Tips and tools from the Journalism Interactive 2014 conference

I’m just back from Journalism Interactive, a two-day conference at the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. In short: it rocked. In long: if you care about the intersection of journalism and technology, you have to go next year. Picture the country’s best journalists, technologists and educators all in one place. Add some caffeine and a good measure of geeky excitement about technology and that pretty much sums up the event.

There were so many high-caliber speakers with great tips and thoughts, I left with my brain stuffed with new ideas about what I can and should be teaching my students. These are my ten takeaways. (I could have written 100, but Dan Reimold already has that covered at College Media Matters.)

ONE: We need to teach students to create journalism that’s interactive. Not too long ago, creating interactive graphics was the domain of those who know code. Not anymore. Thinglink is a cool (free) little tool that allows students to place text and video over a still image to make them interactive. The possibilities are pretty much endless with this simple software.

TWO: Why Google it when you can Wolfram Alpha it? Amy Webb of Webbmedia gave a wonderful presentation on six tech trends and showed us the Wolfram Alpha search engine. I’ve seen it before, but never used it much. A few weeks ago, I watched a presentation from Stephen Wolfram, and now that I know Webb uses it, the site is high on my list to show students as not only a great search engine example, but what can be done some clever coding and math.

Webb’s whole presentation, which has many other goodies and is worth your time:

THREE: Speaking of coders, they are the most sharing people you’ll meet. Journalists need to get to know more of them. I had already gotten great advice from Michelle Minkoff’s blog before I got to meet her at a session on web scraping. She made the point several times that coders are more than willing to share what they know with others. If you are not the most techy journalist, coders are good people to know when you want to do that cool thing that’s going to take more than a Google spreadsheet to do.

Michelle Minkoff, an interactive producer for the Associated Press, helps Serena Carpenter with a question about web scraping during Journalism Interactive 2014.

Michelle Minkoff, an interactive producer for the Associated Press, helps Serena Carpenter with a question about web scraping during Journalism Interactive 2014.

FOUR: Wearables are here to stay, and students need to know about tools like Google Glass. Professor Jeremy Littau gave a presentation on teaching with Glass at the conference and his links are worth checking out, as is his presentation.

FIVE: Another interactive tool that students can easily use is Students can create info graphics or charts without much hassle. It’s a low-tech way to build high-tech looking visuals. Another speaker, Richard Koci Hernandez of UC Berkeley, mentioned a bunch of other great storytelling tools and techniques. His presentations is worth watching here.

SIX: Robots are here to help journalists, says NPR data journalist Jeremy Bowers. They can automate the most tedious tasks that reporters have to do, like checking local seismic activity data or quickly editing stories for the web. When they notice changes in data, they can send you alerts or even write short stories. If you teach sports writers, remind them that much of what they write relates to data, and then show them the New York Time’s Fourth Down Bot. Check out the panel on data-driven journalism here.


SEVEN: Computer science is inseparable from journalism. So get your kids (and by that I mean any preschooler you know and/or your college students) all the computer science exposure you can. Specific recommendations at the conference included Code Academy, School of Data and Coursera MOOCs. While many tools are out there like help students produce visuals without coding knowledge, students with coding skills will be the best prepared to create custom work that sets them apart. One way to help expose students to computer science is to team teach with other departments or have CS professors speak in your classes. Apart from code, students need to know about topics like anticipatory computing and algorithmic accountability.

EIGHT: Stay connected with likeminded others. Sounds more than obvious, right? But I can’t say enough about the virtual networking and groups that are a part of the journalism and tech community. There are hashtags to use throughout the year (#edshift, #wjchat, #jiconf, etc) and groups to join (Online News Association, NICAR, data journalism groups on, etc.) Apart from tip sharing and camaraderie, some of the groups, like ONA, have grants. Yes, money, for journalism! I’m part of a group at the University of New Mexico that won an ONA Challenge Fund grant, announced at the conference. (Follow @nmnewsport for more details on our project.)

Along with staying connected comes staying charged. And by that I mean your electronics. I learned two pro tips related to powering your smart phone. First, from someone in the back of the room whose name I didn’t catch: putting your iPhone on airplane mode charges it faster. Second, a nifty USB charger called Photive allows you to recharge without having to plug in to a wall.

NINE: Mobile reporting skills are key. Carl Corry of Newsday gave a presentation on mobile reporting technology. In short, reporting with phones and tablets is a key skill students are expected to have to work at any type of news organization. He mentioned the site of WTOP reporter Neal Augenstein, which has some great how-tos and insights on using the iPhone.

TEN: Keep learning. It’s up to us to keep our students on the cutting edge. That means attending conferences like this, but it also means homework when we can’t travel. Consider Amy Webb’s summer course for journalism instructors.

Here are more takes on the conference from others who attended.

American Journalism Review’s take.

Post by professor Katy Culver on PBS Education Shift.

Professor Tiffini Theisen’s blog

14 takeaways by teacher Aaron Manfull.

Storify curation by Professor Jeremy Littau


I pitched a new journalism class, and it starts this fall

A set up similar to what students in my mobile reporting class will use this fall.

Students in my mobile reporting class will use a setup similar to this in the fall.

Even though we’re just past Spring Break at UNM, I’ve got my eye set on what I’ll be teaching this fall. One of the classes I’m most excited about is mobile reporting. We’ll be using smart phones and tablets to record, edit and publish news stories. This is the first time UNM will offer the class, and I’m way excited to be a pioneer.

Here’s a piece I wrote for PBS Media Shift about the process I went through to set up the class and hopefully get funding. I find out in April if my grant proposal is approved, so think good thoughts.

My 2014 resolution: try something new so my students can too

As we start this year, many of my friends (and probably yours too) have taken to social media to ask others to help hold them accountable when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions.

Of course journalists are all about accountability and holding people to their word. But can we cut a quick deal and ignore all the New Year’s resolutions I’ve made in the past? No really, I’ve got a solid one this year. And seriously, did you honestly expect me to give up chocolate for more than 12 hours? And color code my file folders? Yeah right.

Here, then is my 2014 resolution, so you can all ask me about it this time next year, or preferably before.

My goal is to propose at least one new class a semester in the Communication and Journalism Department at the University of New Mexico, where I currently teach as an adjunct instructor.

(While I’ve had this thought for a while, I started thinking more about it after a Facebook request by University of Wisconsin-Madison Assistant Professor Katy Culver, who asked what educators are resolving to do this year. Her request turned into a post with a fun infographic on

So during this first week in January, I’ve already taken one step and finished my first grant proposal. It’s a key part of what I have resolved to do, because we need new equipment to start up a mobile reporting class I’m scheduled to teach this fall. In the scheme of things, it’s a small request, some $6,000 for 10 iPad minis and the lights, lenses and mics that go with them. (Bags, too.)

Please note that I may be cheating a tiny bit on this resolution, because I did get approval for the class in the fall of 2013, but all resolutions have a bit of fudging involved, right? That said, this is the year I hope to complete this task, so let’s just put it in the 2014 category.

Although the amount is small, it’s a big step for me, in part because it is my first grant, and in part because it would be my first time teaching mobile reporting.

It’s also a big step for the department. This will be the first mobile reporting class offered at UNM. I’m thrilled I have the green light. I hope to bring other digital skills classes to the department this year as well.

Entwined in my goal is my hope to give my students the most current and relevant digital skills. I want them to be able to go out and produce a story that’s ready for the web, all on their own, and with accessible and simple equipment. I want them to understand social media, multimedia and the ethical implications of both. I want them to feel confident using new equipment and new apps. In short, I want them to succeed at newspapers and other news organizations once they graduate. (If not before.)

I acknowledge my goal here is neither unique nor new. After reading parts of Searchlights and Sunglasses by Eric Newton during winter break, I know I’m not alone in this and I’m inspired by others across the country proposing similar classes (and projects within classes) that aim to improve journalism education and truly prepare our students. Much has been said about the direction journalism education needs to go, and I’m thrilled to play just a tiny part of helping student journalists keep up with the technological innovations.

I’d love to hear from you throughout the year about your goals and your classes as well.

Happy 2014,


Another cool curation tool for students

Over the weekend, I had students in my Newspaper Practice class attend and report on the local Day of the Dead parade. The parade has evolved into a pretty large event, and I spent a good deal of time waiting around to meet up with the students and check in on their reporting progress. As I people watched and took a few photos, I couldn’t help but notice how everyone — including the elaborately dressed grandmas in the crowd — had a smart phone. That meant lots of photos would be posted on social media.

With sure to be powerful images of people dressed in blacks, rich blues and red to honor the dead, I thought the event was just the kind of thing to be curated. As it turns out, about a week ago I had heard about a new tool called Brickflow and I was thinking of trying it out.

As background, I’ve already covered how to use another curation tool, Storify, in this class, and I was pleased when one of my students set out last night to curate the event, which has huge cultural significance here. Now that I have them thinking about and doing curations, it was time to see what other programs I can teach them. I tried Brickflow this morning and I like it. The biggest difference between the two is that Storify seems much more text- and tweet-oriented while Brickflow is all about the photos and videos. Brickflow displays social media content in a playable slideshow while Storify presents the information in a more linear, story like format.

The approach to curation in Brickflow is similar to Storify, though, and is all hashtag-search based. (On that point, I make absolutely sure all beginning social media users understand the hashtag concept before moving on to tools, because it is so crucial for curation and other tools.)

Overall, Brickflow is easy to use and might appeal to student photographers a bit more than writers. After only using it once, I can envision a class assignment where I ask students to use it to curate a local news event, much like I would do with Storify. Of course, a part of the lesson would focus on the ethics of curation and a discussion of how curating a story relates to and differs from traditional reporting of a story.

Overall, I like both programs and intend to experiment more with Brickflow as I show it to students. Here’s a look at my first piece, known as a “flow.”

Videolicious as a potential journalism platform

In part because of a multimedia reporting class I’m taking this fall as part of my master’s program, I’ve been exploring various multimedia publishing platforms. Videolicious moved up on my list after I saw that Poynter this week will host a webinar on using it for journalism. In a class I teach at the University of New Mexico, I mentioned the app to my students, who said they had just learned about it at the Associated Collegiate Press conference in New Orleans. They were willing to be my guinea pigs for the snapshots I took around the student newsroom today.

Overall, it was super simple to use. In less than five minutes, using an iPad, I had a basic, one minute piece published and on Twitter. I chose ten photos from my iPhoto app, and recorded audio over them as I swiped through. You also can record video if you’d like.

While it was simple to produce, the piece is not superb. The photos are nothing more than snapshots and the audio is just audio, but it’s not terrible. With more time, and by paying for more than the scaled down free version, I think the app has some potential for storytelling, especially because of the ability to quickly post on social media.

But I don’t want to sound like an ad here either. I’m not a fan of the automatic Ken Burns effect. And as I scrolled, the mic seemed to sometimes pick up the sound of my fingers moving on the iPad. But overall, it’s a decent choice, especially for students who might be looking for a simple way to publish multimedia components with a story.

In the end, I’d rather teach students how to use more professional video recording and editing equipment, but I know that’s not realistic for many of them. Videolicious helps fill a gap for students who want to learn multimedia, but who don’t have time/access to/patience for more pro tools.

UPDATE, Nov. 15
I had my students try out the app during a class last week. In a really short amount of time, both groups who tried it produced a short video. Nothing too stellar, but decent given the classroom setting I confined them to, and the fact that it was the first time they had seen the app. (Because the app is iOS only, I ended up lending them my iPad and my iPhone, so keep that in mind if you want to try this in your class.)

Here’s a link to the better of the two videos. I gave them no instructions beyond a demonstration and then let them follow the guided information on the app. You can see potential for creating short pieces with the free version.

Bonus instructor tip: remember that you lent your equipment to students so you aren’t wondering how all those really bad pictures of you ended up on your iPhone.

How I used Breaking Bad to engage students on Twitter

First, my confession: I’ve never watched Breaking Bad. And I live in Albuquerque, where the show was shot and where everyone except me has seen every minute of every episode of every show. Don’t tell my neighbors. Or my students.

But I have watched enough being written about Breaking Bad to know it had a grip on our city like nothing else. I wondered how I could harness that interest for my own journalism education purposes.

For a few years, I’ve used Twitter with moderate success to engage students on the finer points of journalism. I will admit here to the occasional tweet about National Punctuation Day, because I heard somewhere that embracing your inner nerdiness is coming back in style. I am here to say that’s not true.

What I needed was something that captured my journalism students’ attention just like the show. I needed something they were interested in enough to have a conversation about. Something they couldn’t stop talking about. But it had to be about journalism, or at least kind of related to journalism. Turns out the answer was the show.

I got lucky with Breaking Bad. Yes, pop culture and journalism education intersected one day when a local teacher (and if you watch the show you know there’s a teacher as a key protagonist) paid to place an ad in the Albuquerque Journal. The ad was an obit for Walter White, a key character in the show as everyone but me knows. The “obit” did not appear in the obits section, but rather in the news section, along with other ads you expect to see in any local newspaper. It was not marked as a paid ad, but it was in the paper the same day a local reporter wrote a story about the teacher taking out the ad.

That caught my attention. How many other “obits” have run in newspapers about television characters? (I ask that in all seriousness, please email me if you’ve seen one.)

Curious as to what had happened behind the scenes, I tweeted a question to see if anyone at the paper would explain. I got linked back to the story the reporter had written, but not much insight on whether there had been a debate on the issue. I then tweeted this question: #lobocamp students: what do you think of an obit for a tv character in a newspaper? Raises interesting, new questions. #breakingbad #BrBaABQ. (#lobocamp is a hashtag I use with my students; the #breakingbad and #BrBaABQ are used by fans of the show.)

Pretty soon, students engaged. Some would have run it, some wouldn’t have. Others would have labeled it as an ad. I heard from students who don’t speak much in class, and who typically tweet about other topics. Bingo. We even talked about the topic in class later that week.

So for my colleagues who sometimes ask how they can use Twitter as a classroom tool, the lesson I took away from this was to simply find something students care about and relate it back to your topic, even if that link is a bit tangential. I can see now that most students weren’t going to retweet or respond to my thoughts on bad headlines or grammar or newspaper correction policies, try as I may. But a crazy show that has propped up the local economy with blue donuts and meth “candy”? Absolutely.

I say all this with some heartburn, as I want my students to care more about compound modifiers and multimedia projects than t.v. drama. But I’ll take the successes where I can.

Why I have more summer homework than my students


While it’s true I am a graduate student this summer, these days I mostly think of myself as a journalism instructor, which is how I wound up at Poynter’s Teachapalooza 2013 and how I came home with more homework than I know what to do with.

See, part of teaching is always learning. That was the key point of several speakers at the three-day conference in St. Petersburg. And part of that learning is studying and reading about new technologies for teaching and for storytelling.

But lest you think I’m complaining, I’m excited to do this homework, because it involves experimenting with some pretty cool looking tools and websites, including Meograph, and bump, among many others. Also, at the conference I won a copy of Roy Peter Clark’s new book, “How to Write Short.” (Coming out this fall.) That’s on my (going by quickly) summer list now, as is the new book by NPR’s Andy Carvin. I also really want to read “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. After all, isn’t reading what summer is for? I also will be reviewing some texts for a journalism ethics class I’m scheduled to teach in the spring, so let me know if you’ve read something really dynamic in that arena lately.

I’ll probably post in a week or two about what apps/programs/books I liked and which ones I think will work for teaching.

In the meantime, you can read more about the conference in this Storify curation I just posted.

[View the story “Amid new tools, journalism instructors must focus on basics” on Storify]