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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Calling the election early made upset some, but it’s better than going back in time

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The Five Thirty Eight blog on the New York Times site captivated a lot of people this election cycle. And for good reason.

You can’t always get what you want. Whether it be in politics, life, work, nothing seems like it will always go our way.

The same goes with voting for president via the electoral college. It’s one of the strangest concoctions our Founding Fathers put into place: State by state, votes are counted, and state votes determine who is the executive of the land.

No matter what your take is on the system to elect the president, it’s not going anywhere right now (although there are movements to institute the popular vote as the deciding factor). Neither is the technology, knowledge and skills of those who cover the race and can predict with great precision how the race will go.

I saw at least one post from someone on Facebook Tuesday night decrying the decision to call the race for Barack Obama before all votes were in, especially in states like Alaska. The argument was that no American should feel like their vote doesn’t count, and by the calling of the election at 11:12 p.m. at night, those Americans feel left out of the democratic process because of the call.

I say: get over it. The press is doing their job.

Political number geeks found their savior this year in Nate Silver, who has attracted more attention than any other reporter at the New York Times than perhaps Judith Miller or Jayson Blair. Unlike those two, the attention was positive: Silver and his Five Thirty Eight blog used numbers and polling data to accurately predict the outcome in every single state for the presidential election. He became an election rock star, doing media tours and becoming the target of attacks from conservative pollsters who decried his prediction of a second Obama term. Silver details the results in the TimesCast below:

 

And it’s popular. Nate Silver’s blog accounted for 20 percent of all traffic to Monday, an enormous indicator that those looking at national websites for pre-election news believed his data and invested their time in reading it. That’s pretty powerful stuff. And with an indicator like that, doesn’t that show that the reader and several others want to know what the best scenario is for the presidential race?

The abilities of many media companies to accurately predict election results in the presidential race is amazing. States were being called left and right shortly after the polls closed. My home state, Michigan, was called as the final precincts in the Upper Peninsula were closed at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Barely any results had trickled in before the decision was made by predictors to award our 16 electoral votes to Barack Obama. And it stuck, with the president winning the state with almost 54 percent of the vote.

Which brings me back to my original statement: why would we want to go back in time when election results weren’t determined until the early morning the next day? The technology and knowledge is available, why shouldn’t we use it? We live in an age where people want to know what’s going on faster and delivered as quickly and accurately as possible. Why shouldn’t we exercise our First Amendment rights to gauge the election as it’s happening?

Of course issues such as Florida in 2000 do come up. There’s no doubt about it. But issues have come up again in Florida this election cycle, and it hasn’t affected the election. That’s how the Electoral College works.

Yes,  it usually means states like Alaska and Hawaii won’t play as large of a role in the election during the night, but they could if the race is tight enough further into the night. They have a combined 7 electoral votes, which could decide an election later into the night. But more than likely, the decision has been made by then. That’s how the system works. Alaska has only voted Democratic once in its state history, and Hawaii has only voted Republican twice since 1960. All three times were in landslide elections where the winner won by a large margin.

I equate it similar to a baseball game: if the home team is leading after 8.5 innings, do you play the bottom of the 9th? No, the game is over. The same concept applies to our current presidential electoral system, except the votes are officially counted when the election is said and done.

I understand the concept of making sure everyone’s vote counts. It’s an important part of our republic. But it’s also important to allow the press in all its forms do its job. Nobody wants another repeat of this to happen.

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Written by David Veselenak

November 8, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Thinking about trying to go paperless for 30 days

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UPDATE: So I did not follow up with this post, namely because I saw I used very little paper. In attempting it, I found I’m a fairly light paper user, save my reporter notebooks. At the very least, this project showed me that. Thus the lack of follow-up.

I’ve been using Evernote, the note-taking productivity tool, since early last year. Since starting to use my Android phone, I’ve definitely began using it more and more.

Every once in a while, I see talks of “going paperless,” something that would be very difficult to do for a reporter using documents and such. But I’ve decided to give it shot with Evernote’s most recent blog post, advertising its 30-day paperless challenge.

While it’s not the best way to store all personal data (see: passwords), it’s a great tool for keeping things together that aren’t as critical, such as news clippings, grocery lists and miscellaneous information. It’s come in handy with my fiance and I as we plan our wedding: we can use the program to save items for our registry, and carry them with us to do some price comparisons at other stores.

Of course, not all paper can go away with being a reporter. Just ask this stack of notebooks sitting behind my desk at home.

It’s a great tool for journalism as well. I use it to type out my story notes, police briefs and save important web pages for later. I use a label system and can find what notes go with the school district I cover, my story list for the week or reference what police case numbers I’m requesting more info on from the local department for crime briefs.

So I’m taking Evernote’s advice and trying to reduce paper clutter starting tomorrow. I’ll post here at least once or twice to gauge how well I’m doing; I’m more likely to succeed if I make it public.

I don’t have a major gameplan yet, so I’ll probably try and follow Evernote blogger Jamie Todd Rubin’s advice for now. I’ll probably shift this as I go on, but it’s a good start.

If you want to, give it a shot as well. Follow the event on Facebook for updates. Some ideas are popping onto the wall as well, so be sure to use some of those.

Written by David Veselenak

August 20, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Journalism, Technology

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The best apps and uses for my smartphone after one year

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I’ve now been at the Redford Observer almost two months, and have not gotten around to an update. Before I do that, however, I’ve wanted to write a post around the beginning of July all about my cellphone.

I heard for years how helpful a smartphone is to journalists. I watched as fellow students and co-workers use their phones for their reporting. Being able to look up information in a pinch, taking photos on the fly and publishing on the web from a small device appealed to me greatly. In July 2011, right before Verizon killed off the unlimited data plan, I snuck in and purchased an Android-powered Droid Incredible 2.

Save for a few weeks when I was using a Samsung Stratosphere, I’ve used the Incredible 2, running Gingerbread, for an entire year. It’s come in handy several times, and some apps have meant more to me than others.

Here are the most useful apps I’ve found while using my phone:

Twitter: The app I find myself opening the most on my device. The official app from Twitter, it’s been updated from the design I originally got used to. I’ve made it a point to follow many different accounts, from Michigan news accounts such as the Detroit Free Press and MLive to other journalists and journalism-related publications, such as the Nieman Lab and Society of Professional Journalists.

It’s a useful tool when in the field, such when the tornadoes hit Dexter earlier this year. I was able to follow area agencies and news outlets to stay on top of things we may have missed in our reporting. It’s also a way to push out news, sharing photos from accident scenes and tweeting out information as it comes in when I’m not near a computer. It’s a must-have for me.

Facebook: Another big one, although not as big as Twitter for me. I used it more at my old job, posting updates to our weekly newspaper pages, and responding to readers’ comments. Photo-sharing from events was simple too, a quick photo of an event such as Manchester’s Easter Egg hunt, and it was pushed to our readers.

While Facebook has returned to a more personal use for me at the Observer and Eccentric, it still comes in handy. A lot of organizations in Redford use Facebook, and I’m able to stay up-to-date on everything the organizations in Redford are posting.

Evernote: A great note-taking tool I use exclusively for my current job. The ability to sync between my computer and phone is a plus, so everywhere I go, I have my notes with me. I type out my notes on a computer when I do interviews, and I’m able to clip articles if I find something that’s relevant to Redford.

I take personal notes in it too, such as directions or instructions. Each note can be placed in a specific folder, or notebook, and I can easily retrieve it with a quick search on my phone.

It captures other forms of media as well, including photos, audio and documents. I use the quick snapshot feature if I see something that’s story-worthy, such as a flyer on a billboard. I’ll use it to take images for reference, if I have to remember how something looked while writing.

There is a premium version of Evernote, but I’ve found that the free version does the best for me. I’ve thought about upgrading, but haven’t had the reason too. With 60 MB of storage per month, Evernote is a great tool for keeping organized at work.

Disqus: This is one I didn’t expect to be so helpful, but it’s great for those online moderators out there on the go.

We launched Disqus as our commenting platform at my previous job at Heritage Media near Ann Arbor in April. Looking, I stumbled across this app which, for some strange reason, could only be found on Android. For the month or so I was still moderating comments for Heritage.com, I would use this app to preview, screen, approve and delete comments that needed moderation for the website.

It came especially handy on weekends, when I was away from my computer. A notification would appear in my notification center, I’d open it, read the comment and approve or delete. Piece of cake.

Tape-a-Talk: There are plenty of recording apps out there, but I’ve taken a liking to this one. The quality is good, and you can record in two settings: wave/pcm or 3gp.

The recording is crisp on the Incredible 2, which has a microphone on the top of the device. I use it frequently enough that it’s replaced my $50 recording device from 2008.

It saves files in a separate folder on your device, and you can access it when you mount the phone as a hard drive. Simple and easy to use.

Google Drive: This is becoming my standard cloud storage unit since I have a folder on my desktop. I use it to write stories in, and label my folders according to month so I know right where a story is.

Recently, with the switch from Docs to Drive, I’ve been using it for photos for work. I take a few photos for work using my phone, and I use Drive to transfer them to the cloud.

Other cloud services are important, too. I find myself uploading large folders of photos to Box, where I have 50 GB of storage. I’ve tried using Dropbox, but I find I’m filling it up too fast. I may go back and use Dropbox, but for now, I’m going to with Google.

Flipboard: A new addition to my phone, it came to Android last month. And I love it.

Reading stories on Flipboard is a clean experience, much cleaner than on the web browser that comes on the Incredible 2. I can pull my Twitter and Facebook feed into it, and get a clean, crisp reading surface that “flips” as I read.

It also gives me top recommendations for subjects such as news, technology and sports. It’s great for lunchtime when I want to catch up on news that I haven’t had a chance to look at yet.

I’ve tried using different readers, such as Google Currents, the Flipboard copy, but nothing compares to the easy reading on Flipboard. It makes reading on my phone easy and enjoyable.

Is there an app I should add to this list? I’m always looking for a new addition to my phone.

Written by David Veselenak

July 8, 2012 at 7:06 pm

2011 year in review

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If 2012 brings half the challenges 2011 had, I think I’ll be set.

My year was consistent when it came to journalism, spending my entire year at my first “real” job, working as a reporter and online coordinator for Heritage Media West, a news organization covering Washtenaw and western Wayne counties owned by Journal Register Co.

While slightly worried when I started that working for such a small newspaper — the weekly I wrote for, The Manchester Enterprise, has a total coverage area of about 10,000 people — I learned throughout the year weekly print publication

Downtown Manchester.

face different, yet equal challenges, as larger coverage areas.

Below is a month-by-month look at my year in review:

January 

I started at Heritage Media Jan. 10, covering the Village of Manchester and doing some online work; managing social media pages, posting stories, etc. I started off slow, still getting accustomed to using a whole new system and news flow. Working at a weekly product meant different deadlines, and a whole new content management system (going from Movable Type to Town News). I began getting accustomed to learning township and village government, and started covering both.

I started dabbling in iMovie, a program I hadn’t used before, to produce news videos. As the year went on, I began using it more and more.

February

The month was smooth-sailing, until the end when I received an email from my Manchester copy editor while at a meeting saying she was leaving the company. This left the Enterprise, a weekly print product of approximately 30 pages, with no editor, a job I was assigned to take over. Soon after, I assumed the role of copy editor and reporter, leaving many of my online duties behind.

We started using a new video client, Syndicaster, instead of VMix, a move that was a significant improvement. Not only did it allow for embedding of videos cleaner in story posts, it also allowed us to share content among other news orgs in the company.

March 

I spent the entire month copy editing and reporting for the Enterprise, something I was, frankly, scared to death of. I had not been in charge of a product like the Enterprise since being editor-in-chief of Central Michigan Life during the summer of 2009. Writing 7-9 stories a week, as while as coordinating user generated content from the community, copy editing pages and posting online content was how I spent my days during the month.

The challenge wasn’t as difficult as I imagined it would be, and I was still able to produce a daily newscast video for heritage.com.

July

An image that appeared in print and The Wire blog taken with my Incredible 2. The plate is a traditional dish served at the annual Manchester Chicken Broil.

Fast forward to the summer: I acquire a new tool designed to help my professional life: a Droid Incredible 2 smartphone. Among the many things I’ve been able to do with it include posting quick tweets on breaking news, take high-quality images for print, post to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and track page analytics using SiteCatalyst. It’s been a blessing to have the device, even though it’s acted strange with some of my contacts recently.

September

My role at Heritage took a turn in September: a newsroom re-organization made me the full-time online coordinator for Heritage Media, decreasing my role as a reporter and charging me with a higher responsibility to the website. Since, I’ve spent more time focusing on analytics and bringing as much traffic as possible to the site, assisting reporters with making their stories pop on our site and curating content from our sister publications close to Detroit.

I also spent two days at a conference held by the Reynolds Journalism Institute in St. Louis, Mo. Going with two colleagues, we attended several sessions focusing on tablet use and development, as well as online strategy. You can read about my take-backs from the conference on the Heritage West Idealab blog, a page ran by my boss, Michelle Rogers.

October

Video content in our newsroom gets a refresher, with more instructions saying more in-depth, produced pieces are the way to go. I start curating more of our videos to other sister sites, and trying to build of off the directive to create higher-quality videos.

The group from Heritage West that attended the annual AP meeting in October in Mount Pleasant.

I also attended the Michigan Associated Press editor’s meeting in Mount Pleasant. This was a great opportunity to hear stories from the Grand Rapids Press on how they covered a mass shooting in town this past summer, more legal issues pertaining to journalists and how to best use social media in a newsroom.

Goals for next year

  • Learn more coding, starting with HTML and CSS.I asked for a basic book for Christmas, and I received

    This is the book I'm planning to crack open as soon as I hit publish.

    one of the coding books “For Dummies,” as its called. I plan on starting to use it tonight after posting this. I’ve used it lightly with embedding videos and maps on heritage.com, but I’d like to use it to create some different things, and maybe make some site changes here.

  • Continue learning about the mobile world. I’ve been using my phone for many uses, but I’d like to keep pushing it to the brink, using it to extract and capture as much info as possible. Eventually, I’d like to learn mobile to development as well.
  • Push the blogs on heritage.com more, and do more blogging myself. This is one element of my job I’ve really enjoyed doing, starting off with blogging for The Wire, the Manchester Enterprise’s blog. We’re encouraged to post to a staff blog at least once a week, and with our re-organization, all of us have access to each community’s blog. I’ve contributed to the Idealab blog, talking about technology and media, a site created by Brian Manzullo called JournU, a place for young journalists to share advice and stories, and my outdoors blog, where I touch on everything Michigan-relatd outdoors.

I’m always looking to improve, but these are just a few concepts I’d like to keep driving. Are there any other I should look into doing this year?

Written by David Veselenak

January 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm

The “breaking news” tag: is it broken for the web?

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Even with this “digital transformation” in news delivery, it’s still a very common occurrence: a big story is first reported on, say, for instance, a prominent cabinet announces his resignation. The first group to report it, we’ll say its the Washington Post, publishes a tweet at 1:45 p.m. saying “BREAKING: Secretary of Energy to announce resignation” and posts a link shortly afterward.

Twenty minutes later, another tweet regarding the news will go out, this time from perhaps a college publication or smaller local news org, that says “BREAKING: Cabinet member to resign.”

The question is, when does a story still warrant that “breaking news” label? Is it when the first story is published no matter who does the publishing? Is it “breaking” when its the first notification goes out from that news org? Is it “Breaking” at all? Even Breakingnews.com isn’t always first when it comes to the big stories on Twitter.

Dictionary.com defines the term as “news that is happening and being reported on or revealed at this moment.” So by that terminology, only the first news organization that announces the news has broken it; the rest are just following suit. So why is the term “breaking news” still being used so loosely?

Some inspiration for this question came from Journal Register Company Director of Community Engagement and Social Media Steve Buttry’s post on the news alert sent out by the Post in the very early morning hours, stating the U.S. electorate “was frustrated” a year out from the 2012 presidential election. Buttry writes:

Really? A poll that reveals nothing new and just confirms what everyone knows about the country’s mood deserves a news alert? At 12:18 a.m.?

Buttry calls the timing of the message – being pushed at 12:18 a.m. – “print thinking,” something that definitely won’t help a the digital delivery of news. This led me to the thinking behind this post. The question still plagues many journalists still adapting to a digital delivery: how do we handle big stories that have recently unfolded? Some of us still classify news that is big as “breaking:” to some, this can feel natural; people are checking our site first, so its big news to them, right? But for those we are going to go to places such as Twitter first, by the time they check your site, they already know the news; it isn’t breaking anymore.

I had a conversation with a colleague mine on Twitter several weeks back on this very subject, and came to this conclusion:

In the Web age, the term “breaking” should cease to be used. Nothing is breaking 5 minutes after it happened; its become old.

It doesn’t just apply to big stories, either. Repeatedly, I’ve seen tweets, especially from the Associated Press Twitter account, with the breaking label that doesn’t just seem like “breaking” news. Take this tweet, for example, sent Friday night:

BREAKING: Obama calls Penn State sex-abuse case “heartbreaking” -CC

I don’t disagree that this is important information: The Penn State scandal has dominated news sites all last week, and it was the first comment from the president on the matter. But wouldn’t most people familiar with the Penn State news expect the president to think nothing less? Does this deserve a “breaking” tag, especially when it was sent out on a Friday night, and is nothing but a presidential statement? This type of tweet would be still appropriate to send out, perhaps just dropping the “BREAKING:” altogether.

Is there a better way to convey bigger stories than just labeling them “breaking”? Or is there a better way to use that phrase in a more web-friendly manner?

Written by David Veselenak

November 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm

The New York Times and its “pay fence:” love it or not, it’s still revolutionary

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The big event finally happened Monday, one that’s been more than a year in the making.

The New York Times finally throw up its “paywall,” or as some have called it, a “pay fence.”

The basics: Readers can visit nytimes.com and click on 20 articles, blogs, videos or slideshows for free a month. After that, a box comes up over an article, asking you to pay for additional views. A “basic” digital subscription costs $15, the “intermediate” plan costs $25 and the “advanced,” which comes with the Times’ iPad app, costs $35. Print subscribers, no matter which subscription, will receive an all-access pass to the site and apps for free. Right now, the Times is offering a four-week introductory rate of 99 cents, presumably to hook people.

The kicker, though, is the “porous” aspect of the wall. Articles that a reader accesses from a third-party site, such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Google, can be accessed for free, even if you’ve exhausted your 20 articles that month (Google clicks can only number five per day, however). This aspect is one that has captivated the media world, seeing how no other publication had offered that type of access.

The move has to be a way to ramp up print subscriptions, since it’s cheaper to receive at least one paper a week than just digital access. Getting the cheapest print option, the Sunday only edition, will allow you all the access you want online, and will only cost $390. A full digital access-only subscription will cost $455, a significant increase. The move is clearly subtle way of making their print product viable, and getting their Sunday advertisers’ ads in the hands of the American public (Although one Canadian blogger, who saw the paywall two weeks before us Yankees, believes the new system could be trying to change the way news is published).

But is this an ideal solution? Rather, should the Times continue to try and sustain their print product, when the industry seems to point toward digital and mobile content? The Times is no doubt the leader in the news industry; when it changes a business practice, everyone watches and takes notes. Perhaps the Times should have looked closer at truly migrating away from dependence on a set of paper and focused more on improving the revenue stream online.

Regardless, the wall is still up. And people are still trying to figure out ways to crack it, my favorite being this Twitter account. It has created a list that feeds Times articles to followers, effectively allowing everyone that follows them to read articles for free. Of course the Times tried to shut this down, but not because it was tweeting articles left and right, but because it was using the stylized “T” in its logo.

You could also try the other approach, deleting key portions of the code in the URL. Because the Times tracks how you visit its site through cookies, all one has to do is click “Inspect Element” and do some code work (something I’m not very good at, although hope to be someday). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Times changes the overlay box to what the Wall Street Journal does, and completely block a non-subscriber from seeing a story instead of an overlay box.

I’m still weary of subscribing to news content when I know I can get a good chunk of it for free elsewhere, namely here. But I still continue to read stories on the Times’ site, and haven’t been confronted with the dreaded box yet. I might even subscribe to the Times for those first four weeks. After that, we’ll see.

(A quick shout-out to the website-saving site Evernote, which really helped me gather up links for this. A great service, definitely worth checking out.)

Written by David Veselenak

March 29, 2011 at 10:08 pm

My year in review: It’s been a wild one!

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It has been a crazy 2010.

It started with this blog, which began as a class assignment for my online journalism class. I had held a blog previously, but I saw this site as a great way to help grow as a journalist after graduation. And I’m proud of myself for continuing it (not to mention the “A” I received for this site).

I’ve grown a lot since I began the year covering the first Mount Pleasant City Commission meeting for Central Michigan Life. I served as online editor of my alma mater’s newspaper this spring, doing all things Web-first and managing the paper’s website and social media pages. The experience allowed me to take a bit of break from the grind of running editorial content as a news and managing editor. But it gave me the opportunity to pursue one of the best decisions I felt I made this year: take over the Mount Pleasant city beat.

As someone who didn’t have an internship until after graduation, this decision was one that prepared me for the “real world.” Covering university-related issues is great, but community news orgs want you to cover local government. I was able to cover more than a dozen meetings, dealing with complex issues such as budget slashing, infrastructure and business. The city of Mount Pleasant is a great place to get experience with covering, and I highly recommend Central Michigan University j-students to give it a shot.

The highlight of the year reporting-wise, though, came this summer working on the politics desk as an

The press pass I was issued when I arrived at the airport to cover President Barack Obama's landing. I had two by the end of the summer, the other coming when he spoke at the groundbreaking for the LG Chem lithium ion battery plant in Holland.

intern with the Grand Rapids Press. The first assignment was to cover a town hall with soon-to-become Gov.-elect Rick Snyder, and it only got better from there. Overall, I met three candidates for governor, Spoke with several state legislatures, the mayor of Grand Rapids, and added two White House press passes to my collection of White House press passes (which brought my total to two).

The opportunity to cover politics during one of the most heated political primary years in Michigan was nothing short of spectacular. There was always something to write about in politics, and it never got old. Writing on several general assignment pieces allowed me to meet and see the best charitable organizations Grand Rapids had to offer, including the Ronald McDonald House, Gilda’s Club and the Blandford Nature Center.

My reporting was capped with a giant profile piece on Michigan State Sen. Jim Barcia, a politician who is retiring after 34 years as a legislator at the state and federal level. I drove down to Lansing to spend time with the Senator in the Capitol (which I can’t help but marvel at every time I go there), and met with him in his office. After meeting with him and his wife at their home for a behind-the-scenes look, I crafted a piece looking back at his career. It is the biggest piece I’ve written to date, and I haven’t spent so much  on a piece before. It turned out well, and was posted on two entries on The Bay City Times’ page.

Which brings me to perhaps what I learned the most this year: Web posting. I got a big dose of online reality when I began at the Times in August. Like I’ve said previously, the cuts in print have forced the Booth Mid-Michigan newspapers adapt their news model, and I was thrown right into the mix. Stories were still important, especially for print, but most of our day is consumed by Web posts on MLive.

This has showed me the power of the Web at it’s finest. Especially Election Day, when I was responsible for 10 of the Times’ posts, I’ve learned that getting things online as fast as possible is the way we are headed.

So, what does all this leave for goals in 2011?

  • For one, just because I’ve graduated and am out of school doesn’t mean I want to stop learning. There’s still a lot I need to master personally. I never got around to teaching myself more HTML and CSS coding, and I want to begin doing more of that.
  • I want to be a more regular Web presence, blogging more often and using social media more to make communicating with others more effective.
  • I have little to no experience with anything mobile, mostly because the phone I have is a Samsung Alias 2, aka a “dumbphone.” I’d like to invest in some sort of smart phone this year to help understand the world of mobile news.

With beginning at Heritage Newspapers shortly after the first of the year, I have a feeling my learning curve will change. I’m hoping 2011 has more great news to come.

Written by David Veselenak

December 27, 2010 at 9:27 pm