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Posts Tagged ‘online journalism

We can work it out!

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The biggest problem I had with my Production Labs project was that the client wanted an animated timeline map showing the Manchester cuts in sequence. No matter how much I searched, I could not find a way to do it within my current abilities.

I even spoke the the Flash developers at the Financial Times, but they said that I would need a lot of expertise to achieve what I wanted. Then over a beer in the afternoon a fellow Online Journalist, Desi Velikova, suggested I look at Tableau to see if that would work.

Firstly, I made sure I had all the longitude and latitude data in the spreadsheet, dates formatted correctly etc and then loaded it into Tableau. At first it just showed a map with one large circle in the middle, but then I found out the default setting was to find the average of the numbers, so correcting that immediately changed the view to one of Manchester with all the locations of the cuts correctly displayed.

Next, through trial and error (as the help facility was anything but helpful), I managed to work out how to add a time element to the map and also change the size of the markers depending on the size of the cut (dropped from the final version) and how to change colour depending on which department the cut was from.

You can see a screenshot of the resulting map below, or to see it in action, have a look on Kijamedia.


Written by Andy Watt

March 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Liz Taylor: A Life In Numbers

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As a practise for visualising data, I decided to use information about the life of actress Liz Taylor to create a handful of visualisations.

I used Many Eyes, Fusion Charts and Google Docs.

The first was a collection of random data such as how many films she had starred in, how many grandchildren she had, how many front covers she had graced etc.

Next I decided to look at films, and I discovered that in relative financial terms, her movie ‘Cleopatra’ is still the most expensive film ever made which I showed with the following visualisation.

Finally, I looked at a very famous aspect of Taylor’s life, namely how many husband she had, and turned that into a visualisation.

You can see all of these in their full animated and interactive glory here.

Written by Andy Watt

March 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Social Media and the Olympics

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Below is a mind map I created to help me compile a report for the BBC on possibilities for using social media to encourage interest in lesser watched sports during the Olympics. Below the mind map is the text of the brief report.


Social media has exploded over the last five years. New start-ups such as Twitter have been embraced by millions of users who use the services frequently, while other more established social networks, like MySpace have fallen by the wayside.

The challenge for the Olympics in 2012 will be to harness the services which offer the most potential to both the Corporation, the athletes and spectators/viewers.


Twitter is probably the most popular existing source of communication between athletes and their followers. It allows the user to communicate updates about their lives to their followers and receive replies, opinions and questions which they can then respond to. Most mobile devices can access the service and it will be one of the most active forms of communication in the build up to the Olympic games and for the duration of the event.

Twitter is not just a simple messaging service though. Through the use of the Lists function, Twitter accounts can be collected together and the user can then follow a particular list which can be updated and amended at any time by the person who created it. This would be an ideal way for broadcasters or sporting organisations to promote and distribute the details of their athletes’ Twitter accounts to potential followers. It is likely that if followers find individual users interesting, they will follow them from their personal accounts. These lists could be a generic list of athletes or organised by sporting discipline/event and could also include the broadcasters and commentators.

Also, Tweeting from mobile phones with location settings activated can allow Tweets to be plotted on a map. This can provide a useful visual source as photographs will also appear on the map along with the Tweeted message. This could be used to raise awareness of where sports personnel are appearing, broadcasters are reporting from and potentially improve attendance numbers at events. The maps can also be embedded into existing websites and updated automatically.


Many personalities, teams, television programmes and events have fan pages created so Facebook users can receive news updates and comment on their chosen topics. It is also possible for members of the groups to upload their own content, such as photographs to be shared by others.

The biggest problem for many is how to keep their pages updated on a regular basis, but this need not be a concern if a Facebook app called RSS Grafitti is utilised. This allows RSS feeds to be automatically posted onto Facebook pages, meaning that the person managing the content could update the individual’s personal webpage or blog and have it automatically post to the Facebook group too. This can increase traffic to the host site as well as provide an invaluable source of information for readers of the page. As the app uses RSS feeds, a Google search RSS feed can be sourced which can be used the same way, but this time pulling feeds from news sites across the world (or localised) and posted to the site. This can have drawbacks if the wrong stories are posted, but the site can be monitored and the rss search results refined to limit this eventuality.

Also, websites can use the Facebook Live Stream service which is like a streamlined Cover It Live service (see below) where members can comment in chatroom style on a live event regardless of whether they are on each other’s friends lists and have their messages automatically posted to their own walls with a link back to the parent site.

Cover It Live

This is a service which allows content from Twitter, Qik, Livestream and others to be brought together and posted in one continuous stream of comments, usually during an event or broadcast. Users can also comment directly into the conversation or do so through services they already subscribe to. This can prove to be a useful tool when covering live events as Twitter hash tags as well as individual Tweeters can be automatically added to the stream. It can also be replayed after and could provide a rich source of comments and record the varying emotions displayed throughout the event.

Cover It Live can also be embedded into an existing website or blog and it may be that the BBC already has a license/account which would make it a low cost alternative.


VYou is a relatively new service which allows members to be asked questions and then record a video reply. It has grown rapidly with music companies, publishers and sports personalities responding publicly to questions.

This could not only provide video content which could be used by broadcasters or online media, but it also provides a very personal response from the account holder with previous questions and responses listed to the right of the video window which can be reviewed by anyone.

The account holder can select which questions they answer and these are only made public once they have been replied to, which eradicates the possibility of spam or offensive content from appearing publicly, meaning moderation would not be a low priority.

Some current users of VYou have been very creative with their ‘waiting’ videos ( a short piece of film which makes it appear as if the person is actually waiting at their computer for a question) and would work well for individuals or teams. This could prove especially useful as a way of lesser known sports and events being made more accessible as the participants could be asked directly about their discipline and even to explain terminology or rules which may be unfamiliar.

Many features are available for free, including the ability to embed the content into another site and also shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. However, if a branded channel were required, the cost would be around the [Cost removed] mark. This cost does allow more options with regards to branding and embedding etc and the cost is apparently negotiable. If you wish to explore this further, you would need to contact [Name Removed].

Location based social networking and GetGlue

The two main players in this field are Foursquare and Gowalla. Both offer rewards for being in particular localities and it may be possible to have unique rewards (in the form of virtual badges) for spectators who attend certain venues and/or events.

Another option would be to use GetGlue which is designed in a similar way but to record the user’s viewing habits rather than physical movements. For example, they may ‘check in’ when they are watching a particular series, show or event and it may be possible to have unique badges for watching BBC content. It is probable that this would not be free and although I have emailed the company, at the time of writing I am still awaiting a response in regards to this.

With all three it is possible to be quite creative with these rewards to encourage users to acquire them.


Personally, I would recommend the use of a combination of Twitter, Facebook and VYou to encourage interaction between athletes, broadcasters and spectators/viewers. Both offer a personal element and can also provide content which could be used elsewhere on the internet.


Written by Andy Watt

March 21, 2011 at 1:00 am

Online Journalism: Communities of Practice

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For decades, audio and video news production was the preserve of the world’s media organisations. The closest an individual could get to entering this world was to become a journalist and work as a member of the press.

With worldwide access to the internet, this has changed with many people turning from passive consumers of news to providers. What began with discussion groups, personal web pages and forum posts has developed into a legion of bloggers and Tweeters under the banner of citizen journalists.

The audio and video aspects of journalism have long interested me and so I decided to experiment with these for my work this semester.


I have had some experience with video filming and editing. For a number of years, I produced wedding videos for friends and family, using twin video editing machines first, leading onto early computer editing which at times proved frustrating due to the limitations of the equipment and software I was using. At that time, there was no online depository for video so the output would be onto a video recorder or dvd, meaning the potential audience was very small. Now that audience is potentially much greater, along with huge advances in hardware and software, I was hoping the skills I had learnt years before would assist me in producing a good quality product.

Today, there is a lot of emphasis on developing technologies such as high definition footage and even 3D. However, at the moment, for people wanting to view footage, speed is generally preferred over picture quality, so relatively low definition film shot from mobile devices or camcorders which may not be considered broadcast quality for professional media production companies, is more than adequate for online journalism purposes as the footage can be made available almost instantaneously (as long as there is a connection to the internet). For my video hosting needs, I have found that YouTube is my preferred option. This is because not only do many mobile devices have the ability to upload directly to the service, but because it is easy to embed the footage into blogs and distribute it automatically to a number of various sources.

Research into communities

The internet is fantastic for providing help and support for practically any requirement. However, despite there being community discussion forums on almost every niche interest, there seemed nothing in the way of a purely video news production based group. There were discussions on larger sites such as the AV Forums but as there appeared to be no dedicated area for the topic of video production. Through my research, I found that most discussions on the topic I was looking at revolved around hardware discussions, not the actual art of composition, editing and distribution.

It became clear that I had two possible avenues of exploration to engage with a community. One was to start my own, the other was to use established services such as Twitter and Facebook to build a network of likeminded individuals. I also had the option of using my own website to host discussions on, but decided initially not to do this as it may have been perceived as a ploy to drive traffic to my own site. However, I did set up a forum area in case I decided to develop this in the future.

I began by creating a LinkedIn group. I chose this service as there are many professionals as well as both amateur and professional bloggers who have accounts there and regularly post on industry and topics of related interest. Ideally, I wanted to build a support network which could offer help and assistance, ideas and feedback for my own and others’. Also, by default, when you join a group in LinkedIn, it signs you up for a daily email digest from the groups you are a member of. So if people did not post initially, or unsubscribe from this default setting, I hoped that receiving a regular digest of activity might stimulate interaction.

Once set up, I invited people already on my contact list who I thought might be interested to join. It is important to have members in a group before you widen the invite out to others as if people follow a link to a community and there are no members, it is unlikely they will join as they might perceive it as a waste of time. I also started a couple of discussions which I hoped would spark some interest and replies. At the time of writing, however, there are ten members but no-one has yet replied to either discussion topics. The audio group has proved more popular, but I will come to that later. I posted messages on other LinkedIn groups where I thought there would be an interest, but was careful not to overdo this as I did not want to appear as if I were spamming.

As well as the LinkedIn group, I also began to compile a list of Twitter users from the world of online video production or anyone who had an obvious interest in it.

Video editing

As for the actual video experimentation itself, I had done some video and editing work as part of my reporting duties on Birmingham Budget Cuts, my project for the first semester of the Online Journalism MA. For this, I had used a video camera and Apple’s iMovie software. I have used various different pieces of editing software, but much prefer iMovie as it is a very intuitive and powerful.

The biggest problem I had was trying to choose what to edit out. I have a tendency to include too much from filmed pieces to camera. This is mainly due to the fact that I do not want to be perceived as having edited the footage and therefore inadvertently changing the meaning. Also, I often feel obligated to include the full discussion from people who have been good enough to speak to me. I need to be much more ruthless in this area.

What I am good at is telling a story with the footage and also storyboarding. I can usually produce a narrative from seemingly unrelated clips to make a coherent film.

To practise tightening up on my editing, I began to explore using iMovie’s trailer maker and made a number of spoof film style promotional films loosely based on people and places around university. These received a very positive response, as did my ‘experimental video’ as part of the Online Journalism session where I placed a Flip Camera inside a snack dispenser to record what happens when a chocolate bar is purchased. The footage produced from that was raw and unedited in any way. This is another beauty of self publishing on the internet because often, getting the footage online is the priority, not the editing. So as long as you have the ability to upload the footage, it is best to make it public as soon as possible. It can always be edited later but you can’t publish retrospectively.

I moved on to using footage I had shot of the closure of the Erdington Connexions office to try to tell the story in a very short time and again, I was very happy with the results. I found it a lot easier to create a short narrative with the wealth of footage I had available and in future will try to be more ruthless in my editing to create a snappier narrative. One advantage of using iMovie is there are built in storyboarding tools as well as custom trailer templates. Once creating a project, you can insert storyboard placeholders for different shots (such as close up, group and action) and time them accordingly.

Making ‘In A Muddle With Moodle’

Moving on from this, I wanted to create a more professional news style production, so I chose a topic and began compiling footage to use. After locating footage I was happy with, I created a rough storyboard and recorded linking narration. I was trying to emulate the kind of interactive narrative that is seen on “Harry Hill’s TV Burp” and think that for my first attempt it was quite professional. Again, my editing needed tightening up and the interview with a fellow student at the end should have been edited as it slows the whole piece down and was too long in duration.

I also looked at VYou which is a visual Question and Answer service which might become useful when more people begin to use it. At the moment, most people seem to use it to ask attractive young women questions and I don’t quite fit into that demographic.

On the back of the short documentary I recorded and the trailers I produced, I have been asked to create a promotional video for a group of students who are organising a social media event and also shoot footage on the day, so although my Video Production LinkedIn group has not developed very quickly, it is clear that putting your work online can generate attention and promote your skills to those who may want to employ you. I have also been thanked for adding people to the Twitter list, so it is pleasing that this has been seen as a positive development.


The second area I looked into was audio production.  Again, I had some experience of editing audio from my time on the radio where I created my own podcasts by removing the music from the show for copyright reasons.  This kind of editing was very basic and I used iTunes which was certainly very limited and later, Audacity which while free and much more powerful, I found to be a little un-intuitive. I had also used a custom podcast maker to create enhanced podcasts but wanted to focus more on pure audio for this work.

I have enjoyed listening to podcasts for a long time and the development of portable audio devices such as iPods and also the ability to store audio on other personal devices such as mobile phones has increased the demand for such material. The beauty of the audio medium is that you can be doing other things while listening, so the listener can enjoy the recordings in their car, on the train or while relaxing to give just three examples.

I listened to a lot of professional and amateur podcasts as part of my research and quickly formulated what kind I preferred and would like to emulate. Some broadcasters like Absolute Radio have automatic podcast creation systems where the recording is ongoing throughout the show and cuts off when the microphone is muted (ie when the music is playing), which means they can make the podcast of the show almost instantaneously available after the show as they do not have to edit out the music. Others are edited following broadcast while some are recorded specifically for downloading. As with most media online, the standard varies greatly, from the wonderful ‘Answer Me This’ to various fan made niche audio podcasts for shows such as ‘Doctor Who’, where the presenters obviously thought they were more entertaining and interesting than they were. Also the audio quality was a determining factor in how much I enjoyed the podcast. If I had to concentrate to listen to make out the discussion, it made me stop and delete the recording, while clear production engaged me more. I also found structured discussions, usually with no more than three people to be the best combination.

For recording purposes, I used a hand held digital audio recorder and also an iPhone running the Audioboo app. Audioboo is a service similar to YouTube but for storing audio online, with recordings limited to 5 minutes. I also used Soundcloud which allows users to upload 2 hours of audio for free with the ability to have more storage space, but at a cost. Soundcloud also has an plug-in player for use on WordPress blogs, whereas Audioboo relies on extracting the url for the recording from the embed code and using the blog’s built in audio player. During my research, I discovered that the Iain Lee show on Absolute Radio have begun using Audioboo (mainly through an iPhone app for the show) to encourage listeners to send them messages which they can then play on air. I think this would be a good area to develop for podcasting, as you will see from my proposal later on.

Online Audio Communities

When researching communities online, I ran into the same problem I had with video production. There appeared to be few, if any, active communities. Those that I did find were located in niche sections of larger forums and had little in the way of active discussions or contributors. So as with the video community, I created my own on LinkedIn and a list of Twitter users with an interest or experience in that field.

The Audio LinkedIn community has proved much more popular than the video one with 18 members at the time of writing and a handful of active discussions. The LinkedIn group also uncovered an interesting story from a post by one of the staff at Soundcloud who informed the group of a beta programme for podcasting using their service, which I subsequently blogged about.

The LinkedIn site also got a mention on Annette Rubery’s blog.

Initial Podcasting

As part of the Online Journalism practical work, the class made a couple of podcasts with four people discussing a topic with me as anchor. We produced a rough unedited recording which for a first foray into podcasting discussions was satisfying to complete.


It is clear that visual cues are essential when producing a podcast and there is a balance to be reached between raw and edited footage. As with video work, both have their merits and if the audio is from a breaking story, it is better to get the recording online quickly rather than wait to edit it.

For audio editing, having tried Audacity and iTunes, I wanted to explore an alternative, so this time decided to experiment with a piece of software I have found daunting in the past when I have looked at it, Garage Band. With hindsight, I do not know why I found it so, as for making podcasts and spoken audio editing, it is a breeze.

What I found out about audio production is that you have to be much more ruthless when editing. On video, pauses and breaks in the conversation are often disguised by what can be seen which diverts the attention from the soundtrack. However on audio, the concentration of the listener is wholly on the sound and while this means that editing can be more time consuming than video, it is possible to remove any repetition, stuttering and other imperfections before publishing which can make the participants sound much more professional coherent and articulate without changing any of their actual dialogue. In fact, although it took me munch longer to edit than my video work, I found the audio much more satisfying and through my experimentation I learned a couple of important lessons.

Firstly, that although in video editing, I don’t edit footage enough, in audio I tend to over edit. Secondly, in my desire to produce a tightly edited audio track, I sometimes cut too tightly which makes the discussion difficult to follow as the sentences almost run into each other with no natural pause.


I am very happy with my work in audio and video. The response from what I have produced has been very positive and I have offered and been asked for advice on online audio issues and even been mentioned on another blog in this regard.

Also, I have assisted a fellow student in editing her radio show so it can be used as a podcast using Garage Band and communicated with a website owner who wanted advice regarding podcasting over the BlackBerry Messenger service.


I have decided that I want to pursue my work in audio and develop a regular podcast. I want to decide on a theme, have one or two regular contributors alongside me and include user interaction using services like Audioboo while building up an audience for the content, through social media and any other outlet I can exploit. I also want to look at hosting the podcast and making it available on outlets such as iTunes. Also, as well as producing a professional product, I want to use this to raise my profile to potential employers.

In discussions surrounding a possible Production Labs project, there has been talk of using social media to help raise the profile of minority sports in the Olympic Games with the BBC. This could prove to be a route to pursue for the proposal. Alongside the possibility of including Audioboos from members of the public asking questions, this could prove to be a very interesting and worthwhile project.


Written by Andy Watt

March 18, 2011 at 1:14 am

Audio editing

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In the past, I had experience of using Audacity and iTunes for editing audio recordings. I found Audacity a bit cumbersome (although it is a number of years since I last used it) and iTunes is ok for chopping the start and end off audio, but not practical for much more.

For this practical work, I decided to use Apple’s ‘Garage Band’ to edit an audio interview I conducted.

The original, edited version can be heard by using the player below.

I found using Garage Band extremely easy to use. I chose the settings for making a podcast, and began by removing the waste audio from the beginning and end, then proceeded to remove the pauses, repetition, stumbles, fillers (such as ‘erm’ etc) reducing the running time to approximately 13 minutes, making the audio much more fluid and easier to listen to.

I also chose equalizer settings for ‘female voice noisy background’ as the interviewee was female and there was a bit of background sound, most noticeably from a ticking clock.

I then uploaded the edited recording to Soundcloud which you can hear using the player below.

I chose Soundcloud as Audioboo would only allow me to upload audio which was 5 minutes in length and I did not want to have to split the audio. I also needed to explore methods of embedding audio within a free WordPress blog. I found this information on the WordPress support page.

The biggest problem I encountered was when exporting the audio as an MP3, the compression distorted the sound, which didn’t happen when I chose to export the audio in AAC format.

Written by Andy Watt

March 10, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Snickers Drop

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As part of our Online Journalism on online video, we were given the task of taking a Flip Camera and filming a brief ‘interesting’ video.

My first thought was to have the camera recording as I bungee jumped it down the stairwall on string, but while passing the snack dispenser in Baker Cafe, I had a better idea.

So I started the camera recording, selected which snack I would be buying and placed the camera facing up inside the maching under where the dispenser door opens so customers can collect their purchase. I tried to line up the lens with where I thought the food would drop and below you can see the results of this experiment.

Written by Andy Watt

February 18, 2011 at 11:32 am