Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Real-Time Reporting’
09 Mar

Q&A with Al Jazeera Online Producer Bilal Randeree

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NOTE: Originally published on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201103/1949/

Without a doubt, the leading news organization covering the historic Middle East unrest is Al Jazeera. Available in limited markets here, their Web site has been the home for its impressive coverage.

“We had figures that indicated that we had 2,500 percent increase in traffic; 60 percent of that traffic was from the United States of America,” said Satnam Matharu, the director of communications, in a recent interview with NPR.

From my point of view, the lack of distribution for the English broadcast, the use of technology in the unrest and the quickness of the evolving news has been a prefect combination that has enabled Al Jazeera to be a leader in coverage and use of tech.

Bilal Randeree, Online producer for Al Jazeera EnglishFor this week’s post, I ‘interviewed’ Online producer for Al Jazeera English, Bilal Randeree. Because of the time difference and the constant news developments, Randeree and I ‘met’ on a collaborative document to have this conversation over several weeks.

First, Bilal, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you and the entire Al Jazeera crew have been extremely busy. Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself, your role at AJE, and how you started in journalism? Also, while it’s clearly been a newsy few weeks… how does it compared to your usual daily routine?

Hey Robert, sounds good. Really busy with Libya at the moment – I’m sure you’ve seen all my tweets (@bilalr) – our live blog is hugely popular once again!

I’m going to give a few very brief answers now cos I’m taking a quick break from the shocking news, so here goes:

I’m from South Africa – worked in banking for a few years, based out of Johannesburg – I then moved to London, but the timing was bad cos the financial crises hit as I was settling in!

As a freelance writer at the time, I was constantly asked to cover the crises from the ‘inside’ – what I learned then made me realize that working in corporate was not for me. I went back to school and did a post-grad in journalism. It was that degree together with my experience in corporate that landed me the job at Al Jazeera as a Business Journalist.

However, after moving to Doha I soon changed over to a general Online Journalist. I write for the Al Jazeera website, and update and maintain our various social media and online platforms. The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, with most of my colleagues and I working long shifts, day after day.

Can you describe the online operation at Al Jazeera? How incorporated is the Web staff? Do the different ‘sister stations’ with different languages have different Web staffs?

The English and Arabic channels are largely editorially independent – and so are the two websites. However, there is always the necessary collaboration and exchange of information, sources and resources.

The English website actually started before the English channel, but I’m not sure how things operated back then. These days, the website news desk is in the AJE newsroom, so we interact with broadcast quite a bit.

Typically, broadcast has reporters around the world covering the news for us – they are limited in terms of time on air, so the website is where our audience comes to for in-depth coverage and analysis of international news. Together with news from our reporters, we use the main news wires as sources, together with good old fashioned telephone journalism – the internet is a major source obviously, and we are constantly finding and using new online tools for news gathering and contacting sources on the ground.

Bilal Randeree, lower right hand corner, works a only few feet from the set.

Bilal Randeree, lower right hand corner, works a only few feet from the set.

So, when it comes to AJE, the Web site came first … that’s a quite different experience from most newsrooms. And it sounds like it has had some interesting effects. How would you describe the culture of the ‘converged’ newsroom?

Well, to be honest I’m not in the ideal position to answer this question, seeing that I’ve been here for a year now, and the English channel has been running for a good few years already. In terms of convergence, its a constantly changing relationship – broadcast and web are continually finding new and better ways to work together and support each other, over and above the obvious. The most recent development, starting with our Tunisia and then Egypt coverage, has been the ‘Web Desk’ that TV hosts – they prop a presenter in front of the camera, that discusses what is going on online, how readers are interacting with us on different platforms, and also what is being shared, discussed and debated on the internet.

Can you talk about, and perhaps list, all the different Web platforms and tools AJE employs (Twitter, Tumblr, iPhone Apps, etc.)

I have only recently started the Al Jazeera Tumblr account, but we’ve been active on Twitter and Facebook for a while now. The New Media team has traditionally been very strong and innovative, but the link between the tools they develop and experiment with, and how they are used on the News Desks was not at its best about a year ago. In that time however, Network wide training courses in Social Media were held, and the change is quite noticeable – besides the Web team, lots of other AJ people are active on different platforms.

Our live blog has been the latest hot development and we are seeing an incredible following, mainly for the hot news events that are constantly developing – first with Egypt, and now with Libya.

I tweeted that I was interviewing you and got this question from @Abdulla_AlAthba. He asks ‘Did twitter make it easier for [journos] @ AJA to track the news?’ Can you talk about how technology has changed the way Al Jazeera does its reporting.

Well, while Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic both form part of the Al Jazeera Network, the two stations operate relatively independent of each other. There is collaboration between journalists on both sides, but not all stories are covered by both, or in the same way.

In my personal experience, from the beginning, when things started in Tunisia and English broadcast was not covering the story in depth, due to a lack of sources on the ground, I was able to build up a good network of trusted sources through Twitter. While Twitter does alert us to events that are unfolding, its rare that Twitter itself will be a source – rather, a journalist can find sources and make contacts on Twitter, and then follow up with phone calls or emails, etc.

What stands out for me, when I look at Al Jazeera, is how technology is so embraced and employed in all different types of coverage. What do you think is the reason why it seems to be more open and willing to embrace technology, while other news orgs may be… a little… more reluctant. Or, is it my imagination, and Al Jazeera is facing with the same tech cultural issues other newsrooms are?

Well, I can’t speak for how other media organizations work – and for us at Al Jazeera, it’s not just the way we embrace technology, etc that makes us stand out from the rest, but rather almost every aspect of our coverage.

I would assume that compared to most other big media organizations, the fact that we are still not able to be broadcast extensively around the world, we know and value the importance of the internet more, and hence make more/better use of it.

Can you talk about the equipment/gear Al Jazeera reporters, those that cover breaking news and file for the Web, carry with them? I hear Flipcams and phones instead of laptops.

We have been using Flipcams for a while now, and have some cool campaigns running where we give citizens Flipcams and they produce content that feeds back to us.

For reporters and producers that cover live events, there are a few different tools they use – mobile phones for tweeting, sending through Audioboos and Twitpics, from places where there is no internet or the internet gets blocked, we issue Thuraya IP modems.

Our New Media team also has iPhones and BB‘s that they issue out to anyone going out into the field, that has all apps and software, customized and tested for ease of use.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you’ve been quite busy!

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 (r.hernandez@usc.edu) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

25 Oct

Tips and tools to innovate with during election night coverage

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201010/1900/

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, seattletimes.com, 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 (r.hernandez@usc.edu) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

28 Sep

Web Journalism’s rules of tech engagement

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NOTE: This originally was posted to my professor/class blog: http://www.elprofe.me/2010/07/08/the-web-journalism-rules/. Seeing that these are a constant in many of my posts, I am re-publishing them here and on the Online Journalism Review site: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201009/1889/

 
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: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201009/1887/

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.

07 May

Real-Time Reporting, the next level of journalism

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I don’t know if this post will make sense, but let’s just call this a rough draft of a rant… or prediction… or I don’t know what. I just wanted to put some thoughts down, no matter how raw, because we’re on the verge of some significant changes.

I was asked recently by the Online News Association to lead a session on Social Network Reporting (SNR). That’s when we as journalists harness the power of Social Media throughout our process – looking for sources, crowd sourcing, distributing content, engaging with our community, etc.

I’ve done several presentations for classes and a couple of workshops, but the request was to be more “advanced” … not SNR101, but the next level.

The thing is SNR is actually very simple and built on basic concepts. After you understand the power and value of Social Media, learn the lingo and play with the tools, there isn’t much else to learn. Just make it part of your journalism routine.

In other words, there’s not really an “advanced” to SNR except maybe experimenting with the latest tools and apps.

But the idea got me thinking… While SNR is an incredibly valuable tool, one that is still being under utilized… it’s really still just a tool… and it’s a tool inside a toolbox that I am labeling Real-Time Reporting (RTR).

For me, that is the “advanced” level. That’s the next logical step for us.

The Real-Time Web is a concept that has solidified because of Social Media. What are you doing now? What do you think now? And this applies to us in journalism because it’s the same behavior as breaking news.

Social Media is key. But there are other aspects to explore in this real-time reality.

As journalists, RTR takes the latest from technology (hardware, software and infrastructure) and mashes it up with our core journalistic values (news judgment, ethics, law, spelling/grammar, etc.).

It’s journalism without a safety net… it’s hyperlocal AND global journalism… it’s working under the deadline of now, in 15 minutes and 15 minutes ago… it’s MacGyvering technology to do journalism by any means necessary.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say there is a breaking news story. Let’s imagine that there is a shooting at a local mall. We hear the news breaking on the police scanner.

Typically, the Metro/Assignment desk immediately dispatches a reporter or crew to go to the scene. Meanwhile, someone calls the authorities to get the latest information on the record.

Eventually the reporter arrives at the scene and begins to hunt for witnesses and sources. As they get information, they file it or call it in… well, they should. Or, if they are broadcast, they do a live report when they have gathered enough information.

With SNR, in addition to calling the authorities for official information, someone is also searching Twitter, Flickr, and other social media looking for people at the scene… looking for potential sources. They should also be asking for any tips and contacts through their social networks… and ask the community to spread the call for help.

When the reporter eventually makes the scene, they should announce their arrival, location and availability on their own social networks… this allows potential sources to reach out.

The news organization should make sure to take the time to thank those in the community who helped with the coverage. It should also promote the pieces, which essentially distributes the work.

In addition to the real-time of social media, there are new tools we should employ when appropriate… which takes this to RTR.

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.

If they had a laptop, camera and stronger Internet access, they could do a more complex live shot that includes participation from the audience… a live chat from the scene.

I can’t wait for the day when a low-end camcorder is going to have an external mic jack for better audio and the ability to upload immediately… we’re almost there. Kodak’s Zi8 and the Eye-Fi would be powerful together… but they currently don’t work together.

People chuckle when I pitched this, but I foresee the day when a device becomes THE reporter’s super notebook. A laptop is too heavy, Internet connections are unpredictable and it needs a power source. Meanwhile, a smart phone is too small, horrible to type on and needs to be recharged often.

In the meantime, technology is giving us patchwork solutions. The MiFi from Verizon and Sprint gives you broadband anywhere. There are external batteries that keep your iPhone and laptops charged for longer periods of time. You can buy accessories to like an external keyboard for you phone or an app to sync your iPhone camera to your cameraless iPad.

But it is only a matter of time when text, photos, audio and video are available in an appropriate sized device that easily takes journalists to the next level… real-time reporting.

And when this technology arrives, it will really begin to separate those who can produce quality journalism on deadline from those who can’t. It will test our core values. There are a lot of challenges when you go live… lots of opportunities to fail… to get wrong. So we need to be at the top of our game to build and maintain our credibility.

Professional journalists – with or without formal training – will emerge as they are no longer worried about technology they routinely use. We’re not going to be wow’ed or scared by the latest device. We’ll just embrace it and return the focus on the content… because it’s always been about the content.

I don’t know if this made any sense… or if this future scares you… or if you are as excited about it as I am… but I believe this is where we are headed.

Journalism continues to evolve… are you ready for the next level?

π