Group blog teams

February 29, 2016

Here they are, your group blog teams for 2016! I went through your existing blogs and the comments you left on last week’s assignment to sort you by complementary interests, styles, and so on. The more detail you provided, the better a fit I was likely to find. Regardless, you’re in this boat together now, so get to know each other!

Group 1

  • Ashley
  • Sierra
  • Angie
  • Kaitlin D.
  • Audrie

Group 2

  • John Mark
  • Craig
  • Emily E.
  • Kaitlyn P.
  • Patrick

Group 3

  • Jade
  • Preston
  • Corey
  • Caitlin W.
  • Molly

Group 4

  • David
  • Kristen
  • Sarah E.
  • Matt
  • Emily M.

In today’s class, you’ll be meeting to work out the initial details of whatever it is you’ll be doing for the final five weeks of the semester. Next Monday, March 7, your group will present its concept, along with a list of story pitches (at least two from each member) and a tentative schedule (don’t create an actual blog on WordPress yet – that comes later).

Read & Respond week 8: Group blogs past

February 25, 2016

In preparation for your group blogs (to be announced in Wednesday’s class), you’ll be taking a look into the past. There’s no Briggs chapter for this week; instead, you’ll take a leisurely read through what has come before. Read the following:

1. Morgantown Problems (2013): This is one of the best group blogs produced in this class, and I want everyone to have a look (especially the Panera post and its resulting comment thread).

2. At least ONE of the other previous group blogs (see list):

Move-in Morgantown (2010)

MountainEats (2011)

The Eclectic (2011)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Morgantown (2011)

Graduation Preparation (2012)

A “J” in the Life (2012)

Mountaineers Connect (2012)

#gradschoolproblems (2012)

Morgantown Man Cave (2013)

Meet Me in the Mountain State (2015)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Morgantown (2015)

Wild But Not So Wonderful (2015)

Your response will focus on the two blogs (Morgantown Problems and one other) and what they did. What are they about? Is there a clear focus? What are some of their strongest posts? Weakest? (yes, you have to pick one – be constructive) Finally, and most importantly, what would you have done differently, and how does that influence your own group blog plans? Your response is due as a comment to this post by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, February 28.

How to build a simple data scraper

February 24, 2016

We’ve seen how to use spreadsheets to work with data, but what if that data is in a table, not a spreadsheet? You COULD type it all up … or you could write a simple data scraper! Relax – if you know a tiny bit about spreadsheets, it’s pretty easy.

Quick Review of Formulas (in Google Drive):

  • Formulas here work just like in Excel
  • Two parts: Formula (=SUM) and Parameters (in the parentheses)
    • Can have one parameter (A1:A20) or more (B1:B10, “Y”)
    • Parameters can be either strings (in quotes) or numbers
    • Example: =SUM(A1:A20) will add up all the values in the range of cells from A1 to A20.
    • Other formulas:
      • =COUNT(A1:A?)
      • =AVERAGE(A1:A?)
      • There are also IF formulas (COUNTIF, SUMIF, AVERAGEIF) that take two parameters: =COUNTIF(A1:A?, >100) counts all cells in a range that have values greater than 100.

Recipe for a Simple Data Scraper (using Google Drive):

  1. Find a website of interest that includes data in a table (Wikipedia has lots)
    1. Anywhere you’d expect a table or list (e.g. Oscar winners, baseball stats, lists of prison)
    2. You can check in source code by searching <table, <ul, or <ol (don’t include the >)
  2. Note the following:
    1. The URL
    2. The index of the table (e.g., “1” for first table on the page, etc.)
  3. In new Google Docs spreadsheet, paste the following 3-parameter formula:
    1. =ImportHTML(url,query,index)
      1. url is the website’s URL [string]
      2. query is the HTML tag you want (e.g., “table” or “list”) [string]
      3. index is the ranking of that query on the page [number]
      4. Oscar winners example: =ImportHTML(“”, “table”, 2)
  1. You can customize it, too:
    1. Delete your formula from A1 and re-paste in B1
    2. Enter the three parameters in A1 (url), A2 (query), and A3 (index)
    3. Paste the formula in B1 and replace parameters with A1, A2, and A3
    4. This allows you to change parameters more easily and visibly
  2. ADVANCED: There’s an =ImportXML formula as well
    1. XML is heavily structured and uses more specific tags, like <book>
    2. Example from, an open gov’t site: =importXML(“;,”councils/council”) – Example drawn from Bradshaw’s book (see below)
  3. Want more? For $15, you can download Paul Bradshaw’s “Scraping for Journalists,” an excellent PDF book (first chapter is free):

Having problems?

  • Don’t forget to start the formula with an = sign
  • Check to see if you included quotes around your URL and query
  • Try a different index

Getting started with your group blogs

February 22, 2016

For the final third of the semester (weeks 11-15), you will be maintaining focused group blogs. In preparation, and to identify similar interests, each of you will propose a group blog concept and a list of potential stories. I’ll use these to determine group assignments, which we’ll go over next week. You’ll be reading through some group blogs on the sidebar for next week’s read and respond, so you might want to get a head start on those now.

Post a comment (to this post) with a pitch for a group blog concept by 10 a.m. Wednesday, February 24. This must contain the following:

  • A one-paragraph description of a group blog concept focused on some aspect of Morgantown life (no activities calendar blogs!). Other regions (e.g., West Virginia; other cities) can also be your focus as long as you’re able to cover them.
  • At least FIVE story ideas. Use complete sentences and address why this story matters. For example: “A few years back, downtown Morgantown saw an explosion of eCigarette shops, but today many of these have closed. Is vaping on its way out?”

In addition, read through the comments by 11:59 p.m. Friday, February 26. Post at least one comment to a description that you’d be interested in contributing to, and let them creator know what you’d bring to the table.

Read & Respond week 7: Data

February 19, 2016

This week we delve into data. You’re surrounded by it, but do you know how to use it as a blogger? As a journalist? As we discussed in our Mobility week, we’re increasingly devoted to technologies that track our movements, habits, and preferences, and these trackers produce a wealth of data.

Consider Wikileaks, arguably “The game-changer in data journalism.” Approached with this massive wealth of data, The Guardian compiled phenomenally complex accounts of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a collection of cables (communication dispatches) from the U.S. Embassy. Not only this, they made the data itself available to readers to make their own stories out of it.

Oh, and also the guy who gave them the data threatened to sue them.

What can you do with data in your own writing? What, if anything, have you done already? Here are a few more supplements to give you some ideas:

Be sure to post your response to Briggs – note: There is a syllabus error, so please read chapter 8 (on data) rather than chapter 9 – and the readings as a comment to this post by 11:50p Sunday, February 21.

Assignment #7: Blog-a-Day Week

February 17, 2016

After blogging for several weeks, you should have a feel for what works, what doesn’t, and how to plan your attack. So far you’ve been doing sprints, but this week will be a 5K. Beginning on Monday, Feb. 22, you will post something EVERY day to your personal blog for a week (yes, this includes Saturday & Sunday). This will not be easy, but you can do it, and at the end you’ll have a newfound respect for those who do this every week.

Some rules and tips:

  • The first rule of Blog-a-Day Week is: We do NOT talk about Blog-a-Day Week! This means no posting about how hard it is to post every day, or other such metacommentary.
  • Likewise, no posting about how you don’t know what to post. Use the skills from previous challenges, ideas from your blogroll, synthesis posts, comments from other students … ANYTHING that leads to a substantive post!
  • As always, good posts will have rich content (links, videos, images, maps, etc.) and be connective. Now might be the time to check out that “Add Poll” button up at the top of your New Post window.
  • Scoring (10 pts total): Your Monday and Thursday posts count for your required weekly posts (5 pts each) and are NOT part of the assignment. The remaining five are worth 2 pts each.

DUE: Every day from Monday, Feb. 22 – Sunday, February 28 (seven posts in all)

So that’s it. Daunting, but I promise you’ll survive and learn some new skills. THIS is what a full-time blogger does. I strongly recommend writing a few posts in advance to keep from going insane. You might also want to check out the National Blog Posting Month website for advice and support – you can even sign up to win prizes.

Read & Respond week 6: Mobility

February 11, 2016

Here’s a vivid thought from @GeorgeBray on that everpresent device in your hand.

The concept of Mobile First is informing considerable mass media practice. One of the up-and-coming areas in mobility is wearable technology, and its poster child was once Google’s Glass, whose “failure” we’ve discussed in class.

Do you find this fascinating, or do you want to slap the guy? The company pulled the plug on Glass in early 2015, but wearable technology is not going anywhere (get a load of the hedgehog-like iGel). Consider these perspectives:

Naturally, there are naysayers as well:

So how do you see wearable tech influencing the future of mobility? Be sure to post your response to Briggs and the readings as a comment to this post by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, February 14.