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NYTimes.com: The Sugar Inc. ‘little media empire’

The New York Times takes a look at Lisa and Brian Sugar’s ‘little media empire,’ Sugar Inc., composed of 12 blogs, 11 million readers a month and advertisers such as Chanel and Sony.

“In 2007, Sugar, which is backed by Sequoia Capital and has 105 employees, acquired ShopStyle, an e-commerce site. Today it brings in half of Sugar’s revenue. At ShopStyle, shoppers can browse online retailers’ selections, and Sugar gets paid when they click through to a retailer or make a purchase.”

Full story at this link…

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Adam Westbrook: 6×6 video for freelance journalists

August 20th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Multimedia, Training

This is the second in a series of six blog posts by Adam Westbrook, each with six tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists, republished here with permission.

Follow the series at this link or visit Adam’s blog.

Video
Video has by far and away become the most popular medium for the multimedia journalist – to the extent it almost seems many won’t consider it a truly multimedia project unless it’s got a bit of video in it. The thing is, video is a tricky medium and must be treated differently in the world of online journalism.

1) Video doesn’t need to be expensive
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t do video just because you haven’t got any cash. Sure, if you want to go right to the top range, say a Sony EX3, Final Cut Pro and After Effects, yes, it’s going to set you back about £3,000 ($5,000). But high quality can be achieved on lower budgets.

Check out my article on how I put together an entire film making kit for £500 ($800).

2) Shoot for the edit
If there’s one piece of advice for multimedia journalists making films – it comes from Harris Watts, in a book he published 20 years ago. In ‘Directing on Camera’ he describes exactly what shooting footage is:

“Shooting is collecting pictures and sound for editing (…) so when you shoot, shoot for editing. Take your shots in a way that keeps your options open.”

Filming with the final piece firmly in mind will keep your shooting focused and short. So when you start filming, start looking for close ups and sequences. The latter is the hardest: an action which tells your story, told over two or more shots.

Sequences are vital to storytelling and must be thought through.

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind
A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind
Then to a wide shot of the same action...
Then to a wide shot of the same action…
...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail
…and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

3) Master depth of field
In online video, close-ups matter. The most effective way to hold close-ups – especially of a person – is to master depth of field. Put simply the depth of field how much of your shot in front of and behind your subject is kept in focus. It is controlled by the aperture on your camera – so you’ll need a camera with a manual iris setting.

Your aim – especially with close-ups – is to have your subject in clear focus, and everything behind them blurred: Alexandra Garcia does it very well in her Washington Post In-Scene series. (HT: Innovative Interactivity)

Screenshot: Innovative InteractivityScreenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Here’s a quick guide to getting to grips with depth of field:

  1. you need a good distance between the camera and subject
  2. a good distance between the subject and the background
  3. and a low f-stop on your iris – around f2.8, depending on how much light there is in your scene. A short focal length does this too.
  4. You may need to zoom in on your subject from a distance

4) Never wallpaper
If there was ever an example of the phrase ‘easier said than done’ this would be it. It’s a simple tip on first read: make sure every shot in your film is there for a reason. But with pressures of time or bad planning you can often find yourself ‘wallpapering’ shots just to fill a gap.

In his excellent book The Television News Handbook Vin Ray says following this rule will help you out no end:

“One simple rule will dramatically improve your television packaging: never use a shot – any shot – as wallpaper’. Never just write across pictures as though they weren’t there, leaving the viewer wondering what they’re looking at. Never ever.”

5) Look for the detail and the telling shot
Broadcast journalists are taught to look for the ‘telling shot’, and more often than not make it the first image. If your story is about a fire at a school, the first thing the audience need to see is the school on fire. If it’s about a woman with cancer, we must see her in shot immediately.

But the telling shot extends further: you can enhance your storytelling by looking for little details which really bring your story to life.

Vin Ray says looking for the little details are what set great camera operators apart from the rest:

“Small details make a big difference. Nervous hands; pictures on a mantelpiece; someone whispering into an ear; a hand clutching a toy; details of a life.”

I’m midway through shooting a short documentary about a former prisoner turned lawyer. One of the first things I noticed when I met him was a copy of the Shawshank Redemption on his coffee table – a great little vignette to help understand the character.

6) Break the rules
The worst thing a multimedia journalist can do when producing video for the web is to replicate television – unless that’s your commission of course. TV is full of rules and formulas, all designed to hide edits, look good to the eye, and sometimes deceive. Fact is, online video journalism provides the chance to escape all that.

Sure it must look good, but be prepared to experiment – you’ll be amazed what people will put up with online:

  • Cutaways are often used to cover over edits in interviews; why not be honest and use a simple flash-dissolve instead. Your audience deserves to know where you’ve edited, right?
  • TV packages can’t operate without being leaden with voice over, but your online films don’t need to be.
  • Piece to cameras don’t need to be woodenly delivered with the camera on a tripod.

The final word…
Here’s VJ pioneer David Dunkley-Gyimah speaking at this year’s SxSW event in the US:

When it comes to the net, there is no code yet as I believe that is set in stone (…) we’ve all been taking TV’s language and applying that and it hasn’t quite worked. Video journalism needs a more cinematic, heightened visual base.”

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All-day interview tips from @NewsLeader – Wednesday 27th May

Tomorrow, from 8am to 8pm, @NewsLeader aka Justin Kings, will be tweeting tips from BBC and commercial broadcasters as ‘a day of advice aimed at producing better interviews’.

“Journalists from BBC Radio 1 and the World Service, editors from Sony nominated Beacon Radio and Jack FM, and BBC local radio are amongst the contributors,” Kings, who runs the media consultancy NewsLeader, told Journalism.co.uk.

“I think it’s exciting because it’s rare that people from BBC and commercial sectors get to share best practice with each other,” Kings said. “It’s not too late to share tips via @newsleader,” he added.

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Audio additions at Guardian.co.uk – The Business / video features for football podcast

April 9th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Multimedia, Online Journalism

More audio content is planned for Guardian.co.uk: this week saw the launch of The Business, a weekly finance and economics podcast. Next to follow will be regular video features off the back of the weekly football podcast, the Guardian’s head of audio, Matt Wells, told Journalism.co.uk.

Jeff Jarvis’ monthly Media Talk USA launched last week: “The idea was this: all the major developments in global media, from digital innovations like Google and YouTube, to the crisis in print journalism, started in the US before spreading here. It makes sense to chronicle those developments in the same fashion as we follow the UK media scene with Media Talk,” Matt Wells told Journalism.co.uk.

Media Talk has recently been nominated for best internet programme in the Sony radio awards, he added.

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Q&A with an information architect (aka @currybet aka Martin Belam)

March 11th, 2009 | 6 Comments | Posted by in Jobs, Newspapers, Online Journalism

Martin Belam, of the CurryBet blog, has recently been appointed as ‘information architect’ for Guardian.co.uk. Journalism.co.uk asked him what he’ll be doing for the site…

For those who don’t know what you do, fill us in your background and the new gig…
[MB] I was at the Hack Day that the Guardian’s technology department ran back in November 2008, and the talent and enthusiasm that day really shone. I’ve really enjoyed the freedom of working as a consultant over the last three years, much of the time based either in Crete or in Austria, but the opportunity of coming to work more permanently for an organisation as forward-thinking as the Guardian is being with initiatives like the Open Platform was too much to resist.

So, an ‘information architect’ what does that mean and what are you doing?
Information Architecture has been defined as ‘the emerging art and science of organising large-scale websites’.

All websites have an inherent information structure – the navigation, the contextual links on a page, whether there are tags describing content and so forth. It is about how people navigate and way-find their way through the information presented on a site.

What I’ll be doing at the Guardian is influencing that structure and functionality as new digital products are developed. It involves working closely with design and editorial teams to produce ‘wireframes’, the blueprints of web design, and also involves being an advocate for the end user – carrying out lots of usability and prototype testing as ideas are developed.

Is it a full-time role?
I’m working four days a week at The Guardian, as I still have some other commitments – for example as contributing editor for FUMSI magazine – although already it feels a bit like cramming a full-time job into just 80 per cent of the time!

It’s not happy times for mainstream media brands: where are they going wrong?
I don’t think it is only mainstream media brands that are suffering from the disruption caused by digital transition, but we do see a lot of focus on this issue for print businesses at the moment. I think one of the things that strikes me, having worked at several big media companies now, including the BBC and Sony, is that you would never set these organisations up in this way in the digital era if you were doing it from scratch.

One of the things that appealed most about joining the Guardian was that the move to Kings Place has brought together the print, online and technical operations in a way that wasn’t physically possible before in the old offices. I’m still very optimistic that there are real opportunities out there for the big media brands that can get their business structures right for the 21st century.

What kind of things do you think could re-enthuse UK readers for their newspapers?
I think our core and loyal readers are still enthusiastic about their papers, but that as an industry we have to face the fact that there is an over-supply of news in the UK, and a lot of it – whether it is on the radio, TV, web or thrust into your hand as a freebie – is effectively free at the point of delivery. I think the future will see media companies who concentrate on playing to their strengths benefit from better serving a narrower target audience.

Do you see print becoming the by rather than primary product for the Guardian – or has that already happened?
I think there might very well be a ‘sweet spot’ in the future where the display quality on network-enabled mobile devices and the ubiquity of data through-the-air means that the newspaper can be delivered primarily in that way, but I don’t see the Guardian’s presses stopping anytime soon. Paper is still a very portable format, and it never loses connection or runs out of batteries.

Your background is in computer programming rather than journalism, will the two increasingly overlap?
I grew up in the generation that had BBC Micros and ZX Spectrums at home, so I used to program a lot as a child, but my degree was actually in History, which in itself is a very journalistic calling. I specialised in the Crusades and the Byzantine Empire, which is all about piecing together evidence from a range of sources of varying degrees of reliability, and synthesizing a coherent narrative and story from there. And, of course, I’ve spent most of this decade blogging, which utilises ‘some’ of the journalist’s skill-set ‘some’ of the time.

Whilst I’d never suggest that journalists need to learn computer programming much beyond a smattering of HTML, I think there is something to be gained from understanding the software engineering mindset. There are a lot of tools and techniques that can really help journalists plough through data to get at the heart of a story, or to use visualisation tools to help tell that story to their audience.

One of the most interesting things about working at the Guardian is the opportunity to work alongside people like Kevin Anderson, Charles Arthur and Simon Willison, who I think really represent that blending of the technical and journalistic cultures.

You’ve spoken out about press regulation before; why do you feel strongly about it?
In a converged media landscape, it seems odd that Robert Peston’s blog is regulated by the BBC Trust, Jon Snow’s blog is regulated by Ofcom, and Roy Greenslade’s blog is regulated by the PCC.

At the moment, I believe that the system works very well for editors, and very well for the ‘great and the good’ who can afford lawyers, but does absolutely nothing for newspaper consumers. If I see something that offends me on TV, I can complain to Ofcom. If I see an advert that offends me in the street, I can complain to ASA. If I see an article in a newspaper that I think is wrong, inaccurate, in bad taste or offensive, unless I am directly involved in the story myself, the PCC dismisses my complaint out of hand without investigating it.

I don’t think that position is sustainable.

The last thing I want to see is some kind of state-sponsored Ofpress quango, which is why I think it is so important that our industry gets self-regulation right – and why I believe that a review of how the PCC works in the digital era is long overdue.

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WSJ online video training for reporters

October 21st, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

And another for your watching pleasure. This comes from Blip TV: a brief interview with the Wall Street Journal’s deputy managing editor Alan Murray, on the WSJ’s 25-30 videos a day, the majority of which are produced by the paper’s reporters.

Kelsey Blodget, associate producer writes:

“As part of a strategy to integrate online video with the reporting, The Journal trains reporters on a regular basis in New York and San Francisco to use Sony HDR-HC9 cameras.”

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Brand Republic: New digital magazine for Sony Playstation Network

September 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

The media group Future has signed a deal with Sony Computer Entertainment UK to create a weekly digital magazine available exclusively through the PlayStation Network.

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NYTimes.com: Plastic Logic debuts new e-reader for newspapers

September 8th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Using the same technology as Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s e-reader, the Plastic Logic device has a larger screen size built for newspapers.

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NowPublic adds mobile upload feature with ShoZu

May 21st, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Citizen journalism, Mobile

Crowd-sourced news site NowPublic has teamed up with mobile and social media firm ShoZu to set up a new way for users to contribute.

Images and photos can now be sent to NowPublic from mobile devices through the ShoZu application, according to a press release. The app is freely downloadable and already features on certain Samsung, Motorola and Sony Ericsson handsets.

The application can also be used to upload images, videos and text to a range of social media sites, including Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, with the option to publish to multiple websites at once.

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