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The iOS app Videolicious was launched a couple of years ago with the idea of allowing you to quickly create multimedia stories on-the-hoof. Last week journalism and technology website Poynter revealed The Washington Post asks journalists without multimedia backgrounds, to use the app.

How it helps you

This app is great for putting together quick packages whilst out in the field, press conferences, Marches or gigs. In Poynter’s demo Andrew Beaujon uses it from a technology and journalism conference.

Once you’re happy with your piece, you have the option to add licence free music and even filters. If you upgrade from the free version you can add licensed music and logos to make your video more professional. You then have the option of sending to YouTube or it can be shared directly via Videolicious’ own player and dashboard.

In practice

I created a quick dispatch based on an event I covered last week. It was relatively quick to put together, although I retrofitted it and had to spend time downloading the elements to my phone. The app requires you to do your post in one take, so I had to do quite a few retakes. This arguably, is good practice but not so good if you’re used to sorting out problems in the edit suite. Also the camera is really unflattering (especially if your shooting from a desk upward) and I was much more comfortable with just audio. A good point is that you can upload a high or lo-res version depending on whether you’ve got good phone coverage or not.

My attempt to upload to my YouTube account didn’t work.

Drawbacks

Surprisingly, even though it’s a few years old, Videolicious does tend to crash. But then my iPhone is in need of an upgrade and it might deal better with images and video shot on the phone. I would have liked more of a chance to fix things retrospectively but the video can upload to a dashboard where potentially a multimedia editor could pick it up, check and re-edit if need be.

Summary

An app with real potential, but it needs practice. And possibly a recent smartphone.

Rating


Posted by & filed under Multimedia.

Out to dry

The British High Street, the very centre of traditional town and village life across the country is disappearing. Shop keepers blame falling numbers of customers and business owners blame a rise in rents and rates. And according to the Confederation of British Industry, the gloomy situation on England’s high streets isn’t expected to improve. Click on this link to see the picture story with Audioboo’s embedded you’ll have to go here.

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The New York Times’ Snow Fall project, an interactive story requiring the reader to ‘scroll’ through a range of multimedia, had such a profound effect  executive editor Jill Abramson claimed it became a verb in newsrooms with “all desks” trying to create something similar. Last week on Medium, Cody Brown laid claim to doing just that using Scroll Kit, a startup designed to streamline this process. Brown bragged that although the Snow Fall project took NYT “months to design”, his only took a “few hours to recreate”. His Snowfall how-to video and template have since been removed from Scroll Kit, but the fact remains that this is a powerful open-source web app.

How it helps you

A multimedia project that gives you complete control and allows you to create content in a few hours is of huge advantage to journalists.

In practice

I took an audio feature my wife produced and combined this with photographs I’d taken. I found the editing tool relatively easy to use once I had figured out how the layers worked. It took me longest to work out the best way to embed audio onto the pages and I eventually used a Flash embed from Audioboo.

This app is designed for the new internet experience, allowing content to be seen in all its widescreen glory on all devices. Due to the high res images and content, the project is created in its own microsite. This can then be transferred onto either your own website, or your title’s. It takes up to72 hours to for the DNS transfer and to reflect the new url, it can be viewed in this time but the url will be Scroll Kit. You can watch my finished project here but I’m going to experiment with the WordPress plugin. I’ve now put the story on this site using the WordPress plugin. Hmmm it looks like it’s stripped out my Audioboos – here it is with audio.

Drawbacks

Now that Cody Brown’s Snowfall tutorial has been taken down, there are very few how-to guides available so there is a fair amount of guess work. Although the step backwards function (undo for non-tech minded readers) mostly works, occasionally it freezes. On reflection my early pages were a little conservative, I became more confident at full screen photos as I worked through the project. The Audioboo embed was a bit of a fudge and I would like to see the developers integrate audio into the application itself. Also, it’s a standard multimedia lesson but I regretted not shooting any video which limited me to the full range of editing options available. I may still pop back and film a washing machine and loop it as the front cover. Despite Brown’s brag, this project took me a couple of days not a couple of hours. And although it’s close to the Snow Fall model, there are so many careful and considered touches it can be copied but not really replicated.

Summary

A really good multimedia presentation tool, but no Snow Fall.

Rating


Data Journalism website graphic

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Emily Cadman from Financial Times mentioned in her talk at News:Rewired Excel is a good “gateway drug to data”. This idea was also discussed extensively at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Dr Ken Blake from Middle Tennesse State University School of Journalism agrees and through his YouTube-based Data Journalism course, he takes you from ‘the basics’ to ‘maximizing’ Excel.

In practice

I downloaded Dr Blake’s datasets for Introducing Excel and Rates ranks and filters in Excel then I loaded the videos into VideoNot.es (reviewed here). You can take a look at the timecoded notes here for Introducing Excel and Rates, ranks and filters from here. I also let Dr Blake know I was going to do this and he plans to supply these notes for all of his videos in the next few weeks.

How it helps you

Dr Blake’s tutorials look at using Excel specifically for Data Journalism, and he uses examples of sources which you may use in a newsroom including crime figures and population statistics.

Drawbacks

These are drawbacks with Excel rather than the tutorials. Of course, being a Microsoft product the software is always updating and if they have a significant overhaul (as they did in 2010) then these videos will appear dated. Excel was never designed as a Data Journalism tool, rather as a small office spreadsheet system. It is worth keeping this in mind when working on more complex projects.

Summary

A set of good introductory videos to help you get around the concept of using Excel for as a way of training you for Data Journalism, something our own Times Online Data team are looking at.

Rating


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VideoNotes (launched this month) is a simple online tool that allows you to write notes alongside videos from a variety of sources including Vimeo, YouTube and Coursera. It was developed by Unishared, a French education start-up but Journalism.co.uk pointed out how it would be useful for journalists.

In practice

I took a Data Journalism panel discussion video (below) from the International Journalism Festival #ijf13 and typed in notes as I watched.

One good thing about this application is that the notes are timecoded, so when you click through them it will take you to the right place in the video. This is particularly useful in conjunction with the YouTube’s own timecoded embeds. So, for example if the main focus of your article was the impact of Nate Silver on Data Journalism you could run the discussion from this point. The other great feature of this application is that it stores the information on Google Drive, so you can collaborate on note taking. I’ve shared these notes with News International so if you work there you can see them. For the rest of you I’ve written some notes alongside a few Data Journalism tutorials. I’ll post something on this soon.

How it helps you

Not only is this a good internal research application but it could potentially be expanded to encourage collaborative and open journalism. Notes could add further context and clarification to a video and allow your audience to understand a story.

Drawbacks

This video was created with my News International Google Drive, I think in future I will use my personal Google Drive as current business restrictions mean that I couldn’t allow public collaboration on this. Although the note making device is very simple to use, it would be good to see the time codes so that specific key quotes could be more precisely cited. At the moment any attempt to correct this deletes the time code completely.

Summary

A useful tool to help guide you through video with a real potential for collaborative journalism.

Rating


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Many apps have been developed to enhance smartphones’ often impressive audio recording ability but FiRe was the first to really attempt to be a professional field recorder. Initially launched on the iPhone (at a pretty high price of £3.99) it did prove to be very reliable so much so that many commercial radio stations (including GMG) encouraged reporters to use it instead of a bulky Marantz. Last year Audiofile stopped supporting FiRe and instead offered FiRe 2 an upgrade of the recorder which required you (somewhat cheekily) to buy it for another £3.99.

How it helps you

Although there are plenty of apps on the market that are easier to use this one is not only professional but also extremely flexible. You can add your own metadata which prevents the audio getting lost and can help when adding further context to an online story. With FiRe 2 there is integration with Dropbox – blowing Dropvox out of the water by a considerable distance. A sub or producer could easier pick up a story and it is easier to configure than FTP. There are also some pretty nifty editing tools so you’re out in the field getting an interview anyway you can easily file the audio before the story. And there’s Soundcloud integration which in private could be a handy archive but in public could also mean that a story could be broken on the platform.

In Practice

To test this app thoroughly, I recorded an interview using a the new app, we recorded it onto the camera microphone in an echoey dressing room whilst the interviewee ate a satsuma. The sound wave monitoring is very accurate which means you can avoid distortion. The noise quality has always been good but there’s a few more EQ settings (powered by Izotope) and extended metadata you can add before downloading. I did try editing the audio using the app but it was very fiddly, and then it crashed. I trimmed the audio (particularly the satusuma sucks) using Audacity on my computer and then uploaded to Audioboo, you get space for unlimited Boo’s on Audioboo whereas I’ve already filled my free Soundcloud account.

Drawbacks

You don’t need to have FiRe 1 installed to use FiRe 2 but, somewhat irritatingly it doesn’t incorporate the recordings you have already on the phone. There are a lot file format options on the new app but it does seem buggier than the first version.

Summary

An excellent field recorder – an average exporter – a pretty rough editor.

Rating

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If This Then That (IFTTT) launched in September 2011 promising to be the “gaffer tape that holds the internet together”. This means various social media, cloud archives and even physical internet enabled products (a full list of channels here) can be connected together with simple instructions and without learning code.

In practice

Automated online activity which would require you to wrangle with the unwieldy Yahoo Pipes or the intimidating Mac Automator, is given a user-friendly interface. You can also share your favourite ‘recipes’ and allow people to use them. I use them a lot to allow for a more organic duplication of social media. For example, every image that I ‘favourite’ on Instagram automatically drops into Tumblr (under the Instagram tag) or when a new photo is uploaded by me to Flickr it also uploads them to a gallery on my Facebook page. Pictures are the currency of these social media channels and spreading them across platforms increases their exposure and engagement.

How it helps you

The reason I decided to post about this web application is because of the announcement last week Google is to discontinue its RSS Reader service after July 2013. Since I’ve been experimenting with Feedly as a replacement and implementing a process that doesn’t leave me relying too heavily on a single provider. News stories that I like are saved to Pocket from within Feedly and then from Pocket they’re piped with IFTTT to my Delicious and Pinboard bookmarks. This way I can organise my favourite stories and primary sources without depending on one web service. There are other recipes that could help your working life such as this which (once it allows for UK calls) would let you to effectively dial in a short story. If you were sending back photos or videos from a mobile phone you could speed publish across multiple platforms or notify a desk editor automatically. You can also sync certain documents with Google Drive or even use Google Drive to collect data on a single spreadsheet which might be useful for Data Journalism.

Drawbacks

Although there are 60 active channels on IFTTT with 433,065 tasks created by users in its first year it can be frustrating when you realise that your new app is not included. Particularly disappointing for me is Google Plus’s refusal to let people automate its updates (pages or personal) or Twitter’s restriction of their API. This platform really depends on an open internet.

Summary

A simple way of controlling your web and mobile activity.

Rating

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History

Many of you who have worked with web content management systems or your own personal blog will have a basic understanding of HTML. Just by clicking on the HTML tab or by holding down CTRL+U you can get a grasp of what is going on behind any web page. But CSS can be a mystery as it is rarely placed within HTML (called inline). CSS stands for “Cascading Style Sheet” so instructions should be entered into a separate page within a website’s directory. As Online Journalist Mindy McAdams points out the excellent web-based coding guide Codeacademy often loses people at inline. This online tutorial takes about 20 minutes to run through and very simply explains the fundamentals of CSS.

In practice

I used what I’d learnt to completely change the overall look of a Tumblr website, also to stop to the Footer shooting up to the middle of the page when viewing this website in Internet Explorer.

How it helps you

If you use any website to collect together your stories, build feature ideas or grow an online audience, then knowing the fundamentals of CSS  means you can customise your site to appear more professional. A basic understanding of HTML and CSS is needed if you want to scrape any kind of website, as Classes are often used to mark-up useful information and (as explained in The Data Journalism Handbook) can help convert a web page into a usable spreadsheet format.

Drawbacks

I would have liked more opportunity to try out the code. When you try and apply the CSS there is a missing link which has to be pieced together by reading this tutorial. I realised I needed to select the class by writing and using the correct “selector”. As with many of these tutorials, it’s going to slip straight out of your head if you don’t apply it a few times.

Summary

An easy to follow tutorial, which needs further joining up for application.

Rating

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History

Tweetbot took advantage of Twitter’s relatively open API to develop an iPhone native app which easily outshone their basic mobile offering. Although Twitter significantly upped its game with a redesign last year (following the acquisition of Tweetie and its coder), Tweetbot broke free from some of Twitter’s more idealistic attributes – including the patronising and advertising heavy #discover option.

In practice

You can very easily flick between multiple accounts, lists and searches. Particularly useful is Tweetbot’s “gestures” – a simple swipe and you can view replies or conversations on any tweet. Tap once to view a link, hold down to use the link or save to any number of apps, or configure triple tap options for yourself.

How it helps you

For feeding back tweets and multimedia on the move it is very good, especially with the facility to upload in the background. Also, not only can you flick between multiple Twitter personalities (for example public and private you) but you can keep track of Twitter lists. You can even turn a Twitter list into your timeline of contacts’ tweets or monitor keep on top of a story by monitoring a hashtag.

Drawbacks

Although it can be always on you have to drag down to refresh your timeline. If you want to keep abreast of several areas you have to swipe around. Tweetbot only has column based filtering and searching in the iPad app. Both iOS apps come with a £1.99 price tag. And beware, if you like it and want to start using it on your Mac then it’ll cost you £13.99 – apparently raised by Tweetbot to discourage too many users after Twitter restricted its API.  Perhaps because of this, we’re unlikely to see anything developed for Android or PC anytime soon.

Summary

A neat, fast and easy way to keep on top of Twitter on your iPhone.

Rating

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History

Cowbird launched on December 8, 2011 and immediately became a place for people from the Occupy Wall Street movement to share their stories. Last year National Geographic used the website to help residents from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to tell their stories. It’s easy to see why it would appeal to National Geographic as it allows you to tell stories with strong images. A few weeks ago it was announced there is now an embed option, allowing you to place your stories on most websites.

In practice

I uploaded a photo and told a small story. Cowbird has a freemium model so one image is the maximum you can upload without paying $60 to become a “citizen”. Other advantages of being a citizen is the ability to link stories and further customise your stories such as adding your own handwriting, adding hyperlinks, changing the colour palate and further interacting with the community. But there’s nothing to stop you putting different stories in parallel in one post, but if you wanted to use the platform to collect other people’s stories around a subject then you’d have to pay. Although the embed (below) is nice,  on Cowbird the story fills the screen and has a stronger impact.

The share (or “retelling”) facilities are pretty easy for Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr. Although, as with many inbuilt autopost functions they don’t embed natively to their platform or tag properly. I found it nicer to just use the embed function on my Tumblr page for example.

How it helps you

The stories that you can create are best accompanied by strong photo stories. You can also embed audio so there’s nothing to stop you from telling media rich stories. If you do decide to opt for citizenship then this could all be built into the platform and the multipage option would allow you to tell longer stories, even comic strips or data stories.

Drawbacks

All the best functions come at a price. The embed function is good but the mobile interface is less appealing. Although this is probably not the central aim of this site, it would be difficult to collate a breaking news story, as this requires citizenship.

Summary

A intriguing way to tell multimedia stories without learning any HTML.

Rating