End-of-Semester Best-Of Voting: The Links

December 7, 2019

And here’s the last part of your final read & respond! You’ll be assessing your own work, based on the material you provided me. Based on the following examples, you’ll be voting (via this Google Forms ballot) on the following categories.

NOTE: A few of you didn’t provide personal blog links – send them to me so I can add them!

ALSO NOTE: You’re not expected to read all these links – you’ve already read a lot of your classmates’ work during reviews and commenting – just use them for reference!

Group Blog Awards

Note: You can’t vote for your own group unless otherwise indicated!

The Groups (sample group-selected posts are linked):

The Categories

  1. Best Post on a Group Blog (can’t vote for your own post, but can vote for a post by your group)
  2. Best Group Blog Headline
  3. Most Improved Group Blog
  4. Best Group Blog Overall
  5. Best Use of Additional Content
  6. Best Social Media Presence

Personal Blog Awards

Note: You can’t vote for yourself!

The Personal Blogs (best posts provided by you)

The Categories

  1. Best Post on a Personal Blog
  2. Best Personal Blog Headline
  3. Most Improved Personal Blog
  4. Best Personal Blog Overall


Nominate another blogger for best uses of audiovisual, non-audiovisual, and social media content.

Nominate another blogger for a “Most/Best ____” category (e.g., Best use of GIFs, Most Likely to Proofread Everyone’s Work)

Nominate yourself for something at which you think you excel (e.g., Best Interviewer of Homeless Persons) or perhaps are notorious for (e.g., Most Likely to Get Caught Texting)

The usual deadline applies, but you don’t have to respond as a comment. Instead, complete the ballot on Google Forms by 11:59 p.m. Monday, December 9.

Read & Respond week 16: Weird Stuff (and Us!)

December 5, 2019

In this final week of our course, I want you to take a look at some more unusual things. Below are two links to works that really push the boundaries of what’s possible. Pick one (or both!) and have a scan through. I strongly recommend you give yourself some time with these ones.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (2012)

A six-part story that introduced a new approach to scrolling online storytelling (some say for the worse), Snowfall earned a Pulitzer in 2013. The verb “to snowfall” has even been adopted within the industry to describe this kind of treatment (again, not always favorably).

17776: What Football Will Look Like in the Future (2017)

No, you don’t have to care about football to read this, and no, I didn’t post the wrong link by mistake – just keep scrolling. This serial narrative of speculative fiction by Jon Bois is challenging, thoughtful, innovative, funny and even heartbreaking. It earned a National Magazine Award for Digital Innovation in 2018.

What did you think of what you read? Weird, right? Producing stories along these lines is likely beyond your grasp (at the moment), but what can you take from it? Where could you see these techniques applying to your own work as an online communicator? What did you love (or hate), and why? Finally, going beyond this reading, where do you go from here with what you know now? Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, as a comment to this post.


Best-of-Semester Voting

I’ll be posting our best-of-semester survey as soon as I’ve completed it. It will be linked here and in email. You need to have completed it prior to Monday’s class – 100% completion is required for this one, so get it done!

Personal Post

As covered in class, this week you’ve got one more blog post due (your pitches are here). The post needs to include at least two of the tools we’ve learned this semester – they need to be made by you, so if you’re incorporating a chart, it must be a chart you’ve made yourself! All the usual requirements still apply:
  • At least three links (more is better) to meaningful content. This means news stories, relevant posts, and substantive material, NOT to homepages (e.g., wvu.com) or general sites (e.g., facebook.com)
  • At least three content links: Images, video, social media posts, etc.

In addition, you MAY post to your group blog instead of your personal blog, but there’s an added requirement if you do. The group must have approved the post and reviewed the draft, and I’ll need to receive (and respond to) a budget with any group items for the week prior to them being posted. You can send the budget by Sunday, but remember: Nothing can be posted without a group edit and my response to your budget!

You’ll put this one up any time during week 16 – from Monday, Dec. 9 through Thursday, Dec. 12 any time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Read & Respond week 15 – Our Work

November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! This week’s readings shouldn’t give you much trouble: we’re going to take a look at our own work. I’d like you to read through the group blogs of one of the other groups. Assignments are as follows:

For your responses, which you’ll post as a comment to this post as usual, I want you to identify the following:

  • How well does the group live up to its About page?
  • Which posts were the strongest (and why are they strong)
  • Which posts were the weakest (and how might they be improved)
  • Overall take on the blog and how it displays the group’s online journalism skills
  • What you’d suggest (general ideas; specific posts) for the rest of the semester

Post your responses by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1.

Read & Respond week 14 – Video

November 14, 2019

This week’s readings are mostly viewings. This is a fast-moving area of mass comm, and it’s always a challenge keeping up with the readings for this unit; once upon a time, it involved the late, lamented Vine (for those not in the know, Vine was an app that let you create and share six-second videos; Twitter bought them, and that was that).

Vine’s time limit and focus on speed and sharing made it a tremendous place for creativity (and weirdness), and while the app is dead, the ideas survive in new forms like TikTok. True, if the New York Times is covering a trend, it’s probably already dead, but the app’s quick, playful format provides a new way to think about communicating, and it’s super fun. Naturally the no-rules fun comes with exciting new problems, including political censorship, misinformation (and the role of China’s government), and sexual predators. Still, that Payphone trend is an unmitigated delight, so what’re you gonna do?

Live video also seems to be having a moment. My friend Mike is involved with the Purple Martin NestCam up at Presque Isle in Erie, Pa., which is a live camera pointed at a purple martin nest all day. It’s currently offline for the winter, but you can see last season’s recap below:

You may think a bird’s nest wouldn’t draw much interest, and you would be wrong – the cam was a surprise hit, with people logging on throughout the day to watch (and comment on) the activities of the birds (check the comments on that video if you don’t believe me). Elsewhere, scientists are livestreaming marshes, and entertainment like gaming has become big business largely thanks to streaming popularity on YouTube and apps like Twitch (as in this example for a mobile game).

Naturally, the big kids want to play. Facebook lets you livestream with Facebook Live, and Periscope, another app gobbled up by Twitter, now powers Twitter Live (not much for originality in naming over there). Facebook has even fiddled with letting viewers skip to the good part – think of it as semi-livestreaming. This is our current social media world: Ideas live, they die, they live again (but under new management).

(By the way, if you’re wondering how I jumped to a specific part of that video, check out its URL. Or you can be lazy and just use this site)

Do you livestream? Is it something you’d try? Consider these suggestions from Poynter on how to do it (have a plan, don’t waste my time, make sure you’re adding value…) and suggest a subject that might be useful in your group. Beyond that, in what ways do you see online video contributing to community? Are there specific channels or themes you’re an active follower of (or contributor to)? Ways in which video CREATES community?

Post your responses in a comment to this post by 11:59 p.m., Sunday, November 17.

Extra Credit Opportunity!

As I noted in class, you have the option to make a personal OR group post over Thanksgiving Break. These posts should be up to the standards of previous posts to earn credit; I expect to see you applying online tools, linking meaningfully, and writing timely, compelling heds and ledes. If you’re doing a group post, make sure it’s approved by your fellow group members (it’s their blog too!). Any posts must be made between Monday-Thursday during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to earn credit.

Read & Respond week 12 – Audio and Podcasts

October 31, 2019

When we think blogging, we tend to think writing, but these next two weeks will emphasize sound over sight. We’ll focus specifically on podcasting. Podcast listeners have shot up recently, so let’s see what all the fuss is about. Over the next several classes, you’ll listen to some podcasts and plan out one with your group to record in our own studio here in the Media Innovation Center. Read on, and think about what you might have to say.

What’s a podcast?

You could think of a podcast as an audio blog post. Instead of reading, you can download and listen, which is helpful if you like to do your “reading” while exercising, cooking, or doing something else. The process can be simple or complex, but it boils down to a few basic steps:

  1. Plan
  2. Record
  3. Convert/Upload
  4. Promote

This guide from DigitalTrends gets into more detail, but at minimum you need a theme (and usually some guests), a topic, a mic, and a (free) copy of Audacity; anything more can give a cleaner, more polished product, but high-end equipment absolutely isn’t necessary.

Some Appalachian examples

A past guest of this class is Trey Kay of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, host and producer of the “Us & Them” podcast. Sample one of his WV-specific pods (from below or from the Us & Them site):

The best part is, you don’t have to sit at your computer for this assignment. Cue them up on your phone and go for a jog (or brisk walk)!

Want more?

Audiences listen to podcasts via apps such as Stitcher (free), iTunes, or just listening to them streaming online (the NY Times has a great guide for getting into pods). If you’d like some examples beyond the WVPB ones above, consider these examples of the form:

Your response this week should be enjoyable: Listen to some podcasts, especially if you never have. Pick some from the links above, or find some of your own. How do these inform your work? Have you now decided blogging is dead, and you’re going to become a podcaster instead?

In addition, what’s a subject (ideally one relevant to your group blog) you could see running an approximately 10-minute podcast on? Would you have guests, or would it just be you and your groupmates? What are some questions/topics you can set up in advance to avoid the dreaded Dead Air? Post your responses by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3.

How to Make a Simple Chatbot (part II)

October 30, 2019

Last time you learned the basics of making a rule-based chatbot that can respond to some basic triggers (hi, yes, no, maybe, what is the meaning of life). Nifty but not too journalistic, so now we’re going to progress toward making a simple on-the-rails explainer (remember those?) using buttons.

For a great example of this, remember the Quartz News chatbot from class. The bot may seem complex, but if you walk through one of its stories, you actually have very few options – many checkpoints only provide a single option, and the ones that provide more quickly return to the main story. This simple engagement, coupled with a distinctive voice and an interesting story, provides a way to relate the news via your bot, and it’s pretty much all done with buttons. Let’s make one!

Your first button

Select your bot from last time and go into Edit mode (the pencil icon). We’ll keep our hi/Hello There! first interaction, but we’ll have our bot follow it up with a button to direct the reader’s next step.

Your first two lines of code should say:

+ hi

– Hello there!

Hit return twice and add the following:

+ intro button


Add a space after the – and leave your cursor there. Next, do the following:

  1. Click the button icon at the top of the edit panel (second from the left).
  2. This adds the button code, which will look like this: ^buttons(First Choice, Second Choice, Third Choice)
  3. The text is all placeholders. The only things you can’t change are the punctuation marks ^ and ()
  4. Delete everything in the parentheses and replace it with “What are you?
  5. Back at the top, after “Hello There!” add a space and the code {@ intro button} so the button will show up after the robot is triggered with “hi”

Right now you’ve created a button that doesn’t go anywhere – give it a try! Next, we’ll make it do something by adding the following code:

+ what are you

– I’m a bot!

Publish and try it out! Your code should now read:

+ hi
– Hello there! {@ intro button}

+ intro button
– ^buttons(what are you)

+ what are you
– I’m a bot!

Did it work? If not, go through our troubleshooting list (is it published? are there capitals or punctuation in triggers? did you add the {@ intro button} code in your bot’s first response?). If not, check in with me and we’ll see.

Adding more buttons

This is the simplest button scheme you can have – there’s only one choice! What I’d like you to do now is add in a second option for the reader who already knows what a bot is. Back in the response to + intro button, add a comma after what are you and add a second option, who made you It will look like this now:

+ intro button
– ^buttons(what are you, who made you)

Then, at the bottom of your code, add this new trigger/response pair:

+ who made you

– You did, silly!

Publish and try it out! If it fails, run through the usual steps, which you should be getting pretty good at.

Tell me a story

Now you know how to write button code with ^buttons() and how to call that code with { }. From here, we’re going to turn this to something more practical. Identify a simple story related to your interests that can be told in three stages (plus an introduction). Think again of the Quartz News example – we’d call this an explainer – and don’t overthink it!

  • Keep it short and conversational!
  • Each stage should progress via a single button
  • Try at least one stage with two buttons

When you’re done, go to the deploy menu, click the switch that deploys your bot (it won’t work otherwise, as we learned last time), paste the code at pste.edu and give it a try. If it works, go to this link (it’s a Google Doc) and add your chatbot (with your name and description) to the list. Let’s see what you come up with!

How to Write a Simple Chatbot (part I)

October 28, 2019

We’ll be designing basic chatbots in the next few weeks. You learned about these in this week’s readings, so you know you’ve already interacted with a chatbot on your phone, in your home, on Facebook, and probably lots of other places. The ability of chatbots to engage makes them powerful tools – you can even use one for your resume!

The bots we’re going to make will be simple, rule-based call-and-response setups, but they’ll be enough to put together a simple explainer for your personal or group blog. Let’s get started!

FIRST: Create an account on rundexter.com (Dexter is a free platform for building chatbots) and log in

First contact

  1. Select a Blank theme and create a new bot (there are lots of possible themes to browse, but we’re starting simple).
  2. Rename your bot (top left) and in the big window, delete all the default code – we’re starting from scratch!
  3. On the first line, enter “+ hi” (don’t use quotation marks, and don’t forget the space)
  4. Hit return, and on line 2 enter “– Hello There!” (again, no quotes and remember the space)
  5. On the right, click the big friendly green button that says “Publish Current Topic”
  6. There’s a phone-shaped window on the right with an entry blank at the bottom. Type in “Hi” – your chatbot should respond “Hello There!

What did you just do? You created a trigger (the + part) and told the chatbot how to react (the  part) when it encountered that trigger. It’s a call-and-response, like how when you say “Let’s Go!” people respond “Mountaineers!” This is a rule-based chatbot: It doesn’t really use artificial intelligence to “think,” it just reacts to preprogrammed stimuli.

Now try the following:

  • Tell your chatbot both “hi” and “Hi” and “hi!” – what happens?
  • Tell your chatbot “hello” – what happens? Why?

Does my chatbot hate me?

If “hi” didn’t get you a response, there’s two likely reasons. The code for your chatbot triggers (the code after +) cannot contain either of the following:

  • Capital letters (“+ Hi“)
  • Punctuation (“+ hi!“)
  • Make sure you include a space after the + or – in your code

Look at your code. Does the trigger contain either of those? If so, there’s your problem. Also note that the chatbot responses CAN contain caps and punctuation. Also ALSO note that you can include these when talking to your chatbot, so either “hi” or “Hi” or “”HI!!!!!!!” will work just fine. “Hello” or “Hi there” won’t, however, because right now your chatbot is only coded to respond to versions of “hi”.

Sorry, didn’t get that

As you’ve just seen, chances are users are going to say things to your bot that it’s not prepared for. It’s good practice to have a catch-all response for this.

  1. In your code, hit return twice (to leave a blank line) then add a new trigger: “+ *”
  2. Below that, add an error response such as “– Sorry, I don’t understand that command.
  3. You’ll have to republish the bot (green button) before you can test out the new code

That asterisk (*) trigger is a wildcard, meaning it stands in for any trigger not specified in your code. Right now, that means anything other than a variation on “hi” will return the catch-all message.

There are other uses for the wildcard operator too:

  • Add it in brackets before or after a trigger to allow additional words – so “+ hi [*]” would recognize both “hi” and “hi there”
  • Bots commonly also recognize requests for help by including the trigger “+ [*] help [*]” (along with a response that gives the user a list of help commands)

Publishing your bot

We’ve tested our bot in Dexter, but it’s not the best way for seeing your work in action. To try it out, we’re going to copy the code to an HTML pastebin that will show what it’d look like in Messenger or on your phone.

  1. Click the green Publish Topic button when your bot is ready
  2. At the top of the screen, click “Deploy” (the paper airplane icon)
  3. You’ll get a window that says “Embed Code” with a block of code under it. Select that code and copy it.
  4. In a new tab, go to pste.edu
  5. Paste your code in the box and click submit
  6. Go to the link you get and click the chat bubble in the bottom right to activate your bot!
  7. NOTE: In previous classes, we’ve found this often doesn’t work on the first try. If you don’t get the bubble icon (bottom right), try repasting the code and reloading, or republishing the code in rundexter and pasting that. It always works eventually, it’s just weird sometimes.

That’s it! You now have a functioning – if somewhat dull – bot. Next, try building in some additional triggers and responses. What should this bot do? How can you use it to tell a simple story? We’ll do more with this in our next session.