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During the ACP/CMA convention in Chicago, I got to spend about 50 minutes with the students who developed OR Magazine as part of a class at the University of Oregon. The designers have now moved on to produce interactives for Flux Magazine.
For anyone producing student magazines or longform web publications, I’d encourage you to download the app and check it out. While the articles are laid out like traditional magazine articles, there are interactive elements in each one, ranging from video to touch/slide photo slideshows to interactive explanatory graphics.
It was hard to find fault with the overall graphic design of the product, so we talked quite a bit about user interaction, and that’s sort of the focus of this post.
I’m a big proponent of usability testing: getting some audience members to interact with your website/app/magazine/whatever and troubleshooting potential problems. Usability testing is especially critical for touch-screen media.
One reason for this is that people are developing new “habits” in terms of how they interact with content.
There is also this issue: People are still learning about tablets. By now, there’s a sizable user base of people who are familiar with navigating tablets. But there is also a sizable user base of people who have just got an iPad or Android tablet, and are still finding their way around.
Just a few points I’d like to emphasize here:
1) Don’t do touch interactives just because you can. Yes, it’s nice that you can touch a spot on the screen and it changes photographs. But make it worth my while as a user to click on that spot. Don’t give me one photo switch, for instance. If you do that, you’re training me to expect nothing but bells and whistles, no substance.
2) Don’t go too far off the UI path. Remember, people are still figuring out what works and how to use their tablet devices. Just as web sites developed the icons people are familiar with (the “play” button onYouTube and every other video site, for example), app designers are in the process of “training” users to recognize icons on their apps. As much as it might be a challenge, try to see what others are doing in the tablet UI field, what’s working and what’s not. If something’s become a de facto “standard,” maybe try to put your stamp on that instead of reinventing the language.
3) Remember the orientation. Tablets work in both landscape and portrait modes. Unless you’re going to set up your publication so that it only works in one orientation (which would be sort of silly), be sure to usability test in both orientation. Areas that might work in one orientation can act differently in the other, and might frustrate users who use certain portions of the screen.
4) Test, test, and test again. If you have a general purpose magazine tablet app, test that app with experienced users, newer users, and even people who’ve never used a tablet other than on a display at the Apple store. Find where the bugs are, what features they liked, and which navigation caused them to stumble. And then remove those barriers, squash those bugs, and beef up the interactives. And then test it again. Sometimes, when we fix one thing, we create another issue.
I would encourage anyone producing magazine style journalism to experiment with tablet presentation. It has unique challenges, but the format is a fertile field for long-form journalism. The OR Magazine was created using Adobe Creative Suite products like InDesign, so it’s not beyond your reach.
September 12, 2012 in Tech Talk
Today, Apple announced the latest iteration of the iPhone. Maybe it’s just me, but the changes to the device from iPhone 4S ranged from the incremental (new earbuds, panoramic photos, better low-light images) to the downright annoying (a half-inch larger screen to render all your cases obsolete! new dongles!). As Joshua Benton wrote at Nieman Labs, there’s nothing game-changing here for journalists.
I’ve been using an Android for the last two years, and I’m actually considering trading “up” to an iPhone 4S once the early-adopters grab their 5′s (maybe I can pick up some cheap cases and dongles, too).
There is also news of an upgrade to the iPod Touch, to which I say: it’s about time. The camera is still 5 megapixels, but they added a forward-facing camera. They did manage to jack the price up to $299, apparently. Someone also spilled the color wheel on the line, as you can choose from 5 colors. But for student journalists who don’t want to pay monthly for an iPhone (or for college news outlets looking for a less expensive mobile reporting tool), this could be an alternative.
If you have a 4S, I don’t know that it makes sense to upgrade other than to renew your fanboi cred.
- The New iPhones are here! (but do they have 4G?) (beanstalk-inc.com)
- iPhone 5 Hands On Pics and Video (anandtech.com)
- Apple iPhone 5 Announced – Here’s Everything You Need To Know (redmondpie.com)
- Apple Announces New iPhone 5 in San Francisco (kron4.com)
- Preorders for iPhone 5 are Set to Start on Friday, September 14th (hitechanalogy.com)
The UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism has released a mobile reporting guidebook with reviews and ratings for a variety of software and hardware. It’s available as a PDF and as an iBook. The iBook features sample clips and screencast videos from various software and some of the capture hardware. This is similar in some ways to the Mobile Reporting Tools Pocket Guide Will Sullivan and crew produced at the Reynolds Journalism Institute a while back.
The iBook version also showcases some of the things you can do with the interactive book format.
As Lauren Rabaino notes at 10,000 Words, it’s iPhone-specific. So if you have an Android, not so much, although some of the hardware and software is not device-specific. Students helped produce the guidebook.
This guidebook was the result of a mobile reporting class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and is the work of Casey Capachi, Evan Wagstaff, Matt Sarnecki along with instructors Richard Koci Hernandez and Jeremy Rue.
UPDATE JULY 2012: Detroit Softworks is no longer in business.
It’s been two years since I did a round-up of hosting options for college news sites. In the wake of the recent discussion of the Online Pacemaker Finalists, I figured it was time to take another trip around the field to see what’s out there.
And, a disclaimer: This is not a “critical review” of the different options. Each option has its pros and cons, and every college media outlet has different needs and resources. If you want to know more about a particular option, contact the companies listed. I’d also encourage you to ask around at other college media outlets who are using these options.
I want to start off with the hosted options. All of these will cost money, usually a set-up fee (for training, design and database transfer) and then a monthly subscription fee (for maintenance, tech support and other costs of maintaining a server). The content management system (CMS) is hosted on server space provided by the company. The other side of that coin is that they do not necessarily exercise any control over the ad spaces on the site, or the ad revenue.
College Publisher: College Publisher just announced a new version of CP5 called CollegePublisher Pro. Since the last round-up, College Media Network changed ownership and updated its revenue sharing model for advertising. They will charge if you don’t have a certain amount of traffic to your web site. And they also offer a server option where you can park your WordPress install.
Detroit Softworks: Detroit Softworks hosts the Gryphon CMS, and has 15 client newspapers, according to a list on their website. There is a monthly subscription and a set-up fee for the service. It is a hosted solution, meaning the content is stored on DS servers. SEE THIS POST FOR UPDATED INFORMATION ABOUT GRYPHON CMS.
TownNews: TownNews is the content management system company that runs the online sites for newspapers in the Lee Enterprises newspaper chain. The CMS itself is called Blox. It is a hosted solution. There is a one-time setup fee, and a monthly subscription. The subscription fee varies based on the size of the news outlet.
School Newspapers Online: SNO started out as a solution for scholastic (aka high school) newspaper sites, and has expanded into the college market rapidly since last I wrote about this topic. They now list 58 college newspapers as clients. They offer a hosted WordPress solution. The costs are spelled out on their site: $600 for first year (including set-up) and $300/year after that.
Ellington CMS: The Ellington CMS, originally created for the Lawrence Journal-World’s web offerings, is another hosted service. Its college media penetration is not sizable. The system is built on top of the Django web framework.
When I wrote about this topic in 2010, Alloy, an advertising and marketing company that aims at the college market, had started providing a hosting solution similar to what CoPress provided. The set-up was much like what you would find on any commercial hosting service, except they hoped to offer some added benefits to college media in the future (like an ad network, for instance). The basic cost was $250/mo. plus a set-up fee. I am not certain that they are still providing this service, and my e-mail asking for further information has received no response yet. I will update as information is available.
That about covers the hosted solutions that are out there in the college media market. I know of a few college media outlets that have partnered with a local professional newspaper to host their sites. But that situation varies so widely that it’s probably not an option for the majority of news sites.
Host Your Own
The other option is to host your own content management system, whether using an off-campus server host, or an on-campus server. There are literally hundreds of hosting services out there, so I won’t even pretend to make a recommendation in that area. Most of them have a one-click install system for installing a variety of open-source software, for the less technically inclined.
The most commonly used open-source (i.e., free) CMS’s are:
WordPress: This seems to be the most popular open source platform for college media outlets. It’s highly extendable, relatively easy to use admin area with lots of options, and a number of premium themes which break the traditional blog-style format. It’s based in php and (normally) MySQL database. There is an extensive community of developers to help out if you need technical support.
Drupal: My impression is that Drupal has more popularity among professional news outlets. It’s also based in PHP and an SQL database, but has a steeper learning curve than WordPress. One of the things that makes this system popular is its emphasis on community site engagement, which it had long before WordPress incorporated those features. It also has a very active development community. The site has a list of case studies of web sites built on the platform.
Joomla!: Joomla! is a robust CMS that comes at site management from a different perspective than WordPress or Drupal, and it seems to have heavier adoption in other commercial arenas. At one time, the CMA web site ran on Mambo, the previous version of Joomla! and it was relatively easy to run the basic admin templates.
Finally, there is Django, which is a web framework and not specifically a CMS. Repeat, it’s not a CMS. It’s built on the Python programming language, and it is the framework that undergirds the Ellington CMS, for one. The framework is used to power a pretty impressive list of database-driven sites. It’s open source, but you’ll need a server space to host it
As many readers of this blog know, I’ve used two different cameras for our Intro to Multimedia Journalism course here at Eastern. The first year, we bought tape-based Kodak cameras. The second year, we upgraded to disk-based Kodak Vixia HD cameras.
Each semester, I ran into several problems with the equipment: it was too complicated, or it wouldn’t work well with the software, or the files were so huge that it took forever for students to back up their work.
This year, we rethought the needs of the classes while making a purchasing decision on a new set of multimedia kits for the classrooms.
The upshot was that we wanted something simple and easy to use, that would also work well with our software. First, we looked at the Flip Camera, but at about the time we were getting our proposal together, Flip stopped producing cameras.
Then, we looked at the Kodak Zi8, similar to the Flip because it had the ability to use an external microphone. But after we’d put together the proposal, Kodak discontinued the Zi8. Grrrr!
So now we’re in possession of two classes worth of Kodak PlayTouch cameras. The cameras include a dual-purpose headphone/mic in jack.
The cameras are very easy to use. On-screen menus are not terribly confusing, and the video and audio quality are pretty good for a pocket video camera. They also record in m4v format, which makes importing into video editing software incredibly easy.
One of the purposes for choosing a pocket video camera instead of a higher-end camera was to remove as many technical obstacles as possible for beginning students, many of whom aren’t planning on careers as videographers. By removing the technical obstacles, the idea is that they (and their instructor) can spend more time focused on the purpose for video – telling the story.
I know some college media outlets are already using these cameras for reporters. For those who were looking at the Flip or Zi8, this seems like a pretty good alternative – at least until they discontinue it too. The price for the camera itself is around $125. I would encourage you to invest in a carrying case, however, as these things are definitely small and seem like they’d be easy to break.
I’ll report back more after we’ve used them for a semester.
Neil Augenstein has a good post up at the PBS MediaShift blog about using his iPhone 4 for radio reporting. It’s worth a read because Augenstein is producing professional radio news with his phone, and it works.
So is it worth it? A year in, iPhone-only reporting isn’t perfect. While audio editing works great, with the phone’s built-in microphone I’d estimate the sound quality of my field reports is 92% as good as when I use bulky broadcast equipment. Getting better audio for my video is a real challenge. And if I ever have to cover a story from a subway tunnel or location where there’s no WiFi or cell coverage, I won’t be able to file until I resurface.
As digital equipment continues to morph I’m sure my tools will be substantially different within a few years. Every day, new applications open new opportunities for a reporter who’s willing to work around the limitations of iPhone-only reporting while maximizing the benefits.
This semester, we’ve been looking at using smaller equipment in our multimedia reporting class precisely because of the miniaturization of the news gathering equipment. I’ll talk more about the changes we’re making soon.
Is anyone out there in college media using mobile phones or iPod Touches (for instance) for gathering news on a consistent basis?
Ellen Kennerly, professional-in-residence at the LSU Reveille, sends along word that the Reveille has released an iPhone app. (link goes to Apple app store) The app was developed after Kennerly approached student developer Logan Leger about working for the Reveille. Leger spent most of the fall developing and tweaking the app while Kennerly went through the process of getting it approved for the app store.
Other college news media have released apps for the iPhone (unsure of any for the Android platform currently), but I am not aware of another student media app that was entirely designed by students. If you know of one, drop a note in the comments, or e-mail me.
Right now, the app features a feed of headlines, an archive search function, the ability to save articles, and current weather conditions for Baton Rouge. It will be interesting to watch what features are added in the future.
“It was fun — except for dealing with Apple — but it was still a blast to see what happens when you take journalists, add web developers and a smidge of nudging and stir …,” Kennerly wrote in an e-mail. “My takeaway as in Atlanta, where we did something similar, is that amazing chemistry explodes when you mix creative technologists and creative journalists.”
Editor’s Note: This piece has been sitting in my “draft” folder since mid-September, which means it’s ancient in blog years. But since the topic is bound to come up again sometime soon (see the rule of online journalism discussion below), I’m posting it for posterity.
After five years of blogging about college media, I have formulated the following rule of online journalism discussion:
If you follow the “journorati,” i.e., the navel-gazing portion of the journalism industry that spends an inordinate amount of time talking about journalism, you will eventually hear the same arguments repeated, usually in 12-18 month cycles.
Which brings me to to the latest in a long-running, seemingly endless series of pearl-clutching, couch-fainting, concern-trolling articles about how journalism students are learning too much technology and not enough fundamentals.
This scene of the badly-scripted remake of “Groundhog Day” comes from Tony Rogers, a journalism instructor and journalism “Guide” at About.com (found via Dan Reimold). Rogers believes there is too much technology in journalism schools. The title of his article posted in September: Is There Too Much Tech Training at the Nation’s Journalism Schools?
This concludes another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.
For a more detailed response, follow me below the fold.