Sunday, October 19, 2014

Zombies ate my news article

Also read this article on

Halloween is such a forgiving holiday for crafters and DIY costume-makers; a little paint splatter, tear or jagged seam only adds to the character of the project.

The same goes for digital journalists. Halloween is a great excuse to experiment with new digital storytelling ideas and apps, without the pressures of breaking-news deadlines or the expectation that everything be impeccable.

With my creative engine already in fifth gear, I tackled the ubiquitous Halloween events story in a new way this year.

I picked the most unusual spooky event -- in our case, it was a zombie shoot at the firing range -- and I went through it myself. My easy, free and quick digital project could be transferred to almost any Halloween activity: a corn maze, haunted house, pumpkin-carving, even trick-or-treating. 

The challenge: How to make an entertaining, unique video using only my iPhone for filming and editing -- and don’t give away the spooky surprises along the way. 

My project: I rolled up to the local police and sheriff’s office firing range and got dressed in the required full gear: a vest, pads, helmet. I turned on the free time-lapse app, Lapse It, and started filming. I taped my phone to my vest; no GoPro needed.

As I wound through the haunted house with my gun, shooting paint pellets at people dressed up like zombies, my phone captured the experience in time-lapse, giving enough of a teaser without giving anything away.

When I got back to my car, I moved the project to my photo album, then into the iMovie app that I already had. In iMovie, I added a simple title, transitions, a few still photos and royalty-free music. 

However, Lapse It allows you to add music right in the app, so if you don’t have or know iMovie, no need to complicate the project. 

In addition, in the app you can trim/cut your time-lapse video, add special effects and change the number of frames captured per second to give your video a different effect and adjust the length. I used 2.44 frames per second for some parts and 10 frames per second for other parts of my video. 

In total, the video took me significantly less than an hour to film and edit. 

I published the video on our website, along with the traditional Halloween events main bar and events sider. No doubt, this video is unusual for a newspaper (hello, dubstep?!), but hey, it’s trick-or-treat time, and sometimes you gotta keep readers on their toes. 

View the full video below:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Yes, I really DID say that ...

"Interactive images are sort of like traditional print infographics, except bit by a radioactive digital spider that transforms them into heroic superhero graphics, writes Aimee Heckel, explaining they are one of the easiest, most flexible and exciting ways to digitally transform a story."

Yes, I really did say that.

Read the whole story and get some fun tips on how your newsroom can use interactive images here! Plus, get five different ways to use interactive images in your reporting today.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I ran off and joined the circus

And documented it with a ton of videos, photos, news articles and Dramamine pills.

Monday, July 28, 2014

I created the worst online dating profile ever

For a story about how to make an effective, quality online dating profile, I went ahead and did the opposite: I created the worst profile ever.

I had seven messages in 30 minutes.
Maybe I accidentally made the best online dating profile ever?

The full story is scheduled for release in upcoming weeks. Get a sneak peak here. Click on the rainbow NewHive icon to enlarge.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Giving Fourth of July Coverage a Digital Kick

Check out the article I wrote for about our unique, digital, Fourth of July coverage.

Aimee Heckel explains how she and her colleagues at two other newspapers decided to spice up the traditional July 4 fireworks story by using new digital tools to transform a “where-to-see-the-fireworks” story into something readers never experienced before.   

Read the full story here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

NetNewsCheck runs a story about our project

Play, play, play. That's what we do all day.
And write bad poems, apparently.

What do you think about this idea? Could it ever work?

Read the full article here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

My favorite NewHive for one of my favorite profile stories

This digital story was the No. 1 clicked story of the hour and day for on May 23. Within a few hours of the story going live, it had 2,300 views on NewHive. By the end of the weekend, that number reached 9,300, and in a few more days, it surpassed 10,000. The cofounder of NewHive also tweeted the story and said he enjoyed it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Twitter Hashoff

Apparently, I did well on a Twitter Hashoff, which:

1. Has nothing to do with recreational marijuana, much to my surprise; 
2. I did not know I was participating in; and 
3. I did not know was a thing. 

Power to the hashtags.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Making a table, part 2

Welding on the job. Do I get hazard pay?

A look ahead: My monthly favorite digital journalism tools

My latest favorite technological innovation. This is what we modern
journalists call a "typewriter." It is like a pen and paper, except it also
plays a really cute clicking sound when you write.

Starting next month, I will begin writing a monthly column for, featuring my favorite digital journalism tools and how to use them. 

If you don't already read, check it out. Don't worry if you forget; I will harass you regularly to make sure you do. 

What is NetNewsCheck? According to its website: covers the revolution in local media as it plays out online and on mobile. Readers are digital chiefs and senior executives competing at newspaper, TV, radio and Internet pureplay companies, as well as national media companies, such as ESPN, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, competing in local markets.

Trend stories, interviews, profiles, commentary and regular features punctuate continuously updated breaking news, written, edited and compiled for senior executives and digital media decision-makers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What makes for a successful editor-reporter relationship in this new age?

From a reporter's perspective:

  • Shared values for digital emphasis.
  • Fearlessness, trust and mutual respect. The understanding of the difference between acting and reacting. 
  • Willingness to learn new things and try new things, and the constant curiosity and motivation to grow and change. 
  • A reliable, reciprocated follow-through of promises, balanced with a healthy dose of flexibility. 
  • Excellent communication through a variety of different mediums: chat, email, text, phone, Skype, shared documents on Google Drive, traditional planning documents and even occasional in-person contact. The ability to listen.
  • Strong self-motivation and organization. 
  • Respectful pushing past comfort zones and healthy challenges to keep things fresh. 
  • A strong ethical foundation that fosters trust, accountability and freedom. 
  • Gratitude.
Most of these are also the same traits I think go into any healthy relationship, whether professional or private. Trust, respect, curiosity, communication, gratitude.

I also asked two of the best editors I've ever had what they think. Here's what they said:

Kevin Huhn, features editor: 
Perhaps I'm too old school but I don't think it has changed. 
Both sides have to listen to each other's ideas and not be too quick to dismiss something without fully considering it. Something can look on the surface as if it might not work but it actually might work with a tweak or two.
Both sides also need to realize they are a team and need each other to succeed.
This shouldn't be as difficult a process as some folks make it.

Cindy Sutter, Essentials (food and fitness) editor: 
I think brainstorming in advance about how to handle the story and what kinds of things work, both visually and in words. If the reporter knows what she's doing, the editor's job is to encourage and add ideas, then get out of the way. If the reporter needs more guidance, then the editor should offer it.

What do you think?

Lessons from the transition into 'Digital First' journalism

I feel fortunate to be a professional journalist right now. I've had the chance to experience:

  • traditional journalism, where my daily newspaper only put on story on the web per week and the process of reporting and news judgment was completely print-focused (Reporter-Herald, 2000-01); 
  • the rocky transition into digital (where I heard journalists say things like, "I don't have a Twitter because I don't like Twitter" -- as if that's an acceptable explanation!); 
  • and some of the nation's bravest and most exciting experimentation in digital journalism -- even at great risks (the Thunderdome project, which has come to an end but was by no means a failure, using my favorite definition of success, as stated by the wise author Earl Nightingale: "Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal").
The lessons are endless and ongoing, but here are a few that have helped shape my career and and values:

  • Don't be afraid -- to ask questions, experiment, offer suggestions. Don't be afraid to fail.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What are your search keywords?

SEO continues to baffle many people.
I mean, who would have thought these search keywords would be the top two searches that led people to this site?
You learn something every day.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I made a table. And Storify slideshowed it.

Some stories beg for digital pieces. Like this story I'm writing about Soulcrafting, a new service that connects people in the community with master craftspeople for intimate help on completing a hand's on project.
Like building a table.
Which I started helping with today, so I could do this photo and video slideshow, below.

A Storify slideshow is the easiest solution to a slideshow. Simply drag and drop the posts from Instagram or Twitter into Storify, publish and add /slideshow at the end. Donesies. Or publish and switch the template to "slideshow."

Here's the regular Storify version, too (and embedded after the page break).

Part 2 on Monday.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our new mini, regional, digital-centric features 'syndication' experiment

This. Is. Exciting!

Initiated from the ground-up (from the reporters, not editors, which makes this particularly interesting), we have decided to band three different newspapers' efforts together to organize regional, digitally focused features stories whose production rotates between the different newspapers. 

Who is involved: 

Why this is different: 

In the past, we have always had features departments for each newspaper. I have done my occasional digital-first features, so has the Times-Call and so has the Reporter-Herald. 

I think of this as a mini, regional, digital-centric features syndication system -- with the potential to grow to a statewide digital features syndicate. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

6 digital ethics issues: What's your take?

Digital journalism ethics is a fascinating and challenging topic, because there are no specific guidelines for many of the issues modern journalists face every day. This means a lot of experimentation coupled with thoughtful, deliberate choices -- and above all, tons of dialogue.

I don't know the answers. My opinions might change tomorrow. Every story seems to bring up different questions, and different people have different opinions.

I recently chatted with Ivan Lajara, one of Digital First Media's leaders in digital journalism. We talked about six important and common ethical issues related to digital journalism. Here are some interesting ideas he shared on the topics, as well as some other things to think about.

1. Retweeting the scanner:

Lajara: This one's easy. NO, NEVER. You can point to it, if you'd like. They're online. But a report of "multiple shootings" can always simply just be a faulty exhaust pipe freaking out a neighborhood. Use it like you use twitter. A good starting point to start reporting.

CounterpointMy newsroom regularly tweets live from the scanner. 

In fact, scanner reports are almost part of reporter Mitch Byers's brand, and certainly a contributing reason for his nearly 3,000 followers. 

Is this ethical? Is this good journalism? What do you think? 

Of course, we don't tweet everything -- but the scanner is public info, and anyone else can hear it, too. What if it were the police department's Twitter account? How is it different reposting scanner information, attributed as such, than retweeting a police twitter post?  

These aren't rhetorical questions. I am truly curious to hear opinions on this.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Use the Potter Box to help answer digital ethics dilemmas

Oh yeah, the Potter Box! I remember learning about this 150 years ago in college.

It came up again yesterday during a discussion about whether it's ethical to live-tweet from a trial.
This is a great tool to remember when you're wrestling with new issues on the modern journalism front. List the facts, values, principles and loyalties of the situation and company. This can help identify potential ethical problems.

Read a wonderful article about the Potter Box and ethical questions here. 

Digital ethics question: Should you tweet the scanner?

Yesterday, I participated in a great discussion about ethical questions related to digital reporting.
One question that came up was especially interesting:

Should you live-tweet things you hear on the police scanner? 

I've seen plenty of reporters tweet things they hear on the scanner -- even in my own newsroom. Is it OK if you disclaim that you heard it on the scanner and it's not fact-checked? Here's what one journalist says about that:

I thought this insightful essay really captured the most comprehensive answer to this topic.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jux slideshow: Rated A

If you're looking for a simple way to make a beautiful slideshow, try

I recently used Jux to make a slideshow about the top 11 things to try at Boulder's new Trader Joe's store, and I have no complaints. Plenty of ways to customize, clean design, easy to figure out, easy to embed and share on social media -- this is my new go-to for slideshows.

I also tried

It was easy to make this slideshow -- until it crashed and said it had "been too long" since I uploaded pictures (5 minutes?) and that I needed to delete the slide -- which included the content I had written. I couldn't see a way to embed the slideshow anyway, so I'm officially casting this tool off into the Dumpster of journalism wasteland.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

ScribbleLive lessons in live blogging the Red Carpet

In the past month, I have had a major crash course in: 
  • ScribbleLive for nationally syndicated live blogging
  • Pharell's hat, Madonna's old lady grill and the Mani Cam

I was giddy to host the Red Carpet for Digital First Media's Thunderdome syndication of the Golden Globes and the Grammys

But nervous, too. Hosting a live blog of a fast-paced, national event requires organization, preparation and the ability to think quickly on your toes. I couldn't force the latter, but I could beef up the first two to compensate -- and hopefully allow some brain space for snarky commentary to flow. 

As I'm gearing up for the Oscars in a few weeks, I'm thinking about what worked, what didn't work and other tips to having a seamless and fun live blog. 

Read this before you launch your own ScribbleLive project: 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Well, that's a GIANT problem I never anticipated.

I lost 1,000 Twitter followers in one hour yesterday.
For no reason.
These were real people who I know in real life, suddenly automatically forced to unfollow my feed.
This is a huge problem for someone who relies on social media for communication and sharing of articles.
I emailed Twitter's support crew but have not received any response. I began searching the web and found this may be a more widespread problem. Other people report the same thing happening to them.
The most frustrating thing is the feeling of frustration and powerlessness, because what can I do about this? Knock on Mr. Twitter's door and ask him to fix the glitch? There's not a human to be found.

The downside of relying on technology hits like a kick to the gut.

This is Twitter, coming straight toward my face with a ninja kick.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Can two reporters co-write a story at the exact same time in different cities?

Yes. Turns out, they can.  

A few weeks ago, I learned some heart-wrenching details about the story of a man who was killed in the Colorado floods. The writer in me desperately wanted to cover the story, in a narrative form. 

But I learned that Whitney Bryen, a reporter at the Times-Call, was already writing a news story about a fundraiser for his family. It seemed overkill to write two stories, yet insufficient to run just one. Both Whitney and I had already conducted interviews, unknowing, of different people sharing different sides of the same story. 

So how could we best leverage our time spent with the smart usage of space -- and time? 

We decided to co-write the story together -- simultaneously, in Google Drive, from different cities. I wrote the lead, then I jumped down to what I knew of his story while she wrote the next few graphs, and we worked back and forth as a team, editing and adjusting, until we had crafted one story out of two voices. 

Before, this coverage would have been two separate pieces of the same story, slightly overlapping and maybe even passively competitive. But together, we wrote one of the most moving, full-pictured narratives I've ever been blessed to co-byline. 

The process of writing alongside Whitney was equally as inspirational and moving as the story that we told. Read it here: "You don't leave anyone behind."

How often could you tell richer stories if you shifted your workflow and habits and decided to work with other reporters and newsrooms, using technology as your bridge? 

'Constant interactivity in Boulder'

What is modern journalism? Who am I? Why am I here?
Is evolution a dimension of creationism? Etc. Etc.

Confession: I was super nervous when NetNewsCheck contacted me to speak about the important topic of "unbolting" and redefining the modern newsroom.

Luckily, the reporter did not quote all of the times I threw up into the phone. Metaphorically. Probably.

Read it here: "At Digital First, what 'unbolting' really means" 

From the article: 

Constant Interactivity In Boulder

Another DFM reporter who isn’t waiting to be unbolted is Aimee Heckel, a features writer for the 22,000-circulation The Daily Camera, its paper in Boulder, Colo., and another member of the Idea Lab. Heckel, who also blogs as The Modern Lois Lane, rebooted her own career with a question.

“If I could completely rewrite my job using technology to make it more relevant, realistic and effective, to be able to fill in the gaps that were left during the newspaper layoffs and staff shortages, what would it look like?” she asks.

The answer came by pulling together a working group of other tech-minded journalists at sister DFM papers including The Longmont Times-Call and Loveland Reporter-Herald in Northern Colorado to start playing. The group regularly meets, virtually and in person, to discover new apps and different ways of writing and reporting.

Read more here.