What inspires you?

As winter term comes to a close and graduation moves ever closer, many seniors (including this one) are starting to worry about what is next.  Graduate school? An internship? Unemployment?

The future is uncertain and all of us are in need of a little encouragement and hope.

On Wednesday evening, Mike Posner, an up and coming musician, asked this of his Facebook friends and Twitter followers: “What inspires you?”

Many replied with “music” or “friends.” But I have to agree with what nearly half of the people responded – “you,” that is, Posner himself. His story gives inspiration and hope to me and many other undergraduates.

In 2009, Posner released two mixtapes and signed a record deal while completing his undergraduate degree at Duke University, and all before reaching age 22.  His immediate success is undeniable.

The first I heard of Posner was New Years Eve when I attended his concert in West Hollywood.  My friends had run across his free mixtapes through word of mouth on the internet and insisted that I had to come with them to the concert.  As a little teaser to what I was about to witness live, they introduced me to this song: “Mirrors Edge”. I was not disappointed.  And I hope you weren’t either.

But it is not the speed of his success that makes him so inspirational, it is the story behind it.  Posner accomplished his dreams during the time we were all being educated about what ours might be.  He produced the majority of his songs in his dorm room. He used the internet and social networking to gain recognition. He coordinated with other artists such as Kid Cudi, Clinton Sparks, and Big Sean. And he worked continually on his music and schooling, even after getting signed a record deal. He is a prime example of how hard work ethic can help you accomplish even the most daunting of dreams.

Perez Hilton captures Posner’s story best:  “Chatting With… Mike Posner”

Success stories such as Posner’s make me hopeful for whatever is to come in my own future. And it gives me motivation and inspiration to work as hard as I can to get what I want out of my career, relationships, and life in general.

So now ask yourself, what inspires you?

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It’s a Balancing Act

Technology has become the backbone of creative journalism.

Besides the written word, photographs, audio, video, animation and so many other forms of expression are readily available for those who are willing to manipulate them.  The creative possibilities are endless.

The tricky part, however, is figuring out which form(s) will best tell your story.  Video footage? A written article plus one or two choice photographs? A photo essay?

One combination that is underused is the audio slide show.  Still photographs combined with captions and audio clips can actually convey a story with much visual and audio appeal – if it is done right.  (My current photojournalism assignment requires me to make such a slide show, so I have come to appreciate the style.)

People often pass over slide shows in favor of video, and in most cases, this is a good choice.  However, there are times where the scene/event/story is too slow or spread out to provide captivating video footage but can provide intriguing photographs.  Great photo essays are born from such situations.

Journalists rarely think to add audio to the photo essay, preferring to rely on the captions to provide any detail the photographs may leave out.  What these journalists have neglected to consider, however, is the impact that audio can have on the audience.  Audio just adds another level of personality and emotion to a photo essay.

The example provided below (though not as riveting as others I have seen) shows how audio can add to the photos.  The first time you view it, turn the sound off and just rely on the captions and photos to tell the story. Then the second time, turn the sound back on and watch it again.  Which viewing holds your attention better?

If the second viewing was more enjoyable, then the producer did his job.

Journalism is a balancing act of sense appeal.  One in which you have to ask yourself which media form will most successfully portray the story?  Do the pictures speak for themselves? Will audio improve or impede the overall viewing experience for the audience? Would video footage portray the story better? Or would a simple print article suffice?

Test it out, try different combinations.  Explore the creative possibilities that technology has provided us storytellers.

More examples of good audio slide shows:
Guitar Lessons at the Central Area Senior Center from the Seattle Times.
Picture the Homeless Chasing Chase from Housing is a Human Right on Vimeo.

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This I Believe…

This post is submitted as a contribution to “This I Believe”, which is an international public dialogue about beliefs and values that guide our every day lives.


Listen to or read the transcript of my submission below:


I remember the first moment I realized I was in love.

We were standing over a wishing well near his family’s mountain cabin, surrounded by a sea of blooming flowers, when we looked at each other and knew that we were about to wish for the exact same thing.

But just as vividly, I remember the first moment I realized my heart was breaking.  I was nearly choking from the pain of it and all he could do was hold me and remind me to breath.

He was my best friend even before we started dating, and we promised to stay best friends even after – no matter how hard it may be at first.  We were still in love but we were also very young.  And it was time for us to move away and experience our own, separate lives.

Nothing really changed at first; I’m sure most people still thought we were together.  Slowly, but surely, though, we began to drift apart.  One less phone call this week.  One less text today.  And, eventually, we started dating other people.

It was weird at first and to this day, we rarely talk about our separate love lives.  It’s been a constant challenge for both of us, but our promise held strong – we are still best friends.  He was the first person I wanted to tell when my brother’s baby was born, the first person I called when my grandma’s cancer came back. We still care about each other.  We still love each other.

But our love has changed, just as our relationship has.

No matter how much I wonder what it would be like if we had stayed together – how much different our lives would be today – I know I would never change a second of our relationship.

It has been six years since I first told him I loved him and though the sentiment behind the words has changed and matured and grown with us, it stands as true today as it did back then.

People may have told you that love changes you forever, and, to be honest, I think they are right.  The lessons and memories I gained from this love can never be duplicated.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.”

That love may fade, that love may change, but that love can never be replaced… This, I will always believe.

Wordle: firstlove


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To Tweet or Not to Tweet

That is the question.

It may not be as poetic or eternal as Shakespeare’s version, but it does hold quite the meaning for today’s journalists.

Is this Twitter thing here to stay? Is it an effective contributor to the media world? Will I benefit from participating in this microblogging phenomenon?

Yes, yes, and yes.  If you aren’t already on Twitter, make your account now. Even if Twitter doesn’t survive, another form of microblogging is likely to take its place, so you might as well get acquainted with it.  At least that’s what Mark Briggs, author of Journalism Next and Journalism 2.0, preaches.

Photo courtesy of journalism20.com

As a visitor to the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, Briggs spoke to hundreds of journalism students and professors about the future of journalism.  Unlike many traditionalist journalists who think the field has taken a turn for the worst, Briggs sees a bright path ahead.  As long as we are willing to do the leg work.

Briggs emphasizes that we are the future of journalism.  You, me, and ever other aspiring journalist.  Not the current or future technology.  It is up to us to decide where journalism goes.

And if you’ve made that Twitter account, you’ve taken the first step towards influencing the future of journalism. It is a powerful media tool that, if used correctly, can influence millions of people.

As Briggs put it, Twitter is what you make of it.  While some people use it for social purposes, the major Tweet geeks have found more professional and productive uses for their 140 character entries. Whether it be a news article, video, or piece of your own work, Twitter allows its users to share information with the rest of the microblogging world.

If you don’t know what to say, then just listen and learn.  If you follow the right crowd then Tweets can actually add to your education.  The more you read, the more you learn.

If you are worried about privacy, do not fear – you can make your profile private so that only those you give approval to can read your entries.  Doing this keeps you from contributing to the whole sphere, though, so I strongly encourage you to leave it public.

Still skeptical? Start small. Just log on and search a subject that interests you. You might be surprised at what you find.  (Or if you just want an example, check out my Twitter feed on the right of this page.)

Microblogging is just a small piece of the future of journalism.  But it is a step in the right direction.  Who knows where it might lead you.

Take it and run with it.  Find your niche. “Make a dent in the universe” like Briggs hopes you will.

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Competition: a blessing or a burden?

I have often heard it argued that competition fuels progress.  Scientists fight to be the first to prove a new theory.  Athletes push each other to get the new world record.  Journalists scramble to be the first to cover a story.

It is competition which drives us to do better, make advances in our career field.  We view competition as a reason to push ourselves, take risks.

But, as Mark Briggs points out in Journalism Next, sometimes competition can hinder progress.

Journalism is ever changing, with arguably the largest change to date being the incorporation of the Internet.  This transition was, and still is, burdened with uncertainty.  Everything was new and there is so much that had yet to be explored.  But the competition remains.

In this beginning, however, the competition hindered risk taking and advances.  Competition kept journalistic sources from taking risks that would provide better material for their audiences.

I’m talking about link journalism or, as Briggs describes it, the use of  “editorial judgment to provide links to other sources of news and information, based on the needs and interests of a particular audience.”  It is the opposite of competition; it’s collaboration.  It goes against all our competitive instincts, but it can bring new life and depth to journalism if we allow it.

Before the Internet, the option to link one news source to another was simply not there.  Linking one print story to another would only have caused confusion amongst the audience.  So, as Briggs explains, when linking did become an option, many journalists were hesitant:

“For years, linking to ‘the competition’– other news sites –was either explicitly or tactily prohibited.  ‘If we send readers somewhere else, they might not come back,’ the thinking went.”

Link journalism provides the opportunity for reporters to provide more well-rounded coverage of any given story.  It allows readers to see more of what journalists see – what contributes to the article they produced.  This includes previous coverage, background information, and video and photography related to the subject.  And more than that, it challenges reporters to be the source that their audience looks to for great coverage.

It took some bold reporters and editors to start this wave of new journalism, and even bolder ones to take it to the level it has currently reached with link journalism fully incorporated.

Not only has link journalism made its presence known in journalism, but it has also opened to door to even more collaborative journalism strategies such as crowdsourcing, pro-am journalism, and open-source reporting in general.

And to think, if those few bold journalists had listened to their competitive instincts link journalism and all the advantages it offers may not be available today.

Competition: both a burden and a blessing.

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Precision journalism today

How do you get your ideas for news stories? Through police reports? Twitter? Trusted sources?

Journalists come up with all different strategies to get the lead on a story, but whether it be waiting for a source to call or a tweet to spark your interest the process is passive.  Patience is a virtue, right?

But what if we didn’t have to wait for a lead? What if we could create the news? I’m not saying to go provoke an incident just for the story, but actually create a news story from what you already have at hand.

That’s exactly what Stephen K. Doig does: he creates the news.

During the half forgotten days of mainframes and tape readers, Doig and his colleagues turned coverage of a hurricane into the unearthing of major building code violations.  If he could do that in times where few newspapers could afford such technology, imagine what we could unearth with the endless technology that has fallen at our finger tips.

Satellite imagery, mapping programs, Microsoft Access and Excel, and readily available databases have made precision journalism a possibility for all reporters.

As Doig said, these are an “empowering set of tools to learn.”

Interested in following in Doig’s footsteps? Here are some tips to get you started in computer-assisted reporting:

  • First, check out Doig’s “What Went Wrong” to see how statistical analysis and hypothesis testing can work itself into a Pulitzer Prize winning piece.
  • Get acquainted with Excel.
  • Know which databases will serve you well over and over, like the property tax database and Census 2010.
  • Be relentless. You may even meet obstacles when trying to obtain a public record, but you need to show them you are not going to back down easily.
  • Always interview the people you are reporting about; confront them about the data you found.
  • When it’s time to turn it into a story, focus on one big number or pattern.  Don’t let the data clutter the story. You can show the rest of the data in a table on the side.

It takes education and dedication to become a precision journalist.  Not everyone can do it. So, use the tools that have been given to you and go create some news.

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Finally: Immersion journalism and multimedia combine

Ian Fisher, his family, friends, and the U.S. Army allowed Denver Post reporters and a photographer to follow them throughout the entirety of his 27 months in the Army – from recruitment to return home – documenting how a soldier is made.  And the result is everything I hoped it would be:

Ian Fisher – American Soldier

Photo credit: Craig F. Walker

Photographs.  Videos.  In-depth story.  And extras that let the viewer to delve even deeper into Ian’s story than the 63 page article, 10 videos, and endless number of photos already allow.

My favorite part? The fact that they used an interactive magazine layout for the story section. The reader literally flips through the pages of the story, where captivating photographs meet even more captivating words. While this is not the first interactive magazine to hit the web (see FLYP Media), it is by far the best and most creative combination of multimedia and immersion journalism that have come across so far.

No matter how much I boast about this multimedia extravaganza, the best thing I can possibly do is pass on the link and let you experience it for yourself. So:

Look, read, watch, and feel the power of emotion and intrigue that such dedicated journalism can create.

This is everything (and more) that I have been craving from new media journalist. Good work, Denver Post. Good work.

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