Archive for October, 2010
30 Oct

My imaginary monologue with journalism (leadership)

NOTE: This is not a tweet or a Facebook status… I’m not sure who this is for, but it’s something I want to write down and document. So here’s a below-the-radar, stream-of-consciousness post, perhaps written only for me. I decided I need to just own this, and dispense with my reluctance. This isn’t just for me. It’s for “us” trying our best to save and advance journalism.

This morning, I woke up with the monologue I would tell an Executive Editor or Publisher or top decision maker at a news organization if I were ever asked my vision on running a newsroom.

I’d first start by explaining to them that my decision making process, while you may think is tech focused, is driven first and foremost by the love of the community and the complete belief that journalism serves and empowers that community by informing it.

Then I’d share that I’ve obsessively thought about the different fronts of “development” I would embark in if I ran the show… content, tools/technology and revenue… these different ideas in my head, but all in the name of journalism.

I’d naturally get so excited that I would start sketching each one of those categories on a napkin, trying to explain to the person what is in my head.

But then I’d stop… perhaps mid-sentence… put my pen down… look the person in the eye and say:

Look, the biggest obstacle in journalism right now isn’t whether people trust “us” or not. It’s not even the revenue crisis we are all facing and feeling every day.

The biggest obstacle is… you.

[Awkward pause]

Then, if the person hasn’t left the table, I’d say:

I can continue trying to explain these concepts to you, draw my little pictures, employ my weird (often pop-culture drenched) analogies… all to get you closer to understanding these concepts.

Or, you can just admit (and hopefully be okay with) the very strong possibility that you may never really understand.

But, also, realize that it’s not about you… it’s not about you understanding.

That spending time on trying to have you understand, so you can approve, has delayed and hurt us for SO MANY YEARS. We can’t afford that time any more.

Please know that you have a very important role here, but trying to be the visionary when you don’t understand is not that role.

Take that leap of faith by putting your trust in the people who are just as passionate, concerned, obsessed about journalism as you are… trust those “Web people.”

You see, I’d say, that for each category I described, there are amazing Web journalists doing work that is changing our industry, but leadership hasn’t noticed, let alone appreciated it.

In fact, these amazing people are on your staff right now. But, because you don’t understand or approve it, you don’t see it.

These people are getting heart-broken by the missed opportunities and your bad decisions. Don’t buy that vendor’s product, especially if it is a CMS! Stop getting obsessed with the buzzwords you hear at conferences! Stop listening to those hype machine, journo pundits offering bad advice!

Stop it.

Because if you don’t, all I’m doing is drawing on a napkin… is writing a Jerry Maguire style blog post… all we’re doing is just talking. Spending time and energy on you and not on the community.

Stop it. And take that leap… with us.

Categories: Journalism, Personal, Rant Tags:
25 Oct

Tips and tools to innovate with during election night coverage

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review:

In our world, there is no better story that reflects the power and value of good journalism like an election.

Regardless of the medium, the stories from an election can include investigative pieces, people profiles, contextual stories, and, because politicians are so colorful, stories of the weird.

Put these under an umbrella of breaking news and see us do our thing.

The midterm elections are just around the corner and they have proven to live up to a newsy season. By now many of us have established a general plan for election night coverage.

But to help foster innovation and advancement in journalism, last’s week #wjchat, a weekly chat about Web journalism held through Twitter, had its first Elex Exchange where we shared ideas and tools to help with this year’s coverage.

Inspired by the chat, here’s a list taking advantage of the latest technology to help election.

TWITTER // reporting + distribution
It’s a basic tool that should be part of your daily journalism routine, but Twitter is still best tool for covering a real-time news event, especially when covering breaking news or election.

As written before, Twitter is the tool to help you find sources and trends in real-time. Either by zip code or by topics/keywords, make sure you are using and monitoring Twitter throughout the election. Use a Twitter-client like TweetDeck with predetermine searches that you occasionally check on.

The next basic minimum is to have a Twitter feed on your homepage specifically for the election coverage. No programming is required to create this widget, you just need to decide whether you want public tweets with a hashtag or you want to create a list of the accounts that will appear in the feed.

Either way, Twitter has got you covered with their ‘goodies.’ Make sure you take the time to customize the colors to have it match your site design.

If you haven’t yet, check to see if a hashtag or hashtags relating to your local races have been created by the community. If no one has, create them right away. If someone beat you to it, don’t worry and embrace them… but either way start using them NOW!

This simple act gives you a head start in becoming the lead authority on these races, in social media and beyond.

Take a page from the Pulitzer Prize winners for Breaking News,, and get in the habit of creating and using hashtags when covering all types of news.

FOURSQUARE // geolocation + distribution
This election season, news outlets should create ‘check-in’ places for polling locations in their town. The geolocation community is small but growing and will be checking in as they go to vote. Like a hashtag, if you don’t create a location, they will.

Become the leader in coverage by not only creating the locations but add a tip (Ex. Tip links to LAT story about Venice Beach fight) that links back to your site’s live, active, up-to-date election coverage.

Remember, by having these locations, you can also find potential sources as they check in to the venues.

USTREAM // live streaming
Who says TV broadcast gets to have all the fun with their live coverage. Okay, it may not be your idea of fun, but live streaming is a tool more newsrooms need to embrace. No expensive satellites required, services like Ustream allow you to do a live shot from your newsroom with a laptop and camera or from your smart phone.

Stream the candidates’ celebratory or concession speech election night live straight onto your homepage. It’s easy and it should be another standard tool in your journalistic toolbox.

CROWDMAP // crowdsource reporting + mapping
This tool comes from Sarah Day Owen, #wjchat colleague and Augusta Chronicle‘s Social Media Editor, who heard about it from the new hyperlocal site TDB in Washington D.C. She is hoping to experiment with this tool that takes crowdsourced information from cell phones, news and the web and maps them.

This application, originally built to crowdsource crisis information, begs to be used by news outlets, especially for something like election coverage. It’s free and pretty simple to setup… so you still have time to pull this off. Even if you don’t get participation from the community, get your reporters to file dispatches.

STICKYBITS // social media + user-generated content
I recently wrote about this tool and want news organizations to experiment with it, so here’s a second pitch.

Like Twitter’s hashtag or FourSquares’s digital makers, create your own barcode and literally post it at as many polling places in your town, asking a question (Ex.: What do you hope comes out of this election?) and a note encouraging them to download the stickybits app and upload their responses. See if you get people in your community adding election related “bits” – video, text, photos, audio, etc. – to your barcode.

IMAPFLICKR // user-generated photos + geolocation
Okay, so getting the community to download an app to scan a barcode then post a message is a sizable hurdle (I know, but try it anyway!), so here is a simpler tool that takes a Flickr feed and maps it.

In other words, you can open up a Flickr account and have people submit photos from polling places and get them mapped. Like the Twitter feed, no programming is required and the biggest decision you have to make is whether or not you make this a public or staff driven feed.

PHOTOSYNTH // photo + crowdsourcing + magic
This tool, originally created by the University of Washington before it was purchased by Microsoft, is something I’ve been trying to push into newsrooms’ toolboxes for years. It finally made its mainstream debut with CNN’s “The Moment” in 2008, but hasn’t been used much in news since.

It may not work perfectly in this scenario, but I would remiss if I didn’t mention it. PhotoSynth takes a collection of photos – from different contributors – of one location and “stitches” them together to create a virtual experiment.

So, let’s say we’re at a candidate’s headquaters for the party… take a ton if photos of the scene, throw them into this program and post an experience like no other. It’s more powerful if you crowdsourced the images.

STORIFY // social media + curating (Invitation required)
The great thing about Twitter and other social media networks is the real-time stream of content that flows out of them, often like a fire hose of information. The bad thing about these tools is the content can get drowned out rather quickly. Storify, who’s creator we profiled recently, is a tool that let’s you build a story through social media elements, adding context and comments around elements from Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and more.

You create an article on their site, but you embed the created piece on yours. It’s in beta and there are a few limitations with it, but if you want to tell the story of how the election night was covered through social media, this is the tool to use.

Do you have a tool you plan to use? Have you experimented with these? What examples of great election coverage have you seen? Make sure you add your thoughts and experiences in the comments, before and after the election.

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail ( or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

25 Oct

Twenty-two reasons to vote for ONA board

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The list of candidates running for the Online News Association Board of Directors is nothing short of an all-star cast. I am fortunate to be among them, and no matter how the vote turns out, I’m going to be fortunate to be listed either among the “winners” or “losers.”

(In fact, if I don’t get one of the six available seats, I might start an alternative organization called The Extraordinary League of Web Journalists.)

The 22 reasons to vote

John Abell // New York Bureau Chief,
Jody Brannon // National Director, News21
Neil Budde // President, Chief Product Officer,
Laura Cochran // Content Manager, ContentOne, Gannett
Eric Easter // VP, Digital and Entertainment, Johnson Publishing
Micah Gelman // Executive Producer, U.S. Video, The Associated Press (AP)
Cory Haik // Deputy Editor, Universal News Desk, Washington Post
Joshua Hatch // Interactives Director, USA TODAY
Robert Hernandez / Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Gary Kebbel // Dean, College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Katie King // Senior Product Manager, Portal and Partnerships, MSN UK
Rob King // Editor-in-Chief, ESPN Digital Media
Kirk LaPointe // Managing Editor, The Vancouver Sun
Michele McLellan // Consultant, Circuit Rider
Susan Mernit // Editor in Chief, Oakland Local
Ken Sands // Online Editor, Bloomberg
Eric Scherer // Director, Strategy and External Relations, Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Tiffany Shackelford // Practice Manager, Journalism and Publishing, Phase2 Technology
Ingrid Sturgis // Assistant Professor, Howard University
Will Sullivan // Donald W. Reynold Fellow, Reynolds Journalism Institu
Amy Webb // Principal Digital Media Consultant, Webbmedia Group
Jonathan Weber // Editor in Chief, The Bay Citizen

The list of elite journos should be reason enough to make sure you participate and vote, but this great organization continues to grow and needs strong, engaged leaders to guide it.

Please take the time to vote. The polls will open Oct. 29 and close Nov. 13. For more board election information go to:

It is going to be hard to pick only six… I’m not kidding. There are a lot more than six friends and colleagues I truly respect.

Here are a few thoughts on some of the candidates, in alphabetical order, that I’ve met or worked closely with or in one capacity or another.

Jody Brannon // National Director, News21
Jody BrannonI first met Jody at UNITY ’04 in D.C. as someone who volunteered to help run the student online project. She was the Executive Producer for USA Today at the time and I was impressed with her commitment to diversity. I continue to be impressed with her commitment to Online Journalism, as she has been a mentor to many and now taking on leading the innovative program News21. We’ve had lots of conversations about the state of Web journalism, often with a beer in our hands.

Laura Cochran // Content Manager, ContentOne, Gannett
Laura CochranI have known Laura more through Twitter and her active participation in ONADC rather than in person. She’s got proven track record of being a Web journalist and a history of helping the organization, most recently on conference committee.

Cory Haik // Deputy Editor, Universal News Desk, Washington Post
Cory HaikThe moment I met Cory, when she was interviewing for a position at, I knew she was my Web journalism soul mate. Yes, she is my friend. Yes, she is like family. But, don’t be mistaken, this woman is a Web journalism powerhouse rockin’ heels. While fun and infectious, she is committed to advancing Web journalism and ONA. I’ve seen her commitment to the organization firsthand, including coordinating the conference’s Multimedia Learning Lab and most recently run the “parachute” training across the country.

Y’all, if you don’t vote for her, you’re actually hurting the organization.

Joshua Hatch // Interactives Director, USA TODAY
Joshua HatchJosh Hatch is an incredibly smart (and smart-ass) Web journo. Our paths first crossed years ago when he presented during the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference, in which I was organizing the New Media workshops. I couldn’t attend his session, but heard it was a hit. We met up again in Birmingham – as part of the training Cory organized. We had dinner and started talking about our views on Web journalism … and I realized the dude gets it. He actually pitched an idea I was contemplating back to me. So, naturally, I thought the guy was a genius. He has been committed to the organization for some time as well, playing an active role in coordinating this year’s program.

Ken Sands // Online Editor, Bloomberg
Ken SandsI’ll be blunt, Ken reminds me of that slightly crazy uncle that is brilliant, without bragging about it. I first met him over the phone in 2003, when I was hoping to strike up a partnership between and, which had just created an amazing Iraq War casualties database. Without hesitation he was more than happy to share his site’s work with a “competitor.” I am not sure my bosses would have been as giving as he was… and has proven to be. Like Jody, he’s played mentor to many, and been innovative along the way.

Tiffany Shackelford // Practice Manager, Journalism and Publishing, Phase2 Technology
Tiffany ShackelfordTiffany is simply awesome. I met her at my first ONA conference Toronto 2008, I believe. She is blunt, hilarious and committed to Web journalism and the organization. Like others I mentioned, she’s got a history helping the organization and is one of the driving forces that makes ONADC so great. I am also her +1 at the next meetup.

Will Sullivan // Donald W. Reynold Fellow, Reynolds Journalism Institute
Will SullivanWhile is handle (Journerdism) and photo alone should get your vote, Will is one of those amazing journos that’s engaged, innovative and passionate about Web journalism. And he has fun doing it. I know journalism will be okay, as long as leaders listen to people like him. In addition to being a host on #wjchat, I am working with him and a few others on a side project and appreciate his knowledge and experience.

Amy Webb // Principal Digital Media Consultant, Webbmedia Group
Amy WebbShe’s a force. Constantly innovating, she’s been an incredible presence on the ONA board, not to mention her famous session during the conference. She and her company have been actively doing their part in offering training to journos, including doing a few workshops for NAHJ.

Oh yeah, vote for Robert Hernandez
I’m going to be selfish, even though there are other amazing people, to say that I hope you vote for me for one of those six seats. I hope my track record has shown that I am committed to advancing Web journalism, have successfully served on a national board and organized a variety of training workshops.

All I can say, like those listed above and the other candidates, I care about Web journalism and advancing it and believe ONA is the organization that will lead the way.

Whether you vote for me or not, it’s incredibly important that you help shape the future of this vital organization and vote. The polls will open Oct. 29 and close Nov. 13. All ONA members in good standing as of Oct. 15, 2010, are eligible to vote. Elected board members will be announced to the public Nov. 20.

Categories: Journalism, ONA Tags:
24 Oct

Video mocks social media in the news

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KDFW-Channel 4 did a hilarious video roasting social media in the news.

Here’s the post I found it on:

Categories: Social Media Tags:
20 Oct

NPR’s piece: What’s The Point Of Journalism School, Anyway?

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David Folkenflik dropped by the USC Annenberg campus to ask our students and faculty about the ‘point of Journalism school.’ It’s a good piece for j-students to hear and remember we have a bright future, despite what the haters think. (Also, while he interviewed quite a few people, I’m happy to say that I made the cut into the story.)

You can read the piece here.

20 Oct

What’s in a name? Backstories to some personal brands

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review:

By now we’ve all heard that the journalism game has changed and we need to take our careers into our own hands: get a domain, embrace social media and start managing your brand.

But to start, it all begins with one of the most common questions I routinely get. What the heck do I call myself? What’s the name of my brand?

For some lucky folks, their name is unique enough that they are able to secure it as their domain, Twitter handle and more. But for the rest of us, we have to be a bit more creative and invent a new digital identity.

Many times these personal brands are inspired from the most odd places. I know someone whose handle was from Spaceball’s “gone plaid” scene.

Here is a small, somewhat random, collection of personal brands and their backstories.

Digidave // David Cohn
David CohnIt was (from) my college freshman dorm roommate … This was in 2000 and he was much more technically savvy than me. Granted – at the time this just meant he was on AIM all the time and used his computer as an alarm clock but still.

I, on the other hand, was going through my hippie phase and believed that we needed to break away from computers man and just… ya know – be free man.

He kept telling me to embrace the digital-dave. That became Digidave.

The joke name then lay dormant until I became a tech-writer (the irony) and fully had embraced the digital-dave. After I chose it as my handle on Digg in 2004 – it stuck.

writepudding // Liana Aghajanian
Liana Aghajanian“writepudding” is meant to be a play on the delicious treat, “ricepudding.” It’s rather silly really. When I first started blogging around five years ago, I wanted a name that stood out. I thought to myself, “I really love rice pudding and I obviously love to write,” so I just combined the two and came up with writepudding. It sounds more like an inside joke than I’d like it to, but it feels comfortable and it’s just stuck with me through the years.

Darthcheeta // David Andrew Johnson
David Andrew JohnsonI was given the nickname “cheetah” long ago and have always used variants of it as my usernames, gamertags and chat handles for IRC, ICQ, and AIM. It is not after the cool fast cat, though, but the ape in the Tarzan movies – I’m Cheetah the Web Monkey.

In true early online nerdiness, the really skilled web designers, producers and developers in Scripps came to be known as The Jedi since our knowledge of the web “force” was so strong – coders and scripters were very rare in journalism in the 90s.

So of course, when I got promoted out of local properties and went to DC in 2000, the “jedi” around the company said I had crossed to the dark side – and one registered the AIM screen name “darthcheeta” under my new email address as a going away gag. (Not enough characters for the last h). It stuck and I’ve used it for everything since. …

mediatwit // Mark Glaser
 Mark GlaserI think when I first joined Twitter I figured it was another fly by night social networking tool. I had very mixed feelings about devoting a week of coverage on MediaShift to Twitter in 2007. Anyhow I picked mediatwit because it sounded funny and irreverent. I don’t regret it. I plan to change the name of my podcast to The Mediatwits to build on the name.

What I do regret is not getting the feed @MediaShift which was taken by a squatter/imitator. I do have PBSMediaShift, though.

superjaberwocky // Michael Becker
 Michael BeckerThe name superjaberwocky is my regular online handle, or at least it has been since I started regularly using the Internet back in 1998. I was in high school then, and I attended a summer course at Montana State University where they put us all into a computer lab and told us to sign up for Hotmail accounts, basically saying that it would be good for us to have e-mail accounts set up because they’d be useful in the future or some such nonsense as that.

I was sitting in the lab trying to come up with a username for the then pre-Microsoft Hotmail when I hit upon a word from my childhood memories, “superjabberwocky.” Back when I was a little kid, I would go to the house of a neighborhood girl who was my babysitter. Her brother, older than me, would play board games with me, like chess. Occasionally, he would declare “superjabberwocky,” which meant that he won, no questions asked. (Usually, he wiped the board of all pieces after declaring this.)

I entered the name into the Hotmail signup form and was told that Hotmail usernames were limited to 15 characters. Rather than think up a new name, I dropped one of the B’s, and the name “superjaberwocky” was born.

I had no idea what the jabberwock was until much later. I kept using the name at various e-mail services and online accounts. I even signed up for services I never intended to use, just to make sure I had my username of choice in case that service hit big or in case someone decided that they wanted to steal my online handle. (No one ever has.)

Nowadays, I try to get on board with new Web services early and try to get just my last name at those services, “becker,” as a username. I feel like that will better reflect on me professionally in the future. Still, when all else fails, it’s a pretty safe bet that nobody else is “superjaberwocky.”

littlegirlBIGVOICE // Bethany Waggoner
 Bethany WaggonerSo the name Little Girl Big Voice comes from the fact that I’m not exactly massive LOL, but can still project my voice into a room like nobody’s business. I was that kid in class being told to please use her “inside voice” all the time. Even on the playground. Plus I had opinions. Ask anyone who knows me, I usually have no shortage of things to say about what I think is whack or super dank in the world. So It started as the name of my blog, where I wrote columnesque posts about current events, and then just sort of became the perfect representation of who I am.

ohmykevin // Kevin Cobb
 Kevin CobbWhen I first thought about branding myself online, I knew I wanted the same username for multiple accounts, including a url. Many clever variations of my full name were already being used, so I had to come up with something that was both unique and available.

Around the time of my username search, I became an ordained minister through Universal Life Church. My friends started to jokingly say “OMK!”, short for “OH MY KEVIN!” — and it just stuck with me.

Journerdism // Will Sullivan
Will SullivanI have a pretty common name. First, a fairly common last name in Sullivan and a first name that can be interpreted as a proper name, as well as a verb and a noun. So anytime someone asks a question on the web such as, “Will Sullivan …do so and so…?” it flags alerts I have tracking my name. People asking questions about Blogger/columnist Andrew Sullivan flag me all the time.

There’s a lot of Will Sullivan’s around the world. In fact, at Northwestern (where I studied for my masters degree) another Will Sullivan entered the school the semester after me, which made it lots of fun and still to this day leads to confusion among our classmates, professors and professional associates. He’s a great guy though, so it’s not bad to have my name associated with him.

There’s another Will Sullivan who’s a fictional Boston attorney in some mystery novel that I kept seeing alerts for. There’s an Australian rugby player, a Georgia football player, a photographer, an aspiring rapper, and another journalist working at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. I actually have a Twitter list tracking some of them that I check out once in a while to make sure no one has scorned their psychotic lover or robbed a bank so I can get a heads up if I need to go on the lamb:

So I basically came to the conclusion that I needed to find some sort of personal brand name, like Madonna or Grand Master Flash, to break out and prevent confusion. I figured I’d never beat out all these other Will Sullivan’s treading on my name — especially in search results — so I started brainstorming names. I’ve been a chronic nerd all my life and involved in journalism since puberty, so mashing the two words together seemed to work into Journerdism.

The ironic thing is over time I’ve built up enough name recognition as Will Sullivan (along with Journerdism) that I have taken the lead for Will Sullivan in search results too.

10,000 Words // Mark S. Luckie
Mark S. Luckie10,000 Words wasn’t my first choice for a blog/Twitter name. I actually wanted to use Prometheus after the legendary Greek man who stole fire from the god and brought it to the people. But that was a little much to explain and plus the domain wasn’t available. So after a little bit of brainstorming, I came up with the name “10,000 Words” which derives from the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It became because the .com domain was already taken by a Japanese site. And the rest is history.


Allow me to re-introduce myself. In my digital life, I go by:

WebJournalist // est. August 9, 2006
I notice that the .org of it and webjournalism was available. I purchased the domains thinking that one day I’d launch a tool/tips site. A year or so later, I got the Twitter handle and have been trying to establish that as my brand. It wasn’t until I started working at USC that I had a little more time to share my thoughts on Web Journalism. While I’ve gotten compliments on my handle/brand, I think it’s actually shortsighted. It’s the Web now, but what is next?

ElProfe // est. June 26, 2010
This is a recent brand I created just a few months ago specifically for my students. Profe. is Spanish slang for professor. I thought it was representative of how I carry myself in my new role in academia… experimenting with Journalism, Technology and Academia.

iSoar // est. April 18, 1999
My first domain name was based on a logo I created when I was a kid and an obviously lame play on words. I freelance web design, and while an “eye sore” is perhaps the opposite image a designer wants to invoke, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.

Whatever you chose, whatever inspired that decision, make sure you embrace it and start managing your brand. Put yourself out there and share your work with the world.

11 Oct

Q&A with Storify and Hacks/Hackers founder Burt Herman

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review:

For this week’s post, I “sat down” with Burt Herman (@burtherman), entrepreneurial journalist who is the CEO of Storify and founder of Hacks/Hackers.

NOTE: We did the Q&A-style interview over a collaborative document and one of my favorite tools: You can see the raw interview and play it back here:

Burt HermanBurt, you have an incredible journalistic background and really, in my opinion, you truly represent the new type of tech/entrepreneur journalist we’ve all heard about. Tell me a little bit about your background at the Associated Press and how you evolved from reporter to entrepreneur.

Thanks, you’re too kind :)

Yes, I started off in a fairly typical journalism role — I went to work for the AP because I wanted to work overseas as a foreign correspondent, and they had the most opportunities to do that. So after graduating, my first journalism job was as a temp hire at AP and things went from there — a couple years in Detroit and then a post as an editor on the International Desk in New York before I was sent overseas to Berlin. From there, I went to Moscow and then to Uzbekistan to start a new bureau for AP covering the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. My last AP job was a bureau chief in Korea. In between, I covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Asian tsunami, Pakistan and many other stories.

I returned to the US in late 2008 for a Knight fellowship at Stanford, where I had gone as an undergrad. With all the changes in journalism, I wanted to explore the secret sauce of innovation in Silicon Valley and see how that could be applied to journalism. I took classes at the Graduate School of Business, Design School, computer science department and explored how this could be applied to journalism. In the end, I wound up deciding to extend my sabbatical from the AP to have a go at doing a startup on my own, building a company around the future of storytelling and digital publishing from a clean slate.

From being a foreign correspondent to being an innovator, you must have seen a lot of changes along the way. What stands out for you when you look back at that decision to make the transition?

It’s still very much in progress, and I’m learning more about it all the time. The first big difference is that being a journalist gives you a daily sense of accomplishing something by writing a story and having it be published. You then move on to the next story and get constant feedback. Trying to create a business and develop Internet applications is a much longer process, filled with many ups and downs along the way. It’s exciting to be your own boss but also can be terrifying at the same time. I suppose dropping into crisis zones and new countries was a decent preparation for this, and also just being open to always leaning new things.

That was going to be one of my questions. Which is harder: being a CEO of a startup or a foreign correspondent?

I worked for 12 years at AP and nearly 10 of those overseas, and along the way I had a lot of great mentors and advice. I’m still new at the startup thing, so that’s definitely more challenging right now. Also it’s having to do much more with less when you’re not part of a larger organization. Everyone has to contribute in many ways. Both come with a lot of freedom and lack of oversight, again which is wonderful but also requires a lot of drive and passion to keep going.

Your startup is called Storify… can you describe it and tell me how the idea came about?
The idea comes from thinking about the future of journalism and the fact that everyone now is creating so much content. We’re flooded with Tweets, YouTube videos, Flickr photos and everything else. Everyone can be a “reporter” when an event happens. But not everyone is a “journalist” — making sense of an issue and giving the context. So we built a system to help people do this, take the best of social media and make it into a story — to “storify” it. The word itself is actually in the dictionary, and also comes from my AP days when editors would send messages to bureaus asking them to “storify” something.

Talk about the process of going from an idea… or even a word… to a startup. Where are you in the process now? What is your current challenge since you already have a working product.

The first thing I needed was to find a cofounder who had the technical ability to work with me, and also was passionate about the topic. The idea I began with was actually something different relating to news and social media, this evolved over time.

So to find a cofounder, I basically started going to any tech events that I could around here and was talking about what I was doing to find people interested, and there were several false starts with people who didn’t work out. I eventually found my now-co-founder Xavier [Damman] when he was presenting at a Twitter application meetup.

Part of that was also the reason for starting Hacks/Hackers — indeed.

So, Hacks/Hackers was a means to this end? Or was it a resulting side project from your process?
Hacks/Hackers was part of this, trying to find people passionate about media and technology. But it also was born from my experience at the fellowship at Stanford, seeing all the amazing work that computer scientists were doing and wanting to bring that energy to journalism for the sake of helping quality journalism survive. I do believe strongly that democracies need information to function and journalists have fulfilled that role. Meanwhile, media and technology are converging, and the way that we get this information is changing. We need to make sure that we bring together journalism and technology at the start of this storytelling process to build the future of media, not as an afterthought as has often been the case. And we should work together to make that happen, rather than the somewhat contentious relationship we have seen at times between media and technology companies.

As I reflect on my career, I see that I have been working under the H/H “framework” … working with engineers and designers to advance journalism. Seeing — and attending — a couple of H/H meetups, I have to say I’m really l glad this is going on… are you surprised by its success? It’s international, right?

Yeah, we already have a couple chapters in the UK and starting now in Toronto. I was a bit surprised that it spread so much. Really, it just began with me starting a meetup group and getting some 30 people to come to a bar last November, less than a year ago. Now we have more than 2,400 members on various Meetup sites and more people coming to our blogs and on an email list. I think it’s clear that there’s a hunger for this thinking, and we want to also empower journalists in newsrooms to be part of the changes that are happening. We will only figure this out by working together and experimenting, another key thing that Hacks/Hackers is about. We’ve been doing some hackathon events and want to expand that, so people have the freedom to try things away from the usual daily newsroom rush.

You wear many hats… of these — journalist, innovator, businessman — is there one role that is larger than the others?

I guess I’m not really writing so much lately, although I’ve been calling myself an “entrepreneurial journalist.” I was talking to David Cohn of and he also is in a similar space. The definition of “journalist” has changed so much, and really is about bringing together a community around a topic to enlighten and inform. So in that sense, I suppose it’s quite a bit of that, while also building a successful business and do the whole Silicon Valley startup route of getting investors, building partnerships and making things happen. It’s definitely a lot to do, I’m busier than ever nowadays! I guess that’s also the brave, future.

Like I said, you (and David) to me represent this modern journalist reflecting the needs of our times… but, in my opinion, I think you guys are a rarity. We’re not all going to be able to do this… or can we? Or should we, even? What do you think?

Well, yes, it’s quite hard to do many things and do them all well. Hacks/Hackers is about bringing together journalism and technology, but that doesn’t mean every journalist is going to be a rockstar coder or should even try. That takes years of work, just like being a great writer. But I think it’s important for everyone to understand the other side and the complete picture. That also goes for journalists now having to understand more about the business side of things, why traffic matters and how to drive it, all those other parts of media. With everything so interconnected, we all need to have a wider awareness.

Sadly, we are constantly hearing the complaints from veteran journalists lamenting <eyeroll>the end of the golden era</eyeroll> … what do you say to those people who think technology killed journalism… or to those who are feeling low about the state of things now?

It’s interesting because even though I’m quite young, my career has basically been right during this amazing shift. I think the golden era is ahead of us. We are not really still at the birth of the Internet, the Web, social media and all these amazing technologies that change the way we communicate. I became a reporter in some ways because I’m a nosy person :) — now with Twitter I can eavesdrop on the world and see what people are talking about. That’s a golden opportunity for storytelling. And reporters can now interact with their audiences more easily as well, [getting] the feedback that all writers crave — sometimes for better or worse.

We need to take the best parts of the past, like the credibility and fact-checking, context and the like and blend that with technology. It’s a rough time for sure as old models are collapsing, but I’m confident that many more exciting things will result. One quite interesting little recent development was Howard Kurtz leaving the Washington Post for The Daily Beast — the new models are taking off, so that should be encouraging.

What tip or lesson would you share/give to someone who is thinking about taking that leap and trying a startup or new experiment? And, quite honestly, dude, what drives you? What keeps you going?

Definitely experiment in whatever way you can, we need more people trying new things to figure out what works. In Silicon Valley, failure is embraced unlike anywhere else. You’re not trying hard enough if you’re not failing once in a while, we need to take chances and learn from our mistakes to move forward.

Ha — yes, good question as to motivation, it’s sometimes quite tiring! I guess I’m the type who always keeps thinking there is a better way to do something, maybe it’s the latent engineer in me. Also it’s been great to see all the feedback from people with Hacks/Hackers and realizing that this is actually bringing people together, that’s been wonderful and I’m now also getting a lot of help from local organizers in all these different cities.

With the startup, also seeing people get excited about what we’re doing and having some amazing experiences like launching our product at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

I couldn’t agree with you more… personally, these are extremely exciting times and it is great to see organic movements like H/Hs help facilitate that. So, my last question is one I have been asking people recently… it’s a simple one, but I always love the answers, and you touched on it earlier. In these times, with the ups and downs and the unknowns ahead… why are you a journalist? (You are clearly a journalist, sir.)

I want to say thanks for saying that, although I suppose being labeled a “journalist” these days might not always be a favorable thing. :) I guess this goes back to what I wrote when I applied to the Knight fellowship. My parents come from Romania and grew up under communism, and I spent a lot of time traveling in Eastern Europe as a student and studying the area. I do feel strongly about the importance of freedom of information as essential to democracy, and that we are incredibly lucky to have that in the United States. After reporting from many countries where that wasn’t the case and people are struggling under authoritarian regimes, I feel even more strongly about the power of open information.

Awesome. At the recent H/Hs meetup a young guy — who dabbled with journalism, but became a developer – asked, “why would a developer want to be involved in journalism when they could make more money doing something else?” I had been somewhat quiet at the time, but could not help blurt out a response…

Because we give a damn… because we care… because we’re suckers… money, decent money, would be great… but we do it for a higher calling or something that drives us. Both Hacks and Hackers related.

Yeah, I do think some developers do feel a sense of a bigger mission and giving back to the world, like with open-source code. In that way, there are a lot of things hacks and hackers have in common.

Thank you so much for taking the time and “chatting” with me in this experimental Q&A… I had a blast.

Sure, thanks again for the kind words and interviewing me. That’s another thing I’m also getting used to in the brave, new entrepreneurial world — having people interview me! It gives me much more sympathy for all the people I’ve interviewed over the years :).

HA! Thank you.

05 Oct

Two new Social Media emerging tools — possibly useful in Web journalism

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review:

Think about it, two or three years ago most people had never heard of Facebook. Tweets were still mainly owned by birds, not limited to 140 characters. FourSquare was some vague game from elementary school.

In general, most people had written social media off as some sort of high school fad.

Well, you should know by now, Web-based Social Media is not a fad.

If you still doubt this, temporarily remove your head from the sand and go talk to one of the more than half a billion people that spend hours and hours sharing news, photos or running a virtual farm. (For the record, I am not a fan of FarmVille.)

In its constant evolution, though, technology routinely leapfrogs past itself as it innovates and disrupts the status quo.

In other words, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

What’s next? It’s geolocation paired up with augmented reality, in my opinion.

Those creating these new tools typically don’t have journalism as a possible application in mind. But I, an admitted tech/journo/mad scientist geek, can’t help but apply the journalism prism to some of the latest tools and technology.

So, in that vein, here are two emerging tools I’ve came across that I think are worth keeping an eye on. They may not be perfect now, but I encourage you to experiment with these and see if there is a journalistic application here.

NOTE: I recently posted my Web Journalism’s rules of tech engagement, so feel free to refer to them and keep them in mind as you read. All of them apply, especially #1 and #5.

This new social media site may sound similar to its forefathers, but it has one clear difference (that I think they underplay). It’s not about you, it’s about community… and it’s about moments.

On Twitter or FourSquare, you are telling the world where you are… in Whrrl, you are “creating a story.” Your posted photos and notes from your check-in are auto-grouped with others and, potentially, are telling the story of a moment collectively.

Example: We’re celebrating your birthday at a bar. We capture the moment by sharing pictures, videos, comments, etc. Those not attending could virtually experience the moment and add to the conversation.

Neat… but where’s the journalism?

Change the previous example from “birthday” to, say, “election.” Reporters and citizens are posting their experiences — comments, photos, videos, etc. — at polling sites, leaving a virtual marker filled with content for others to add or re-live. This would also work for a sporting event, a protest/rally or any news event where people gather in one location.

Collectively, we can capture the moment in real-time with rich multimedia. This doesn’t replace the article or video piece, but can really enhance them.

This tool launched earlier this year at SXSW and is referred to as digital graffiti. Now, how to explain this… um, think of a digital bulletin board or wall where anyone could post anything.

Like a Facebook wall? Sort of.

Instead of the wall living in your computer, it is at an actual, physical space… because the information is embedded onto a sticker with a barcode. Scan it with your smart phone and read or leave messages in multiple media.

While finding these stickers is a cute game, they’ve recently graduated to using standard barcodes, which are on millions of products.

You can get barcodes for free and even order them in sticker form if you want.

Where’s the journalism here? Well, my brain is still thinking of different applications, but what immediately stands out here is the distribution.

Imagine going to a polling place where people can scan a sticker to read or leave messages. The only way to get that unique experience from that polling place is to be at that location.

From news to reviews, we could possibly embed our stories on anything and anywhere. And, more importantly, we can get user engagement. We’re not talking about from behind a computer, we’re talking about out in real life.

Take some time and play, er experiment, with these new emerging types of technology. Get in the habit of exploring this stuff… and share your experiences.