Read & Respond week 14 – Video

November 8, 2018

This week’s readings are mostly viewings. Once upon a time, this unit 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). That time limit and focus on speed and sharing made it a tremendous place for creativity (and weirdness), and it might be why the app couldn’t last. Check out some of these applications:

(Why am I having you read examples from a dead app? Because I want you to see what journalists and mass communicators did with this weird little thing. Innovation is our focus, after all: When you see something new, your first thought could be “how could I do journalism with this?”)

Vine may be gone, but live video’s having a moment. My friend Mike is involved with the Purple Martin cam up at Presque Isle in Erie, Pa., which is a live camera pointed at a purple martin nest all day.

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).

Livestreaming is inarguably changing the media landscape. 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…). How can we apply this to the practice of journalism, and what are its problems?

As part of your overall response, propose a livestreaming topic that would compliment your personal or group blog. When and how would you do it? What would you need to prepare in advance? We’ll discuss further in this week’s classes.

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


Read & Respond week 13 – Group Work So Far

November 4, 2018

For this week, we’re going to take a look at our own work. I’d like you to read through the first two weeks of posts by one of the other groups. Assignments are as follows:

ADDED: Take a moment and click through your classmates’ surveys to aid in their future work. They’re short!

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

  • Which posts were the strongest (and why they’re so good)
  • Which posts were the weakest (and how they might 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, Nov. 4.

UPDATE: This post didn’t auto-post when it was scheduled to, so I’m extending this deadline until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6.


Read & Respond week 11 – Audio

October 19, 2018

When we think blogging, we think writing. Recent weeks have emphasized images and other tools, but things still seem to come back to the written word. Briggs, in this week’s chapter on audio, proposes some ways to emphasize sound over sight. We’ll focus on one: Podcasting. Over the next several classes, you’ll be hearing from podcasters and planning out a podcast 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 four 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 isn’t absolutely necessary.

With special guest, Trey Kay!

We’ll be joined this week by Trey Kay of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, host and producer of the “Us & Them” podcast. In preparation, I want you to check out some of his pods from Us & Them and Red State/Blue State.

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. 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 (and Briggs’ other audio subject) 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, October 21.


How to write a simple chatbot (part II)

October 17, 2018

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 using buttons.

For a great example of this, remember the Quartz News (nee Quartzy) chatbot from class. The bot may seem complex, but if you walk through a story, 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. Do the following:

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

  • Add a new trigger: “what are you” (no quotes)
  • Add the response “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? 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!


Read & Respond week 10: Chatbots

October 11, 2018

This week (or two), 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

A chatbot typically mimics human speech in a call-and-response way: If I say “Hello,” the bot might respond “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’ve certainly got their place, 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. The language learning app Duolingo also includes chatbots (currently offline for a fix) that will converse with you in the language of your choice.

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 application for a bot: Answering questions or interacting with audience for a specific subject. What kinds of questions would you expect? What kinds of answers would it give? 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 14, as a comment to this post. Don’t worry about Briggs this week – the syllabus had us reading the Mobility chapter, but it’s not particularly relevant – so just focus on the questions above.

 


The Group Blog Project (fall 2018)

October 10, 2018

Beginning in two weeks (Sunday, October 21) and continuing through the end of the term, you’ll create, maintain, and promote a group blog that tackles a local and contemporary trend, topic, or theme in a journalistic way. You’ve already been assigned a team, started brainstorming and written your first post, but now it’s time for greater specifics. You will:

  1. Identify, connect with and engage a community of interest in Morgantown
  2. Provide original content for that community through your own reporting and analysis

This is a team project requiring everyone’s strengths. The result should be a robust and engaging addition to your portfolio that will set you apart in the job market. If everyone does their own thing and there is no cohesive focus to the blog, you will do poorly.

Don’t. Just don’t.

This list gets a little bigger every semester, so read it carefully if you want to earn points for your work.

  • There will be no restaurant, local entertainment, advice, or graduation-themed posts unless specifically approved by Prof. Britten (they won’t be).
  • No “here is a place/thing” or “this event/group exists” posts. All these elements may be involved with a post, but the focus should always be on specific issues.
  • Do not make your blog a list of community calendar events or recommendations for local places to check out.
  • Blogs focused on personality profiles are not recommended.
  • Unsourced lists are frowned upon.
  • Do not use clichés such as “eclectic” or “something for everyone” – define a focus and an audience.
  • Posting recipes will bring swift retribution.

Weekly requirements:

You will be judged on the frequency and quality of your posts, comments, and other demonstrable contributions to your online publication. In addition, if your teammates report you’ve become a significant asset (or weakness), that matters as well.

  • Individual posts: Every person is expected to post at least once per week, and each blog is expected to have a post every weekday.  Your groups must each arrange and follow a posting schedule to ensure regular updates throughout the week (Monday-Thursday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., or Monday-Friday if you have five members). If you miss your scheduled deadlines, you will get lowered (or no) credit for that post.
  • Weekly group budget: By 5 p.m. every Sunday (beginning October 21; ending November 25), each group will email me a single budget for the current week and following week. It must include the following:
    • Current week: Which stories are you going to run, when (day, date & time), who will write each, and a brief description of each story, the specific information sources it is using, and why it’s of interest to your community.
    • Following week: Same information as above, but likely with less detail.
    • Longer term: Identify which big or longer-term stories you are pursuing.
    • Promotion: What will your group do this week to publicize your blog and connect to a larger community? (This might involve posting to social media but should also involve HOW you post – experiment with time, wording, etc.)
  • Weekly personal memo: By 9 p.m. every Saturday (beginning October 26; ending November 30), each person will send me a weekly memo assessing your work so far and what’s to come. It must include the following:
    • Post: Provide details and links to your work.
    • Comments: You will make 5 meaningful comments per week(not all on the same day!), divided between your group blog, other class blogs, and some outside blogs of interest (which is good way of attracting like-minded bloggers to your site). Link to these in your weekly memo.
    • Added Value: A plain-text post adds only one level to the conversation. That’s the minimum, so doing only that will earn you the minimum grade. I expect to see you using your skills with links, images, maps, audio, wikis, and more, as well as integrating the site and its promotion into other social media like Facebook and Twitter (provide links).
    • Your Grade: Provide an honest grade for your work in the preceding week as a percentage score (e.g., 82%). Base your grade only on that week, and include an explanation of why you have earned the grade you propose.
    • Group Grade: Provide an honest grade for your group as a percentage score, and explain where the group struggled or excelled in the preceding week.

How You’re Evaluated:

As noted above, each Saturday (beginning October 26) every student will send me an e-mail memo assessing the previous week. You’ll also include short updates on your experience thus far and your blogging plans for the week ahead. I use this to grade your quality of work, so if you’ve done more than just post, tell me about it!

You’ll get a grade for each week’s worth of work, which includes your weekly post, contribution to the group memo, and any extra work you do (note this in your memo). If you like to think in terms of points, imagine that I score in roughly the following way:

  • 40%: Content — Is it interesting? Relevant to your blog’s focus? Fresh?
  • 30%: Connection — Quality and relevance of the link(s) you included in the post
  • 30%: Mechanics — Grammar, spelling, punctuation and appropriate style
  • Bonus points! … for HTML, outside comments, etc.—beyond-the-call stuff. If you’re the editor-in-chief or have other special duties, let me know!

Because you’re each only expected to post once a week (more is allowed), I’ll expect the writing and ideas to be especially sharp – we’re not looking for long reviews. What matters more than the number of posts is the overall quality of the body of work.

First due dates:

  • Initial blog concept proposal (one page of overview, one page of posts from each member, and a tentative schedule) due as a single six-page packet from the group in class Monday, October 1.
  • First post from each member (printed, with links and images/media indicated in brackets) due Monday, October 8 – UPDATE: Wednesday, October 10.
  • revised blog concept packet – based on the packet above and incorporating feedback from me and the group – due in class Wednesday, October 17. 
  • Your group blog’s About page with a focused mission statement must be posted by Friday, October 19. (post the URL as a comment to this post)
  • First budget: Email me this list of topics and dates for your first two weeks of postings (see above for explanation). It’s your first week, so this may change, but it must be thorough and complete – due 5 p.m. Sunday, October 21.
  • Your group’s first post: Must be posted between 10a – 4p, Monday, October 22.

Group Assignments

Available here.

One more thing:

In addition to creating a blog, you’ll need to add all your group’s members as authors (you may all be administrators or just choose one member for this role). Follow these steps:

  • In Dashboard, select “Users” from the left bar
  • Under “Invite New,” enter the new user’s preferred email address
  • Choose the new user’s role (contributor, administrator, editor, or author)
  • Click “Add user”

Assignment #6: Make a Map

October 4, 2018

This assignment builds on what we learned about Google Maps in last week’s class. You’re going to apply that to your personal blog by writing a post that incorporates a map of your own creations. 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 (5 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 THREE 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), and include useful information in your selection of pins, use of labels, photos, etc.

DUE: This assignment is due whenever you post next week’s personal post, so it must be during normal blogging hours (10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday-Thursday) during the week of October 8-11.