Archive for September, 2010

AOL’s hyperlocal news experiment – Patch – has partnered with 13 journalism schools in the US in an arrangement which sees students work under the guidance of professional editors while at the same time earning academic credits.

The devil’s in the detail of course: it’s either a brilliantly inventive way of mentoring young journalists with on-the-job training, or cynically exploitative of a green but eager pool of workers.

As an indentured trainee with Berrows Newspapers in the days of em rules and hot metal my training was a mix of classroom work – shorthand, law, public administration – and out-and-about reporting with an experienced old-timer.

Being able to watch someone do a “death knock”, or strike up conversations with people from all walks of life, was as valuable as anything I learned in more formal settings.

Guiding lights on the Patch advisory board are Phil Meyer and Jeff Jarvis.

looxcieMobile video is constantly improving but all too often the best, unexpected moments are missed because the device isn’t ready or it’s in your pocket.

“Everybody gets the splash, but nobody gets the whale,” is how Looxcie’s marketing chief Bob Kron puts it.

His company makes a wearable Bluetooth camcorder which fits over the ear and continuously records video.

It stores up to five hours of material on a 4GB flash memory and the last 30-seconds of viewing are continuously buffered to be saved by a one-click, instant clip button.

To set-up, you use your smartphone (Android only for now) as a viewing screen to make sure the camera is level and pointing where you look.

Once up and running a red “video on” light illuminates.

The 30-second clips you save can be instantly shared – bandwith permitting – to pre-selected recipients or to Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.

On the face of it,  this new hardware looks like a useful addition to the journalists’  toolkit.

At $199 it’s a cheap route to video capture, and simple to use. It doesn’t involve fiddling with lots of buttons and controls so you can concentrate on what’s going on around you – and that’s important if you’re in potentially hostile environments.

It’s also less obvious than a handheld camera so less likely to trigger adverse reactions in a crowd, though there’s always the risk that someone will think you’re filming them for clandestine purposes.

And as mobile pictures from the G20 protests have shown, the increasingly levels of scrutiny mean that you can never be sure that someone, somewhere, isn’t watching – and recording – you.

ONA logoThey say if you put three lawyers in a room you’ll get three different answers and so it was in a lively debate at a joint ONA/Index on Censorship event titled Bloggers in the Dock in Clerkenwell.

Blogger David Ostler recounted how he had been sued and talked about the strain it imposed on him, the two years he had spent fighting the action, and his fear of personal bankruptcy.

The case was eventually struck out by the High Court but without pro bono legal help from David Green and Robert Dougans the outcome might have been very different.

Sile Lane from Sense About Science told of the pressure that bloggers and small publishers faced when threatened with legal action. The time and costs of getting embroiled in a court battle meant that, more often that not, they backed down, or their internet service providers did.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens – fresh from his European Court press freedom victory – put the cat among the pigeons by suggesting UK libel laws should be scrapped. He believed the good sense of the crowd and voices of reason could be left to do the work.

He cited the Gina Ford v Mumsnet libel case as an example of libel law no longer being fit for purpose: “There was nothing really libellous in there …I felt at that point the libel laws had fallen into disrepute.”

“I’m positing a situation where we do away with libel. Speech, meet speech. Work it out.”

He also dismissed the notion of libel tribunals for fast-track disposal of claims. “It’s not in the interests of lawyers. Lawyers run this for lawyers. It’s an embarrassment to the legal profession”.

Judith Townend has provided a fuller account of the cut and thrust

A  crowd-funded platform for photojournalism, emphas.is, has been launched by photo editor Tina Ahrens and photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa.

The founders believe they can attract funds for assignments by building stronger bonds between photographers and the audience through greater access and involvement. They also think there is an untapped revenue stream in the army of amateur snappers who want to learn from the professionals.

The site is thin on detail but it appears to be following the spot.us model – if you want something covered then you put your money on the table.

This kind of funding underpins a whole range of potential projects at Kickstarter, a platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors and creative thinkers.

Is this a new way forward for freelance journalism? No longer pitching to editors and commissioners, but going direct to the audience and small-time angel investors who can back projects that interest them or the personalities they find appealing?

Is this a model that could be adapted  for journalism projects – involving the audience in coverage plans and, rather than asking them for money, making use of their skills and expertise to assist in a new kind of collaboration?  Discuss.

Related Articles

VeepleAt the BBC, we’ve done a lot of work over the past couple of years to enhance our web stories with embedded video. The depth and richness of BBC News material makes it one of the key differentiators between us and other news providers.

Now video tech company Veeple is turning the notion of adding video to text on its head by making video the starting point for storytelling and supplementing in-picture images with interactive text and links.

Hotspots on the screen are made clickable so deeper layers of information can be reached. They can be overlaid on objects, or people, or they can be appended to areas at the top or bottom of the screen.

It’s easy to imagine product placement companies adding layers to programmes to allow viewers to find out about, or purchase, things as they appear on screen.

It’s equally possible that future storylines or whole shows might be adapted to take account of the revenue-earning potential of product lines like clothes, for instance.

Beyond commercial applications, there is also the possibility of driving deeper engagement with factual or news programmes.

Some of you may remember that a few years ago we ran trials of an Interactive 10 O’Clock news using “red button” digital services to add extra information to selected top stories.

Bandwidth constraints and the inherent limitations of digital text display made it an interesting if ultimately failed experiment.

iPTV now offers the chance to make a far richer, more engaging experience.

At its most basic level, it could involve adding extra explainers around terms commonly used though, perhaps, rarely understood, in Parliamentary reports, such as White Papers, Three-Line Whips and Early Day Motions.

The more technical language of business might also benefit from notes in the margin with options to toggle on or off as packages play-out, triggered by keywords in the audio track, or shown on a timeline.

Appending archive material, user generated content, a wider range of analysis and expert comment, additional images, maps, PDFs, and original documents are further possibilities.

As ever, the emerging options open up many new questions: Do people really want these extra layers? Does it make for a disjointed experience? Are we video-led or text led? Do we have to be both in which case what kind of content is it best-suited to serve? How can we keep a coherent thread to our storytelling? How much information is too much – when does it become overwhelming? What’s the overhead to all this extra packaging and who would do it?

Veeple’s CEO Scott Broomfield says the software is easy to use and “if you have ever put an image or an icon into a Powerpoint presentation…you know how to make your videos interactive.”

Jump to the 4’ 26” point in this video to see it in action.

The company has mobile versions of the software running on Android devices and it is working on alternatives for the iPhone and iPad.

Broomfield claims user click-through rates from interactive video are up to 10 times higher. And their software comes with a range of tools to measure engagement metrics.

With Google TV launching in the autumn in the US, and Apple’s renewed interest in Apple TV, innovations in this space are starting to gather pace.

Intersect explainedFor the past couple of weeks I’ve been on a busman’s holiday in Seattle – getting some R&R but also dipping into the local tech scene.

During that time I’ve been exploring a storytelling, social network start-up called Intersect which has just come out of Beta.

At first glance it’s just another blogging platform but a second look reveals a number of interesting features that really mark it out as something different.

And the more I’ve used it the more potential I’ve seen for it to be harnessed for pro-am newsgathering.

One of the most interesting aspects is the way it deals with levels of privacy, an area that has bedevilled Facebook and Google.

Intersect allows its users to create their own private circles, mirroring the kind of complex social relationships we all maintain.

This fine-tuning of people into circles of, say, family, or close friends, acquaintances, work colleagues or business contacts, gives a much greater degree of control over who gets to see what you choose to publish.

It also makes use of place and time to create intersections between users’ stories.

For instance, it’s possible to see not just the stories that have been filed about a particular area, but also to define a time period to filter what you might be interested in.

In my case I’d been to the Evergreen State Fair and was keen to see who else might have been at this year’s show and what their impressions had been.

Seeing the world through other people’s eyes is always interesting, especially if it extends an experience we’ve had.

Now imagine what it would have been like to extend the timeline backwards to the 1950s and to hear stories and see pictures from the State Fair then and to reflect on what had changed – and what had stayed the same.

Intersect founder Peter Rinearson says stories are a big way we share, connect and remember.

“On Intersect, like in memory, stories live at the times and places we experience them, where they can reach out to people who cross our path.”

These threads of the past overlapping with the present open up all manner of serendipitous possibilities for discovery.

Rinearson likes to relate an example of someone finding a shoebox full of pictures in the attic, not knowing who is in them, posting them on the site and not only getting answers but possibly providing a third party with a treasured piece of information related to an image, or place, or time.

He wants Intersect to be a place where people tell stories that foster community connections.

The site has editorial staff selecting what they consider to be the best material for highlighting as Intersect Story Picks and this goes towards enhancing a contributor’s reputation.

It also has a borrow function in which a story you’ve found interesting can be borrowed and brought into your own timeline. The more times your own stories are borrowed the more your reputation is enhanced.

This reputational element could prove especially helpful for journalists when curating crowd-sourced content around an event or theme.

There’s also potential for seeding event coverage in advance, by finding who will be attending and, if they’re willing, adding them to a circle of contributors who can supplement journalists’ material.

It doesn’t have all the answers to the thorny questions over trust and objectivity of contributors but it’s the best example I’ve seen of a set of tools that might, just might, foster a new form of collaborative journalism between professional newsrooms and the people formerly known as the audience.

The site has $1.6m seed funding and its initial launch will be in the US only.

How is it possible that the Experience Music Project is even in King5’s nomination list for western Washington’s biggest public eyesore, never mind running second to the Alaskan Way Viaduct?

We know a thing or two about monstrous carbuncles here in London, just ask Prince Charles. In fact, it’s said that architects and planners inflicted more damage on the capital than was ever managed by the Luftwaffe.

Far from being an eyesore, Frank Gehry’s EMP is one of Seattle’s finest buildings – inside and out.

And Seattleites should put up a statue to Paul Allen for founding such a fabulous home for Jimi Hendrix’s memorabilia, right down to the purple haze on the building.

If you decide really don’t want it, I’m sure our Mayor Boris Johnson would be happy to take it off your hands.

For what it’s worth my nomination would be for the downtown stretch of I-5. Now if you were to dig it up, flood it and import some gondolas from Venice think how much better your morning commute might be.

For those of us living outside the US many of the impressions we form about America comevegetable display from the images we see on TV.

Cop shows, freak shows, reality shows, a world of extremes and a world of excess – TV portrays polarity in all its forms.

We see fabulous wealth or rust-belt poverty, gross obesity or stick-thin waifs, we see the mad, the bad, the sects and the weirdoes.

As a counterbalance, I wonder if there’s a better way to picture life in the US than by way of a State Fair like the one at Monroe?

Here is Middle America, in all its rich variety, and thoroughly at home with itself.

My visit on the opening Friday was sun-kissed and spectacular. Gaudy, frivolous, competitive, intense, but above all great fun.

I filled my face with pulled pork and curly fries, washed them down with an enormous Diet Coke, but just couldn’t cope with an Elephant’s Ear or a Corn Dog. Just. No. Room.

How is it that such artery-clogging, salt-surging, sugary highs are accompanied by such stomach-churning entertainment?

One of the rides was a 360-degree loop with a terrifying delayed upside down pause at the top for its paying punters. I’d have paid – to come down before my lunch did.

Another, featured a slow ratchety ride to the top of of a tall column of steel followed by a gut-wrenching, accelerated drop.

All the fun of the fair to be had and no shortage of people wanting to frighten themselves, or gawp in crazy mirrors, or impress a gal with their dead-eye shooting and win a cuddly toy.

But the bits I enjoyed best were the craft and livestock and agricultural sections.
Dazzling quilts, glowing pots of honey, primped and preened animals, vegetable displays of abundance and perfection.

This is the best of the best from a rural community that is still close to the earth, that understands the rhythm of the seasons, that knows about good husbandry and passes the hard-won knowledge down through the generations.

Rosettes are the currency craved by teenage girls with ramrod straight backs, riding plump ponies.

Prize cards for the best coney or biggest squash or longest bean may seen scant reward for the dedication and care required.

But they come with a quiet satisfaction and a glow of pride at being the best and fulfil a deep-rooted instinct in all of us to strive, to improve, and to progress.

What a fabulous day out.

The great thing about having a seaplane is being able to drop in on people without all the problems of parking.

And that’s exactly what this pilot did at Lincoln Park Beach, West Seattle. After landing on the Sound he taxied up to the shore and parked briefly for a rendezvous…

…before taking off again.

It looks like a hazardous business, and I’m sure there are a gazillion rules to follow, but you have to admit it’s a stylish way to make an entry – and an exit.

The Day I Met Elvis

Posted: September 7, 2010 in Travel
Tags: , , ,

elvisDrop a quarter in the1959 Seeburg jukebox, select Hank Williams’ Hey Good Lookin’ and see what’s cookin’ at one of West Seattle’s best hang-outs, the Luna Park Cafe.

There are artery-clogging burgers and fries, heart-stopping hobos and piles, thick-slurry shakes and sweet, super-size sundaes.

The decor is an eclectic mix of 50s signage, old-school lunchboxes, artwork, advertising enamels and general junk and clutter.

The waitresses are smiley, patient and efficient and in some cases heavily pierced and/or tattooed.

It feels like the real thing, even if it ain’t, but the calorie counts mean you’ll have to ration your visits unless you’re planning on buying a whole new wardrobe.