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The thoughts of a young journalist in southeastern Michigan

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This is a post I wrote for my workplace’s community media lab, but it’s an interesting application of using the audience as a way to gather news. I thought I’d share it here as well.

Southeast Michigan Media Lab

It’s a line we in journalism still hear all the time: “are bloggers journalists?”

It still boils down to the decade-old argument that can “ordinary citizens” – that is, those not specifically trained in journalism – contribute to the day’s news and perhaps make a difference in reporting, whether through a newspaper or through another medium?

Obviously, this blog and lab serves to answer that question with a “yes,” but still the argument continues among our industry’s brightest minds.

While researching this week, I stumbled across a premiere example of such contribution I thought I’d share that demonstrates the power of community contributions and engagement with local readership.

It’s been no secret in our newsroom I’m a huge Titanic fiend. I read and watch whatever I can about the ocean liner that sunk on its maiden voyage. I have a front page from the Boston Daily Globe from 1912 when…

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Written by David Veselenak

April 17, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Election night 2010 from Bay City

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I haven’t written an update here in longer than I’d like. I’m hoping to buck that trend here soon, and I’m hoping this post does so.

The Bay City Times building in downtown Bay City on Adams Street. Yes, they already have their Christmas decorations up.

I’ve been here in Bay City since the end of August, and have gotten a big dose of Internet reality. Because The Bay City Times does not print every day anymore, the Web is the most important factor when publishing news. It’s been a newsroom dynamic I’ve been more than happy to participate in, as I’ve enjoyed seeing a digital focus.

That focus was extremely prevalent election night. Because The Times doesn’t print a Wednesday edition, we were able to focus exclusively on delivering online content throughout the night.

My responsibilities were vastly different than my primary night coverage in Grand Rapids. Here, I was assigned several races to cover and monitor, an actual first for me (my time at Central Michigan Life during elections was spent as an editor, directing reporters and looking over content). During the night, I met and spoke with Bay County Library System users about a millage renewal on the ballot, attended their viewing party and watched as they celebrated its passage.

My top priority that evening were two major political races: the 1st Congressional District, which spans Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and dips down into northern and western Bay County, and the Michigan 31st Senate District, which covers Arenac and Bay counties, as well as Michigan’s Thumb. Because of our local mentality, the Senate race, between a Bay City state representative and a former representative from the Thumb, was one of the most watched and was a heated race all the way through election night.

Every time something would happen though, it was online. Our site was filled with election posts from all over the county, including about 10 from myself. Once it was seen that the Republican would win the Senate race, I shot him a call, talked to him about his victory, and posted it. Afterwards, I called the local state rep. that was defeated and wrote up a separate post with his comments on the race, while linking back to the original post with the winner. Through a thread of posts, I was able to link the reader back to the original post, providing the news.

Once 10 posts and a print story for Thursday was complete, I departed the newsroom at 3

My desk circa 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning of election night. I think I'm still recovering, and it's Sunday.

a.m. Election night has always been one of my favorite nights (I still remember watching Tim Russert during presidential election season with his whiteboard on NBC when I was younger), and I was happy to partake.

The model though, was significantly different than any I’ve worked in before, and was, in my young opinion, an improvement. The constant posting online allows readers to absorb shorter bits of info, which can be easier to digest when they are searching in real-time for results on a night like election night. Of course, not being constrained to print deadlines make it all the better as well.

Written by David Veselenak

November 7, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Web site to website: An industry rocked by grammar

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It’s amazing how much an industry can get rocked by a simple memo sent out by the boss.

On April 16, the Associated Press announced a major change in its coveted AP style: “Web site” would now become “website.”

This is a style issue that has become highly misunderstood in recent years. The AP used “Web site” with a capital “W” in the beginning because of the official title – the World Wide Web. But the Internet has become so ordinary and common in society, many writers I’ve worked with never knew there was a difference.

The decision was announced at the American Copy Editors Society conference, and was then announced through the Stylebook’s Twitter account. This prompted the Twittersphere to go crazy, taking “Web site” all the way to the trending topics list.

Overall, the decision is a good one for several reasons. First, only the AP calls it “Web site.” There are very few organizations that separate the two words. Especially with the technological shift in recent years, it’s important to keep up with the tech world, especially for those young journalists that are just so used to “website.” This is also a good move because this can cut down on space with the elimination of the space between “Web” and “site.” The change – along with a new social media guide – will be published in the 2010 Stylebook, which is due out next month.

Another possible change the Stylebook is considering is the elimination of state abbreviations and require journalists to spell out the full state name. For example: Crescent City, Calif., would become Crescent City, California. The other change includes eliminating province names from naming cities in Canada. For example: Vancouver, British Columbia, would become Vancouver, Canada.

The AP was going to change this May 15, but has decided to hold off and look at the feasibility of moving that direction. Some are arguing that in this day where printed space is precious and decreasing, abbreviations are appropriate. But the AP’s argument is that international readers will be more likely to recognize full state names and not abbreviations when searching online.

For me, there is an easy compromise out there, but would face utmost resistance from editors and reporters that have been in the field for so long: Spell out state names online, and continue to use abbreviations in print.

This approach would help both major mediums journalists continue to use: print and online. While it could be difficult to merge this practice into a newsroom, it would allow the best of both worlds. Print publications could still use abbreviations and save space, and online publications could use the full spelling for SEO purposes.

In the grand scheme of things, the current changes are tiny and shouldn’t affect journalism as a whole. While it may seem like the industry shifted a little bit when the decision was announced, journalism has a lot more important things to worry about. But it does help when the governing body begins to show signs of moving forward with its thinking.

Written by David Veselenak

April 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Fast typing: My first liveblogging experience

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I’m always up to learn something new.

That’s why as soon as I realized last week was the CMU Board of Trustees meeting, I jumped at the opportunity to do something I had never done before: liveblog.

Liveblogging is the act of covering an event or some other procedure with the reporter typing out what is happening as it’s happening. It can be used for covering government meetings, sporting events, even court cases. It’s a great way to tell people what is happening as it happens, and, if using a program such as Cover It Live,  it also allows for readers and followers to ask questions and start discussion.

For this meeting, there were not that many people jumping into the liveblog (although University Communications did to answer a question I didn’t know the answer to). There was one journalism professor that jumped in, and what seemed to be like a few students, mostly asking what was up with the university’s proposed budget cuts. They were curious as to if the university administration had discussed anything with the university’s governing body, the Board of Trustees, would discuss any of Interim University President Kathy Wilbur’s plans for proposed budget cuts to combat the decrease in state appropriations.

For me, the challenge in liveblogging was keeping up on writing a post, even if it was one sentence. Especially if the board recognized someone, because I did not have the agenda readily available to get their name correct. Dealing with questions was not as difficult, because there were not that many to field.

But keeping up is something that takes practice, and can lead to becoming a better journalist. If a liveblogger is able to identify quickly the important points of a presentation or meeting, they are better suited to write their story afterward focusing on more detail rather than going back and reviewing the basics.

Written by David Veselenak

February 22, 2010 at 1:24 am