Author Archive

Digital tool Tuesday: Harnessing oral histories for your market

November 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 10.18.00 AM

You can use the StoryCorps app to generate your own story ideas.

As you know, NPR’s StoryCorps is launching a big Thanksgiving initiative to document stories between family members on this holiday.

Stories told through the StoryCorps app are being archived at the American Folklife Center at Library of Congress, and are available on the StoryCorps website.

What’s genius is how you can search through the stories to find particular topics.

Ask readers to record targeted interviews; be sure to instruct them to include a certain word (cookies) or town (Omaha) to their interviews. Or arrange a small event (or attend an event) to record interviews of your own.

You can guide your readers by suggesting what questions to ask, or what stories you need.

You also could arrange a small event (or attend an event) to record interviews of your own.

Many universities and historical institutions might have good oral history centers (I found one from Baylor here).

Once they are on the website, they can be embedded into a story or excerpt for print.

Here are some other links to advice on taking oral histories.

Deseret News, April 2013: Preserving family history by using your smartphone

Digital Tool Tuesday: Resistance is futile — you must learn Excel

November 10, 2015 Leave a comment

1110 the borg

Journalists attending an APME Newstrain workshop last month were getting a crash course in using spreadsheets to tell stories and reveal information from public records.

The workshop, led by Michael Berens at the Chicago Tribune, reminded me that all journalists should be able to grasp the basics of Excel and similar spreadsheets.

But why should features journalists do the same?

It’s simple. We love to tell stories in different ways, and visualizing data is a way to do that.

Secondly, other digital tools I’ve highlighted, including and chartbuilder, rely upon a basic knowledge of spreadsheets to create charts and graphics.

I’ve assembled some links to excel basics for journalists. Berens also uses a dataset of Wisconsin hunting accidents — worth the price of admission!

Data journalism with Excel, Ken Blake, Middle Tennessee State University. This primer includes lots of links to YouTube videos on learning the difference between rows, columns, and importing data.

Introduction to Excel. Peter Aldhous helps you with the annoying things like formatting a dataset and making things readable. He even covers calculations and percentages!

Spreadsheet tutorial. Created by the Advanced Media Institute at Berkeley, this is another basics post that takes you through the initial steps of creating a spreadsheet.

Some tips that even novices will understand:

— When you’re starting to mess with a dataset, make a copy, in case you really mess something else and have to begin again.

— A function to create a “pivot table” allows you to organize your data more in plain English. It creates a window in which you can add or subjects data points.

Digital Tool Tuesday — The List App

October 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.46.10 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.49.03 PM

The tool: The List app

What is it? An iPhone app for creating lists. It’s designed as a marketing tool for celebrities and brands (“The Office” writer B.J. Novak is one of the developers). But it could be a great tool for repurposing copy for the social media audience. It’s also great for extending the life of evergreen packages or finding a new audience for your recipes. You can share your lists on Twitter and Facebook.

How does it work? Download the free app (only available through iPhone) and sign in. Much like Facebook and Twitter, you can follow and be followed by folks. It’s pretty easy to create a list using the handy dashboard.

Make your list. Each item can have a photo, a comment (which can include a link). Your headline and read-in also can include a link.

Examples: PBS created a list to complement “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” episode on Barcelona. the Washington Post posted a list of “Creepy Internet Rabbit Holes.”

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Digital Tool Tuesday — Tableau Public

October 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Data visualization using Tableau.

Data visualization using Tableau.

The tool: Tableau Public

What is it? Some elegant interactive tools are being made using the Tableau Public tool, which is available at no charge. It’s free data visualization software that — with a little tutorial — you can build interactive maps, tools and other cool stuff.

How does it work? Using a data set you get (or building your own on Excel), building a graphic that tells your story well.

There’s almost too much here to digest (for quickie graphic tools, try but if you have an enthusiastic journalist who wants to dabble in data, let them play around with this.

It’s pitched to investigative reporters for serious projects, but think of the way you can use it to round up restaurant inspection reports, compare school data, or even create.

There is a resource page to view videos that show you how to use the data or how to navigate the dashboard.


The Marvel Comic Universe (How about collaborating on one for the Star Wars Universe!!!?)

How far does your money go?

Songwriters by Age

Mapping the 1854 cholera outbreak

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Digital Tool Tuesday — Disaster tips

October 14, 2015 Leave a comment
Lead image from "The Flood: What We Saw" published at

Lead image from “The Flood: What We Saw” published at

Last week, my state gurgled under 20 inches of rain, roads buckles, dams split open, and at least several neighborhoods in my city were under water.

I’m no longer with The State, so I wasn’t able to discern the thinking behind its disaster coverage. But from my point to view it was stellar, with constant live updates paired with great individual storytelling opportunities with words, video and photos.

I thought about what digital tools might be helpful for getting through a disaster, and am sharing some good practices that you might employ if you have a similar situation.

Find more tips and links in this Dart Center guide.

You can use TV techniques to compete with TV: It’s hard not to turn on a TV for immediate news when a disaster strikes, but the ability to post video on all sorts of platforms can give you an edge.

TV reporters were posting short videos from the scene on social media before they even went live with their broadcasts. TV stations used Twitter and Facebook to tell viewer what was coming up next. News organizations can do that as well.

If people can’t get to a scene, raw video of the scene will help them understand what’s going on. I couldn’t drive out of my neighborhood for two days. Raw video of the nearby business district (without a talking head) helped me assess the damage for myself.

After Katrina, a TV station in New Orleans broadcast raw videos driving up and down certain streets. It was very helpful to those who couldn’t get to their homes yet.

Newspapers are getting better about live streaming. Keep encouraging it. People are disconnected to TV or just have a phone among their belongings. A good alternative is Periscope, which can give readers a glimpse of a situation.

Don’t be afraid to repeat information. Don’t be afraid to repeat information. People affected by a disaster have different needs at different times. Organize this as if your life depends on it. Create a PDF to download, or use Twitter cards spread the word about a specific piece of utility.

Set up a story — and update it often — that includes “real” utility tailored to a neighborhood. “Here’s where volunteers are organizing in the South Main Street neighborhood.” I saw too many shares about calling the Red Cross national hotline or a link to a national website, which didn’t turn out to be very useful.

Use interactive maps, or leverage good maps from disaster agencies. One map from our Department of Transportation showed closed roads, but if you zoomed in, it pixelated.  A county map of closed roads was much easier for me to discern how to get out of town.

Consider setting up special Facebook pages or a Tumblr for coverage of a disaster. In my neighborhood, a Facebook page generated hundreds of volunteers to cleanup sites. You can share their information from their pages and remain useful. You can repurpose older material to these pages or make them a destination for utility.

Push newsletter signups during a crisis so readers can get the latest information. Many of your readers might not know about the power of newsletters; tell them why it matters.

Some other tools to use

Google Person Finder: It’s a tool that allows people to say they’re OK. It’s worth exploring so someone on an online team can navigate it.

RebelMouse: It creates a nice compilation of social media on a particular topic

Twitter Moments: Twitter is curating the best tweets about a subject.

You have good digital practices during a disaster? Share your tips in the comments.

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Digital Tool Tuesday — Newsletters

September 29, 2015 Leave a comment
The lead page of Lenny, a new newsletter by actress Lena Dunham.

The lead page of Lenny, a new newsletter by actress Lena Dunham.

Newsletters are the new black and white and read all over.

While social media networks continue to dominate news readers, newsletters are quietly grabbing fans, niche by niche.

Take Lena Dunham, of “Girls” fame. This week, she launched Lenny, a weekly newsletter that promises to be “a snark-free place for feminists.”

Newsletters bring customized content to readers. They arrive in an inbox, but they aren’t intrusive. You can sell them through sponsorships. They are easy to measure. They get traffic for your stories.

But there are some road rules:

— They need to be curated by humans. The LA Times wrestled control of their many newsletters and gave them human control. The result? Lots of subscribers, lots of traffic.

— They need to speak to the subject directly. Don’t be tempted to include cat videos in a newsletter for dog owners.

— The headlines need to be chatty and not “headline-y.” You have a bit of room to bring the reader in.

— Add a sign-up tagline at the end of any story. At Bizwomen, we’ve been able to get a lot of people to sign up merely with a hyperlink. BTW, For more from, sign up for our free email newsletter.

— Push for signup through your social media channels. Do that regularly.

— Aim to put fresh content on your newsletter, but you can also use them to repurpose old content, such as photo galleries.

If your newsroom doesn’t do any newsletters, you might be able to use a service such as TinyLetter, which has an easy way to create and distribute newsletters.

Todd Price of, via Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post, shares this list of cool newsletters.

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Digital Tool Tuesday: New Facebook features for journalists

September 22, 2015 Leave a comment
Stream live video through Facebook Mentions

Stream live video through Facebook Mentions

While Facebook tries to dominate the universe even more with its implementation of Instant Articles, it is throwing journalists a small piece of the social network with two new initiative, Mentions and Signal.

Facebook Mentions allows verified journalists (along with celebrities and other public figures) to broadcast live to his or her Facebook followers. It’s a good branding tool to show your readers how you’re covering the news or event.

First, create a professional Facebook page, much like you do with your personal account. The difference is that a Page allows you to get followers, who can see your activity and posts.

Next, you can get the page verified by Facebook, so that you can start using the live video function available through Mentions.

Mentions also allows you to initiate Q and As, and share news across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all at once. It also allows you to see trending posts in one place.

Through Signals, you can establish a dashboard on trending topics.

Through Signals, you can establish a dashboard on trending topics.

Facebook Signal is the social network’s newest reporting tool. It’s worth exploring, because it can allow you to track social mentions of local topics, search Instagram and Facebook for posts on any topic, and create a curated list of mentions, much like Storify. These collections can be embedded into your favorite CMS.

Facebook wants you to use its platform much like you do Twitter. You can hunt for breaking news, commentary or trends

Request access to Facebook Signal here.

Share with us your uses of Mentions and Signal.

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