It's time to ramble on…

The thoughts of a young journalist in southeastern Michigan

How to cover the president’s visit: take three, this time in Ann Arbor

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The line for tickets to see the president speak last week in Ann Arbor.

It’s incredible: in less than two years, I’ve been involved in coverage of three presidential visits. I don’t know how it happens, but it does.

President Barack Obama came to Ann Arbor last week to give a speak on college affordability. He ended up announcing he would launch a federal Race to the Top program for the country’s colleges and universities, to encourage keeping the tuition bill low for students (something I admire, but won’t muse about here).

The challenge of his visit to Ann Arbor, however, was to do so at a smaller publication than the previous times. At The Grand Rapids Press, the staff was much larger and more could be done with other interns, photographers and writers. The challenge of covering a presidential visit with effectively two people at the speech and one back at the office assembling, posting and curating content.

Here’s how we did it for Heritage Media:

First, coverage of the lines to receive tickets to see Obama was needed. The line at the University of Michigan was massive with thousands of students waiting for their ticket. Content from the line contained several photos, a printed story and a video, which was shot by me.

Once the big day came, two reporters went to the field house where the speech was taking place, while I stayed back, monitoring the web. After going through Secret Service security, our reporters got into the field house and started sending tweets out on Twitter as often as they could, considering the poor Internet service. We set up a Cover It Live tweetstream in a story post and placed it on our home page, allowing readers without Twitter the ability to follow the coverage live throughout Michigan.

Tweets, photos came in from the pre-speech activities, an a text alert regarding road closures in Ann Arbor around the field house was sent to our subscribers. A pre-speech story, talking to people about what they wanted to hear from the president, was posted to our site before the president even got on stage, as well as a photo slideshow from before the speech.

Finally, the president came out and began speaking. Tweets continued to pour in, and since our live coverage was not coming through because of Internet issues, I was back at our office monitoring the online chatter, retweeting interesting quips that we might not have.

After the speech, a coverage story was posted, along with some photos taken by our sister publication. After a speech story was posted and shared across the other company news organizations in Michigan, another reaction piece was posted, as well as a more in-depth video of reaction from speech attendees.

Follow up the speech the next day consisted of a roundup post of all of our coverage, as well as photos, significant tweets from us and other from the event using Storify and posting it on the site. Not bad for essentially three people covering the leader of the free world.

It’s been great to be able to work days when the president is in town. It seems strange the opportunity has presented itself so many times in my young career. It might be time to set an over/under on how many times this will present itself. I’m thinking about setting it at 6.5. I’ll take the over.

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Written by David Veselenak

February 1, 2012 at 8:24 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

Branching out: I’m blogging other places, too

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It’s difficult to update this blog when you’ve got several other things running, both journalism and non-journalism

A screenshot of another blog I host, entitled "Lacing up my hiking boots," a look at the Michigan outdoors from my perspective.

related.

In the last seven months, I’ve gone from starting at a chain of weeklies as a timid fresh ex-intern, and have grow significantly since in my online and community reporting habits.

I’ve also spent my time blogging at other places, which explains the diminished amount of posts here. Here’s a look at where my blogging skills have been utilized elsewhere:

  • The Wire, the staff blog for The Manchester Enterprise, has been my main blogging home. Since my former copy editor left in early March, I’ve made it a goal of mine to keep the blog fresh and updated routinely, a goal I’m happy to say I’ve done. At least one post a week on this blog, and it’s mostly dedicated to the Greater Manchester area and events there. I venture to state issues sometimes, including this post about the redistricting plans for Michigan, and this one about a bill proposing banning pit bulls in the state of Michigan.
  • Less frequently, I’ve blogged at the Idealab blog for Heritage Media, my current place of employment. Mostly, this is blogging in regards to our experimentation with online reporting tools, and my boss uses it to keep track of her Idealab project, a project being run by Journal Register Company. So far, the only post I’ve got on there is a detailed explanation of using UMapper, although I plan on doing another one on Storify, the fantastic storytelling service through social media.
  • I’ve recently launched a more specialized blog to a non-journalistic interest I’ve had since I was young: the Michigan outdoors. The last few years, I’ve really noticed how beautiful and wonderful the State of Michigan is, so I’ve decided to dedicate some of my skills to writing about the Wolverine State. It’s my first “niche” blog writing, so I’d gladly take any advice from bloggers out there!
  • Finally, I’ve been enlisted by my former boss and roommate Brian Manzullo to guest blog at a website he has recently launched called JournU. It’s a site he has envisioned as a place for young and student journalists to share advice, stories, tips and other tidbits. It’s something that hopefully will inspire some younger journalists, since it can be such a scary time to be interested in the media right now.
I do plan to utilize this blog more, and I apologize to any loyal readers (do I have those?). I plan to update my story list, as well as multimedia posts soon as well. In the meantime, check out some of the other places I’m penning my work.

Written by David Veselenak

August 11, 2011 at 8:44 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

I’m off to southeast Michigan! (plus a little holiday cheer!)

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It’s been a longstanding joke of mine the last few years every Christmas to ask Santa for an internship. This year, it morphed to “Full-time employment.”

Well, good ol’ Kris Kringle has delivered.

Starting Jan. 10, 2011, I will begin work for Heritage Newspapers in Washtenaw County, Mich., a chain of weekly newspapers covering cities and villages in the Mitten’s southeast, such as Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Chelsea, Dexter and Milan.

Half the time, I will be reporting for the Manchester Enterprise, the weekly newspaper for Manchester, a village of more than 2,600 in western Washtenaw County. The other half of the time, I will be working the Internet, doing Web work for the entire chain, such as manage social media sites.

I am stoked at the opportunity, and am looking forward to working in smaller communities that don’t get as much coverage and helping find those great stories every smaller town has. And doing Web work is a very exciting gig, something I would have never envisioned doing when I started college four years ago.

Originally, I had planned on staying in Bay City to continue working at the Times through the spring. Obviously, that will not be happening, and it’s been a great experience compared to what I did in Grand Rapids at the Press. I’ll compile my thoughts on my time there later, there’s a lot to talk about.

I’m thankful at the opportunity to begin at Heritage, and  am looking forward to bringing my ideas and experiences to another area of Michigan. I’ll be sure to keep informing on where it takes me. I’m very excited.

To add to the holiday spirit, I’ll sign off with some cheer: with a video depicting the Nativity through the Internet (my apologies to most people I’m sure that have seen it, I was introduced to it today). Merry Christmas everyone!

Written by David Veselenak

December 22, 2010 at 7:14 pm