Snowpocalypse vs. “The Internet died”

Last February, I saw the city that never stops working come to a screeching, snowy halt for about two weeks when 3 feet of snow was dumped on it. It was surreal, like from some zombie movie where only the remaining survivors roam the streets searching for familiar faces, booze and the one restaurant with the balls to open. I remember walking in the middle of Wisconsin Avenue, a very popular street here, and nodding at my fellow survivors treck through the slush to my apartment 3 miles away. It felt nice having time stop and not worry about rushing to the next school function, work event or social activity. It was mutually understood that everyone was going to hibernate for a while, at least until the metros started working again.

Although most of us couldn’t physically leave the house for two weeks, it turns out life didn’t stop because one thing sure as hell worked and kept things going: The Internet. We had two classes online (meaning I still had to get up early and focus for a few hours), projects were still due, I was still expected to write, and communication continued between friends. Except for the occasional trek to the nearby grocery store, I was essentially glued to my computer for company (I was living alone at the time), entertainment and work during Snowpocalypse 2010. But last Friday, another inconvenience came about that beat snowpocalypse. Not only did it inspire some of my coworkers to go home early or not even come in, but it literally halted business and made it so we had no choice but to read, do menial tasks, eat and socialize until life started again.

Last friday, the Internet, Intranet, and Outlook all crashed for 8 hours. Most of those hours, nobody was here. But I was.

I get into work at the wee hour of 7:30 every day, so I was among the first to notice something was wrong. Keep in mind that my entire job revolves around the Internet and the ability to use it. I went around and asked everyone if it was happening to them, contacted IT, and stared at the frozen hourglass until the rest of the crew came in. I was frustrated that I came in early so I could leave early, but ended up having to stay late to play catchup. The interns were thrilled because that meant they could have long lunches and an early Friday. For those of us who’s work didn’t magically disappear when the Internet died, we had to stay late and make up for lost time. But that’s besides the point.

It was funny to me that the effects of the Internet and email dying were far worse than 3 feet of snow towering over the District of Columbia. We all felt disconnected, useless, lost and purposeless without it. But during the snowstorm, there was a frenzie on Twitter, everyone was glued to their computers (what else would they be doing? Shoveling their cars out of their driveways to be met with a mountain of snow in the street?). It just goes to show how important the Internet is to running a business. We’re a think tank, so it’s not like the company necessarily revolves around the web like other companies do. And yet, life stopped that morning more so than being snowed in last February.

I’m also realizing just how dependent I am on the Internet to run my life. When I go to work, I am at the computer for close to 11 hours. I come home, and I’m online again doing my social media, talking to friends and Skyping with my boyfriend. I go to sleep, wake up, and am strapped to the computer again. I even got the new iPhone (YAY), to which my mom commented, “that’s not a phone, that’s a mini-computer.” Soon, I’ll become a robot.

What does it mean that life stops when the Internet dies? What does it mean that my life has revolved around the Internet?

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Lessons from the Online News Association Conference

The past few weeks have been busy but exciting in the world of journalism. Tonight, I’m camping out at Hearst’s D.C. Bureau with reporters from other regional papers as well. It feels good to be part of breaking news and dive into a subject I admittedly never follow (elections). I never appreciated a John King hologram or a New York Times flash map more than tonight. Seriously, new media has made old media a lot less stressful.

I’ve learned a lot tonight, but I also learned a lot about the more techy side of journalism at the ONA 2010 conference.

I was fortunate enough to attend panels on Friday and Saturday as well as an amazing job fair on Thursday. My live blogs are on the site, but here are some takeaways from the conference based on my experience.

 1) Stop saying “journalism” vs “digital journalism.” What we’ve learned is that digital is the new standard. Newsrooms have made the adjustment (God help them if they haven’t) and now they’re playing with new tools (graphics, social media, data collecting) to deliver information to a very digital audience. It is detremental for newsrooms and especially j-schools to see digital as a luxury or advanced skill. It is now a necessity.

3) News is going to be a social experience. When you look at basic sociology, it seems obvious that the best way to provide a successful service is to LISTEN to your audience. How do you listen to your audience? You RESPOND to them (as @WSJ does on their twitter feed), invite input and make changes based on that input. I’m not going to “engage” in a website if I think a human being won’t ever see it or reply. People today follow trusted news streams rather than individual news sites, and crowdsourcing has become more important than ever b/c of the limited resources many newsrooms are facing.

4) J-schools better step it up. I was most intrigued by the “Rewiring the Ivory Tower” discussion b/c it seemed like there was a huge divide between J-schools that are “with the times” and J-schools who still see journalism as a degree for people who like to write. I’ll say that the writing drew me to jouranlism in the beginning, but now it’s part-writer, part-expert internet stalker, part-computer programmer, part videographer and part digital social butterfly. They NEED to require HTML and design courses as well as video. And most importantly, they can no longer separate online journalism from broadcast. We need to know it all, and I feel like I missed out b/c of that divide.

5) Know what makes a good site. I really enjoyed the session on website traffic and search engine optimization. Search engines care about social media (notice the amount of YouTube videos and Tweets that show up for your average search). Some tips the panelists gave included adding “related stories” to stories that get big hits on your page, making SEO-friendly headlines and links, ask for viewers’ zip codes to target information, and monitor interactivity. Engagement is far more important than hits. Also, use written numbers, understand the importance of location, use tags in the Titles, describe what’s going on in your multimedia (those don’t always show up in search engines) and write for your audience!

The Best and Worst Thing I’ve Seen in a While: Cubby Journalist Taking on the “Dinosaur”

Gawker found yet another hilarious but telling case of tactless online communication. This one particularly stood out to me because it dealt with an issue relevant to my life on a daily basis–the dinosaur versus the cubby.

First of all, it was rude for this student to essentially call this person a “Dinosaur” by saying his or her job is no longer relevant in today’s journalism world. I’ll skip a rant about this person’s inability to communicate effectively to a potential interview subject and write grammatically correct. But in journalism, if you want anyone to talk to you, the first thing they teach you (and what you should already know by being human) is not to insult them.


Two main things come this post, however, about the merging of the traditional journalism sphere and the introduction of new media and tech-focused journalism jobs. It’s apparent that the “Dinosaur” is probably already extinct or on his/her way out and doesn’t want to be reminded of it, especially by a wide-eyed student who could be taking his/her job upon graduation. The second thing I think of with this post is how unprofessional, unprepared and nieve this cubby is as a SENIOR in journalism school. Both are dangerous to journalism in their own way.

The best part about this was the onslaught of comments that came from the article. Most insulted the kid’s writing skills, but others pointed out the relevancy of a journalism degree that has seniors bug old-timers in journalism as their final projects.

“When I think about how much this student is paying for his worthless journalism degree vs. what the veteran “dinosaur” journalist paid for his journalism degree, which did have worth for many years, I’d say the student is on the losing end of this one.”

Ouch, buddy. We could theorize about the value of a journalism degree these days, but I’ve already got the degree, so I’d rather not get depressed over it.

I did learn valuable tools about new media journalism as part of my degree, but I will admit that because these new skills (video, web design, social media, graphics, interactive, etc) take up so much time and mental energy, the fundamentals can go unnoticed (luckily, my rigorous writing courses and print-intensive undergrad background helped me out). But I still have a lot to learn from both worlds. Right now I’m lucky enough to work with professionals who are reaching their 70s with decades of valuable experience while also working with the innovators of tomorrow’s media landscape.

“How about the person who is “teaching” journalism? You won’t find a bigger dinosaur than that”

This comment also stood out to me because it makes you think about which institution and which professors are teaching you the skills you need to know for this “new” journalism. Sure, some schools might have a history of excellence, but are they in touch with what you need to learn to get a job these days or do they glorify the Woodward/Bernsteins of the past? Are the professors making sure the print kids learn video and the video kids learn web skills? I hope so.

I fall into the wide-eyed cubby category, but I feel like I’m a bit of a mix between the “Dinosaur” and the Twitter, Huffington Post-obsessed cubby. The tools need to be understood and used, but that drive for good writing, research and PEOPLE SKILLS is essential to making these tools significant to society. Otherwise it’s a bunch of wasted messages and pointless graphics.

Search Engine Optimization: Tips for getting your site noticed (In a good way) and Marketing on Social Media

 

SEO means improving the visibility of your web site in search engines like GOOGLE, which is the way most people find your site in today’s web environment. SEO allows you to get more hits on your page through natural search results, aka unpaid.

First things you need to think about

  • Who comes to my site NOW-demographic
  • Why do they come to my site?
  • What is the most popular thing on my site (Google Analytics or Review should tell you this)
  • What do I WANT to be the most popular thing on my site/what do I want to get more attention on my site?
  • What kind of marketing am I doing now to get people to see my articles
  • Goals: What audience do we want, how big of an audience, and what do we want to be the “draw” of the site

Most Popular sites today and why

  • The most popular sites today (traffic wise) are search engines and social media sites. They include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Youtube, Blogger, Wikipedia, and Twitter
  • Why do they get the most hits? #1—b/c they are excellent search engines/easy ways to get information you want fast. #2 B/c they promote interactivity, they are a part of the “social media” lifestyle and they get you committed.
  • Applying it to you—you need to make sure your site gives your target audience what it wants from you in an easy way and you need to promote interactivity to establish some loyalty/commitment to the site.
  • Most popular think tank site (based on some Google searches): Heritage Foundation. Why? My guess is b/c they have targeted their audience, given them the content they want (and can only get there) and provide some interactivity.

 Ways to improve your SEO-Marketing Outlook

  • Know your audience and give them a lot of what they want. Do they come to the site b/c of a particular issue? Nail that issue on the head and give them ways to spread it around to their friends on social media.
  • Think to yourself-what do I Google? What kind of phrases do you Google—like “Top 10 election lies,” “Economic experts on immigration,” etc and incorporate those phrases into your URL titles (which are the titles you come up with in your headlines)
  • Use social media to your advantage but do not come off as a used car salesman. Target certain groups, media and leaders that would be interested in your issue.
  • To find target followers—see who similar orgs are following and follow them but don’t bombard them with ads for your organization via @’s or DMs. Give them a taste of what they want but don’t force it in their mouths.
  • On Facebook-announce upcoming events, give away prizes for joining and facilitate dialogue on each post through “comments”
  • Promote your video projects on the home page and send out a notice about them in your newsletters (I get them, so I’ll know!)
  • Use lists! People Google lists all the time and those will pop up first.
  • Have your fellow colleagues and interns promote site content on their personal social media. Nothing’s more convincing than the recommendation of a friend.

Ways to improve your SEO-Tweaking your website

  • Search for your Twitter audience using popular hashtags either by issue #iranelection or news event #midterm. Go to hashtags.org for a starting point. But the best way to use a good hashtag is see what others who cover what you cover are using and join those conversations.
  • Use tags on your website when posting stories as your personal branding. Do you want to be the go-to source for a certain issue, expert or trend? On every post, tag the story with whatever keyword you want to be associated with.
  • When using multimedia—like a photo, image or graphic, people won’t find it in a search if the description or title is built into that multimedia. You have to label them in the body of the text for it to show up in searches.
  • LINKS LINKS LINKS! Do not put a hyperlink on “click here.” Rather, hyperlink the keyword you want people to find when they type it in a search. Add lots of links!
  • Your title: Make your title search friendly with keywords, phrases and names that will be searchable. In AP style you’re supposed to only put someone’s last name, but SEO calls for full names.
  • To show up in area specific searches, you need to specify the location in the body of the text.like instead of “the store,” say “the Houston store,” etc.
  • Make sure your URLs in each post aren’t a bunch of mumbo jumbo. From what I understand you can change the URL of a post on most CMS platforms. If your URL is something like http://www.ladannekoomaram/top-10-ways-to-get-fit that will show up more likely than http://www.ladannekoomaram.com/article-13453234. Likewise, when you create URL names, put hyphens in between in each word instead of having them run together.
  • Always remember, if you spend a lot of time on a video or fancy piece of flash, it is unsearchable. Put what you need in text too.
  • Search spiders love UPDATES, so make sure to update frequently and link to other popular sites that cover what you do. If you get picked up and linked from another popular site, that’s free traffic for you. The best way to get noticed is by the recommendation of someone trusted which is what happens when you get linked by someone or put on their blogroll.
  • Surround your links with relevant, descriptive text
  • Don’t overuse keywords b/c if a spider sees the word being used too much in an abnormal way, it will count against you.
  • People don’t usually read a site for more than five seconds, so give them something clean, visually pleasing and a great lead “above the fold” on the left side. People read screens in the shape of an F (left to right then down).
  • Always put captions with images
  • Never underestimate the power of the “share” feature, comments and social media
  • Your “about” page should have good links, tags and keywords that will make it so your site comes up in relevant searches or similar searches
  • Avoid using JavaScript or FLASH navigation. Google’s crawler typically moves from one page to another by following your links/navigation. It can easily navigate “a href=” links, but cannot always follow JavaScript or FLASH links—nor can it complete any forms on your site, needed to “view” a page. This is important if you have any web content behind a password-protected login.
  •  If you want more details, I found a great “Beginners Guide to SEO” which is free online, but lengthy http://guides.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-search-engine-optimization

Twitter’s Web Journalism Chat Addresses an Important Question in Journalism: Jobs

Tonight, mostly led by journalists with jobs, WJ (web journalism) chat featured a lively discussion on what recruiters are looking for in job applicants. Later in the conversation, journalists also delved into what skills and assets they’re looking for WHEN and IF they have job openings.

I eagerly awaited the question that asked recruiters to list job openings. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any pop up for D.C., but wouldn’t that have been a cool story? “I got my job from following Wednesday night WJChats? Nowadays, a lot of opportunities happen this way.

Robert Hernandez stole the show with his great advice, job listings and connections he made as a professor at USC and a potential ONA board member. What particularly stood out to me was the lack of students weighing in on the discussion or job hunters. Maybe they were nervous or maybe they felt left out of the employed journalists who seemed to all know each other and congregate in a bubble. Or maybe they were like me, who tweeted every so often and clicked refresh hoping for their next break.

I am lucky, considering that I’m fresh out of grad school, someone decided to give me a shot. I’ll be working part-time at the Houston Chronicle in D.C. doing multimedia and various reports on select issues that interest the Texas audience. I’m looking forward to starting, but I’m also looking for other work so that combined, they would equal one livable salary. In the meantime, I’m volunteering for two media groups (ONA and WAMU), keeping up the foreign policy blog and looking to write for various publications.

I was glad that the discussion tonight didn’t solely focus on social media and technology, because at this point, we get it. We should learn these tools to be able to compete, and we should do this on our own or by joining a school that keeps up with the times. AU is getting there–it is full of professors who understand how journalism is changing, but that hasn’t translated to the curriculum. There are still classes where  you have to write 3,000-word stories and there isn’t enough equipment to teach half of the students how to use a video camera. But from talking to some faculty last night at TBD’s launch party, I learned AU has incorporated a video class for the online/print journalism students.

In my opinion, these are the big things you need to get out of your program before graduating:

  • You need to embrace social media for all its wonders. Don’t start a Twitter account and stop after two Tweets. You’re probably already on Facebook, so get yourself a Delicious page, Flickr and Linkedin account too.
  • Take Bill Gentile’s backpack journalism class to learn storytelling through video. He’s been in the trenches and is about as real as it gets. Also take his foreign correspondence class if you’re an adventurer or have any interest working abroad.
  • Bug the hell out of David Johnson when it comes to the web. He is the most forward-thinking professor I’ve had so far. He isn’t the type to hold your hand and show you what to do. But he’ll point you in the right direction and help you if you work hard. From him, learn the basics of WordPress, Drupal, using social media, Flash, Photoshop (he wont teach you it…but yeah…learn it), and how to brand yourself. On the side (as of now they won’t teach you it) learn some HTML, CSS and PHP. Kinda makes you want to major in computer science!
  • Learn how to edit and use audio equipment for Soundslides and radio packages.
  • Get to know the friendly folks at J-Lab and the IRW, and if you can, get involved!
  • Dive into Joseph Campbell’s media myths–they’ll surprise you and serve as a good lesson on how to conduct your own work
  • I unfortunately never took a class with her, but everyone who has had Lynne Perri for a class has fallen in love with her because of her great advice with editing and producing quality work. She has also been very helpful to students in the job searching process.
  • Finally, blog, put your work on the web and WRITE as much as you can. I came from an English writing background, so that wasn’t as big of an issue for me. But if writing isn’t your thing, the best ways to improve are to a) READ a lot and b) WRITE a lot.
  • Oh yeah, and intern/freelance. You NEED experience!

Some advice from Tweeps during#wjchat:

henrymlopez: Q2 Be able to learn. Know that you’ll need to teach yourself and learn what you’re shown.

webjournalist: Q2 When I hired, news judgment, ethics, pro-activeness and good attitude were key. Tech stuff we could teach you, but know basics. #wjchat

JeffHidek: Q2 Flexibility is king. A vast knowledge base is great but you have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. #wjchat

SLODeveloper: Q2: Ideal dev candidate would have a bachelor’s degree and 2 years experience in HTML/CSS, Javascript, PHP, MySQL and enjoy dessert #wjchat

kimamoy: Q2 — I look for strong news judgment & Web sensibility, plus ability to learn quickly due to constantly changing tech & new needs #wjchat

andymboyle: @verbalcupcake That they got a degree and have a portfolio that proves they’ve taken initiative. #wjchat

effHidek: Q2 Know the basic principles of databses, coding, flash, actionscript w/ the willingness to learn more. #wjchat #wjchat

kimamoy: i’ve hired laid-off print journalists as contractors, and if they didn’t have web experience, they didn’t last long #wjchat

NicWirtz @verbalcupcake Basically want an example of someone out of their comfort zone and learning something new. #wjchat

wjchat: Q3 Are you interested in applicants being specialists (great videographers) or generalists (scrappy newshounds)? #wjchat

henrymlopez: I am disturbed when I meet people with fresh J-degrees and no digital training. This does not bode well. #wjchat

Q3 Truthfully, know enough about everything but specializing in something. Someone recently said, you need to be a Journalism Plus. #wjchat

BillBoorman: for every interview you need to prepare 3 sets of questions 1 something theyve told you 2 something they havent told you #wjchat

JeffHidek: Q4: Clean up that FB page! We rejected a promising candidate this year after his Facebook profile told a diff. story #wjchat #wjchat

webjournalist: Q7 If you are applying for a Web job, get a domain and your own site showcasing your work. Y’all, it’s actually really simple. #wjchat


Why I Unfollowed You on Twitter

I’ve only unfollowed a few people on Twitter, and I gotta say, it took a lot of patience before I reached the breaking point. For some of us Twitter nerds out there, we monitor how many followers we have and cringe when we see the numbers drop. Most of the time, it’s just a bot discovered and deactivated, but sometimes it’s someone who decided they didn’t want you to pop up on their feed anymore. A few of them discovered that I unfollowed them and got personally offended…to which I would like to respond—give me a reason to follow you, then I will.

If you post silly updates, news stories that don’t interest me or flat out stop posting for a month, I will look the other way. But there are a few key Twitter “don’ts” that will get you blocked faster than you can type 140 characters.

I present: How to NOT annoy me on Twitter

Post things I care about

Remember to link your stuff–I wont trust it (unless you’re Anderson Cooper or something) if I don’t see the link!

Quit with wasteful hashtags. Saying stuff like #omg or #ihatemylife or #lolz are a total waste and quite frankly make you look like a twitter snob. It’s obnoxious!

If you are a marketer or PR person I don’t know, do not tweet me unless you have something i would actually want. Don’t follow me either—i get excited when I see a new person has and then I come to see you’re following 50,000 people and have 70 followers…

Mix it up. Add some personal pizzaz to your tweets if you’re just going to regurgitate news stories or retweet things.

Don’t @ like ten people on irrelevant things. I see what you’re doing on my feed. You’re that kid in class who waves “me me me” when the teacher is trying to think of someone to call on.

Don’t check in at your house. Seriously. The point of 4 square was so people on twitter could be like “oh wow that sounds like an interesting place,” or meet up with you if they’re nearby. Do you really want people finding you at your house? Didn’t think so.

Don’t blast out 10 tweets at a time. I’ll only read the first and second from the top.

Lastly, it’s ok to self promote (that is one of the main functions of Twitter), but do it with class

The New Water Cooler: My talk with UGA students on New Media

Yesterday, I had a great time talking with a group of students from a summer program at the University of Georgia on new media. I met with them via skype and told them the importance of becoming social media savvy now before it becomes a prerequisite to today’s journalism jobs. If an employer sees that you are using new media NOW to enhance your work and connect with others, they can trust that you will continue using it on the job.

Only a handful of students in the class had active Twitter accounts, while many of them said they were on Facebook. It got me thinking about journalism education for high school and undergraduate students and how new media should be incorporated into the classroom.

I remember telling them that I feel one of my best tools for networking, getting my work out there, and learning about topics in my field had to be Twitter, although that wasn’t always the case. People must not mistake Twitter as the value added, but rather, the tool to create value-added content and personal branding.

I just started using Twitter to my advantage this semester when I learned that most major journalists and news organizations talked to each other on it as the new virtual water cooler.

I started noticing the web of connections with D.C. journalists, and I’m now observing this trend with college students, NGOs and political groups. Whenever news breaks or if something goes viral (cough the Old Spice proposal and Paul the Octopus), you can bet the Twitter community is actively chirping about the issue with one another through @’s and hashtags. Instead of having a “behind the scenes” page on news sites, they might as well go to the Twitter pages of its reporters for the real deal.

I’ve made “friends” on Twitter more than Facebook because Facebook is a tool I use to talk to existing friends. Through Twitter, I have gotten breaking news from multiple sources, got some tips on stories for work and met people that have been valuable allies in my journalism career.

So what can Twitter do for you? Just like any social media tool, it has the potential to bring life to discussion and create a spot for you among colleagues in your profession. Or it can be a fun way to stay in touch with friends and tell the world what you’re up to every minute of the day.

For young, aspiring journalists out there going through their journalism courses in high school and college–you cannot ignore the possibilities of new media. It’s important to learn the fundamentals of journalism (writing, storytelling, interviewing, capturing a moment), but what will put you ahead of the dinosaurs is your knowledge of web, mobile and social media.

To hear their report on my interview, visit their blog. Here’s what I said on using your degree to pursue journalism:

“A 2009 DePauw University graduate, Nekoomaram took some time to talk about training for a journalism career. She studied English writing and history at the liberal arts school, located in Greencastle, Ind. She explained that her English classes helped to develop her writing schools, something she sometimes felt gave her an edge over her classmates in American University’s Master of Arts in Journalism program.

The history “helped with understanding context,” especially when it came to Persian affairs, a particular interest of Nekoomaram’s due to her heritage. “The news doesn’t give you the history [as a reporter]. You’re the one who has to do the research about the issue you’re talking about. You need to know your topic,” she explained.”