Code With Me comes to Portland!

Code With Me, an affordable, two-day introduction to HTML / CSS / jQuery for tech-savvy journalists, is coming to Portland! Even better: a two to one student to mentor ratio means you’ll never get stuck or lost.

Applications to attend are due this coming Saturday, April 6th, at 9 pm Pacific. Apply now and please spread the word.

Many thanks to The Oregonian and the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project for their support.

Do universities hear the critics of journalism education?

New techniques and technologies are born monthly and it takes two years to get a new class through. Major new forms of media arise in less time than it takes to get a PhD.

I doubt academia will handle the digital age well. It still hasn’t accepted that this is the biggest leap since Gutenberg conjured the age of mass media with movable metal type.

Eric Newton, Knight Foundation — Do universities hear the critics of journalism education?


Neat idea from Daniel Sicar tonight: non-technical journalists should learn enough HTML/CSS (and maybe JavaScript) to build a single-serving website for one of their stories. Originally it was pitched as a skill to learn in 30 days, but it could be great one-day workshop material as well.

The two defining talks of Webstock

Now a few days later, I’ve realized there were two talks at Webstock that made it for me.

The first was Clay Johnson’s “Industrialized Ignorance,” a look at the current state of the media. Clay argues that, much like how industrial food production gives us food that tastes good, but isn’t necessarily good for us, industrial media focuses on producing content with entertainment value, instead of informational value. To combat this, we need to launch an equivalent “whole food movement” for information.

I like the metaphor, and maybe the solution can be reapplied too. For all that the government has done to improve diet (e.g. not much), I believe the greatest successes come at the individual, family, and community level. Food is very much tied to physicality.

On the web, geography matters less. We’re equally as influenced by the people around us, but we have choice in who we follow, friend and subscribe to. In this way we can, figuratively, pick out the fruits and vegetables we’ll be choosing from for our meals later in the week. The first step to take, though, is to start cooking for yourself.

Not checking email before writing 500 words is a simple hack I’d like to take to heart. Instinctively, I reached for my phone this morning as soon as I opened my eyes. The phone went into low battery mode before I made it to the mail app. I took that as a sign today was the day to start.

“Oh, I’m too busy to spend write 500 words every day,” one might think. Or, “I have nothing to write about.” As WordPress’ distraction-free writing says, just write. The words will come to you.

The second talk that really hit home was Karen McGrane’s “Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content.” Yes, it does sound like it’s about responsive design. Instead, she promoted producing content independent of platform. If your content is well structured, Karen argues, you’re in a much better position to reflow it into a variety of platforms.

This sounds familiar. In fact, it sounds like what many of us have been promoting as the future of journalism. Stijn wrote about it in 2010. Adrian wrote about it in 2006. In the last year, the conversation has all but died.

Personally, I’ve found enjoyment in more mundane projects, generally falling under the “improving administrative tasks in content management systems” category. Reinventing the entire content creation process is an unknown, nebulous challenge.

It was nice to be inspired to think big again. We need to bring some of that discussion back. And, while we’re at it, open standards too. Remember those?

434 words. I’ll take it.

Webstock: Miranda Mulligan, Your Survival is Designed

This week I’m at Webstock, a lovely conference in New Zealand. I’m doing my best to write little blog posts about the amazing presentations. Please forgive any typos, etc. If you’re here too, come write a haiku at Automattic’s booth.

Miranda Mulligan (hey, I know her!) helped take the Boston Globe through a responsive redesign, and now is Director at the Knight Media Lab at Northwestern. She’s the first in five generations of women to not make clothing for a living. Clothing matters; what you wear is an indicator of what you value.

“Journalism needs to be a more thoughtful dresser.” Some large news organizations have very good UX designers, and many more have very good editorial designers. But news design has stagnated, and the news industry needs more design-thinkers.

When Miranda talks with publishers, they’re fascinated by responsive web design. They don’t have many designers in their organization though, and design comes at the end of the project workflow.

“Technologists are winning at media innovation.” Twitter is reinventing breaking news situations. The Evening Edition gives you a summary of what’s happening at the end of every day. Narrative Science turns big data into readable stories. Why aren’t media companies inventing these new products?

#AANDigital: WordPress in the Newsroom

Since I’ve been involved in the news industry, I’ve been a huge proponent of open source software. In particular, this selling point: open source makes for much easier cross-institution collaboration. Open source software provides a legal framework for companies to pool development resources, and build mutually-beneficial products. However, as I learned the hard way, news organizations need to get to the point where they’re comfortable managing their own open source software before any collaboration can ever happen. We’ve made some strides, but we still have a ways to go.

Today, I was honored to speak about WordPress in the newsroom to the AAN Digital Conference. The alt-weeklies industry is in a situation very similar to what I saw in college media a few years back: one proprietary CMS dominates, editorial workflow is MS Word to InDesign to web, and most of the focus is on print. It was a bit of déjà vu. Fortunately, everyone is also super enthusiastic about the web — no curmudgeons in the audience.

The WordPress-powered sites I highlighted: Quartz, Metro, CBS New York, Rolling Stones, Online News Association, and DigBoston. Quartz is near and dear to my heart because I think they’re really at the forefront of innovation with an app-like product and responsive design. I can’t wait until they roll out their commenting system.

Features and plugins I pointed out include: distraction-free writing, drag and drop media uploader, Edit Flow and WP Frontend Uploader. If you’re looking for more publishing-related plugins, we’re slowly profiling our recommendations in the VIP Plugins Directory.

One parting note: this conference was the first time I’ve heard “dry humping” as a recommended way to show your appreciation to the organizers. Keep on rockin’, alt-weeklies.

Related posts via a quiz

Many news sites display related content at the end of an article that’s often based on textual analysis or visitor traffic. Articles often assume a baseline of knowledge on a story, regardless of whether the visitor knows anything about the topic or not.

It would be neat if you could include a quiz widget within the article. The reader could take the quiz which would test their knowledge and then suggest content based on their responses. The news organization would collect useful demographic data to refine their editorial planning.