#154 -NPR One: Making audio storytelling personal

Dan Newman and Tejas Mistry are part of the team behind NPR One, public radio’s digital app that curates stories for you personally.

Newman and Mystery see NPR One as the future of audio storytelling, where what people want is delivered directly to them, without much prompting from the user. Given the challenges in the news industry, NPR needs to be prepared for what comes next in digital media and to make the experience more personal.

Dan Newman and Tejas Mistry talk to It's All Journalism about the NPR One app.

Dan Newman and Tejas Mistry talk to It’s All Journalism about the NPR One app. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

“We want to make sure we have the future forward-looking technology built,” Newman said.

Through NPR One, listeners can get a mix of shorter content — like the news stories play on Morning Edition or All Things Considered every day — and longer pieces public radio produces. For example, a podcast like Serial may stream for someone through NPR One in between more traditional NPR content.

“In NPR One, we want to learn what your favorite radio shows are and your favorite podcasts are and bring you something new,” Mistry said.

Surprisingly, NPR One is attracting users who don’t typically listen to NPR, according to Newman. Those people get to the app through personal referrals typically. NPR is hoping these new listeners will eventually become traditional members who donate to their local stations.

NPR One tries to incorporate people’s mood and pace — are you walking to work or hanging out in your house while listening? — in what content they receive. The app tries to measure mood by what content listeners are skipping or indicate they really like at the time.

“We find that news is more popular in the morning. … And we find that storytelling and podcasts are more popular in the afternoon,” Mystery said.

Users tell NPR One’s team that the aspect of the app that they like best is the “skip” button. If you are listening to a traditional public radio broadcast, you don’t have the option to skip, but the app allows you to do that.

The “skip” button also provides NPR with lots of new data about how audiences respond to particular stories. Specifically, the NPR staff has learned a lot about how listeners respond to introductions to stories through the “skip” data collected.

NPR One has a number of “homegrown tools” that show what material is resonating with listeners. For example, the app has become much less news-oriented — more podcasts have been incorporated — over the last year.

Julia O’Donoghue

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#153 – FIU journalists report on Florida’s tidal rise

Few places in the United States are as vulnerable to the immediate dangers of rising sea levels as Florida.

“Some scientists suggest there’s been 10 inches of rise in the world’s oceans since the 19th century,” said Robert “Ted” Gutsche Jr., a journalism professor and researcher at Florida International University in Miami. “We’re seeing a lot of climate change worldwide, but some of those issues are really at the forefront in Southern Florida.”

Scientists and climate experts predict the oceans could be 3 to 7 inches higher by 2030, and by 2100, ocean levels could rise 5 feet higher than their current levels, Gutsche said.

student journalists

A local Miami TV reporter interviews students investigating flooding streets in October 2014 as part of eyesontherise.org, a journalism project based at Florida International University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The project examines sea level rise in South Florida and is led by student documentarians, journalists, and scientists.

Already, Floridians are seeing their grounds saturated, as the water table is high and the land, at one point part of the swampy Everglades, is changing.

“It’s getting to the point where the saltwater that’s coming in is corroding underground infrastructure,” he said. “It’s infiltrating the aquafers and diminishing the freshwater. When we do have the next hurricane, we could be facing tidal storm surges.”

But a casual glance at most information provided by local media outlets in the region might leave readers thinking everything’s sunshine and roses.

“Anything that people might pick up on the newsstand or get on their mobile phones that’s coming from this mainstream media still tends to be about building luxury and the high life, and not really talking about the property issues of who owns what, and who’s going to be able to stay here, who’s going to be able to own property in the future when, basically, Florida sinks,” Gutsche said. “It sounds very dramatic because it is. It’s happening right now.”

He and his students are doing what they can to turn the tide, so to speak. Inspired by a documentary that aired on local public television stations a year ago, the university, in partnership with a STEM-centered magnet public high school on the university’s campus, kicked off EyesontheRise.org, a journalism project focusing on what flooding will look like across southern Florida.

The Online News Association administers the project, which is also supported by Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Rita Allen Foundation.

The program puts students at the forefront of storytelling while pushing the boundaries of who teaches journalism, and who’s doing the teaching. The university students are working closely with the high schoolers, but also learning about various applications of journalism they might not otherwise experience before graduating, beyond writing articles and finding stories.

“We started doing things like event journalism, pop-up journalism stuff,” Gutsche said. “South Florida’s very much about events and flash and flare. We’re trying to tap into entertainment markets, people who like to do entertainment events, so we can put the journalism out there in people’s faces.”

Amber Healy

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#152 – An alternative take on Salt Lake City

It’s not quite “Rocky Mountain High” — Colorado is one state over — but there will be mountains.

The Association of Alternative Newsmedia is heading to Salt Lake City July 16-18, for the 2015 AAN Convention.

Tiffany Shackelford

Tiffany Shackelford is the executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

The Salt Lake City Weekly is hosting the event, which is an opportunity for members of the alternative press to share ideas about how to cover their communities better against a backdrop of blue skies and snow-covered peaks.

Mark Goodman, one of the original MTV veejays, will be a keynote speaker, talking about music journalism and music content.

“Maybe it’s the Gen-Xer in me, but I think he knows more about music than a lot of people we hear from,” said Tiffany Shackelford, AAN’s executive director. “We’re pretty excited about that.”

Other speakers at the conference include:

  • Eric Bright of Deseret News – “He’s really done a ton on successfully moving from print to digital in smart ways,” Shackelford said.
  • Online news pioneer Elizabeth Osder.
  • Steven Fried, who Shackelford called a “legend among long-form journalists.”
  • Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson will talk about some of the city’s free speech initiatives.

“One of the things that was interesting to me is with all of the hullabaloo around Indiana’s religious discriminatory possible practices and Religious Freedom Act, Utah actually did it right,” Shackelford said. “They got together with the gay and lesbian leaders in Utah and both sides of the aisle and passed a compromise anti-discrimination and religious freedom act that’s really quite successful. We’re dedicating a session to that, which I think will be really fascinating.”

The convention will have a number of sessions devoted to data, long-form journalism and identifying revenue streams.

“We’re talking a lot this year about successfully packaging, but also circulation and the digital future and how that’s going to look, both from a print point of view, as well as a digital one,” Shackelford said. “We also have a great design track that we haven’t had in a few years. And that’s dedicated to both print and online design.”

In this week’s podcast, It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell talks to Tiffany Shackelford, executive director of the Association of Alternative News Media, about AAN’s annual convention, which takes place July 16-18, in Salt Lake City. They also talk about some of the challenges alt-weeklies have faced over the last year and some of the big successes going on in the alternative arena.

Michael O’Connell

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#151 – Journalism education reimagined

The rise of digital technology has not only changed the journalism industry, it’s altered the institutions of journalism, where young storytellers learn the craft of reporting the news.

This week, three former guests of the podcast discuss some of the changes going on at universities and journalism schools and what the future of journalism education might look like.

Amy Webb

Amy Webb

Amy Webb is a digital media futurist, founder of Webbmedia Group Digital Strategy, and co-founder of Knowledgewebb Training and Spark Camp.

She’s working on a book about forecasting the future and finishing a book about the future of journalism education, which the Nieman Foundation at Harvard will be publishing in June.

“It should be in academia that the very best research and development and truly the future of communications is being built,” Webb said. “That’s where it should be happening. And so, I think if we recast what is journalism education with an eye towards the future, I think it is completely indisputable that journalism education, at least in the undergraduate realm, it has to continue. It just has to look slightly different than it does today.”

Andrew Lih

Andrew Lih

Andrew Lih is the author of The Wikipedia Revolution and an associate professor at American University. He began his career at Columbia University, where he conducted a new media makeover of the journalism program. While teaching at University of Hong Kong, he helped set up that school’s new media program. Before coming to Washington, D.C., he revamped the journalism program at the University of Southern California. He’s now helping AU to revise its undergraduate and graduate journalism programs.

“For better or worse, most journalism schools still have shoe leather, municipal reporting as the cornerstone of what they do,” Lih said. “And we really have to rethink if that’s the way to go. Marketing wise, we are not really appealing to a lot of journalism students who might see journalism as an exciting thing, that they don’t really want to be an urban beat reporter to start off with.”

Doug Mitchell

Doug Mitchell

Doug Mitchell is the founder of Next Generation Radio at NPR and The Journalism Diversity Project. He’s also an adjunct journalism professor at Georgetown University.

“It’s a little interesting to feel like, when someone graduates from school, that they’re a little bit behind,” Mitchell said. “And maybe that’s just the result of schools not focusing on where they’re going. Journalism is a trade to me. People get a job. They get skills and they get a job. And it’s always been that way. But I think that too has to change in some way. Maybe we need to create broader people. We need to create people who are interested in talking to people who are different from themselves.”

Michael O’Connell

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#150 – A look into the future of journalism

Remember when The Jetsons seemed outlandish, with robots doing the majority of household chores and treadmills substituted for walking the dog?

Or how about the paranoia of 1984, with Big Brother tracking and recording all movements, conversations and using personal information against those who dared question societal norms?

There are elements of both in the current and future state of journalism, suggests Reuben Stern, deputy director of the Futures Lab at the Missouri School of Journalism. The watchful eye of Big Brother has its counterpart in private companies that collect and mine data for insight into consumers’ lives, while the automation of The Jetsons’ futuristic world can be seen in the automated stories generated by the LA Times and similar methods used by the Associated Press instead of relying on reporters to create content.

Reuben Stern

Reuben Stern is the deputy director of the Futures Lab at the Missouri School of Journalism and host of the Lab’s weekly update on journalism innovation.

“If you think about The Matrix, the major premise of The Matrix is that everything is data and the entire world is this data-driven thing we live in while we’re actually floating in cocoons producing heat for the machines,” he said. “That’s also the future of journalism. It’s all data. We live in this data world where we float through all these bits of code.”

If something like the ability to read a map, once an essential skill for traveling any kind of distance, has fallen by the wayside thanks to GPS capabilities and Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets, why wouldn’t journalism, and the tools used to create content, change as well?

The core mission of journalism remains unchanged, Stern said.

“All this technology that comes on board, all this future, ideally, is not going to change that,” he said. “As long as the journalists continue to use these technologies for that goal and that purpose, of informing the community so it can govern itself, journalism is always going to be just fine. In fact, the new tools give us new ways to do that, which is pretty cool.”

And as the divide between journalists and their audience diminishes, it’s possible the role of a journalism may transform into something else, part observer and reporter, part teacher.

Jackie Kazil

Jackie Kazil is a data journalism expert for the federal government. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

Still, some old, tried-and-true methods will continue to be effective and necessary and shouldn’t be shelved, said Jackie Kazil, a data journalism expert.

“There’s one basic thing that has transposed time and that’s asking for directions,” she said, recounting a story her mother told her. Shortly after she departed Czechoslovakia, Kazil’s mother found herself lost in a forest and fell into a river. After getting to her feet, she came across a man and tried to communicate her situation.

“She points down to the ground and she says ‘Deutschland!’” Kazil said. “That’s her way of asking for directions in a language she doesn’t even know. That’s still a fundamental thing that people know how to do.”

In this week’s It’s All Journalism podcast, producer Michael O’Connell talks to Reuben Stern, deputy director of the Futures Lab at the Missouri School of Journalism, and data journalism expert Jackie Kazil about how technology is changing journalism as it’s changing the world all around us.

— Amber Healy

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Pop Goes the Podcast at Awesome Con

Awesome Con Panel

It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell, left, takes a selfie with fellow panelists/podcasters Carolyn Belefski of the Carolyn and Joe Show and Alex Vidales of Pilot Waves.

I had the pleasure Saturday, May 30, of joining some of my fellow D.C.-area podcasters at Awesome Con pop culture festival. We presented a panel entitled “Pop Goes the Podcast,” where we talked about our experiences producing podcasts.

It was a great experience sharing the stage with these creative people:

Awesome Con Panel

Jennifer Crawford, left, of the Jellyvision Show and Justin McLachlan of EOS 10 talk about podcasting during the May 30, 2015, Pop the Podcast panel at Awesome Con.

All of us are members of the DC Podcaster Community, a Facebook group of podcasters from the Washington, D.C., area. We host monthly meetings to share tips and socialize. If you’re interested in joining us, look for us on Facebook.

DC Podcaster is sponsoring the first ever DC PodFest, which will take place Nov. 6-8, 2015, at The Wonderbread Factory in Washington, D.C. You can find out more about the event at the DC PodFest website and you keep track of updates by following us on Twitter: @DCPodFest

Michael O’Connell

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#149 – Writing that puts a reader in the story

“The best way to tell the story is to really try to give the reader a sense that they know the person they’re reading about.”

Steve Friess, a freelance journalist and former staff writer for Politico and Knight Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan, found himself on the receiving end of the story opportunity of a lifetime in the form of a cardboard box filled with hundreds of letters.

Capt. David Wilsey served as an anesthesiologist during World War II and wrote letters to his wife, Emily, back at home. The letters were discovered by Friess’ friend, the doctor’s son, in 2009 after both David and Emily Wilsey had died.

Steve Friess

Freelance journalist Steve Friess uses long-form writing to tell one family’s emotional connection to the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

The letters revealed a man who wrote beautiful, passionate, literate letters filled with details of the war he’d never discussed with his family.

Thanks to his friendship with Wilsey’s son, Terry, and discussions with his sisters, Friess was able to make copies of several dozen of the letters, which he’s used as the foundation of a 5,000-word article recently published by The New Republic in a gripping article, “A Liberator, But Never Free”.

Letters tell personal story of Dachau liberation

Wilsey was among the soldiers who arrived at the Dachau concentration camp in May 1945 during the camp’s liberation, and in several letters, he stressed the importance of the public learning the truth about what was going on in Hitler’s Germany and captured territories. Other than those letters, he never discussed what he’d witnessed with his family.

Friess said the task of selecting which letters to read, which to copy, which to pull from and use as source material for his piece, was staggering.

“You can dip in and out of these letters,” he says. “You can read one of them as a historical document. You can go directly to May 8, 1945 and read his account of going into Dachau, and they’re really interesting as historical documents,” Friess said. “But if you read dozens of these letters in chronology over the course of several months or years, that’s how you really get to know him and that’s how you’re able to detect a shift in the way he is. You see it very clearly the minute he starts writing from Dachau, he’s just 10 times angrier, as you might expect.”

This isn’t Friess’ first go-round with multifaceted and complex narrative. Previously, he spent several years researching the overlapping or fully disconnected network of registration requirements for sexual offenders, resulting in a piece published by TakePart.com earlier this year. His journey there began when a victim of sexual assault suggested Friess examine boxer Mike Tyson’s registration on the sex offender list in Nevada.

“In 2009, Mike Tyson was considered to be noncompliant by the state of Nevada’s registry, but the city of Henderson has one too and he was perfectly properly registered there,” Friess said. “He also was nowhere to be found in the registry of Indiana where he was convicted; he was in the registry in Florida where he had lived but that registration said he lived in Arizona. Arizona had no reference for him at all, and so on. It was this big mess. This was one example of somebody who you and I could find out where he was tomorrow just by looking him up on Twitter,” whereas other victims might not be able to get any kind of information on their attacker.”

Amber Healy

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#148 – Politics of fact-checking campaigns

Given enough time and resources, all reporters would take great pride in checking even the smallest details in their work. Unfortunately, given the constraints of time and space, that isn’t happening as often as it used to, but some newsrooms have earned acclaim for their dedication to the truth.

Mark Stencel, a former managing editor for digital news at NPR and senior editor at both The Washington Post and Congressional Quarterly, has authored a report for the American Press Institute on the importance of fact-checking, especially in presidential campaigns.

Mark Stencel

Mark Stencel, a former managing editor for digital news at NPR, writes about fact-checking for the American Press Institute. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

He points to the 1988 election as a kind of turning point. “The way advertising was coming across in that campaign sparked a real discussion on how to respond to [negative advertising that featured less-than-true claims]. My first boss in Washington, David Broder, started columnizing this,” going on a “crusade to more aggressively fact-check advertising claims. That’s when things really got going,” he said.

Soon, other reporters, including Brooks Jackson of The Wall Street Journal, started doing fact checking sessions for major news organizations, including CNN, to help delineate the truth from exaggerations.

Today there are three major fact-checking operations in the United States: PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, each of which has developed a system for taking a claim, reviewing its origins and validity and explaining to readers what’s true and what’s less-than-truthful.

“Those three sites have set the standard,” Stencel said. “To take on that much reporting and maintain it day in and day out for as long as they have, at this point, is just a remarkable journalistic accomplishment.”

In particular, he praises the team at PolitiFact, created at the then-St. Petersburg Times during the 2008 presidential election. With just a few people in their Washington, D.C., newsroom, the staff there wondered how they could cover the campaign differently than every other newsroom in the country.

“They make this big bet that, rather than jumping on the airplanes and trying to do the same story as everybody else was doing, let’s instead focus all that energy on something that we can make a difference in, and that was fact-checking,” Stencel said. “It certainly made their coverage stand out; it certainly won them a Pulitzer. It’s a great example of the distinctive power of doing fact checking and what that can mean for a newsroom that’s trying to stand out.”

Of course, Stencel would like to see other formats and styles of journalism give fact-checking a try.

“I’d love to see fact-checking of business news or claims,” he said. “I’d love to see fact-checking in sports. Can you imagine fact-checking the trash talk? It would be fantastic.”

Amber Healy

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#147 – A newsroom filled with designers

Don’t write in the CMS. It’s practically a meme on Twitter.
“It’s an understandable argument,” said Zach Seward, vice president for product and executive editor at Quartz, the business-focused digital startup. “Too many people have been burned by a lost post. So many CMSes are a pain to use. The software is cumbersome and not worth your time. Totally understandable sentiment, but one which when we launched we decided to flip on its head and mandate that every writer at Quartz writes in the CMS.”
Zach Seward is VP of product and executive editor at Quartz. (Contributed photo)

Zach Seward is VP of product and executive editor at Quartz. (Contributed photo)

Seward spoke Saturday, April 11, at the 2015 Society for News Design workshop in Washington, D.C., about his company’s unusual approach to design.
“I’m  a firm believer that your writing should adapt as much as possible to the specific medium in which it’s appearing,” Seward said. “That the closer the writer is to the means of production, the better the finished good, the better the results and readers can tell. They can tell if this thing was written for the Web or was written for print or was written for a phone or desktop.”
To help get those writers as close to the finished good as possible and help them to become true designers, a news website’s CMS has to be as close to WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) as possible. Basically, this means that when a writer places a story or a graphic, that’s how it’s going to look on the published page.
“The writer’s intentional choice to select this photo, to place it at this particular point in the story, to choose to set it off from the text instead of inline, they may seem like mere esthetic choices, but in fact, they are as essential to the writing of the story as communication as the text of the story itself,” Seward said. “And the fact that we require our writers to make these choices, to find the photos themselves, to insert it in the specific place and not to make that a separate part of the production process is fundamentally what distinguishes the type of journalism we’re trying to do from some other places.”

In this week’s podcast, Zach Seward, VP of Product and executive editor at Quartz, talks about the digital startup’s approach to design. The thesis for his presentation at the 2015 Society for News Design’s workshop in Washington, D.C., is that everyone it Quartz — writers included — are designers. He also talks about the lessons learned from Quartz’s three redesigns and the core principles that guide them in their decision making about design.


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#146 – Games bring play, engagement to complex stories

Journalists can learn a lot from game designers about storytelling and keeping an audience engaged.
“I think the real opportunity in news is to understand the way we approach problems in games and how we look to solve them,” said Lindsay Grace, associate professor at American University and director of AU’s Game Lab and Studio.
Among Grace’s many achievements is founding Miami University’s Persuasive Play Lab, a research group that examined how games could be used to alter people’s opinions and interest. He also helped launch AU’s new Master of Arts in Game Design program.
Lindsay Grace is an associate professor at American University and director of AU's Game Lab and Studio. (Photo by Michael O'Connell)

Lindsay Grace is an associate professor at American University and director of AU’s Game Lab and Studio. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

For Grace, journalism and game design intersect in the space between editorial games and persuasive play.
“The idea is to try and engage people with current topics by framing some of those challenges, affecting people’s perspectives by offering them a game experience,” he said.
Grace described several ways in which journalists could use games to inform the stories they are writing.
“I think one of the things that’s most sort of promising these days is using games as kind of an inroads to the complexity of a particular story,” he said. “We know from years and years of making digital games in particular is that they’re really good at changing people’s perspectives, for giving them an opportunity to sort of put themselves in someone else’s shoes.”
Despite all the bells and whistles that digital technology adds to gaming, the idea of using a game to persuade people is not a new concept. The Monopoly board game, for example, was designed as a persuasive game.
“It was designed to help people understand a theory called Georgist economics and how landlording can actually create sort of an impoverished situation,” Grace said. “And we’ve had that tradition. What people have begun to realize is that we can really produce some really compelling entries into`complex topics through games.”

Games help break down complex stories

During a presentation at the recent South By Southwest conference, Grace mentioned a number of current games that are trying to help people understand how government works.
“There are about three or four games these days that all afford people the ability to balance the federal budget,” he said. “The idea is to make it a play experience, but at the same time give people an understanding of how complex that task is, and that’s sort of the rhetoric of those games.”
Designer Molleindustria, for example, uses  games to break down complex stories. “He makes games about the politics behind mobile phones, producing for IOS devices and also games around large corporations and how they operate and giving people that perspective,” Grace said.
Beyond helping to break down a complex story, a good game can draw a reader deeper into that story, so that they want to learn more.
“The science of game design is really about engagement and understanding how to compel people to want to play more,” Grace said. “And so, we’ve got a nice, strong tradition in engagement design. That’s a lot of what I teach. It’s not sort of the standards of game design, but it’s about how to attract and audience, keep an audience and keep them compelled to want to stay in the world that you’ve created for them.”
In this week’s podcast, It’s All Journalism hosts Michael O’Connell and Nicole Ogrysko talk to Lindsay Grace, game designer and associate professor at American University’s Game Lab and Studio. Grace talks about the intersection of news and games design, and how journalists can use games to engage readers and tell stories. He also talks about American University’s new Master of Arts in Game Design program.

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