Tools for Reporting Across Platforms

A Backpack Journalist’s Dream Come True? A Look at The JVC GY-HM100U

The days of tape-based video cameras and real-time digitizing are numbered. Now, it’s all about the memory card.

The JVC GY-HM100U is a nice little camera that records directly to SDHC cards (it has slots for 2).

Despite its small size (weighing in at just over 3 lbs), this camera packs a professional punch. It shoots in HD up to 1080P and comes complete with XLR mic inputs for professional level sound.

If you’re a Final Cut user, imagine adding to that the ability to record directly to QuickTime movie format. Picture an editing workflow of drag and drop replacing the headache of log and capture. Would that sweeten the deal? Well the JVC does just that.

The camera also stores files in MP4 format for use with other non-linear editing systems.

Here’s a helpful review of the camera, complete with test footage, from London-based director and filmmaker Philip Bloom.

Video journalist Glen Canning’s review is also worth checking out.

After extensive research, I finally got mine and am excited to put it to use.  At nearly $2,800, it’s a bit of an investment (both for newsrooms and individuals), but the ease of post-production should help make it worth it.

Check back soon for the results of my test runs…

To Use or Not to Use? The DSLR and Video Journalism

The emergence of digital SLR cameras capable of shooting HD video has prompted an informal debate about whether the cameras are suitable for video journalism.

Naysayers like Cliff Etzel of say the shallow depth of field and cinema look produced by DSLRs distract from the story.  Etzel says the need for additional equipment to improve a DSLR’s functionality as a video camera is another major drawback.

But take a look at a news piece shot with a DSLR, and you’ll see that when done right, you really can get a superb product.

Here’s an example shot by photo and video journalist Dan Chung in China for British newspaper the Guardian. (It takes a little time to load, but it’s well worth your patience!)

Chung’s website, DSLR News Shooter, is a great resource if you’re interested in seeing more.

For the video above, Chung used the Canon EOS 550D, a.k.a. the Rebel T2i, which is miraculously, not extremely expensive. I recently purchased my own and have been very happy with its performance so far.  The camera comes complete with an external mic jack, so you can get higher quality sound. The kit I bought rounded out to about $1100 and included an extra lens. Check B&H for deals.

FRIDAY the 13th Tribute: Scary Shifts in Journalism

Cue horror movie theme music. In honor of Friday the 13th, I’m highlighting a few of the scary (or could they be genius?) shifts the journalism industry is undergoing as a result of the focus on new media.

1. The Headless Newscast

 Well, not exactly headless, but anchorless… KIAH, The Tribune Company’s TV station in Houston,  is preparing to redesign its nightly newscast in this unfamiliar format. Reports indicate the goal is to create a similar experience to surfing the Internet for news.

A few days ago Shoptalk by TV Spy (which I recommend subscribing to if you’re interested in keeping up with industry changes) featured this article by Poynter about the venture.

2. Reporters “Shape-Shifting” into Commentators and YouTube Parodists

The rise and allure of the Internet has begun to blur the lines more and more between journalism and entertainment.  And the “infotainment”  trend gets even uglier when journalists start blurring their own lines.

Recently, a group of reporters and photographers for a local TV station in Arkansas created two parody videos of the TV newsroom working experience. In addition to being profanity-laced and vulgar, the videos were made using station equipment and even used the station newsroom as a set. I hesitate to post the videos here (yes, they’re THAT graphic), but if you’re curious, here’s a link to the Arkansas Business article about them.

And if you’re wondering about the fate of these journalists-turned-comedians, they were promptly fired. Yikes!

3. The Attack of the Unvetted Information Monster ( or The Axing of Shirley Sherrod and the Ghost of Steve Jobs)

With a new focus on citizen journalism, blogging and social media, people are now getting their information from all kinds of untraditional sources. The danger emerges when news organizations also look to these sources for information, without properly vetting what they learn.

A prime example is the case of Shirely Sherrod. An official with the U.S. Agriculture Department, Sherrod was fired from her position after it was reported that she made racist comments during a speech to a chapter of the NAACP. The problem was her quotes were presented only in part and without the context of her full speech. A conservative blogger had posted a heavily-edited video of the address on the Web, and media outlets and the Obama administration had acted initially based on that, without exploring the comments in their entirety. (President Obama has since apologized to Sherrod and expressed regret over the administration’s handling of the situation. Sherrod says she will sue the blogger responsible. For more on this story, see here.)

Also, anybody remember the time Apple CEO Steve Jobs died, and then miraculously came back to life? In October 2008, someone on CNN’s iReport citizen journalism website published a false story claiming Jobs had died of a heart attack. Apple stock fell more than 5% following the post.

In CNN’s defense, the site did note the material was unedited and unfiltered, but obviously, that didn’t stop some people from taking what they saw as fact.

CHEAPER iPhone Prompter App!

One of my colleagues alerted me to another teleprompter app for the iPhone that is significantly cheaper than the one I featured in a previous post.

It’s called iPrompter, and it’s currently selling for just $0.99! You can also download iPrompter for the iPad.

Check out the company website and more details on the program here. And click here for the app’s page in the iPhone app store!

Cultural Etiquette for Overseas Assignments…

Another valuable resource for travelers on assignment overseas is eDiplomat.

The site includes information on cultural etiquette in more than 40 countries. Entries cover everything from greetings to offensive gestures to corporate culture to dress.

Just for fun, check out the advice on the United States. Here’s a sample bullet point:

  • Some Americans are known as “back slappers” — they give others a light slap on the back to show friendship.

Lonely Planet is another helpful resource for traveling. It includes advice on topics from hotels to weather trends for visitors to a variety of countries.

Learn A Language Fast and for Free…

If you’re preparing for an assignment in another country and are unable (or unwilling) to shell out hundreds of dollars for Rosetta Stone, there are other much less expensive (a.k.a. FREE) ways to learn the basics of another language. Even with the benefit of an interpreter, it helps to know at least some of the language yourself.

Language courses from the U.S. Foreign Service Institute are posted online for anyone to access. (See FSI language site here.)

Example from FSI Russian FAST Course

The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute is the government’s primary training institution for diplomats and other foreign affairs workers. The FSI lessons on the Web cover more than 40 different languages. Courses include both text and audio.

For some of the languages, the FAST (Familiarization and Short-Term Training) series appears to be the most useful. Because the lessons are designed for travelers preparing to live and work in a foreign country, the topics covered may be more relevant than those offered by other language-learning courses.

Another good resource is Mango Languages. Courses on the Mango Languages site are designed to provide learners with conversation skills for real-life situations.

 If you establish a personal account with Mango, you’ll end up paying more than $150 for a three-month course. But many local libraries have subscriptions with Mango to provide the service free for their cardholders. And you don’t have to be in the library to benefit.

The library in my area allows access to Mango Languages lessons directly through the library’s website, so you can learn at home. When you visit Mango’s site, it has a search function for your zip code to determine whether your library has a subscription.

If you’d like to explore more resources for learning a new language the frugal way, check out the site Free Language.

Sample from Mango Languages German Lesson 1

Creating 360 Degree Panoramas for FREE…

You don’t have to dig into your paycheck or your organization’s budget to create quality interactive panoramas.

Without access to expensive photo-stitching programs, you can find several free online programs for building panoramas, including those super-cool, 3D virtual-tour types.

Two sites I came across for creating panoramas are Dermandar and Clevr.

Here’s an example from Dermandar:

The steps are simple. Using your digital camera or even your phone camera, take a sequence of photos in a 360 degree rotation, making sure to overlap about 25 percent of the landscape from the previous photo in each photo you take. Either turn your camera on a tripod or move your body around the camera, but whatever you do, make sure the camera is rotating in place. Try to keep the camera level.

Then upload the photos to either Dermandar or Clevr, and they will automatically create your panorama by reading the overlapping parts. The Clevr stitcher application must be downloaded and installed, while Dermandar requires no installation.

Both sites allow you to embed your panoramas into your blog or website.

Check back soon to see what I come up with when I put these programs to the test!

Twitalyzer: Where My “Tweeps” At?

Facebook fans and Twitter followers are of rising importance to news organizations and other outlets seeking to build a connection with their audiences.

That’s why knowing who your Twitter peeps, a.k.a “Tweeps,” are and how well your messages are reaching them can be so valuable.

Twitalyzer is a free analytics application for Twitter that can help you do that.

In addition to traditional tracking measures like number of followers and retweets (re-posting of your messages by other users), Twitalyzer provides a system for measuring an organization’s success in social media.

One of the measurements Twitalyer looks at is “impact.” Twitalyzer says it determines “impact” through a combination of measurements: followers, references to the user in Twitter, frequency of retweets both of and by the user and frequency of the user’s updates.

Twitalyzer says “impact” is a function of the number of people paying attention to a user combined with their own participation.

Twitalyzer’s other core measures of success are:

  • Engagement: ratio between people referenced by the user and the number of people referencing them
  • Generosity: percentage of updates in which a user is retweeting other people
  • Velocity: relative frequency at which a user publishes updates
  • Clout: based on the number of times the user’s name appears immediately preceded by the @ symbol when searched for in Twitter

Twitalyzer also allows you to track and set goals for your scores. And if you’d like to Twitalyze other organizations’ or individuals’ accounts, you can do that, too.

Twitalyzer’s handbook is an extremely useful tool that will help you get started. See it here.

Editing Photos When You Don’t Have Photoshop

If you don’t have access to Adobe Photoshop and aren’t crazy about your computer’s default photo editor, there’s another program you can use: FotoFlexer.

FotoFlexer is a FREE online tool for editing images. You can crop and retouch any photos you upload to the site, and even add shapes, text and effects.

Digital journalist Mark S. Luckie of the 10,000 Words blog recommended FotoFlexer as an alternative to Photoshop during a session on backpack journalism at the NAHJ convention.

TIP: When you first open FotoFlexer, instead of uploading your photo under “Upload Photo” on the homepage, click “Login” on the right-hand corner, but don’t actually register. Just upload your photo there and start working!

Here’s the before and after of a picture I took on President Obama’s Inauguration Day last year. In addition to cropping, color enhancing and sharpening the photo, I was also able to add a caption and border.



And for that more historic look, the classic black and white:

TIP: The one quirk I ran into with FotoFlexer was saving my edited photos. After clicking the “Save” button on the top toolbar of the edit screen, I couldn’t get the save to My Computer or save to Facebook functions to work.  The My Computer save stalled every time I tried it and the Facebook never linked right, but I was finally able to save the photos using the URL/Link option under “Share Photo.”

Once the URL shows up, you can paste the link into your browser to open the photo in a webpage, and then right click, and select “save image as” to save it to your computer.

Enhancing Web Content with “Link Journalism”

Publish2 is a free service that enables news organizations to round up links to content from across the Web and share them with their audiences.

The company refers to the practice as “link journalism.”

The idea is to create a newswire of sorts to function as an alternative to traditional newswires. This new kind of wire can link people to information on a particular topic or event from a variety of places, including the less conventional sources, like blogs.

How it works is an organization or individual journalist saves links to material relevant to a particular story or topic and then uses Publish2 to publish those links.

Publish2 also provides a way for news organizations to collaborate,  using a distribution system called News Exchange.

Through the News Exchange, newsrooms can create topic-based newswires using their own content. Other news organizations can then subscribe to the newswires or download the stories and other content included in the wire. You can open up your wire to everyone or set limits on which news organizations can have access.

Multiple news organizations can also join together to create a group newswire covering a particular topic.

The Climate Desk is an example of that. Journalists from several organizations, including Wired Magazine, Need to Know on PBS and the Center for Investigative Reporting, created the site using Publish2 to explore the impact of climate change.