Sunday, March 17, 2013

Reflections of the Blog

I moved to Eugene back in April of 2007 for the sole purpose of attending the University of Oregon to get a degree in Journalism. It's not 6 years later and not only am I getting one degree in Journalism, I'm getting two, plus an additional one in English to boot. Of all the things I recall from my first years in the program, the one that sticks out the most was the first time I heard about blogging in my Writing for the Media course taught by Tom Wheeler. For some reason the concept of writing whatever you wanted to, but receiving the moniker of a journalist seemed far fetched. "Who were these people to think that they were doing any kind of service to the community?" I always thought. But here I am, six years later, an avid participant of a tool I originally despised. How did I get there you might ask? Well...

I have always been a stubborn writer. For years I tried to make a daily habit out of writing. It didn't really matter what the subject was. I just needed to put something down on paper, but for years I struggled. I made up excuses for not doing it.

Around 2010 I finally broke through the barrier and started up a blog. I mostly used it as a platform to show off the stories I had written for all of my classes, but nothing about it felt write. It seemed more like an online portfolio, as opposed to a habit. After about six months I stopped using that blog. I tried writing a few personal stories, but none of them felt good enough for what I was trying to accomplish. And when I say that, what I'm actually saying is that at the time I still didn't know what the hell I was doing.

It took several years of reading dozens of blogs to truly get an understanding of what its purpose is. I had always believed that everything posted needed to be some profound, poiniant piece of literature, but the reality is that a blog can be anything as long as it has a point. And in all honestly, that point doesn't even need to be really understood by the reader, as long as the author knows the reason why they're doing it.

In January of 2012 I started my first baseball blog. I had a lot of friends who doing some, as well as a few newspaper and magazine writers; however, the one common theme I saw in their work was that they were all trying to inject their "insight" into the minds of whoever would read it. Some of it was interesting, but the majority of it was incredibly useless to me. A lot of the writing was fantastic, but the content had no real voice to it. By that I mean it felt like the same recycled words I had been reading in newspapers and magazines all my life. Blogs are supposed to have a lot more personality to it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Words of Inspiration

"Kill the author," says WBEZ Chicago Digital Content Editor Tim Akimoff.

As an avid fan of Hunter S. Thompson, and self-proclaimed gonzo journalist, I never knew how to put in into words the proper way to admire, but not copy another writer's style. Years ago I transitioned from a strict news writer to the the more detail oriented, scene setting writer that I've become today. The biggest hurdles I had to climb in this process were the stern looks and comments I received from the professors in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. To them, keeping to a strict news only format was the proper way to relay a story. I did my best to stick to it as their opinions and judgements, as I needed their approval and good grades to be able to complete their classes. As begrudging as that experience was, the reality, at least in my eyes, is that writing in a strict news style was boring. Every time I stepped up to a computer to compose a story I felt that being able to tell the story the way I would talk to a person face-to-face was the most appropriate route. While I understand news writing's value, in the ever-evolving world of journalism, the traditions of its founders have grown stale, and the consumers are losing interest more and more each day. So what's the solution?

In 2005 Akimoff graduated from the UOSOJC, much in the same way as I'm about to do this next week. He and I both dealt with the drudgery of the old style of journalism and tackled the all mighty challenge that was Info Hell. But at the end of the day, what did we really learn? That's not to say we didn't. What I'm getting at is aside from perfecting our style and proper use of the AP guidelines, what else was there? I bring this up because I started the program two years after Akimoff left it. I had a few of the same professors, and sure enough I went through the same routines as he. Today the program is completely different. No longer do the students focus heavily upon the writing and printing aspects of journalism. Now they're all learning more about the tech side of things, and how to get your product out to a larger audience since the days of the newspaper being the most viable source are fading into the days of the dinosaurs.

Much like the trade itself, Akimoff adapted. He started out focusing primarily within the print format at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon and The Oregonian in Portland; however, he didn't limit himself to just that. He learned the new formats on the fly and branched out his services in Alaska, Montana, Ukraine and a slew of other countries. In a short time Akimoff has mastered and taken charge of the new generation of journalism, relying heavily upon digital and social media-based content.

Contrary to what we were both taught in our early years if the program, clearly a change has come. Now, it's all a matter of whether or not the program, as well as those learning it are capable of understanding the new practices in which to reach their audience. For me, it's certainly taken time; however, having worked on a much larger platform in New York City, I am at the forefront of this change. Now, it's just a matter of staying relevant and gaining a large group of followers who understand and can relate to what we produce. That is what will keep journalism thriving.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Social Media and Journalism- A Justifiable Outlet

Back in Spring term of 2009 I was required to start up a Twitter account. At the time I didn't really understand what Twitter was or its purpose within the journalism community. When it came to social media I had always relied heavily upon a newspaper/magazine's Web site for content, or to a lesser extent, Facebook. Instagram hadn't really come onto the scene quite yet, and I honestly had no concept of what Tumblr, Reddit and Four Square were, let alone their purpose as well. Here we are almost four years later and I can honestly say that I'm an avid user of about 50% of those tools. What happened? I had always relied heavily upon first hand sources, and yet I've completely dismissed most of my old school journalism philosophies and evolved into the new age of journalism.

I can pretty much pinpoint my heavy use of social media back to February of 2012, the point in time when I was in the application for the MLB Fan Cave. Since what they were trying to accomplish, in regard to branching out into new demographics of fanhood and marketing, it was greatly encouraged that I get with the times and use social media tools on the regular. For the first month or so I struggled. I had only used my Twitter account off and on since 2009 to the tune of less than 200 tweets. Today, I'm well over 30,000 tweets. On any given day I crank out between 25-100 tweets, most of which consist of me shooting off my opinion on something baseball related; however, there are a few times when I interject upon real world political issues and help relay breaking news to the masses. On top of that, two to three times a day I remind people to read my extracurricular blog posts and be sure to tag the link within the tweets. As a result of this quick, useful tool I generate anywhere between 125-300 pageviews a day. While I fully understand that my time in the Fan Cave helped out with my viewership, I also know that even without that I would still be able to generate a decent amount of views amongst the Twitter community as people with similar interests as I will always come across it.

I didn't start using Instagram until the end of June in 2012, as I found that to be a somewhat useless tool for me at the time; however, once I understood that I could take 1 photo and publish it on multiple Web sites at one time I couldn't believe I hadn't been using it all along. In less than a year I've gained 800 followers, as I am always posting photos of my travels and making sure to tag them with proper search words in order to gain more viewers/followers. Due to the heavy amount of traffic on this tool, like Twitter, I am able to reach out to larger markets.

While I still need to investigate Reddit, Tumblr, etc. I've heard nothing but good things when it comes to getting ones work out to the public, and I'm more than positive that major media organizations are fully aware of this as they have been relying heavily upon it for quotes and trending newsworthy information. That unto itself is quite fascinating. Not even 10 years ago media outlets were responsible for letting people know what and wasn't newsworthy, while today it's truly the audience that decides it. If any media outlet wished to stay in business or relevant, they need to focus a lot of their attention on the social media market. I'm not saying they need to rely all of their focus on it, just enough to understand who their viewers are and how they can shift their approach and bring in a new audience.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Big One

I can honestly say that the article in Miami Herald by Stephen Doig entitled “The Big One” is a prime example of how computer-assisted journalism has revolutionized the industry. I think the first thing that needs to be pointed out is that this article was written in the early 1990s as a follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize winning article “What Went Wrong,” which was featured in the same newspaper back in 1992. I bring this up because of the amount of work it took Doig without the assistance of the internet. In the article Doig points out that we ran through several CD-ROM files, which have pretty much been obsolete since the early 2000s, as well as the 7 million records stored on 35 magnetic tape reels.

Having grown up through the 1980s and 90s I remember how difficult it was too research certain bits of information. I mean, where does a kid start when talking about the pyramids of Egypt or baseball statistics when only almanacs, reference books and a library card are your only tools? Having an understanding of where to start is definitely the first step, but also having access as a journalist to larger firms like the National Hurricane Center is a massive help as well.

Doig used his old school journalistic methods, as well as the top resources at the time to help create his own system of tracking weather patterns, damage, reconstruction as well as preventative maintenance records. He is truly a pioneer in the new age of investigative journalism.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Google Complex

If 2012 taught me anything it's that Google is my friend, but that friend that only comes around whenever they need to borrow some cash to get out of a jam. I remember in years past this supposed friend was much more helpful in my day-to-day life, but without warning they turned. I never really gave much thought to that as I never really gave much though to how Google really worked. That is, until I read and learned more about it.

I'm an avid user of Google as my primary search engine for the same reason as every one else; it's become more of a force of habit ingrained into our heads by word of mouth and the media. Among my regular searches are baseball photos, stats and stories, etc. as I am not only an avid fan of the game and history, but I want to work journalistically in that field once I finish my studies at the University of Oregon. In fact, I worked for Major League Baseball last season temporarily to really get a grasp on whether or not I was on the right path. During my time I spent anywhere between 4-10 hours a day on my computer, always writing or looking something up. During this time I used only my Samsung Galaxy Note and my newish HP computer. Anytime I look up something baseball related the information I'm looking for comes up relatively quick, but when I need to look for something outside of that subject I'm sent on a small wild goose chase.

The video we watched from TED really opened my eyes on why I've been having so many issues:

Due to my sometimes one dimensional nature, Google has pretty much assumed that the only thing that matters to me in this world is baseball. I don't really blame it for feeling that way; however, sometimes I do research about music, films and food for other projects in interested in. But in most cases it becomes a bit of challenge to track in depth information down from a viable resource prospective.

Another interesting point that was brought up in the video is how two people may be searching for the exact same thing, but Google will yield different results. Oddly enough this issue ended up biting me in the ass about 2 hours before I watched the video. Every day I write a blog post about 1 of the 250 or more New Era baseball caps that I have, making sure to into in depth detail about the history of when it was used, the players who wore it during the era and where one can find it for their collection. In most cases I don't need to spend more than 1-2 hours on research and the actual writing of the article combined; however, tonight it took me a little more than 4 hours. Here's the article:

As it turns out there isn't a viable Web site that had any of the dated information on the particular hat that I was writing about, so I had to conduct my own sort of informational puzzle. Even the Baseball Hall of Fame was a dead end. I got about 3/4 of the way done when my girlfriend asked if there was anything she could do to help. I let her know what I needed and she quickly went to work. Within about 3 minutes she was able to find the last 3 videos/photos I was looking for. This was quite frustrating/perplexing as most of her Google-related searches hover primarily around the medical field since she's in Med school, but she's also a big baseball fan. Despite my best efforts and a wide knowledge of the subject, Google still made things difficult for me, but easy for her for reasons I can't explain.

If what my searches yield is a result of some greater alogrithm, then Google needs to put an end to that nonsense. The idea that what I WANT to look for might not necessarily be what I find is quite a frustrating concept to grasp a hold of, especially considering that Google is supposedly the best place to look for something on the internet.

The Death of Journalism

Back in 2009 I came across an article from the Washington Post which really made me think about how I was going to make a name for myself in the world of journalism.

Give it a read:

For the last 10 years or so I've always done my best to read a newspaper first thing in the morning. It wasn't until I came across this article that I ever really gave much thought to why I was doing that. Every journalism teacher in every journalism class I've ever taken has recommended this practice for the sake of keeping up with the world. As I ran through each page I always found myself caring less and less when a story didn't have a profound affect on me, but I always pushed through that mental block and forged on. I had been hearing since my senior year in high school that journalism was on the wane, but I never wanted to believe it, but then again, I think that's something that anyone who wants to get involved with this as a career feels.

Best Blogs- MLB Trade Rumors

I have my small list of blogs that I routinely follow; however, for this assignment I decided to resort to Time Magazine’s best blogs of 2011 link. Much to my surprise I found out that a blog which I routinely visit made the list. MLB Trade Rumors is a blog that was started back in 2008 by search-engine marketer and Chicago Cubs diehard Tim Dierkes after he quit his day job to focus on his blog. He and nine other guys operate the Website with an incredibly flurry of visitors including yours truly. But what makes this site so much better than others, despite not having the resources or the manpower like that of big name firms like Fox Sports or ESPN, is the level of work put into each article. Whether a player is simply named in a rumor for trade or a free-agent signing MLB Trade Rumors tracks and researches every possible angle and lead until a deal is finalized or killed.

Check it out here:

            Unlike other sports related Websites, MLB Trade Rumors doesn’t mess around cheesy puff pieces about the Top 10 uniforms or hats in the game. They focus primarily on the news itself, relaying information about the game from baseball fans for baseball fans. MLB Trade Rumors also interacts with their viewers on an almost regular basis. Readers are allowed to comment on published articles and in some cases get a return response from the author. MLB Trade Rumors also interacts with readers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

            While I appreciate the service that they provide in their articles, I sometimes feel that a little bit of an opinion would make for a better article on the basis that the interaction between the readers and the author would skyrocket. Then again, as I have seen from the ESPN message boards more often than I’d like, the comments left by the readers could shift from playful banter or additional insight to flat out hate speech. MLB Trade Rumors does a solid job of keeping the peace with their readers by monitoring the posts left by the readers for all to enjoy.

            Another important detail of MLB Trade rumors is that their articles are categorized a few different ways on their main page. One the right side of the screen is a post list categorized by: top stories, an independent search section, a features section, recent posts and posts by team in case you want to cut the fact out and focus on your team. MLB Trade Rumor doesn't focus on other sports, obviously, and their Web site is updated as breaking news hits.