Friday, October 30, 2009


I get the big picture. It’s the little details that escape me.

For the longest time, I thought <3 was a dirty DM joke. A pair of breasts, a bum, a scrotum and such. Turns out it’s a heart; a gesture of affection.

Clearly, I’m not getting the lingo.

It’s not that I use Internet abbreviations. But if I’m going to use social media as an acceptable voyeuristic tool to find out what’s on someone’s mind, I need to crack their codes.

I looked up acronyms and was shocked at how many codes for kids to let chatroom buddies know if parents are in the room, or to give instructions about getting naked in front of the web camera. That would be hilarious if that wasn’t so creepy.

During summer festivals, there was little distinction between bands that were shit and others that were the shit.

Doubtful I’ll ever share a <3 in my tweets, but it will totally change the mood in the messages that I get from now on.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pedigrees and privacy

I’ll have to direct you to our media department.

I’m not authorized to comment.

I could lose my job if I talk to you.

Media is moving faster, yet it seems the process of getting people to talk is moving slower. When you finally reach someone who is allowed to comment, they don’t always bother to return calls. And so it begins: Moving down the guest list from the A players, to the secondary sources and so on, stopping before we become no better than tabloid celebrity

This week, I will pick up Rick Hillier’s tell-all book A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats And The Politics Of War. No sex, drugs and rock and roll, but a candid and at times contemptuous look at the petty workings of the Canadian government and how it drove the country’s top soldier in Afghanistan to turn to other countries for quick response to quash terrorism cells.

I’m lapping up every TV, radio and online report I can find. Much of the appeal is Hillier’s blunt perceptions about what has gone wrong in the Canadian military to the detriment of the soldiers that I believe he truly strives to protect and support.

I find unions and pensioners are tops when it comes to unfettered albeit biased opinions, but freedom of the press is under the gun as industries hide behind false privacy pretence and rank to abandon their responsibility to explain themselves.

How can we be watchdogs in our communities when everyone is afraid to talk? How low do journalists have to go on our guest lists to scrape together stories and feed the public’s appetite for immediate news?

The Hyper Journalist


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Roll up your sleeves

The H1N1 outbreak shows how essential it is to provide up-to-the minute information, and how print and stale websites fall short.

It was a mad dash to isolate the strain and produce a vaccine. Canada even sought special ministerial permission to distribute the vaccine to provinces and territories before it was approved to save time dispensing it to health authorities for flu clinics. The health authority where I live received its first batch hours after that approval came this week.

I’ll bet these health authorities were flooded with calls from media and people wanting advice and wondering when the vaccine would available. Major online newspapers have H1N1 special sections with updates, features, polls, videos and other bells and whistles. Smaller online products that don’t update often do their communities a disservice by not providing timely information. The print product is always behind.

However, online newspapers that list stories that get the most hits don’t show H1N1 in their top 10 lately. Am I overestimating public interest? I hope not.

Some cities are rolling out the shots to high-risk groups first, others are making them available to everyone right out of the chute. The Globe and Mail has an interesting breakdown by province. There’s constantly changing information about whether children should receive one or two shots, whether pregnant women should wait for the unadjuvanted vaccine expected in early November or get their shot now when the outbreak is in its second wave.

Is it news or alarmist to shed light on scares about vaccines causing autism and neurological problems, or if the mercury content in the H1N1 vaccine can harm children? Canada’s chief public health officer is urging people to get the shot, and I suspect we’ll all rush out to get the money shot of the first mass vaccination clinics starting Monday in many communities.

The global death toll is nearing 5,000 -- that’s about the number of Canadians who die annually from complications to the seasonal flu. The push for vaccinations is to prevent H1N1 statistics from growing exponentially.

Media outlets big and small have a responsibility to provide the information to help people make informed decisions. When the information changes so often, that standard rises.

I’m grateful to the online newspapers that are updating often, because I’m also trying to decide whether to roll up my sleeve. I’m even more incensed at online sites that still think it’s OK to update at a snail’s pace. When it counts most, they’re asleep at the switch.

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Let's do the time warp again

Evolving from a print to multimedia reporter isn’t a beautiful thing. Hardly a caterpillar blossoming into a beautiful butterfly that takes flight in the summer breeze. It’s more like a doo doo covered in flies that’s swallowed by earth before anything good can come of it.

In other words, it’s a slow process. For a while, I’m gonna stink. If I keep working at it, I might mature and maybe get to the point where I create something awesome.

Everything about the industry tells me multimedia is what I need to be doing. After all, North American newspapers are abandoning their print product and concentrating on their online editions.

A group of laid off reporters in Brockville went against the grain when they started an independent broadsheet weekly at the end of August. The Brockville Voice piggy backs on a modest website by touting TV and video news online and the occasional print piece to the new paper. It's a decent aggregator made up mostly of announcements and upcoming events, blogs, lowest gas prices, what’s playing at the movies and, gulp, “community journalism.”

A popular gaming website did the same when it started putting out a print magazine to complement its website. While there are countless gaming websites, I read there’s a demand for gaming magazines, and going to print filled that demand. Weird.

It will be interesting to see if these new publications survive. I'll keep my layout skills fresh just in case, but I’m not unplugging any time soon.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who's in charge here!

My newsroom has a dirty little secret. We don’t know which little work horse is pulling the media cart.

Multimedia is more than knowing how to work a camera. It’s asking the right questions to understand if an assignment will be best presented as one printed story, one photo, a photo gallery, a video, a podcast, a series, a special section, an interactive web page or more likely a combination of these.

My newsroom is still thinking like a dated print product. We don’t ask if there’s multimedia opportunities. For example, on the same day we built a story where there wasn’t one, we turned our back on a great public event by trying to sum up its issue in one photo. I think Hitchcock called that criss cross.

Ideally, reporters would be equipped with all the gear they need to react and come back with the best content. My newsroom doesn't have that luxury. We share banged up equipment.

Reporters are under a great deal of pressure to use social media and gear that delivers our news immediately and in different formats. It’s time editors join us.

Whether you credit FDR or Peter Parker’s uncle, it’s true that with great power comes great responsibility. My newsroom is very top heavy, but they’re not asking the right questions to help me do my job better.

It’s a shared responsibility. Let’s give some thought to our content and give reporters a say in how assignments are covered. For editors, it's a chance to share the blame. For journalists, it's a way to build a better product and portfolio.

The Hyper Journalist


Monday, October 19, 2009

Making time for the Great Canadian Novel

Writing pays my bills.

I’m impressed by anyone who can come home after a day of writing and write. I’m flattered that I have creative friends who want to collaborate with me on creative writing projects, although I find when the hobby is also a breadwinner it’s a challenge some nights and weekends to sit down in front of an empty page.

I was listening to an old CBC broadcast with a writer talking about his trusty Moleskin notebook, and I plunked down a stupid amount of money to get my own when I could have spent a few loonies for a simple Wal-Mart notepad made in China.

I hold myself up as an example of what not to do in life; an anti-role model or perpetual before picture in the game of life. I made my friends aware of my purchase and they rightly teased me about the magical powers that I now possess as a result of having the right writing journal.

Starting a blog to bemoan the lack of multimedia opportunities in my newsroom did something I didn’t intend; it has encouraged me to write on my own time.

This weekend, I put chapter ideas in the Moleskin. It’s a start. A month from now it might turn into a scratch pad for grocery lists, but every project has it’s fork in the road and I’m hoping this is the way to get used to writing when it doesn’t pay the bills.

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Multitasking in a multimedia world

When I was a kid, I could play video games while talking on the phone — no cordless back then — and reach for a glass of pop without spilling a drop.

Maybe I was prepping myself for a career as a multimedia reporter, although some days I’m disconnected and there’s puddles of root beer all over me.

I find myself overwhelmed during some assignments, gathering accurate information, video soundbites and b-roll, enough photos to give my editor a choice and trying to do it all on a deadline.

Some online newspapers devote staff just to edit and produce video, while others have photographers to deal with the images. Many have one-man bands that either create beautiful music or make our ears bleed.

So what’s the best order to get things done? Throw a few sentences on the web? Then a photo? Then a video? Then more photos? Then an updated story? Should the updated story go up first, or does eye candy pass the velvet rope?

It’s been an eye-opening exercise to visit online newspapers in Canada — and I haven’t finished exploring Manitoba yet — but I’ve learned diddly squat about their process. It appears the big boys post early editions of articles first, then photos and videos as they become available, and finally an updated story.

Maybe it’s healthy to feel that deadline stress. It’s what drives most of us to get our work done, otherwise we’d leave it indefinitely. The day I no longer feel that pressure is probably when it will be time to give up root beer and hang up my notepad.

The Hyper Journalist


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Missing my deadline to meet yours

There’s more pressure than ever to trade content, but some diners at this party are taking more than their share and leaving the rest of us hungry.

Online news has been a great help in my newsroom to seize copy from media outlets that are a bit stingy when it comes to sharing the goods. The less copy there is to work with, the longer the shift is to try and fill those news holes.

I’ve missed layout deadlines by scraping the bottom of the empty news barrel. One night I decided to raid the websites of my greedy sister online papers to get the content that they’re hoarding.

I detest seeing my newsroom’s website littered with wire copy, yet it’s a lifesaver to scavenge news from sister online papers to fill the nuisance print product.

Shoplifting their photos isn’t so easy with editors finally learning to upload smaller files that can’t be reproduced in print.

For all our faults, my media outlet is pretty good at posting copy and photos early enough to be used in other papers. While I’m making it easy for them go to press, I’m burning the midnight oil trying to beat the clock.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We're No. 1!

Holiday weekends are a great time to have a look at online newspapers and see if they planned for empty newsrooms to fill empty websites. It’s been my experience that when a holiday hits, we scramble to fill space. Quantity, not quality. The following is what we usually come up with.

Don’t try this at your newsroom.

10. Construction photos: We all like those big, yellow Tonka trucks, but there should be something compelling about the image or some news behind it.

9. Petty complaints: You know the ones I mean. Man is angry to find dog poo on his front lawn. Woman is mad because the city started road work at 8 a.m. Driver is unhappy to get speeding ticket because other cars were going even faster.

8. Grand openings and reopenings: Ribbon cuttings, big cheques, ground breakings all fall under this category.

7. Anniversary stories: TV can get away with reruns. Print can’t. If nothing significant has happened to reopen an issue, let the day slip away.

6. Fender benders: Unless a reporter or photographer is already in the area, minor crashes don’t justify tying up scarce staff.

5. Being a mouthpiece for local politicians: This one’s tricky to balance. But if their message has no merit, why devote staff to it?

4. Weather stories: Unless all hell is breaking lose, maybe we can give our readers the benefit of the doubt that they know how to look out a window.
“It rained in the city yesterday afternoon, and officials are saying everything that wasn’t indoors got wet . . .”

3. Promotions: If you can’t get through to our ad department, by all means talk to my editor and have a trained journalist publicize your show, fundraiser, product, business, etc. Jobless rate? Poverty? Health? Education? Bah!

2. News releases: Ours consistently make the front page. No wonder we’re losing readers. Glad to see PR people are earning their keep.

1. Wire copy on the web: Maybe no one will notice we have little or no local content.

The Hyper Journalist


Friday, October 9, 2009

Lessons in unlikely places

I almost embarrassed myself. More than usual.

I was ready to make fun of the Hudson Bay Post, dubbing it the Delta Force of online news because it didn't exist, at least according to the first link I tried.

It calls itself Churchill's monthly newspaper, published occasionally by a privately owned publishing house and "chock full of not-necessarily-true-stories about not-so-late-breaking news but the cover always looks great!

Its website features facts and fiction about the northern icon and landscape. "It is a strip of white sand beach along the coast of Hudson Bay near the former site of the Churchill garbage dump. A beautiful place for a picnic if you know how to handle a shotgun."

It caters to a niche audience that's interested in northern travel, facts about the area and tall tales.

Just when I think it doesn't have much to teach about digital journalism, its website is updated far more often than some mainstream news sites.

I didn't expect to find a lesson in the polar bear capital. That's the beauty of travelling online, especially when it's already snowing there and I haven't even taken my woolies out of storage yet.

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don't trust licence plates

Quebec’s plate offers the enigmatic Je me souviens. Beautiful British Columbia is straightforward. Ontario promotes, promotes, promotes Yours to Discover.

Friendly Manitoba may describe the good people who live within its prairie borders, but it masks the mood of some online newspapers.

There doesn’t seem to be much consensus about the best business model for online news. How much do you charge for web advertising when the overhead is less than print? Will the public pay for news? Will the public pay for anything?

Yesterday’s news is more valuable than today’s headlines at the weekly Boissevain Recorder. An annual online subscription is $40 and up to $190 per year for access to its archives dating back to 2004. Its website only offers one article every Friday. Read it while you can. The price will jump in a year to view it.

The Brandon Sun online content is free to seven-day home delivery subscribers. Selling milk to a cow. Despite already having a subscription, they still have to register online, input their account number, username, password, DNA, retinal scan, fecal smear, presumably each time they visit unless their computers are set to remember the data.

The site offers the first few sentences of an article and the chance to click to view the full story, only to direct users to an order form.

It took a while to find how to type an umlaut, but it’s worth it to mention the Lögberg Heimskringla, a Winnipeg-based publication featuring Icelandic culture, yours online for only $35 a year. The closer you live to its home base, the more you pay. A one-year print subscription is $47.25 anywhere in Canada, and bumps up to $50.40 if you live in Manitoba.

Takið þið við krítarkortum?

The Hyper Journalist


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

To be continued . . .

I love a cliffhanger, but seriously some of you have to stop tweeting about the groundbreaking story that will appear in your paper tomorrow.

I’ll let you in on something that is not at all a secret. I’m trying to compile a directory of reporters who are on Twitter, and I’ve barely started. I work all day and drink all night. It’s difficult to fit it into my waking hours.

Whether it’s large urban dailies or small rural weeklies, I’m following some of you who are using social media to hype something that will appear in print on another day.

I’m bombarded with messages that journalism is immediate and social media will help deliver it immediately. You’re stroking that cat backwards by telling me you’ve got a scoop and I can’t have it.

I don’t likely live in your city — lucky you — and it’s doubtful I’ll have a chance to buy that newspaper. So you’re hyping something I can’t get. You have an international audience at your fingertips, and you’re flipping us the Twitter bird by telling us about what we can’t have today.

Save your tweet until you can link us to something useful. Keep using digital to brag about analog and I’ll DM your Twitter handle to every smut account I can find.

Let them tease you for a while.

The Hyper Journalist


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teenage espionage

I love this time of year. The leaves are changing colour. Wine-making season is approaching. The kiddies are back in school. Every school event we cover is a gimme -- instant web hits if we remember to post photos early and often.

My latest high school assignment came as a sporting event, and I made it a point to sit in the stands for a while to watch a group of girls with cellphones in hand.

I’ve read that kids have not yet taken to Twitter. If they’re not tweeting, what are they doing?

These girls subscribed to receive daily phone messages and each had customized rings. They were texting and taking photos of each other at the game and sending them to each other. It all seemed pointless, but this is exactly why school activities translate into web hits. Students like to look at each other. They take an interest in technology that takes an interest in them, from YouTube videos to local media websites.

It’s no different than organizations with clipping services that want to know what media are saying about them. We’re not going to cater to a niche audience any time soon, but it always has to be in the back of our minds to think digital. Web surfers seek information about the people and places they know. We have a window to win their favour. The earlier we post and the more we post, the more use they’ll have for us.

Score one for local media.

The Hyper Journalist


Monday, October 5, 2009


In newsrooms, who’s the chicken and who’s the egg?

Some reporters use social media to find out what’s happening in our coverage area and find sources, while others see it as a time waster and a fad. Some are trying to make it second nature to post as quickly as possible, and others wait for the night staff to do it.

Is it up to writers to choose whether to change the way they do business, or do employers have a responsibility to kick some ASCII?

There’s something tempting about letting reporters lie in the beds they’ve made. Those of us who are ahead of the game and learning the trends in delivering digital journalism are at an advantage. But the bigger picture makes me think we’re weaker as a whole unless we’re all aboard the new media train.

Do we penalize staff for not having enough Facebook friends? That’s the last thing this industry needs as we pick up the pieces and brace for more change. Do we offer incentives? My incentive is giving my career a fighting chance, and I’m doing that by sampling all the social media I can and trying to improve how I deliver news online.

I’m predominantly doing this on my own time. Maybe it’s a question of employers seeing the value of giving reporters more time during their shift to learn about and use social media tools. I’m not going to wait for that invitation. I’m crashing the digital journalism party. It’s either that or end up with egg on my face.

The Hyper Journalist


Friday, October 2, 2009

My favourite tweet

Months ago, I came across my favourite Twitter tweet: “I think the paranoia in print newsrooms has the older gen. scaring the younger ones out of being innovative.”

I meant to try and figure out where this person works. But in typical writer fashion, I didn’t have a deadline, kept putting it off and have since lost the name of the author and the will to try.

The message intrigues me. I change my mind about whether or not I agree with it. We have good days and bad days in my newsroom. We chase web hits and bend the learning curve by figuring out what makes readers tick. We drop the ball and revert to our print vices: Writing too long; slow to post; filling our website with wire; working on easy-hit stories we know are of no interest to anyone.

The tweet is right in that we still dig in our heels to maintain the old way of working. It’s comfortable at a time when we’re crying for stability. We shy away from bigger issues that can’t be done in a day — let’s change how we use our staff and spread the work over more days. We sometimes work on stories in the wrong order — finish the quick hits first and get them on the web.

We’re not asking the right questions to find out if an assignment has photo opportunities for a web gallery, or potential for video. We show up with the wrong equipment. “I wish I would have brought a video camera!” or “Wow, this video camera fits in my glove box.”

The tweet is wrong in that I don’t think we’re being sabotaged. Some of our younger staff are the most belligerent that we’re not aggregators and the web is the embarrassing side of the family, yet they’re pretty proud when their stuff gets lots of web hits. More experienced staff are making an effort, and making mistakes.

It all averages out in the end, I just hope that’s enough to graduate into a permanent career in digital journalism.

The Hyper Journalist


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time keeps on tickin’ chicken lickin’ . . .

I gotta stop writing these things when I’m hungry.

Smaller online newspaper websites try to mess with the time-space continuum, but it’s nothing more than a cut-rate magic show with an arthritic bunny with loose bowels and a drunk guy with a bent wand.

Here’s what I mean. The Pipestone Flyer in central Alberta, for example, doesn’t put dates on its stories. KARMA. It has formatting problems. It’s misleading not to inform readers when something has been posted and updated, or give context when an event or interview happened.

I reluctantly give Pipestone credit for its upcoming events, even though it might be an accidental attempt at being an aggregator.

Others date stamp their web page when it’s visited which makes it look like it’s freshly updated. Many smaller papers only update the day they publish their print product. Social media is immediate, yet I’m finding some news sites only update Twitter and Facebook when they publish.

The Chestermere Anchor uses its website to promote its ad deadlines. Maybe they know something I don’t.

I started this blog because I felt left behind journalism’s digital trend. Is it wrong to feel smug about working in a newsroom that isn’t as archaic as I first thought? Almost as wrong as feeling smug about winning second-last place in a beauty pageant. Both need a makeover.

The Hyper Journalist