at all to lose it.

Rule #3. Web/tech, including Social Media, does not replace in-person or phone interviews

There is an actively engaged community sharing a ton of information – much of it is TMI – on the Web. We’d be doing a disservice to our community by not engaging them in these new spaces.

But remember, while millions and millions are on Facebook and Twitter, there are millions who aren’t. Engage with your community in every space, but remember to reach out to the voiceless. The digital divide is still a reality.

Rule #4. Citizen, Brand and Journalist

This is just the way it is. As a journalist, you’re not a typical civilian. This ain’t no 9-to-5 job… this is a lifestyle. Sorry.

So, when you experiment and engage with these new technologies, there are three roles you need to be aware of: Citizen, Brand and Journalist.

Your behavior can and does affect each one of these roles. Be conscious about what you are saying and doing. Be who you are… don’t fake it. But always work under the impression that there is no privacy online… because there isn’t any.

Rule #5. BE OPEN

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Why would anyone do FourSquare?” Before that it was “Why would anyone use Twitter?” Before that it was “Why would anyone blog?” And before that, it was “Why would anyone go and use the Internet?”

Get over it… and use it. Try it out. See if it works for your daily journalism routine. If you don’t like it… stop. But then try it again.

This is the new world we are in, and fighting against it does nothing but hurt you. So, learn about it and try new things. Isn’t that one of the reasons why you got into journalism in the first place?


I hope these are useful guidelines. If you think there are incomplete or inaccurate, or if you think these are perfect, comment and send me feedback. Let’s have a dialogue about this new world.

21 Sep

Real-time Web + Journalism = Real-time reporting

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review:

The next phase of the Internet affecting journalism — for better or worse — is well underway.

We started out with Web sites, then blogs, then the interactivity of Web 2.0. Now, we are in the era of the real-time Web.

Which, for us in journalism, means real-time reporting.

This next phase has the power to improve and advance our journalism, but also puts our core journalistic values to the test.

Twitter’s original question, “What are you doing?” has evolved to “What’s happening?” Social Media has made telling people where you are, what you think, what you see, a common expression on the Web — again, for better or worse.

Yes, Social Media is routinely filled with TMI and, quite frankly, unless information. But it also has given the average person the ability to document and share newsworthy and historical events the moment they happen are happening.

Just look at the latest example from a few weeks ago: A gunman walked in the Discovery Channel headquarters holding people hostage.

The real-time Web went to work with first-hand witnesses.

DaAnGrYASiAN was one of the first tweets from scene

I was in my office, across the country when the news began to break. For those that know me and have attended my workshops, you’ve heard me go on about harnessing the power of social media.

Well, here was a perfect example. So, I tweeted two tips:

WebJournalist's tip to D.C. reporters

WebJournalist's second tip to D.C. reporters

Searching Twitter, I was able to find people sending updates from the Discovery Channel’s zip code (Here are some highlights that I found). Using FourSquare, I was able to find someone who had “checked in” to the building before the incident.

Mikefa123 checked into the location hours before the standoff

Possible witnesses, potential sources.

The power of the real-time Web was in full swing… and so was its potential danger: People with best intentions can give out incorrect information.

techsavvymama retweets a photo from the scene circulating the Web.

DaAnGrYASiAN wrongfully thought to be the gunman

Now, don’t become all traditionalists on me and dismiss this new phase by saying that risk of misinformation is way to high. Let’s be honest here, the concept of possible bad information has been around long before Twitter… and even before the Web.

Remember that saying, “if your mom says she loves you, check it out.” Well, if your mom tweets she loves you, check it out.

These are not facts. These are tips. These are potential sources. These are places you as a journalist bring your core values — news judgment, ethics, accuracy, transparency — to vet information to make sure you have accurate information.

But mistakes will happen — in both paper and pixels.

That’s why our core values are so important. They should constantly guide us through any story, under any deadline.

In the real-time Web speed is highly valued. But responsibility and credibility outweighs that. Be known for getting it right first, not for getting it first and wrong.

This is where being a “professional,” whatever that means, matters. But remember, the real-time Web also can help. Here’s that photo that @techsavvymama retweeted, along with an explanation from a former Discovery Channel employee why the person in the photo likely is not the gunman.

YFrog pic of someone with gun

Former Discovery employee explain why it probably isn't the gunman

NOTE: @techsavvymama messaged me immediately after I published this post to say that she believes the garden is, in fact, open to the public.

For the record, real-time reporting is more than just using social media.

A reporter can be sending out images or live video (UStream, Qik, Twitcasting, etc.) from their cell phones. A photographer or reporter could be automatically uploading images from their camera using technology like the Eye-Fi.

It’s journalism without a safety net… it’s hyperlocal AND global journalism… it’s working under the deadline of now, 15 minutes from now and 15 minutes ago.

The journalism game has changed — again. And this won’t be the last time. While technology evolves, what is constant and never-changing are our core journalistic values.

Hold them close as you harness the power of real-time reporting.

20 Sep

Real-time tweets from Discovery Channel hostage situation

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On Sept. 1, 2010, James J. Lee walked into One Discovery Place armed with pistols and explosives. Here is a sample of tweets sent from the zip code of The Discovery Channel’s headquarters in D.C. These sample messages are collected from Twitter Search and listed in chronological order with a PDT *timestamp.

These are typical citizens that dabble in Twitter. The majority had less than 100 followers. For examples, one user has 46 followers and had only had 47 tweets at the time. These folks are not social media gurus… they are regular, real folks.

Mikefa123 checked into the location hours before the standoff

DaAnGrYASiAN was one of the first tweets form scene

techsavvymama retweets a photo from the scene circulating the Web.

DaAnGrYASiAN wrongfully thought to be the gunman

* I noticed that the timestamp varied between the Chrome and FireFox browsers. These screen shots were taken with FireFox.

13 Sep

Online Journalism or Journalism Online? There is a difference

NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review:

I’m a journalist, first and foremost.

It doesn’t matter the medium — pixels or paper, airwaves or WiFi — I want to produce it, distribute it, consume it and innovate it. Oh yeah, and I want to save it.

But the term “journalist” is a broad category that is only increasing in size, filled with diverse specialties and talents.

So, if I may, I’d like to be more specific: I’m a Web journalist.

No doubt you’ve heard of this term before, but recently I’ve notice a misinterpretation of the term.

Please allow me to clarify it.

When I first started my Web journalism career, a good friend and mentor pulled me aside and planted a concept that still guides me today: It’s not Journalism Online, it’s Online Journalism.

There’s a lot of difference between the two, besides rearranging the words. To me it is simple and powerful.

Think of it this way: Art Online or Online Art.

Take a photo of Mona Lisa, one of the most famous works of art in the history of mankind. Get a nice, hi-res image of the painting and post it onto the Web.

The single image on the Internet brings this classical piece of art to millions of people who never will travel to Paris to see it first-hand.

That is Art Online.

Now, think of art that takes advantage of, or is based on, technology and the Internet. It’s a type of art that can only exist because of the Web and the latest technology.

To do this, the artist has to be creative in both the artistic and the technical space. The artist must harness technology to captivate its intended viewer, listener‚ user.

Instead of describing it, take a quick trip and experience some Online Art here… but come back, please. Check out (I recommend these two pieces) or Seoul-based Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (Here are two examples) or explore the collection at (like this one).

On The Media did a profile on an art piece that merges the digital realm with real life. A simple device with a powerful title: “A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter.”

This art piece could not exist without the Internet. Without eBay, of all things. It’s art that evolves and even generates revenue for its artist.

So, back to clarifying the journalism terms.

Journalism Online is what we use to lovingly call “shovelware,” which is taking existing “legacy” content and posting it on the Web. We know that there is immeasurable value in having the paper’s articles, radio show’s podcast and TV show’s newscasts available on the Web.

Text alone is perhaps the most powerful form of journalism on the Web.

But that is still Journalism Online.

What I do…. what I identify with… what I live and breathe is Online Journalism.

So, what is that exactly?

Well, it’s hard to explain but I look at the latest technology and opportunities only available on the Internet and try to harness them for the advancement and distribution of storytelling and journalism.

I look at FourSquare and see how we can use that to find eye-witness sources in breaking news events. I look at photo gallery widget by TripAdvisor, meant for vacation snapshots, and see how it could enrich our coverage of, say, the World Cup.

I work with engineers and see how our crafts can work together and create new experiences. Like when we took RSS feeds from around the globe and mapped them for a Seattle Times project. It was based on the addicting, but somewhat pointless Twittervision.

Think of how more powerful our journalism becomes when we crowd-source. Add some technology, like CNN did by using Microsoft’s PhotoSynth, and it captures a historic moment in a unique way.

Don’t get me started on augmented reality.

What can I say? I am a geek. A technophile. An iPhone addict.

But I’m a journalist first.

News judgment and ethics are core. Fear of and respect for deadlines drives me. The sick sense of humor we use to cope with traumatic news events is my warm blanket.

The newsroom is my home.

I’m just a mad scientist taking the latest tech to help advance the Fourth Estate.

I’m a Web journalist.

Well, at least until the new technology replaces the Web.