Friday, December 28, 2012

Spicynodes: A visual spin on storytelling - Rated B-

I don't know what Spicynodes are, but I would probably eat them. I would also probably play with them again to tell a story in a unique, visual way.

I recently wrote an Up Close profile of a local artist, Alex Cutler.

Alex Cutler looks quite at home during his first art show a year ago.
(Jon Hill /Courtesy photo)

I'm a raging fan of pull quotes, Tumblr quotes and even sometimes (yeah, I said it) memes. Sometimes. Grumpy Cat memes. Obviously.

So I thought the free and super easy-to-use Spicynodes would be a fun way to highlight some of the quotes from the article.

Getting on the Google+ train

I've held off longer than a middle-schooler breaking up with MySpace in 2007, purely because I didn't want to manage yet another portal, and I didn't know many people actively using it. But finally, I joined Google+. 

The reasons: 
* If you promote your stories on Google+, it feeds the hungry Google alligators and they push your stories up higher in the Google search engine.
* I have discovered some great journalism communities (or groups). I have subscribed to my favorite feeds to be sent to my inbox, and I feel like I opened up a whole new world of information and education.
Here are my current favorite j-nerd groups on Google+: 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thinglink: Storytelling with an interactive photo - Rated A

So, there's this house: 8 Lincoln Place in Longmont. You gotta see it in person to believe what happens here every Christmas. Hundreds of decorations. Maybe thousands. Maybe millions. It's so intense, and a single photo just doesn't begin to express the level of Santaplosion.

I was going to make a video to try to capture the spirit. But instead, I decided to make a video, and another, and another, and a photo slideshow, and a day/night photo -- and before I knew it, I had gotten quite carried away with spirit myself and had put together an interactive photo of the house.

It's a wild trip. I think it tells the story in a way not even a video could do; because a video with all of this info would last like 10 minutes long.

What I used: Thinglink.com


Solving the holiday lights dilemma with technology

Every year, we post a map of the best holiday lights in the area.
Every year, readers are supposed to submit their favorite lights to add to our map, but every year, we get approximately three entries. 

That means, I have spent countless weeks over the past decade driving around neighborhoods in Boulder County looking for good displays to add to our map. I admit, not as bad of a job as a rattlesnake hunter or Indonesian stick fighter or a busser at Outback Steak House (I got fired from that job when they asked me to scrub the peanut grease off the steps, um, noooo). But after hour 10 in yet another KB Homes subdivision, writing down addresses in my trusty reporter's notebook to bring back and type into the system and then give to a designer to turn into a map, it became clear this had become a resource drain. 

Drain: Plugged! 

I found a free app for my iPhone called Geospike that allows me to:
1. Create a specific project, or "trip," such as Holiday Lights 2012.
2. Take photos of the best holiday lights, and enter any text/tips with it. 
3. Then, it automatically plots each photo onto a map, with the address and driving directions (if needed). 
4. Then I can share it. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Up close: A way to give more local artists a voice


One of the regular features that I launched with my IdeaLab project is called Up Close (used to be called A&E Q&A, but that just got annoying to say).

What is it: A profile of an interesting arts or entertainment person in the community that we have not covered before or might not otherwise be able to write about.


Friday, December 7, 2012

You get what you give

Yet another story came out of the Features Advisory Board -- from our most active member, Amy Tremper. Per the request of the members, I scheduled a face-to-face, real person meeting in downtown Boulder. I had initially attempted to coordinate the group virtual only, but the members requested to meet in person. Ironically or amusingly, the only person who came was the member who was already very active online.

But that didn't matter, because our meeting was more fruitful than a meeting with a 100-chair networking dinner. Here is one of the stories that came out of tea date at Trident.

http://www.dailycamera.com/fashion/ci_22100645/north-boulder-shopping-gifts-guys-geeks-nobo-art-walk

Do you know where this is in North Boulder?


Friday, November 30, 2012

Carving out time for creativity

The holidays are quite the doozy. With coworkers being gone, schedules being wonky (what's up with my word choices today?) and an inevitable increased workload,  creative thinking and finding inspiration often has to become a conscious choice.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

More than beautiful.

I have been focusing a lot more on my Community Advisory Board lately, trying to make it work. I think it's always going to be tricky to coordinate unpaid volunteers, even when their interests have something at stake. 

To try to drum up more interest, I decided to hold a meeting in person. (Until now, we had done everything over Facebook.) Coordinating schedules was impossible, so I just decided to hold an open office hour-style meeting at a coffee shop with whomever could come. Although it was small, the meeting ended up far exceeding my expectations. I left with a long list of incredible story ideas and tips. 

This taught me a lesson: that sometimes things happen the way they're supposed to, and if you stop fighting it and roll with it, it can sometimes lead to unexpected blessings. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

J-nerds like me, get giddy! Here's an interactive graphic about mobile journalism

The only way to appropriately write about mobile journalism would be an interactive graphic, don't you think? I got a kick out of this article Steve Outing at CU wrote about my recent workshop at CU. Pow! 

Read the story here: http://testkitchen.colorado.edu/2012/11/aimee-heckel-mojo/#





Try making your own interactive graphic here: http://www.thinglink.com/

Friday, October 26, 2012

The basic writing/reporting apps to invest in

There are more than 60,000 apps in the Apple store.
You are busy.
Let me help you.

Here are the apps that I use on a regular basis for mobile writing, reporting and organizing :

Fun photo apps that can enhance your reporting

Traditionally, photographers got to have all of the fun.
Not anymore, kids.

Here are some of my favorite apps to use on the job to help tell a story visually.

Panorama 360
On County Line Road between Longmont and Erie.

What weird things can you find in your office? Slideshow version.

I have been looking for an easy way to make an automated slideshow of photos.

In the past, I have used Storify (add /slideshow at the end of the URL), like this.

But Storify slideshow is not automated, you can't add CGs/an intro, and I have had problems with the text not showing up right. You can't add music (not that you usually need to), you can't upload it to Youtube or Brightcove. Basically, it's pretty limited.

I decided to play around with the app Photo Slideshow Director instead.

Here's how it went down: 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What is a mobile journalist?

A mobile journalist is an active member of the community, both virtually and in person. 
- She is not something separate, whether higher than or lower than, the people she writes about and for. 
- She relies heavily on the community for story ideas, perspective and inspiration. In fact, it is impossible to do her job without feeding off her deep community roots.
- To accomplish this successfully, she actively seeks out and engages diverse people; she is hungry to hear the quiet voices. 
- While she is dependent on the public, she also consciously and carefully keeps herself an arm's length away, in order to prevent tunnel vision. She is wildly curious, and with that comes the natural tendency to question everything.
- She is motivated by the desire to serve, engage and inform the community, not her ego or any personal agenda. This naturally leads to an open mind, which minimizes limiting biases.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Using video in a unique way to report about art

Art can be so inspiring. Intangible. Unpredictable. So why do features reporters report on art exhibitions in the same, predictable, linear way?

What if we were to allow the subject to tell itself?
What if we were to let art create art -- storytelling art?

That is how I approached this recent profile about an "abstract landscape photographer."
This is definitely a nontraditional features story. The video has no spoken words. Imagine it as a giant, living and breathing pull-out quote, laid out over the picture it's talking about.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Twitter for journalists

A researcher at the University of Colorado recently contacted me for a study he's conducting about journalists and Twitter. Instead of following his directions like a good girl and calling him for an interview, I decided instead to post my thoughts on his questions here: 

When did you start using Twitter?
About 3,000 tweets ago. I think the tweet-to-year ratio works out to equal five or six or seven years. Turns out there is no easy way to go back to the beginning of your tweets. I would like to think I was the first journalist to ever use Twitter. Feel free to spread that rumor to make me look amazing, although I have no proof whatsoever. 

Shameless plug: Follow me on Twitter @Aimeemay and Facebook @Boulderandbeautiful. 


How are you using Twitter?
I use it for a variety of reasons: to connect with the community, get story ideas, share stories, share photos/glimpses of the community, be a human face on the other end of the pen, look for trends, ask questions. 

Polls are simple and kind of awesome

I am into polls.
They are a journalist's friend. They are easy to create and they make it easy for readers to participate.

Here are some ways I have used polls lately:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Advisory board success

Alas! Here is proof that checking in with a community advisory board can yield actual tangible results. Here is a story that specifically came out of my Facebook discussions with the features community advisory board:

Friday, September 14, 2012

The cheat sheet: Modern journalism tips for the busy features reporter

I recently received a request from a features reporter/editor who wants to increase her web presence -- from ground zero. She doesn't have a Facebook or Twitter, and she doesn't know where to start.

Let's face it. There are a zillion options, apps, portals and links explaining how journalists should be "digital first." But let's also face it - we're all busy and overwhelmed and then there's Storify and Cover It Live and maps apps and Tumblr and did Google Plus ever take off and what about blogging and AHHHH my head is crying just making this list.

Stop. This doesn't need to be so hard.

Here is my super simplified "dummies guide" cheat sheet for how to start from scratch. I think all journalists should at the very minimal incorporate the following into their standard job duties.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Looking for a new way to tell a features profile?

I was looking for a new way to tell a features profile story, so I decided to experiment with a nontraditional news video.

This is the story of Nama Illo, a local man with HIV. 
In this 3:30-minute (yes, long!) narrative-style video, I incorporate the following storytelling elements: 
* An audio recording of Illo reciting something he wrote
* Six videos of his various performances
* Seven photo stills of him
* Nine pieces of his artwork
* CG pull quotes
* The music of one of his performances

Friday, August 31, 2012

Finding good feature story ideas.

"Whenever you find something that makes you have a mental pause, that makes you recoil just a little bit, that makes you have some kind of emotional reaction, go down that road and see where the rabbit hole leads you."

- Jeff Emtman, independent radio producer in Boulder 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here Be Monsters: Behind the scenes of an independent radio show



How I reported this:
* I recorded the interview on my iPad using the standard camera.
* I filmed him recording his show with my iPad.
* I downloaded his final broadcast from the Web and used the audio file, interspersed with his life recording.
* I edited in iMovie on my Macbook Pro. (The basic iMovie app for the iPad is only sufficient for very basic edits. I have actually never found it useful. A waste of money.)
* CGs from iMovie.
* Water sound effect from iMovie. This is controversial from a journalism perspective. Purists would say I should only use the original audio from his broadcast. What do you think?
* The music is the original audio from his broadcast.

Challenges:
* Very low lighting in his basement bedroom with minimal natural light.
* No mic on the iPad. (Need to invest in one.) He was a soft speaker.
* Essentially, I was filming a guy working on his computer. The task became: How to make that visually enticing?
- Uncomfortable black screens with the audio from underwater.
- Weird, long, silent pauses


I can do that: talking pictures.

Look at Facebook. Ninety percent of my stream is photos with inspirational or funny quotes on them.

I can do that, too.

I don't need to understand why this kind of communication is speaking to society right now, but I can occasionally apply it to my efforts to reach out.

I have begun playing with Photoshop, which is so over my head that I may as well have just said, "I have begun trying to write my stories in Mandarin Chinese." Here is one of my early Photoshop attempts to create "talking pictures" to help tell my stories online. (Click on photo to enlarge it.)

"Fifty Shades of" a new sex life. Read more here. 


Follow Modern Journalism on Pinterest

While you're browsing gluten-free recipes and fantastic new ways to repurpose mason jars, don't miss the latest on modern journalism:

http://pinterest.com/aimeeheckel/modern-journalism/

Making meaningful connections in a modern world

We are more (virtually) connected than ever before. Duh. We all know this. 

Still, indulge me while I vent: 

The monster speaks: Social portraiture is the new journalism


Yesterday, I spent my afternoon in the dim basement with Boulder independent radio producer, Jeff Emtman (radio.jeffemtman.com). He recently received a fellowship from SoundCloud  to explore unique ways of storytelling via a podcast.

Emtman developed his own field of study at Western Washington University that he called Social Portraiture -- the idea of capturing a person or story via a mix of photography, journalism, sociology, other social sciences and radio production.

"I've really struggled a lot with that label 'journalist,' because it’s a really complex field," he told me.

In fact, he thinks journalism falls under the umbrella of art, like sculpture or music (a controversial perspective that he says has landed him in some trouble a few times).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Being playful is good for your job

I read this in this month's Shape magazine -- further proof that mobile journalism is the way to go.

Writers who work in cafes might be onto something, finds new research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Compared to the low-level din of a library, a moderate amount of ambient noise -- the equivalent of a bustling coffee shop -- prompts the mind to work at a more conceptual level, stimulating out-of-the-box thinking.

Camera file photo


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Out-of-office reply

Two reporters for our sister university-focused paper, the Colorado Daily, recently made a point to go hang out on University Hill at popular bars and chat with the students they write about. They posted pics of their experience on Instagram and Facebook, and I caught up with them after to see how it went. Here's the low-down. 


Friday, August 17, 2012

Want to know the best place for a mojo to work?

Sure, it's fun working in coffee shops and malls and bars (yeah, I've done it). It's entertaining to station at the farmer's market or try to write live from a concert.

But my favorite place to work remotely continues to be (drumroll please... excessive suspense...) the library.


University of Colorado library in Boulder.

Yes, those still exist. So do newspapers. Jerk.

Now I have 12 eyes and 12 ears.

And I'm not just talking about how strong my glasses are. 

Me, third grade, miserable.
My Features Community Advisory Board is already surprising me with its usefulness. So far, it's going so well that I may recommend every reporter has her own.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Time traveling with technology

It's the Pearl Street Mall's 35th birthday. In celebration, I wrote a column about walking down the mall one morning, my own sort of "walking tour" where I visited the new shops and the places I've always wanted to go, and talked to the interesting people I encountered.

Here's the story: http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_21219854?IADID=Search-www.dailycamera.com-www.dailycamera.com

I also tracked down some old photos from the Carnegie Branch of the Boulder Public Library. I put together a fun little then-and-now slideshow of buildings in 1986 and today. (I wanted to find pics from 1977, when the mall opened, but this was as far back as I could find with good quality.)

I always enjoy comparison shots, whether they're before-and-after or then-and-nows. I especially like comparing the cars and clothes. I can't believe how old 1986 looks.

Same lamp post. The world before Ozo.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Newsflash: People hate Facebook

Clarification: Sarcastic newsflash. Because we know that people hate Facebook. But not enough to stop using it or do anything about it. Sort of like how I hate an overfilled trash can but it's my husband's job to take out the trash, so I keep stacking Cheerio boxes on top like trash Jenga.

Our love-hate affair with FB never bothered me until recently, when I was trying to put together a Features Community Advisory Group, an unofficial crew of people in the community repping various fields, who I asked to communicate directly to me as a way of improving our coverage.

I had decided to run this group through FB, to make it as easy to remember and do as humanly possible. I got the idea when several event-planning committees did this and it worked great, as a way of sharing lots of info without having to log into yet another portal, and remember to update it, and yada yada waaaa. It worked before, so why wouldn't it work this time?

Well, let me tell you.

Friday, July 27, 2012

When the road defines your destination.

I did not go to the Boulder Farmer's Market this week, as planned, to chat it up with the folks there and search for story ideas. I didn't make it there.

En route to the market from my parking garage, I had to walk past the library. I noticed a big group of people playing drums just beyond the library lawn, down by Boulder Creek. I stopped to see what they were doing. As I was watching, a soft-spoken woman sat down next to me on a bench. She looked different than the typical crew that hangs out at the Farmer's Market, promoting organic fruits and veggies. This woman had a fading red "A" tattoo on her left biceps, ears pierced with large studs, a big backpack and a leather jacket. She lit a cigarette.

What was her story?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In which I try to "connect" with the "community" by asking people rather awkward questions.

Journalism is a constant treadmill-like quest to better represent and connect with the community. 

Several years ago, we launched MyTown Colorado, a website where community members can submit news, photos and videos. Some people still use it (I guess), but the activity has dropped off. And it is rarely (if ever) interactive with the actual reporters who write the articles in the paper. It's more of an independent portal.


 


Playing with time-lapse videos

Creative storytelling about the arts perfectly lends itself to time-lapse videos.
Why didn't I think of this before?

Granted, you have to set aside time to stay and watch an artist create an entire project, but for me, that was the plus side, not the downside.

With iMovie, making a time-lapse video is a no-brainer. Just film the process, convert the clip in iMovie and change the speed. This is at 1,500 percent, but you can go up to 2,000 percent. I could have even slowed it down to 800 percent, but we didn't have enough audio to run underneath. 

Here's a short little time-lapse ditty about a local woman making monotypes using an ancient etching press. 


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Modern ethical questions

Do you think it's OK to ask sources/people you write about to share the story you wrote on Facebook and Twitter?
If so, what is the proper way to phrase it so you don't sound like you are asking them a favor and then you're indebted to them forever and ever until the end of times?

We had a lively debate about this today, and I'm curious to hear other opinions.

Modern technology brings up some new questions.

A high-tech modern newsroom stops to debate technoethical issues.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Enter Phase 2: I never thought I'd be saying this...

...But I have been chatting it up with our circulation department.

Any news-slave knows we don't cross-pollinate with other departments. Eww. Cooties. There are people I've worked with in the same building, same company, for a decade who I don't know because they're not in the editorial department.

Marketing? I think we have that. Advertising? Forget about it; I know the staff at Wendy's better than our ad staff, and I have never eaten at Wendy's in my life because I think French fries are toxic grease sponges.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Two very opposite sides of the mojo

Here are two ways that technology can help you report.

1. The structured yet intimate way.

I set up an appointment with piano superstar Peter Kater (who helped spearhead the genre of New Age music). In his house. I chatted with him while he cooked his son noodles for lunch. Then he played for me (OK, for the greater public, but I was the only person in the room) in his living room. The experience was about as intimate as it gets as an entertainment reporter.

More modern than modern Lois Lane

Looking for an inspiring modern journo? You need to know Lauren Boyer: http://bylaurenboyer.com/

She is so hip to the mo-joing that she makes me feel like I am still using a dial-up phone without caller ID in my office or something.

Which I basically am.



Surely, the ancient records that adorn my desk don't help. Chalk this up as one more reason to get out of the office and into the world you're writing about. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

ReporterTube: The ups and downs of story-telling with video

I imagine the features journalist of the future to have three qualities:

1. She will do everything. There will be no print-TV-web-radio-photography division. Everything will be online. In order to make it, you need to be a one-woman newsroom, and be able to tell the story alone, with no supervision or team or office.

2. She will dress like this: 

 
Obviously.

Friday, May 25, 2012

You're learning. That's a good thing.

When I was 20, I moved to Germany to go to college. I had five or so years of German in school, and I considered myself fluent.

Nope.

Sure, on paper, I knew how to distinguish between a dative and accusative preposition. But in the line at the grocery store, faced with different accents and slang and a sudden bombardment of foreign sights, sounds and tastes (mmm, Schnitzel), I remember my brain felt quite literally like it was turning into spaghetti. Long, sticky, heavy strands of spaghetti, tangling up around each other and dripping out my ears and wrapping around my neck, in a new form of stress that can only be described as Extreme Immersion Anxiety.

Five incentives to being a mobile reporter

Via Storify.
How hip of me.

Check it out so you're not missing out.
http://storify.com/aimeemay/five-incentives-to-being-a-mobile-reporter

Friday, May 18, 2012

The best of Storify

There is this nifty little app called Storify that increasingly more journalists are tinkering with. It's a way to tell a story using web elements: Tweets, Facebook posts, links, blog excerpts, pictures, maps, Pinterest -- you name it.

When I imagine the future of "print" journalism, I see something like this.

So now the question is how to use it right?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Practice, push and teeter on insanity

Photographer Rich Seeley took this picture of me taking a picture of his picture.
What did you do this week to push yourself out of your comfort zone and into that wild, uncomfortable, exhausting yet exhilarating little nook where you grow?

Maybe it is bad advice (the kind that will make my poor daughter grow up into a neurotic, workaholic, quasi-masochist like most journalists I know), but I fear comfort. Sure, I know that Sunday is the holy rest day, and I like to take a breath in between laps. But the second I feel my metaphoric car moving into auto-drive, I shift up and hit the gas.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Could this be the future style of newspaper reporting?


We have used live blogging for breaking news before, but I've never used it for entertainment reporting. Last week, I brought my iPhone and iPad to the NoBo Nite Out, a first Friday artwalk event, and live Tweeted pics and tidbits from the event. Then I Storify-ed them all together, updating live onto our website. I was super stoked to try this new kind of reporting. Enough to say "super stoked." That's extreme.

Friday, April 27, 2012

So, is the iPad the journalism god?

My newsroom yesterday morning.
I set out this week to see if it is possible to be a mobile reporter with an iPad and nothing else. Because protracted suspense (like on "The Bachelor" when they go to a commercial break right at the rose ceremony) makes me want to punch walls, I will answer first and then explain.

Sort of.

What the iPad is great for 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

To brand or not to brand

In seventh grade, my teacher assigned us to write a two-page essay on the question, "Who are you?" After a very pained philosophical journey that would today be considered super emo, I settled on answering the paper in two words: "I am."

She failed me. She said I had not followed instructions, and she thought I was copping out. But gosh darn it, even today, I still think I was right.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The nitty-gritty-dirty of my IdeaLab project


This is more information than any normal human could ever enjoy, but for the wildly insane and easily excitable among us, here is the details of this project. 

What’s a modern newsroom? What’s a modern journalist?
            * I want to create a new “Instant News” beat, taking the newsroom (camera and keyboard) into the community. For 10 hours every week, I’d capture more faces and events than ever before, sharing it live online.
             * To increase reach, I’d collaborate with five community “reporters” representing different demographics, who I’d meet with weekly to brainstorm.
            * As their “mobile community editor,” I’d empower them to blog and take photos, the best of which we’d upload on my existing Tumblr, social networks and blogs, as a constant collage of different perspectives.
            * I’d explore how to thrive without a physical newsroom and share findings on a “Modern Lois Lane” blog for other reporters.

Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?

I committed myself to writing in kindergarten, when my teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said a writer and a cheerleader mouse, like at Showbiz Pizza. So here I am, until a cheerleader mouse gig opens up.


I have covered nearly every beat in my 11 years at dailies. My editors once created a beat for me called the “GA/weird,” which I’m still not sure was about me, my stories or the city of Boulder. I currently perch in features, as a fashion/humor columnist (for about six years), fitness columnist and writer-slash-firefighter. That means I’m the acting features editor until we hire someone, and I work hard to fill in other holes around the newsroom. Also, if something were to literally catch on fire, I suppose I would stop, drop and roll on it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meet the mojo

This project starts with the awakening of my mojo. 

No, comic book nerds, not this evil, snarley Mojo.

(Although I do believe the children are our future if we teach them well and let them lead the way, RIP Whitney.)