Syllabus for Toolkit 2

The new syllabus for Toolkit 2 is under way. So far, only the home page, the Books page and About This Course are complete.

Be sure to check out the Books page!


Have you checked your e-mail?

I sent the following three e-mails to the class Listserv:

  • Friday, Nov. 16: “MMC 6936 – Instructins and templates for final Story Package” (embarrassing typo!)
  • Monday, Nov. 19: “MMC 6936 – Web space for your stuff!” (with one attached GIF)
  • Monday, Nov. 19: “MMC 6936 – Important note about final Story package files”

Check your mail and make sure you have all of these. Save them somewhere good.

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday! If you are traveling, please travel safe.

Today’s class: HTML, CSS, and blog enhancements

Today we tried to cover everything on the Week 12 page, and we got a little short on time for the blog enhancements.

You’ll see here, on this blog, that I have added the three enhancements to the sidebar. The FeedBurner chicklet and the Technorati widget are in a Text widget, which you can add to your blog from the Dashboard (under Presentation, go to Widgets, and drag Text 1 up from the boxes at the bottom). Read the instructions at the respective sites to learn what to do.

The Site Meter addition has different instructions. There are two cut-and-paste operations. There’s a way to get the Site Meter out of the Blogroll. Read the instructions and find out how!

My motive in requiring you to add these things to your blog goes beyond just getting the end result (that is, having thingies in your sidebar). A person who works on a Web site at a news organization needs to learn how to learn, how to find instructions, how to make things work. A few students in our class already know how to do this. Why? The same reason I know how — we have taught ourselves. When someone says, “Put a FeedBurner widget on that page,” you ought to go straight to Google, find FeedBurner, and find out from the FeedBurner site how to use FeedBurner.

Not because you’re a Web developer. No, just because you’re not going to ask other people to do stuff that you can do yourself. Everyone learns the same way. Take your time. Follow the instructions. Make it work. Make it work right.

If you need help, come and see me in my office. Next week I’ll be in New York on Tuesday. Monday is a holiday, and Wednesday is a bit busy. I can probably meet you Thursday morning or sometime Friday if you need some assistance.

Web design: Catching up from Thursday

I don’t want to overwhelm you all with too many posts and too much to read, so I’ll keep this short.

After our in-class exercise on Nov. 1, I briefly covered some design principles and talked about the Minnesota Liberians package and the wild horses segment (these are linked on the Week 11 page of the syllabus). This course makes no attempt to cover Web design (see MMC 5015 for that), but you should have at least a little appreciation for what makes one Web page look great and what makes another look terrible.

I recommend this introductory article about Web design principles — it will give you some grounding:

Web design is a relatively new profession compared to other forms of design, due to the youth of our medium. As with any design discipline, there are aspects of the Web design process that are unique to the medium, such as screen resolution, additive color spaces and image compression. But too often these more unique details override our sense of the bigger picture.

If you work online, you ought to acquire familiarity with some rules governing how a page is laid out (print or Web):

  • Contrast
  • Repetition
  • Alignment (this alone can transform a page from bad to good)
  • Proximity

Break the rules, or ignore them, and the page gets ugly.

Other considerations include screen resolution (Web only, of course), typography, and the use of color. You can learn more here.

Navigation: I talked at some length about the left-side navigation used in the Minnesota Liberians package.

Credits: These must be accommodated in the design. For any project, story, photo, etc., a journalist should make certain that the public can easily see who was responsible — who made it.

Acknowledgments and sources: Similarly to credits for everyone on the journalistic team, information about where the information came from is essential. Link to the sources whenever possible (but not inside the text, because that might seem to be advertising; use a separate resources page).

Date: This is a pet peeve of mine — stories sometimes stay online for many years, yet you cannot find a YEAR of publication on the story! Every package or story should have an easy-to-find month, date and year somewhere.

What is an “issue” story?

Take a quick look at this package from the Detroit Free Press newspaper:

The issue: pit bulls — more specifically, are these dogs always dangerous? Is dog fighting (for gambling, for profit) the main reason why these dogs are often negatively portrayed? Why do people keep pit bulls, if the people are not expecting the dog to cause harm?

Note the way the issue immediately yields QUESTIONS. You want to address the questions in the story package. You might not be able to answer them all! But if there are NO questions, then what the heck IS your story about?

Now, think back to the way I constructed your in-class exercise on Thursday. Look at this package about pit bulls. Are you happy, as a reader — as a seeker of information — that the package modules are named:

  • Video Gallery
  • Photo Gallery
  • About This Project
  • Join the Discussion

Do these labels help you decide whether you want to spend time with this package, with this STORY?

Some blogging assignments

In class on Thursday, Oct. 25, each student completed an in-class critique exercise. Each student was assigned to review the first Soundslides produced by another student in the class (they are linked on each student’s blog — that’s how they were “handed in”). Then the student posted a review in his or her own blog and linked to the exact Soundslides that received the critique.

There are TWO more parts to this blogging exercise:

(1) Using the list I gave you in class, figure out which student reviewed YOUR Soundslides. Open that student’s blog, read and think about the critique, and POST A COMMENT right there on the critique post. Don’t answer defensively (“I did it that way because …”), but rather, try to expand on what the person said about your Soundslides. Respond to their remarks.

(2) Choose any OTHER student’s critique and read it. Then watch the Soundslides he or she critiqued. (Not your own, of course!) POST A COMMENT on the critique post saying whether you agree or disagree — and WHY. Try to add something useful for the author of the Soundslides that was critiqued.

The motive behind these assignments is to get you to think about the people in the audience. If you just make a story to get a grade, it’s not going to move people. Your classmates are real people — they are members of a real audience. If you can reach them with your stories, you will be on the way to becoming a good storyteller!

Also in class on Thursday:

We viewed the excellent Soundslides “After the Riots” and discussed the four-part Ira Glass lecture about how to become a good storyteller. These are all linked on the Week 10 page of the online syllabus.

If you did not watch every second of the four Ira Glass videos, DO IT NOW!!! They are too good to miss!

Extra goodness:

Angela Grant has a very good post on her blog, News Videographer, about learning how to do voiceovers (narration). Even though she is talking about video and not Soundslides, the same rules apply!

Class on Sept. 27

I showed a PowerPoint related to the assigned readings. The PowerPoint also contained links to extra stuff, including a guide to ethics for editing audio. You can copy the PowerPoint from the “Handouts” folder on the network drive.

We talked about interview tips; use of microphones (including the wireless lavaliers and shotgun mics), boom poles and table mic stands; the Nat SOT in the koala story; how broadcast journalists write their scripts.

I showed a Soundslides about an indoor archery class. It demonstrates a nice use of a “sound bed.” This example is similar to what you should be able to get for your Soundslides 1 assignment.

We also talked about picking the most interesting character. Who is the most interesting person in the archery photos?

Then you learned some techniques for multitrack editing in Audacity. The second Audacity handout can be found here. Note: The “Split” command is on the Edit menu in Audacity. The “Duplicate” command is explained in the handout, but sometimes, you will want to use “Split” instead.

The two WAV files for the in-class editing assignment are linked on this page. I recommend that you also listen to the five MP3 files linked there. Each one is about one minute in length. I think you will understand a little more about “sound beds” if you listen to these. Like the guitar player, these sounds were recorded by me while I was in Mexico in the summer of 2006. You’ll hear differing quality even though I used the same recorder and mic for all the files.

You can really hear a big difference between the street band MP3 and the church singing MP3. Why? Think about where I was standing or sitting. Think about the space. I was walking in the street right beside the band, with brass horns! Ouch!

Are you too close? Are you too far away? Use your headphones!

Today’s class (Sept. 20)

What we did today:

First, we discussed the Soundslides 1 assignment. Even though the due date is far in the future (Week 10), you have to know what your story is NOW — because your Photo 1 assignment is to shoot the very same photos you will be using in that first Soundslides.

  • Week 5 (today)
  • Week 6: Photo 1 due
  • Week 7: Nothing due (work on photo reshoots and/or audio)
  • Week 8: Blogging 2 due
  • Week 9: Nothing due (work on photo captions and/or audio)
  • Week 10: Soundslides 1 due

As I cautioned in class, it is up to you to budget your time and gather your AUDIO, as well as your photos, for Soundslides 1.

Signing Out the Audio Gear

You might be wondering how to get the audio gear so you can gather your audio. (Hmm … no one asked that in class.) Well, you will be signing out the audio equipment from one of our grad students, Gary Ritzenthaler.

The way to do it: Go to the IML (Interactive Media Lab, 3219 Weimer) during Gary’s OFFICE HOURS (see chart on this page) and sign out the equipment. Gary will handle everything. Pay attention to the return time — everybody has to share the equipment! Do not keep it out late!

DO NOT go to the IML at times other than Gary’s office hours. No one else in the IML is authorized to help you or give you the gear. There are classes held in that lab. If you waltz in at another time, you might be interrupting a professor’s class!

If you have your own recorder, Gary can sign out a microphone and cable to you (without a recorder). MAKE SURE you always use a proper external mic — and WEAR YOUR HEADPHONES.

Kobré Text

We discussed the assigned readings, especially the ethics chapter. I emphasized these points:

  1. NEVER ask anyone to do anything (except for a portrait)
  2. We are NOT doing any portraits, ever, in this class
  3. Using a model: NEVER (except in a photo illustration)
  4. We are NOT doing any photo illustrations, ever, in this class
  5. NEVER move anything, e.g., the Coke bottle

Eisa and Shifen noted that the standards discussed in the Kobré text are not practiced in many other countries. This is very true! Of course, since we are here, we will follow U.S. professional standards for photojournalism.

I also emphasized:

  1. Cropping a photo is okay.
  2. Erasing is not okay.
  3. Dodging and burning is questionable.
  4. Never erase anything.
  5. Never add anything.

We discussed “readers’ favorites” vs. what photo editors consider the “best” photos (MSNBC: Year in Pictures, 2005).

As for the photo editing chapter: You should read and re-read the first part about how photo editors judge and select pictures. These later sections are important for your continued reference:

  • Cropping (pp. 209–11)
  • Sizing (pp. 211–16): Make sure you have read this!!
  • Captions (pp. 220–223): You will need this for your Soundslides!!

The slideshow I showed you to illustrate “the rule of thirds” and other principles of photo composition is in the “Handouts” folder on the L: drive. You can access the L: drive from any computer lab in Weimer (log in with your usual mmc6936a login). You may copy the PowerPoint, but for your own use only. Do not e-mail it or post it online.

Photo Editing in Photoshop

Students practiced being a photo editor by selecting the best three photos from another student’s take from last week. After selecting the three, they then had to edit them for the Web. In Photoshop:

  1. Crop the photo (if necessary)
  2. Adjust the levels (Image menu — Adjustments — Levels) as necessary; don’t overdo it
  3. Change the RESOLUTION to 72 ppi (see the handout); this is for the Web — it would be different if we were printing or publishing in print
  4. Change the width OR height — in PIXELS (also in the handout)
  5. Save for Web (explained in the handout)

Note that it is always important, when preparing photos for the Web, to know the maximum width and the maximum height that are required. Your Photo 1 assignment specifies a maximum width and height. Make sure you use them!

Note: It is not necessary that a photo have the maximum in both dimensions. ONE dimension (either width OR height) will be LESS THAN the maximum for that dimension, while the other will be equal to the maximum.

Today’s class, Sept. 13

We started photo work today with a simple in-class exercise. The preliminary work looks good. Next week the students will edit their take from today.

Here is what they were told to do:

  1. Choose one normal activity that each of you can do, individually. (For example: get a bottled drink from a drink machine; wash your hands; read a book.)
  2. Choose ONE location and stay there.
  3. First, student A does the activity, while student B shoots.
  4. Second, student B does the activity, while student A shoots. (Each of you does the SAME activity in the same place.)
  5. Each of you must shoot the following types of shots of the other student:
    • Overall (at least 4)
    • Medium (at least 6)
    • Close-up (at least 6)
    • Detail (super-close: hands, feet, wherever the action is — at least 4)
    • Total = at least 20 photos!!!! You can have more!
  6. DO NOT tell your subject what to do. The subject simply repeats the activity until the photographer says s/he is finished.
  7. Try to get VARIETY in each type of shot. Remember: low or high angle. Unusual angle.

Your goal is to get comfortable shooting a person a whole lot, and try to make the shots look good.

The student who is the subject should try to ignore the photographer as much as possible. Do not talk to the photographer. Just perform the activity repeatedly until you are told to stop.

This is not journalism. This is fake.

Students’ blogs

As students send me their blog URLs for the class, I am posting them in my blogroll (at right).

The first blogging assignment is due by 9 a.m. today.