Journalists’ Toolkit: A Learning Experience

11 12 2007

Journalists’ Toolkit has definitely been quite an experience for me this semester.  Although I have taken other digital based courses here at UF, I don’t think that any of these have allowed me to practice and improve my digital skills as thoroughly and as often as this course has.

Yes, I knew how to create a soundslides slide show before I took this course, but only on the technical side.  I have learned that the storytelling part of creating a soundslides presentation is a completely different thing. I think this is one of the things that has really been emphasized for me during this course, although I realize I still have not perfected this art.  Yet, I know I have come to understand it more fully, and my storytelling skills have improved as I can see in my projects for this class as well as those completed for other classes.

Photography is another portion of this class that I have really enjoyed and learned a lot from.  I find myself taking significantly better pictures now than I ever thought I could.  Editing, sizing, and optimizing these for the Web has also become almost second nature to me because of this course.

Moreover, if I wasn’t completely aware of just how time-consuming and detail-orientated digital projects of any kind are before taking this course, I am certainly aware of it now.  I have learned that while “content is king,” design and consistency is also important.  Most importantly, I have learned that when you think you are done editing, edit again, and then edit some more!  There is almost always some small mistake you have overlooked.

Completing the projects assigned throughout this course has proved invaluable to me as they have helped me to significantly improve a lot of skills I already had some experience with such as collecting and editing audio, and creating digital storytelling projects.

In summation, although I have often been very frustrated by this course, its time-consuming nature, and the always unreliable Internet and computer software needed to complete projects, I have come out of it more knowledgeable, more professional, more patient, and more complete as a communicator in the Digital Age.


Story Package: Graduate Students Face Feelings of Depression

11 12 2007

Graduate students are often under a lot of pressure. Immense workloads in addition to personal responsibilities and working long hours alone can often isolate these students from others, and cause feelings of depression. The following story package explains this issue with words, sounds and pictures. Enjoy!

Screenshot of Story Package

Luck in Storytelling

3 12 2007

As I think about my soundslides 3, I am reminded of the Ira Glass videos we watched earlier in the semester on the topic of storytelling.

I chose to do my issue soundslides on depression in graduate students because I had read several articles about the heightened risk of graduate students to feel depressed because of high levels of stress and pressure, and because the issue is personal to me.

I wanted so much to make this my best soundslides yet, and I feel I failed miserably. For weeks, I ran around interviewing graduate students, taking pictures, e-mailing and calling different depression and student panic experts around campus, and in the end I feel dissatisfied with the story.

I am reminded of when Ira explains that we often find ourselves having worked on a story for days or weeks, come back with hours of audio and tons of photographs, only to find we must throw it all away.

Although I think what the three different graduate students I chose to use in my slideshow had to say effectively represented the issue, I found it so hard to accurately represent this in the photographs. To make matter worse, the only expert who would allow me to speak to her only allowed me to take one very bland picture of her!

Still, there is good news. I know my skills have grown through this class because I am at the point where I can recognize when something is not satisfactory, and I find myself being harder and harder on work, but the simple truth is that sometimes in storytelling, luck is an important factor. Where subjects allow you to meet them, what they say, and what subjects even agree to let you interview and photograph them, can have a big impact on your story, regardless of the work you put into it.

I am trying to think of ways to improve the soundslides before the final story package is due. I am thinking of maybe using some of the other graduate students I interviewed or maybe a reorganization of the different audio segments. Maybe I’ll go black and white, I don’t know.

Take a look at the soundslides and please offer any suggestions! But, remember, be honest but kind.

Soundslides 3: Depression in Graduate Students

29 11 2007

The soundslides presentation below is about depression in graduate students. Because the work-load in graduate school is often quite large, graduate students tend to drown themselves in their work, often finding little or no time for social interaction or stress relief.

I chose this story because it is personal to me, as I have often suffered through bouts of depression throughout graduate school due to the lack of social interaction, and endless work and expectations. As I tried to tell this story, I found it very hard to photograph the issue. I tried to be creative and keep the shots from becoming repetitive, but I do not know if I accomplished this as well as I would have liked. It was hard to get these busy students to take time to let me take more photographs as I thought of different ways to demonstrate the issue. Still, I do think its my best audio work yet!

Take a look and feel free to share your comments.

Soundslides 3: Depression in Graduate Students

The Future of Storytelling

26 11 2007

Before our last class we were asked to read a highly-known blog entry by Adrian Holovaty entitled A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change. I really enjoyed reading this because I like the way Adrian thinks. My favorite part is when he says, “Newspapers need to stop the story-centric worldview.” Reading this coming from someone else was exciting to me, because I’ve felt this way for a long time. Through my journalism studies, I have always had a problem with this old and painfully formulaic style of presenting information that some of us have a hard time letting go of. Although certain storytelling elements must still always be present to present information in a way that makes sense and is appealing, I agree with Adrian in that journalists need to be a little less resistant to change and welcome some of the data-rich capabilities offered by today’s technology.

During class, Mindy exposed us to several storytelling tools that can help us achieve the kind of journalism that Adrian envisions, including maps and graphs and how to make them for our own stories. We will be including one of these in our final story package. I am excited to try it out.

Finally we looked at some examples of this data-rich storytelling that is, I believe, the future of journalism. We look at and explored, Los Angeles Times Homicide Map, and Islam in Europe. These are all good examples of how data can be presented in more interesting and complete ways than by only using words. Take the time to look through some of these. Islam in Europe is particularly nice, I think.

HTML & CSS Basics

13 11 2007

Last week in class, Mindy gave us (the students of Journalists’ Toolkit 1) an all inclusive, one day lesson in the basics of HTML and CSS; that is hypertext markup language and cascading style sheets. More simply put, HTML is a programming language made up of English words that tells a browser what to display on the screen. While HTML is used for the structure of Web pages, CSS is used to add style elements to that structure. Using cascading style sheets helps keep the presentation of a Web page separate from the content, allowing for faster downloads than if you were to style the content right in the HTML code.

Some of you who might have never been exposed to this stuff, might be wondering what I am talking about! Mindy introduced us to a lovely Web site, HTML Dog, which is perfect for beginners. It has step-by-step tutorials on how to write your own HTML and CSS code to start your own Web site. Also helpful for beginners interested in learning how to write this code, is a book I am using in my electronic publishing class, HTML, XHTML & CSS by Elizabeth Castro. Like HTML DOG, this book is very detailed and thorough. Both of these resources go at the perfect pace for someone that is just starting to try and understand these concepts. Elizabeth also has a very helpful Web site on the subject that you should consider taking a look at. The site includes more information about the book I have mentioned in addition to other books that can add to your computer savvy.

HTML and CSS can be simple once you understand what is going on, but it can also be very confusing as it tends to be very, very, excruciatingly specific, and therefore mistakes are easily made. If you are looking to get into this, I suggest you look at the resources I have mentioned here and look for more! For me, although I am currently taking a course in electronic publishing that focuses on HTML and CSS, Mindy’s lesson was still very helpful. Being taught the basics all in one lesson was useful, as it really helped to reiterate to me how this all comes together. This can sometimes be difficult when you are taught in very small steps. As with everything else, the only way to really get good at this is practice, practice, practice, so I suggest you get to it!

Soundslides 2: Flaco’s Cuban Food and Coffee in Downtown Gainesville

7 11 2007

The following soundslides presentation introduces us to a relatively new Cuban/Colombian bakery style restaurant in downtown Gainesville. One of Flaco’s owners, Tim Darnell, takes us through a little bit about what they serve at the restaurant, favorite dishes, types of crowds that come in, and why he decided to open the business. Take a look and as always, let me know what you think!

Flaco’s Cuban Food and Coffee in Downtown Gainesville

Screen shot of soundslides