Monday, 20 July 2009

Testing some audio-blogging tools for journalists

Mobile podcasting can be a real boon for newspaper journalists on a breaking story - it's a quick, easy way to get a story out. For the listener, it feels fast, real, and engaging - and it's also a simple way of filing copy back to the office.
I guess we're all too attached to our lovely, weighty prose but there are always more apps coming along to to make podcasting easier on-the-go so it's worth giving it a try.

The latest one arrived yesterday courtesy of a tweet from The Pauls (Kinlan and Rawlings, creators of FriendDeck, among other things) who asked for testers for Friendboo - a new FriendFeed podcasting tool. In their own words:
FriendBoo is a super simple audio blogging application built for the users of Friendfeed. All you need is a Friendfeed account and a regular phone.
It's in very early beta so a few gremlins were unavoidable but it's looking promising. I reckon regional newspapers with FriendFeed sites could potentially use this as an easy 'audio-comment under stories' option for readers.
I like it because it's a unique, dynamic addition to a site that is, for many users, a simply a nexus point for information from other sites. Probably more importantly for the developers Robert Scoble is also a new fan.
So, after a couple of tests I thought I'd see how it compared with other sites I've used.

PROS: Simple dial-in; available for UK and USA users; established commenting facility; cross-posting; fast, embeddable; sharing options, decent sound quality.
CONS: Early beta means inevitable hiccups; not the prettiest embed.
Friendfeed account required.

Undoubtedly the most popular site (for now - it's amazing how faddy the web is) - is Audioboo which I tried out for the first time using an iPod touch with external mic (cost me £19.99 from Apple and works brilliantly with the Skype app). The embedded player looks lovely, and the sound quality is excellent but it's really restricting its audience to App-olytes right now. I've synched my Nokia to the Audioboo account but I've never managed to get it to work properly.
*UPDATE: Sarah Hartley's instructions on how to 'boo from a Nokia are here


PROS: Ecellent sound quality; very simple; cross-posting options; photo-adding; rating and comment facilities, fast, free, attractive embed.
CONS: Unavailable for non-iPhone users (does work with iPod Touch with external mic); doesn't feel as much of a social media option as the others.
Audioboo account required.

For non-Apple users, Ipadio is a good option. Discovered this back in May and although I've not had cause to use it since I have kept it at the back of my mind as an exciting new site. The sound quality is good and the embed is very nice, although I don't like the 'second phonecast' text. What's the point of it?

PROS: Simple to use, low-cost, good sound quality, embed and subscribe options, fast-loading site, short PIN, fast upload, cross-posting; free service ('right now' according to the blurb).
CONS: Dont like the 'Another fine phonephlog' cross-post text;
Ipadio account required

And, for nostalgia sake, I returned to Utterli, a site I loved right up until the moment they stopped taking calls from the UK because of costs. Using it with my laptop I recorded and uploaded an Utter in seconds (I think the limit is a 10 minute podcast) but mobile-podcasting isn't an option so that makes it pretty limited.

Mobile post sent by Alison using Utterlireply-count Replies.  mp3

You upload with text, video or photos if you wish, and others respond via audio or text. It's a nice idea, and I wish the phone option still worked.

PROS: Free (from laptop); easily embedded, cross-posting, photo and video uploads supported, good social media opportunities, community-building.
CONS: Not available on mobile in UK; not always great sound quality.
Utterli account required

So, which would I use? Right now I'd say Ipadio is the most functional although - like Audioboo - it's more about broadcasting than conversation. But I think Friendboo could be very good once it's ready to launch and the threaded conversation opportunities are far greater. Look forward to seeing how it develops.

Back on Utterli

and it's been a while... I wish phoning in from the UK still worked :(

Mobile post sent by Alison using Utterlireply-count Replies.  mp3

Who'll teach the new tricks now the old dogs have left?

Last week I got tricked up in a gown and mortarboard to graduate from the Journalism Leaders Course, courtesy of a Trinity Mirror team-up with UCLan.
It was a good day but it struck me as I sat in Preston Guildhall that there was a very large number of newly-qualified journalists sat in rows around me. And that was just from UCLan - I guess all over the country hundreds of journalists are pouring, freshly-minted, into the World of Work.
I'd bet some are better equipped to cope with the changing industry they hope to enter than many of those already ensconsed, but still - there were a lot of people in that hall.
I wish them all the best for the future, and I'm happy that so many people still want to pursue a career in journalism; open minds coming in to the industry are just what we need - I hope whichever newsroms they wind up in appreciates the optimism, ambition and training that has walked through the door.

Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, was awarded an Honorary Fellowship, which meant he had to sing for his supper, ie. make a speech. He kicked off with the obligatory hilarious story about something involving interviewing a turkey for regional televizzzzzzzzzzzzz... but then he moved on to the future of journalism, and the BBC, and it got more interesting.

He spoke of the move to Salford Quays, and said it would create hundreds of quality journalism jobs (so kudos to UCLan for getting in ahead of the competition and making him a Fellow - nothing like having friends in high places).
And he also spoke at length about the need to mainstain standards, saying that technology was changing journalism and journalists but that the core values of a brand - by which I assume he meant accuracy, status, reputation etc - should always be a constant, no matter what other changes occurred.

But it all sounded so passionless. This was a room filled with talent, from newly-fledged hacks to broadcasters, but there was nothing I heard that would have inspired me at the start of my career. I might have been vaguely comforted by the idea of those 'hundreds of jobs' but no more than that.

Driving back from Preston I found myself thinking of when I was a cub reporter covering Pembroke magistrates court. It boasted a press bench that had gained some fame among Welsh journalists as reporters from local nespapers, tv, radio and even some exotics from the nationals, had sat and added their names to the oak banding around the green leather table top down the years.

My late and so-much-missed colleague Vernon Scott once told me he wanted to buy the press bench because of the journalistic history etched on its timbers. His name was there, of course, and - after a few weeks of recording the misdeeds of the recidivists of Pembroke borough, so was mine, next to the name of Hugh Turnbull, carved when he was a local reporter covering Pembroke court. He went on to become a national news editor and the brain behind Blackie the Donkey.

I remember a lot of the names on that bench still - Len Mullins, John Evans, Martin Cavaney - they were local legends, and adding my name alongside theirs made me feel a bit of a fraud, because I worried I would never be as good as them.
These were some of the people who helped me learn my trade; working alongside them I learned more than I ever did from swotting for the NCE.
I wonder how many of those newly-qualified journalists I sat by in Preston will have similar old dogs to help them learn new tricks - to discover the real stuff of being a local reporter, and a writer. I fear that there won't be that many... they've taken redundancy, early retirement or the PR option.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Using old and new media for breaking news

A crane fell down in Liverpool today, crashing onto an apartment block, and I knew about it within seconds, from two sources.
One was eyewitness who rang the Echo - it being the kind of local paper that people do still ring when things happen - and the other was Thom Shannon sat in an office near the scene of the accident, who twittered what had happened:

Within seconds Thom and Stuart Robarts at FACT had photos online via Twitpic and Flickr (Thom used a rather ingenious method of combining iPhone and binoculars to get a shot) before photographer extraordinaire, Pete Carr, heard about the news and headed off with his kit.
His photos are here.
The Echo and Post had great copy, a map, images and video on the websites but it was taking too long to cache, so we made sure the papers Twitter streams kept up constant breaking news with links back to our copy, while retweeting locals who had images on Flickr and other sites.

There was the inevitable 'who needs newspapers' tweet...

Need newspapers? maybe not, but a lot of those on my networks wanted journalists to ask the questions they wanted answers to. After all, everyone knew one fact - a crane had fallen onto flats - but it was journalists from the Post&Echo who were trying to fill in the details.
So you have...

followed by...

Scores of people were asking if anyone was hurt, were people trapped, just what had happened - and we were able to answer those queries only because we had reporters on the ground, in the office making phone calls to the emergency services, and talking to the HSE, among other. We managed to wrongly credit @FACT_Liverpool on the Echo's changed front page but since the story broke as the print run was in progress, it was inevitable a mistake would creep through.

Anyway, it was a good way to combine as many different strands of storytelling as possible. Traditional print, mixed with online social media, staff video and photos, and broke the news, then kept updating the story, very effectively.

I also put together a quick Dipity Flipbook of a feed grabbed from Twitter Search, which should update itself in the future.

I could have made the search term wider but you'd be amazed how many tweets contain the word 'crane' without it ever being in reference to "Any arm which swings about a vertical axis at one end, used for supporting a suspended weight", let alone collapsing ones.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Cutting the contributions budget could really cost us

In my reporting and newsdesking days I sometimes got asked by a caller ringing in with a tale if there was any hope of us paying for the information. In the regionals I've worked on, we never paid for information although if the story was likely to sell, and good enough, we'd help arrange syndication and the subject would get a cut.

We bought did pay freelance photographers and writers for their work but the freelance budget has shrunk down to the barest of bones in recent years; I suspect most freelance writers now view regional newspapers as a lost cause, and freelance photographers probably wonder if the fee will cover the cost of the fuel getting there.

Yes times are hard, but a slashed contributions budget is a frustrating and humiliating thing for a newsroom. We want those dramatic rescue photos but can we pay for them? It's not that we won't, it's that often we can't.
Believe me, when you have to say "sorry but we don't have a budget for that" to someone who has captured something of real local significance you feel cheap, and you sound cheap.It's making local newspapers look bad at a time when they can ill afford it and invites 'price of everything, value of nothing' comments.
Newspapers have taken for years, and known the value of what they were taking. In the future, we'd better be a bit more accommodating.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Discovering the joys of FriendDeck

Anyone who follows me here or on Twitter may have picked up on my 'like it but keep forgetting to use it' attitude towards FriendFeed.
I mean, I see the purpose of it, but I'm always forgetting to log in to the website - it's not an essential part of my network yet.
So I was intrigued when I noticed a tweet from Liverpool software developer @PaulKinlan (of and the late, lamented fame) referencing something called 'FriendDeck'. I sent him a message back asking what it was and he responded with a very modest:

He added it was also available as an Adobe Air client too. It took me a few hours but I eventually found time to go an explore FriendDeck, and already I really like it.
I'm still playing around with it but on first impressions I'd have to say it works well - it's very fast, user-friendly, looks like Tweetdeck (which is a good thing) and has the ability to share, like or open the original link.
This is the one I set up to try it out (click to enlarge the image):

Good isn't it? It also has (but I've got the thing to large for them to show on the grab) my FF thread, groups I belong to, and my friends FF thread - all in one handy app. And that solves the problem I've had with the FF website - I have to flip backwards and forwards between my groups, my friends, me...
Plus I can post direct from it, and close off columns as I wish, and add new ones.
Anyway. If you want to try it you can find FriendDeck here.
I think I've finally found something that will make me use FriendFeed regularly.