Thinking outside the newspaper

Last week at work was interesting and busy, though not because of any news events, which usually are what keep me glued to my email and Twitter long after I’ve left the office. (Obviously, the polar vortex did occupy some of my time, but not in the way that breaking news can suddenly make your 8-hour day an 11-hour day.) I taught seven training sessions for my journalist colleagues on how to use Storify to display Touts in a slideshow fashion — which led to several discussions about how the Internet gives us nearly unlimited possibilities when it comes to displaying content and data. The end of the week was filled with working on an internal project that focused strictly on that. So basically Jan. 6-10 really re-energized my desire to experiment, explore and play with news and information and the dozens of digital tools that the Internet has given us for free.

I’ve had more conversations than I can count with more people than I can name about the future of journalism — and newspapers in particular. Eight years ago (eeek — has it already been that long???), I wrote in my college newspaper that the print edition would continue being relevant for years to come, and all this talk about the Internet wasn’t going to change that. And I continued to believe that as I began my first job as a copy editor, and my second job as a copy editor who increasingly had to work with the website.

And then I went to library school — which really changed my perspective on what my newspaper was and what my news organization could be. The innovation of the people who worked in these buildings filled with books in order to better serve their communities was such an inspiration to how I approach my profession.

There’s actually quite a connection between libraries and newspapers. People rely on them for information and entertainment, to find out what’s happening in their neighborhood and around the world. They feel ownership over the institution — because their tax dollars fund it, or because their subscription helps to keep it circulating — and because it represents their community.

Newspapers and libraries have simultaneously fallen on difficult times. The decline in the U.S. economy was a double-punch to newspapers, which already were struggling on their own, and then again as car dealers — traditionally the biggest advertisers for newspapers — pulled back on advertising as their profits fell as consumers stopped buying new cars. And those same consumers who stopped buying new cars voted against levies that helped fund libraries, who had to limit their budgets and hours and cut back on materials. Oh and then there’s the Internet where everything is free (not true) and easy (also not true) and Google has everything I’ll ever need (definitely not true). While I was working in an industry that was trying to figure out what it was and its role in the future, I was in graduate school learning about how to work in an industry that had found itself in a similar situation.

So after a graduate degree, some staffing shifts, some company changes and a lot of hard work, I find myself in this awesome position where I can help all the talented journalists I work with learn that they aren’t limited to what fits in the (ever-shrinking) newspaper to tell the stories of their beats and provide good community service to their readers.

The newspaper is important and will be important for the foreseeable future. But it’s only part of our job now. We’re a news organization that has the good fortune of owning a three-story printing press that allows us to print and deliver the important news to tens of thousands of Northeast Ohioans — some of whom do not have access to the Internet or cable. But, the print audience is what it is, and the real opportunity for growth of our brand and product is online.

My older co-workers often reminisce about the way things used to be done and how there was no website or Twitter or Facebook or SMS alerts or video or live blogs, etc. Even without the real newsroom experience, I think my 21-year-old self was in love with the idea of a traditional newspaper setting. I mean, parts of me still love it. But the Internet is so exciting and so full of opportunity — and so much beyond hitting a specified word count by a certain time or your copy won’t be published.

Just check out some of the work that I’ve done recently that does not exist without digital tools — and has no actual print equivalent:

Don’t mourn the death of newspapers. Enjoy them while they’re still here. But newspapers aren’t the be-all, end-all of the industry. If you’re a journalist who only thinks she is capable of working for a newspaper, then you’re going to watch yourself quickly become irrelevant. Journalism skills are transferable to multiple platforms (just ask the handful of my colleagues who were trained as broadcast journalists — or the thousands and thousands of journalists who have made the jump from news to PR). The Internet is such an exciting place to apply your skills and talents, and I am so excited to work with journalists who want to see how far they can go.

I didn’t spend as much time on my library analogy as I meant to in this post, but I’ll end with a tidbit. At Christmas, a relative who works in a school library asked if I was still a librarian. My answer was immediately yes — I completed six semesters of graduate work to earn those four letters after my name, and I will always be a librarian. But I am not the stereotypical hair-in-a-bun, glasses-wearing, shushing librarian (though really, that’s not even a thing anymore) (and sometimes I do dress and act like that). Nor am I a journalist in a traditional sense. I’m a librarian working in a journalism environment. I’m a journalist who brings librarian skills and expertise to every project. The two identities have been blended so much with how I approach my career that it’s hard for me to separate them now. And I couldn’t be more glad about that.

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Filed under Digital First Media, The Internetz, The Morning Journal, The News-Herald

Washington Post: Instagram gets new competitor

I blogged last week about BeFunky, and earlier this week the Washington Post has an article about how it’s the next competitor for Instagram:

BeFunky, a free app that can best be described as Instagram-meets-Photoshop, lets you do seriously funky stuff with your personal photos. Sunday it launched its Instagram competitor to the U.S. market: a free photo-editing tool for Android and iOs.

Tekin Tatar, the company’s founder and CEO, said that BeFunky competes with established apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram, but is unique due to its “advanced smart enhancement and photo correction algorithms.”

Read more in the article Instagram gets new competitor from The Washington Post.

I haven’t tested out the new tool, and the interface of the website looks a little different, but I’m hopeful that all of the nice things I wrote earlier still hold up.

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Free admission on Museum Day

Museum Day is Sept. 29, which means free admission to participating venues:

In the spirit of Smithsonian Museums, who offer free admission everyday, Museum Day Live! is an annual event hosted by Smithsonian magazine in which participating museums across the country open their doors to anyone presenting a Museum Day Ticket…for free.

Check out the list of venues to see if there is a participating museum near you. Or maybe that day is a good opportunity to drive a little bit farther than usual to check out some exhibits for free.

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Octavofest 2012

Events related to this year’s Octavofest have already started, so I couldn’t let too much time pass before mentioning it.

Octavofest is a celebration of book and paper arts, and takes place annually during the month of October. Events include lectures, exhibits, hands-on activities and more. Last year during Octavofest, I had the opportunity to hear Audrey Niffenegger, the author of my favorite book, speak about creating art books and read a passage from a story that had not yet been published. After she spoke, I got to have my photo taken with her and she signed two of her books for me.

Check out the schedule of events for Octavofest 2012 to see if there’s anything you’d like to do. Though Octavofest doesn’t technically begin until next month, several pre-events are scheduled throughout September.


Disclosure: For my graduate studies in library and information science, in 2010 I completed my practicum in the Cleveland Public Library‘s Special Collections Department, which is involved in Octavofest. But I would recommend people get involved and attend the events regardless of my former affiliation with that institution.

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Photo editing with BeFunky

I used to use Picnik to do some basic photo editing for myself because I don’t have Photoshop on my home computer, but the service closed in April. Now the site redirects users to Google+, though all of the links on the site take you to Google’s help pages, and not actually a page where you would upload a photo and edit it. I got bored with trying to figure out how to edit photos on Google+ and started — ironically? — Googling for alternatives. (I think Google+ wants users to upload photos to their site to share, but all I wanted to do was crop and resize some photos, not share all of them on Google+.)

One of the first results I came across was for BeFunky, which has the blurb “BeFunky lets you apply photo effects, enhance, edit pictures and photos online. Cartoon, sketch, painting, pop art and more…” Also a bonus? “It’s Free and Registration Isn’t required :)”

OK, so the emoticon in the description is a sign that the core demographic of the users is maybe definitely tween and teen girls making photo collages of their BFFs to share on Twitter. But I figured a photo-editing site with that user in mind would have everything I needed to crop and resize my photos — and maybe some other tools worth exploring.

Description from

What’s BeFunky?

With BeFunky anyone can transform their pictures into extraordinary works of art in just a few clicks.

Photo Effects
BeFunky has more effects than any other photo editor and features you won’t find anywhere else. Changing your pictures into oil paintings, vintage polaroids, or pop art has never been easier.

Photo Editing
Use BeFunky’s sleek and simple tools to make corrections: fix red eye, bad lighting, or dull colors in seconds.

Frames, Goodies and Text Editor
Give your creations even more character by adding speech bubbles, graphics, frames, and more.

All you have to do to edit a photo on BeFunky is click the big pink button that says “Get Started,” and select the photo you want to edit. There are dozens of editing features, filters and effects you can apply to your photo with the free version, and even more if you want to upgrade your account (for as little as $2 a month, according to the site). There’s actually a ton of features that I didn’t look into when I was cropping and resizing. It looks like a pretty good way for someone to get creative with their photo editing without spending a lot on expensive software.

Check out some of the effects you can do for free, without registering for an account:

Kim and Kaylee

The original photo — resized — of my sister, Kim, and our niece, Kaylee.

Kim and Kaylee tinted pink

Kim and Kaylee with several effects, including matting and a pink tint

Kim and Kaylee Pop Art

Kim and Kaylee as Pop Art

Kim and Kaylee Cartoon

Kim and Kaylee with a cartoon effect

Kim and Kaylee Filmstrip

Kim and Kaylee on a filmstrip

Kim and Kaylee Underpainting

Kim and Kaylee with an effect called Underpainting (it actually kind of looks like a painting!)

Kim and Kaylee in a View Finder

Kim and Kaylee with an effect called View Finder. Kind of makes you nostalgic, right?

Pretty neat features for a free site. After you’re finished editing, you can save the photo right back to your computer, or share it to your Facebook wall, to your Facebook photo album, as a Twitter status, as your Twitter profile picture, to Flickr, to Tumblr, via email, or to the BeFunky photo gallery. You also can print your art on T-shirts, mugs, cards, keychains and more through Zazzle (which sounds to me like a good way to customize vacation swag with your own photos).

BeFunky also has a mobile app for Apple and Android, but I can’t give any feedback on that because I don’t have a smartphone and my iPod sans camera is not compatible with it. But the app is free! So the only thing you’ll lose by downloading it is a few megabytes and a little bit of time exploring it. (Sidebar and possible future blog topic: Why aren’t all apps free to try? Why do I want to pay $4 for something if I don’t know if I’ll like it?)

I’m happy enough with this that I’m planning to share it with staffers in my newsroom who don’t have Photoshop on their computers (or, those whose computers have trouble handling Photoshop in addition to the other programs they need to run). We shrink all of our images published online to a more web-friendly size, which is super easy to do through BeFunky. It might not get a ton of use in the newsroom, but it will still help in those breaking news instances when a staffer with Photoshop isn’t available (or, in breaking news situations when opening a new window in a browser might be faster than launching Photoshop). And of course, the site would be shared with the stipulation that it only be used for resizing, and not to do any real photo editing, which should be reserved for those trained to do that using actual photo-editing software.

What free online photo editing tools do you use?

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SmartBlog: How to disconnect from work and enjoy your vacation

If you’ve still got vacation time left in the year, be sure to check out How to disconnect from work and enjoy your vacation.

I’m not sure if I could spend a full two weeks disconnected as author Joel Garfinkle did, though on my last real vacation I removed the Twitter account I used for work from my iPod, which was a pretty big deal, as I’m on and off Twitter throughout the entire day, even on my days off. I also am getting in the habit of turning off my iPod notifications for the Gmail account I use for some work-related stuff when I take time off.

And anyway, separating yourself from work to relax is allegedly a good thing. The Street published a story in June titled “Why a Summer Vacation Might Lead to Your Next Business Breakthrough.”

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Some initial thoughts on #dfmcuration

I have all sorts of thoughts on the creation of a Digitial First Media curation team — as do my DFM colleagues and other journos across the country — and I’m really looking forward to seeing it develop. If you haven’t heard about the curation team yet, before continuing here, check out The Buttry Diary: How should a news curation team work? and Zombie Journalism: Exploring the Role of Curation and Curators in the Newsroom.

Some terms and attributes that immediately come to my mind when thinking about a curation team: organization, communication, news judgment, balance, multitasking, desire to learn, desire to explore, flexibility.

What could a curation team do to help local newsrooms? Mandy Jenkins’ Storify from the Chardon High School shooting is the perfect example. Mandy’s work on that really helped supplement The News-Herald‘s coverage, while the rest of our newsroom was on the ground in Chardon, tracking down sources, chasing rumors, editing and updating our coverage online, moderating an online chatroom, working on the print edition. Putting together a Storify crossed my mind that afternoon, but I just did not have the time and was thankful when I saw the work Mandy had done.

Considering what a curation team could do has reminded me of projects I completed while in library school at Kent State. The courses on social science and humanities information sources and services required that I research topics and evaluate various sources to present the best ones to hypothetical patrons. Similarly, a curation team would need to gather and evaluate websites, blogs, multimedia, government documents, social media users and more, so DFM newsrooms could present that bundle of resources to their audiences to augment their own coverage.

Maybe some of those with a background in library science and museum studies won’t be too thrilled about the curation moniker, but as someone who has had experience in both newsrooms and libraries, I can tell you that they’re much more similar than one might think. Both industries pride themselves on being a resource for good information for the public, on doing research to help others become informed and make good decisions, to help them learn about their own communities and our society as a whole.

Some other responses to the DFM curation team that I’ve enjoyed reading:

Also, check out the comments on Steve Buttry’s blog post (I especially like what Robert LaHue had to say) and Mandy Jenkin’s blog post. Lots of good ideas floating around.

I find it pretty exciting and encouraging that in this tough time for news organizations, DFM is looking ahead and creating positions that will pay a role in the changing environment and help those in their 75 newsrooms across the country develop skills they’ll need to succeed.

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