The Group Blog Project (spring 2019)

March 19, 2019

Hey! There’s a lot here! Follow these details, but check the specific deadlines here!

Beginning next week (Sunday, March 24) 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 started brainstorming, been been assigned a team,  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.
  • Posts that are essentially community calendar events or recommendations for local places to check out will receive little to no credit.
  • Blogs focused on personality profiles are not recommended.
  • Unsourced lists are frowned upon.
  • Avoid interview-focused posts – the best work will show off your skill with online tools and sourcing.
  • 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 noon every Saturday (beginning March 23; ending April 20), 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 and why it’s of interest to your community. Each story must also include multiple specific sources (include links, names, etc.)
      • Important: Saying “I’ll try to talk to someone in…” will lose you points!
    • 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 noon every Sunday (beginning March 31; ending April 28), 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 Sunday (beginning March 31) 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 Tuesday, Feb. 26.
  • First post from each member (printed, with links and images/media indicated in brackets) due Tuesday, March 5.
  • revised blog concept packet – based on the packet above and incorporating feedback from me and the group – due in class Thursday, March 7. 
  • Your group blog’s About page with a focused mission statement must be posted by Friday, March 22. (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 noon, Saturday, March 23.
  • Your group’s first post: Must be posted between 10a – 4p, Monday, March 25.

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”

Read & Respond week 10: Chatbots

March 16, 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

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. Language learning apps such Duolingo also have included chatbots 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 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. Monday, March 18, as a comment to this post.


Assignment #7: Make a Map

February 28, 2019

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 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 (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 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), 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 March 4-7.


How-to: Making and Embedding a Google Map

February 28, 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)


Group Blog Planning Assignment #3 – First Posts

February 26, 2019

First posts?? But I’m not ready!!

Take it easy – this is a planning assignment, after all. I’ll be reviewing and returning your proposal packets this week, and for your next step, I want you to review my notes and pursue what seems like the most viable first post. You won’t be posting anything online yet, so consider this a rough draft.

You’ll need the following:

  • A coherent post. There might still be material to come, but it needs a beginning, middle and end. Don’t forget a compelling hed & lede!
  • Multiple content links. These must be a mix of in-text, media and social). This will probably be the biggest change from your personal blog posts – overall, these should be more richly sourced, so I don’t want to see a paragraph without at least one meaningful link.
  • Meaningful images. Use the strategies we’ve learned so far to bring in photography (yours or free-to-use), graphics (maps and – eventually – charts), screenshots, audio/video, etc.
  • A list of sources. Include this at the end. It should have TWO sections: Sources that are already in your post and sources you still need. We’ll take workshop time to fill in these gaps.

This post will be the first concrete draft of what your group’s blog will look like, but it will likely still have some growing to do. What would your imaginary reader (Rick, Ricardo and their friends) think of it? What would make it better? It should be complete but doesn’t need to be the final version yet, so that should take some stress off.

DUE: You will need to bring TWO printed copies to class on Tuesday, March 5 – one to mark up and one to hand in.


Read & Respond week 8: More Images

February 22, 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 data (we’ll focus on data more intently a few weeks from now), typically in terms of where, when and how much of something compares to something else. Graphics you’re likely familiar with include 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?

Lastly, as we segue into a focus on data, check out Google’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 this with your personal or group blog?

Remember, your responses are due by 11:59 p.m. Monday, February 25, as a comment to this post.


Assignment #6: Blog-a-Day Week!

February 21, 2019

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 5Ks but this week will be a marathon. Beginning on Monday, February 25, you will post something EVERY day to your personal blog for a week (Monday-Friday) between regular blogging hours of 10-4. 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.
  • Try themes and multi-day posts! Instead of thinking up multiple unrelated posts, consider how you might cover ONE story or issue over multiple days.

Scoring (10 pts total): Your Thursday (Feb. 28) post counts for your required weekly post (5 pts each) and is NOT part of the assignment. The remaining four posts are worth 2.5 pts each (10 total). Same-day and late posts receive NO credit, so make sure they’re up on time!

DUE: Every weekday from Monday, February 25 to Friday, March 1 (five 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 – don’t go it alone!