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.

Read & Respond week 11: Chatbots

October 24, 2019

Over our next few classes, you’re going to build some bots! Chatbots – or “conversational agents” if you’re fancy – are a fairly new entry (with apologies to Eliza) into our mass communication world. Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa are chatbots: You speak to them, and they rely on rules or artificial intelligence (or both) to answer or perform a function.

Here’s a simple example: Cleverbot (fair warning: Clever bot gets argumentative quickly)

A chatbot typically mimics human speech in a call-and-response way:

+ I say “Hello”

– bot responds “Hi there!”

That’s not too exciting, but bots are rarely so simple. More likely, the bot will ask what I’m looking for, shopping for, or otherwise would like to know. The Loebner Prize is a contest that seeks bots that can best approximate human interaction – as these transcripts show, they’ve still got a way to go.

Do people actually like chatbots? Yes, actually! They certainly don’t work in every situation, but the simulated human communication often goes over pretty well. The health care profession has even been exploring using bots for personal care and assisting those suffering from dementia. You might have even talked to one in your college search.

Chatbots are all around you, and they’re only going to get smarter. Although you’re most likely to see them in customer-service areas, journalists have been experimenting with them as well…

Bots are great for daily functions like answering common questions or automating data-oriented tasks or for larger projects like the one above. They’re not hard to make, either – free platforms like Dexter (which we’ll use in class) let you create simple ones on your own.

For this week’s response, reflect on what you’ve learned about chatbots and where you might apply them in journalism. I’d also like you to come up with a specific topic for a bot related to your personal or group blog. Think like you’re writing an explainer: What are some questions readers might have, and how might it respond? What kinds of questions might you NOT expect (people are weird, after all)?

Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, October 27, as a comment to this post.

Read & Respond week 10: Data Tools

October 17, 2019

This week’s readings will be more skills-focused than usual. We’ve been tinkering with Google tools throughout the semester, but now I want you to actual undergo some training of your own. The Google News Initiative provides targeted packages of (short) training modules for a variety of its tools. You’re going to head to its training center and complete at least three of its training modules.

Note: I’m asking you to complete modules, not entire courses! For example, the “Fundamentals” course involves 13 lessons and takes about 111 minutes – that’s not what I’m asking you to do! Instead, you might select the five-minute “Google Alerts” lesson from within Fundamentals as one of your three.

Once complete, you’ll write up a comment that lists the three modules you completed and what you got out of the lesson. For the main part of your comment, tell us some specific ways you could apply the skills from each to your personal or group blog (or any journalism and mass communication project). Details matter, so spell this out!

Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, as a comment to this post.

Personal Post

You’ve already received this week’s assignment, but just as a reminder, your post needs to involve location in some meaningful way, and it must include a Google map you’ve designed (full details here and our mapping how-to guide here). All the usual requirements 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.

You’ll put this one up on Thursday, October 24 any time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Assignment #7: Make a Map

October 16, 2019

This assignment builds on what we learned about Google Maps in this week’s class. You’re going to apply that to your personal blog by writing a post that incorporates a map of your own creation. That means the post needs to incorporate a “where” component in some meaningful way: Locations of key events, places to find a thing, cities where a performer has played, and so on.

For the assignment, you will:

  • Write a post for your personal blog with a clear location component. Your blog post will be graded like a typical post (10 pts) and counts for this week’s post. It should hit all the usual marks for content, links, depth, and overall quality.
  • Create a Google Map that adds to the story in your post in some meaningful way. This will be graded independently of the post (10 pts), but it must be relevant!
    • The map should have a least FIVE useful data points (that’s the minimum, so it’s worth the minimum grade).
    • Use the guide on our course blog to make sure it’s set to a useful default view (we probably don’t need to see the whole world)
    • To improve your score, include useful information in your selection of pins, use of labels and colors, photos, etc.

You will post the map as part of your weekly personal post on Thursday, October 24 any time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

How-To: Making and Embedding Google Maps

October 16, 2019

Today we’re making maps! At the bottom of this how-to, you’ll see a sample map of our own beloved Evansdale Crossing, made by following these very steps. Follow along and create your own!

Making the map

  1. Sign in to Google and go to maps.google.com
  2. Click the menu icon to the left of the search bar (it looks like three horizontal lines) and select “Your Places” from the drop-down menu, then click “MAPS”
  3. Select “Create Map” (at the very bottom of the left bar)
  4. In the new window, click “Untitled map” to give it a title and description
  5. Add places: Search a place address, click the marker, and select “+ Add to map” in its pop-up window
  6. Make changes by clicking a placed marker:
    1. Edit (the pencil icon) lets you change the title and description of a place. You can also add links () with HTML.
    2. Style (the paint bucket icon) lets you change the color and design of map markers. You can also upload your own designs, if you’re fancy.
    3. Add Image or Video (the camera icon) lets you … well, I think you can figure that one out.
    4. You can also add points of your own by selecting the “Add marker” icon (under the search bar) and clicking to place new map markers.
  7. Add lines and shapes
    1. Click the line/shape button and click points – double-click to finish
    2. Can name/describe your lines and polygons (shapes) in the same way as map markers.
    3. Style:
      1. Click lines to change color and thickness
      2. Click polygons to change color, border thickness, and transparency.
  8. Trash an element by selecting it and clicking the trashcan in its window

Adding group members

  1. Click “share” in top left menu
  2. Under “Invite collaborators,” add email addresses
  3. Choose what they can do: “Can view” or “Can edit”

Embed the map in your blog

  1. Click “share” and change settings from Private to “Public on the Web” (this allows any reader of your blog to see it), then click Done.
  2. Placing the map:
    1. Position the map how you want it to appear on your blog
    2. Click the three dots next to your map’s name in the top left menu > Select “Set default view”
    3. Click them again and select “Embed on my site”
      1. The code should look like this: “iframe src=”https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1L7ZYJ8iuII5T9qoIuk4IAtmQF7U” width=”640″ height=”480″ “
      2. [note: There will also be pointy brackets like this around it, but I’ve left them out so WordPress doesn’t think I’m trying to embed a map here!]
    4. Paste the resultant line of code directly into a WordPress blog post and preview to see if it looks the way you want it.

Advanced map shaping

  1. Don’t like the shape of your map? Notice the details of that code:
    1. (this code comes from the map embedded in this post): iframe src=”https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=zRA7u_2r6VF0.kDx4jre2-3cA”; width=”640″ height=”480″
  2. See those “width” and “height” values? Right now it’s a horizontal rectangle, but you can change that! Try some different values to get the shape you want.

Here’s our map (in progress)!

Last semester’s map (for reference)

Read & Respond week 9: More Images

October 9, 2019

We’re not done with images yet! Last week we focused on photo; now we’re going to take a look at graphics. Graphics are ways to visualize information, typically in terms of where, when and how much of something compares to something else. You’re already familiar with many graphic types: maps, charts, timelines, tables, and diagrams.

There are lots of free graphic-making tools out there, at a variety of quality levels, but just because you can make charts doesn’t mean you can make them WELL (or that your readers will understand them).

It’s easy to think of graphics as being extras to the story, but a good graphic IS the story. Here’s a good example: Take this New York Times quiz and see what it tells you about yourself. Any surprises? This quiz and resultant map was the Times’ most popular story of 2013 (and it was created by an intern). Can you see why? There’s something compelling about a map that tells us something about our favorite subject – ourselves – and people started sharing this story with friends.

That shareability is why graphics, and charts in particular, are such popular subjects in online communication, but without being graphic-literate, it’s easy to make misleading charts. Have a look at these common chart errors – would you have spotted any of these without being warned?

As I’ve noted in class, an easy way to get some facility with data and visualization is through the Google News Initiative’s training links on data journalism. We’re frequently talking about analytics in class, so plunge into one or two of these 5-minute tutorials (I’d definitely do some tinkering on the Google Trends page – can you identify any interesting comparisons?). How could you incorporate what you’ve learned into your personal or group blog?

Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, as a comment to this post.

Personal Post

You’ll be embroiled in Blog-a-Day Week next week, so I won’t give you any additional responsibilities. Make sure your Thursday post is your most robust of the week and follows the usual rules:
  • 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.

You’ll put this one up on Thursday, October 17 any time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but don’t forget the other four posts due this week!