Read & Respond week 15 – Voting!

April 22, 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: If your name doesn’t have links, you need to provide them to me!

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 (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, April 22 UPDATE 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 24.

Read & Respond week 15 (prelims): The Bloggie Awards ballot

April 18, 2019

It’s almost time for this semester’s social media awards, affectionately referred to by no one as The Bloggies! Right now, this post is a placeholder. After Friday, I will add in the links you provide me below. In class today, please provide the following in a comment on this post:

  1. Your two best PERSONAL blog posts (need these from everyone)
  2. Your GROUP’s three best posts (decide on these as a group and have one member include them in his/her comment

Post these links in a comment below. Please include a headline for each, and make sure the links work! Once I have them from everyone, I’ll compile them into a post and provide you an online survey to complete for next week.

Read & Respond week 14 – Our Work

April 12, 2019

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:

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. Monday, April 15.

Read & Respond week 13 – Video

April 5, 2019

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).

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

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 to the above questions, 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., Monday, April 8.

Read & Respond week 11 – Audio

March 22, 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. Check out some of these WV-specific pods:

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 (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. Monday, March 25.

How to Write a Simple Chatbot (part II)

March 21, 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 (nee Quartzy) 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 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)

March 19, 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, and probably lots of other places. 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 (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
  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.